NARRATIVE: Ukraine is an artificial and failed state that exists only due to the consensus of its neighbors.
BACKGROUND: On August 24, Ukraine celebrated 30 years since the country proclaimed its independence. Ukraine’s independence and its break with the Russian world are however seen with a critical eye by Moscow, which regards ex-Soviet space as its sphere of influence; for that matter, the breakup of the USSR was described by the current Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as a geopolitical catastrophe of the last century. In 2013, Russia forced Ukraine into signing the Association Agreement with the EU. Then, when the pro-Russian regime was toppled in the wake of a people’s uprising, Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula and supported the separatist war in the East. Moscow also engaged in information warfare, whereby it tries to prove that Ukraine is a failed state, emerged by accident, and that without Moscow, Ukraine’s political future will be short-lived.
Now, as Ukraine celebrates its independence, the Russian state media has reiterated all these arguments and published a number of false narratives concerning the social, political and economic developments in Ukraine in the last three decades, considering that 30 years ago many people in Ukraine saw a parallel with France in terms of economy and geography. A great many politicians and specialists believed Ukraine had every chance to become as developed a nation as France.
PURPOSE: The goal here is to sow frustration and disgruntlement in Ukrainian society over the achievements of the state in the last 30 years. Moreover, as the narratives only deal with the political failures of Ukraine, Moscow’s actions in Crimea and Donbass are justified in the eyes of the Russian population by relativizing / criticizing the principles of international law.
WHY THE NARRATIVE IS FALSE: The Russian media ridicules Ukraine’s achievements, claiming its territory and population have shrunk, although it fails to mention that this process is also the result of the illegal annexation of Crimea back in 2014 and of Russia’s support of separatist militias in Donbass. Between 2.5 and 3 million people were living in Crimea at the time of its annexation. Moreover, the conflict in Donbass, backed directly by Russia, has triggered a migration wave, many people choosing to relocate to central and western Ukraine, and some of them to EU states or even Russia. The Russian media overlooks these sad chapters in Ukrainian history, caused by the armed aggression of 2014, blaming it only on politicians in Kiev.
The narrative about the division of Ukraine into pro-Russian, pro-European and central Ukrainian territories has been used by the Kremlin during election campaigns, particularly during the term in office of the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, its sole purpose being to divide Ukrainian society. In fact, according to sociological surveys, there has never been a dominant pro-Russian attitude in any region of Ukraine after 2014. The Russian media has picked up on the classic narrative about the division of Ukraine in order to prove that, as a state, Ukraine exists only due to its neighbors’ goodwill. In addition, every now and then the social media in Ukraine disseminates fake news about the alleged territorial claims of EU and NATO states (Poland, Hungary, Romania). In fact, all of these states have repeatedly expressed their full support for the integrity and territorial sovereignty of Ukraine.
Ukraine is not a failed state in the sense of the term defined by the UN and Fund of Peace (loss of control of its territory or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, inability to provide public services, inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community). The Russian media describes Ukraine as a failed state for losing control over Donbass and Crimea, but fails to specify that, without Moscow’s direct involvement, none of that would have happened. The civil war Russia claims is ongoing in Ukraine broke out and continues with Moscow’s direct contribution. Russia continues to fuel tensions in the region, providing separatists with weapons and fighters.
GRAIN OF TRUTH: The linguistic division of Ukraine is a fact (the East-West divide), but this division has no (geo)political implications. Speaking Russian does not make one pro-Russian. The Ukrainian army, for instance, has a large number of Russian speakers who fight against Russian aggression.