NARRATIVES: 1. Ukrainians are Russian and belong entirely to the Russian world; 2. A civil war is underway in Donbass, in which the Russians fight the Russians; 3. Moscow has a moral and historical right to get involved in the Donbass conflict in order to protect its Russian-speaking population; 4. Ukraine is part of historical Russia; 5. Ukrainian political elites are Russophobic and have no dialogue with their own people; 6. The President of Ukraine must discuss the conflict in Donbass with the LNR and the DNR, and not with Moscow, which is not participating in this war.
LOCAL CONTEXT / ETHOS: Since 2014, there has been an armed conflict in the region known as Donbass, in eastern Ukraine, between Kiev governmental forces and Moscow-backed mercenaries. Russia finances and supports mercenaries and separatist forces formed in two self-proclaimed republics, DNR and LNR, which consist of a small part of the occupied Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. This spring, Russia began concentrating troops near Ukraine's southern, eastern and northern borders, prompting criticism from Ukraine and Western states. In the context of the escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine and the concentration of Russian troops near the Ukrainian borders, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky invited the Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet in Donbass.
Responding to the invitation, Putin said that the Ukrainian leadership should hold talks with the self-proclaimed republics about Donbass. Putin added that he was ready to receive Zelensky in Moscow at any convenient time to discuss "bilateral relations", but not the situation in eastern Ukraine. Moscow has so far relied on various metanarratives about the Ukrainian people who are part of the Russian world. Ukraine is seen as an integral part of historical Russia, whose distancing from Moscow would mean a real geopolitical catastrophe. One of the ideologues of the Putin regime is the geopolitician Alexander Dughin, who writes in his books that without Ukraine, Russia will never become a Eurasian empire able to resist the "Atlantic expansion," hinting at the United States and NATO.
PURPOSE: The aim of these narratives is to defend, before the Russian audience and companies in the former members of the Soviet Union, the need for a more active Russian presence in the Donbass. The public reaction to a potential direct conflict between Russia and Ukraine is thus being tested, using media opportunities such as “The Russian Unity” forum in Donetsk, which called on Russia not to forget about Russians everywhere.
WHY THE NARRATIVES ARE FALSE: The editorial published on RIA Novosti is based on assumptions and various ideological visions, not on sociological facts or data. Most of the narratives can be grouped in the metanarrative about Ukraine as a “false stat”, and about Ukrainians who are an “invented nation”, torn from the body of Greater Russia. Most of these ideas are a journalistic exposition of Russian nationalist Eurasianism, created around the thesis that the Russian world is, from a civilizational point of view, distinct from the rest of the peoples, and the restoration of Greater Russia must be a goal of the Kremlin and the Russians everywhere. In order to argue the need for Russia's direct intervention in the Donbass conflict, the author does not use inappropriate international law arguments, but only those related to the history of the Russian world, thus arousing nationalist sentiments and historical resentments.
In reality, there is no civil conflict in Donbass, it’s a fight between the Ukrainian army and Russian-funded mercenaries, which most global leaders and international organizations have recognized as such. According to a sociological survey conducted by the “Democratic Initiative” Foundation in Kiev in 2020, 45% of the Ukrainians consider the conflict in Donbass a consequence of the Russian aggression. Pro-Russian attitudes at national level are out of the question, and this is something the author of the Russian editorial himself admits in between the lines.
The Russophobia mentioned in the article is in fact an attempt by Kiev to limit the influence of Russia's information space on the Ukrainian society, banning access in Ukraine to some media outlets on the web, blocking some Russian television stations and social networks. It should be noted that the Ria Novosti website itself cannot be freely accessed in Ukraine, which means that the target audience of the narratives is the Russian reader and the audience from the ex-Soviet space.
The Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly refused to discuss the situation in the east of the country with the leaders of the self-proclaimed republics, stating that a dialogue with them would mean to render the Russian aggression legitimate. Kiev blames Russia, as it believes that the conflict in Donbass was especially made-up by Moscow to block Ukraine's European and Euro-Atlantic path in the context of the illegal annexation of Crimea.
A GRAIN OF TRUTH: The narratives about the “civil war in Ukraine”, however, bear fruit in Donbass, and some of the findings of RIA Novosti journalists have a sociological ground. In the eastern regions, the prevailing view is that the events in Donbass are an internal conflict. According to the above-mentioned survey, 21% of the inhabitants of these regions are convinced that there is a purely internal civil conflict in Donbass, 21% of the respondents say that it is an internal conflict in which Russia supports one of the parties. Only 24% of those living in the east define the situation in Donbass as a Russian aggression against Ukraine.
OFFICIAL REACTIONS: The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rejected the Russian leader Vladimir Putin's proposal to hold talks with representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics. “I'm not going to talk to terrorists”, he told the Financial Times. According to Zelensky, he wants to hold a special meeting with Putin on the Donbass war, adding that he is not worried about the venue, but about the content of the talks.