NARRATIVE: Russia is forced to strengthen its Ukrainian border in order to defend against a USA and NATO aggression in Donbass.
BACKGROUND: The conflict in Eastern Ukraine broke out in 2014, after president Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in the wake of a people’s uprising, the Euromaidan protest, caused by his refusal to sign the Association Agreement with the EU. Since 2014, Moscow has been bankrolling and supporting mercenaries and separatist fighters created around two self-proclaimed republics in Donbass. This spring, Russia started to build up its armed forces close to the southern, eastern and northern borders of Ukraine, which sparked criticism from Ukraine and Western powers. Alternately, Moscow launched various information campaigns against Ukraine and the West.
Early this November, Russia was again accused of amassing troops and equipment close to the Ukrainian border, generating concern among decision-makers in Ukraine, the USA and the EU. News of the military build-up follow a series of accusations coming from Russian lawmakers, from president Vladimir Putin to lower-ranking officials, who actually challenged Ukraine’s sovereignty. Putin actually warned that any enlargement of NATO’s military infrastructure on Ukraine’s territory is a “red line” for Moscow.
PURPOSE: The purpose of this narrative is to convince public opinion that the Russian military build-up close to the Ukrainian border is purely defensive in nature. It is equally designed to sow fear and frustration linked to Western policies, depicted as hostile towards Moscow and Russian speakers.
WHY THE NARRATIVE IS FALSE: After the pro-Kremlin media wrote that Russia is forced to defend the Russian-speaking population against the “genocide” organized by Ukraine and the West in Donbass, a narrative recently debunked by Veridica, new articles appeared, designed to describe the amassing of equipment and troops on the Ukrainian borders as a necessary step to defend Russian territory against an act of aggression from NATO and the USA.
This narrative is strikingly similar to Soviet-era propaganda messages, when the state media “reported” for decades on the American and NATO aggressors who dream of destroying the Soviet people. Several generations were held hostage by these Soviet narratives, which are reiterated more and more frequently by the Russian state media.
Sputnik.md, a news agency funded by the Russian government, quotes Aleksandr Hrolenko, who published hundreds of pro-Russian and anti-Western commentaries on military and foreign policy issues on Sputnik Georgia, Sputnik Kazakhstan or Sputnik Belarus. Starting 2014, Hrolenko works for RIA Novosti, a Russian media outlet headquartered in Moscow. In fact, the article fails to provide any background on the author of the article, referring to him as an independent observer, in order to increase the article’s legitimacy.
In fact, neither NATO nor the USA ever planned to organize a military intervention in Donbass or against Russia. On the contrary, starting 2014, the two parties have condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its involvement in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Sputnik.md fails to recall Russia was declared an aggressor-state by the Ukrainian Parliament and a series of international organizations, including the UN, and actually reverts to Soviet-era narratives about “the imperialist and aggressive NATO alliance”.
The USA and NATO also stand accused of having staged a war in Georgia in 2008, when Russia was forced to defend itself. The situation in Georgia in 2008 is compared to the one in Donbass at present. In fact, in 2008 Russia violated the territorial integrity of Georgia and committed an act of aggression against a sovereign state. The Russian-Georgian war started in August, 2008 as a result of a military operation launched by Georgia against the Moscow-backed separatist regime in South Ossetia. In response, on August 8, 2008, Russia invaded Georgia, deploying troops to support the South Ossetian separatists. Georgia’s actions on its sovereign territory are represented as an act of aggression by NATO, Ukraine’s actions in Donbass – as a genocide fueled by the West, whereas Russia’s invasions and the support it provided to separatists in Ossetia and Donbass – as interventions to save the civilian population. A hybrid reality is constructed with the help of disinformation and fake news.
In fact, the narrative in question acknowledges the fact that Russia has been amassing troops on the Ukrainian border, after three weeks ago it claimed it is only maintaining a military presence on its territory “in areas where it is necessary”. NATO has repeatedly called on Russia to stop supporting mercenaries in Donbass, arguing in favor of a peaceful resolution of the conflict. In April, 2021, NATO expressed concern about the Russian military build-up, reaffirming its “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and Euro-Atlantic aspirations” and the observance of international law.