In late 2020 and early 2021, some news agencies have published a story according to which Ukraine’s potato supplies have run out, and in order to feed its own army Kiev is buying potatoes and potato mash from Russia. The news has deeply confused public opinion. On the one hand, Kiev made it very clear it opposes Russian aggression in Donbass (the Ukrainian Parliament has recognized Russia as an aggressor state), while on the other hand this fake news released by the press portrays Ukraine as incapable of providing the most basic necessities (food!) to its own army.
“The Ukrainian army is eating potato mash made from dry potato flakes, a semi-processed foodstuff produced in the Russian Federation, which is in fact an aggressor state. Serhiy Samonenko, the director of Vymal, made the statement at a press conference entitled “The colors of potatoes on the Ukrainian domestic market”, hosted by Interfax-Ukraine, agronews.ua notes.
Ukraine imports 100% of this product. It’s a strategic product meeting the needs of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Right now, our army eats mashed potatoes from the Russian Federation, which is in fact an aggressor state, Serhiy Samonenko said. The situation is dramatic due to the difficulties experienced by the top three potato mash production lines, as all companies in Ukraine have shut down.
According to Samonenko, neighboring states, including the EU, Russia and Belarus, have state-subsidized programmes for supporting the potato farming sector. […] Ukraine doesn’t have such a programme.
In the event of a full transition to NATO standards, the Ukrainian army would have to use only semi-processed potato-based foods, of which potato mash is the most common. Ukraine’s internal demand for this product stands at approximately 6,000 tons. This capacity is enough to satisfy a daily ration of some 270 grams of cooked potatoes for each military, Oksana Rujenkova, executive director of the Ukrainian Association of Potato Farmers has said. Rujenkova added that right now Ukraine is importing this product entirely from the Bryansk region in the Russian Federation, home to the three largest production lines in the potato industry in Eurasia”.
NARRATIVES: 1. Ukraine is incapable of feeding its own army and is forced to buy potato mash and other products from Russia. 2. Ukraine’s agrarian system has been completely neglected since 2014. 3. If it wants closer ties to NATO, Ukraine will have to buy more foodstuffs for its army from the Russian Federation. 4. The political class in Kiev appointed in 2014 is driven by “Westerners” to destroy the state and turn Ukraine into “a colony of the West”.
BACKGROUND: Starting 2014, Ukraine has been fighting off the aggressions of the Russian Federation, which first invaded and annexed Crimea, and subsequently provided military and financial support to separatist fighters in Donbass. Kiev consolidated its defense capabilities with the help of Western powers. Military expenses soared, as Ukraine modernized its defense forces. Russia and pro-Russian forces in Ukraine and trying to prove the Ukrainian army is mismanaged, undergunned and that the presence of Russian military in Donbass “cannot be proved”. In fact, the conflict in Donbass is a civilian war, Russian officials and media claim. Alternatively, the media is conducting a demoralizing campaign against the Ukrainian society and army in order to undermine public support for Ukraine’s security policy. A case in point is the news analyzed in this article on the import of potato mash and other processed foods from Russia.
PURPOSE: Such stories are meant to demonstrate Ukraine’s inability to provide basic products to its army. Part of the meta-narrative depicting Ukraine as “a false state”, the narratives in question try to persuade Russian and Ukrainian readers that the two “sister countries” are closely linked, and Western efforts to “create dissension” between the two former soviet republics will no longer produce any results. The Russian media has quoted the statements of Ukrainian producers in wider articles, noting that Kiev’s agricultural potential is fabricated by the media, and this state is bound to become a colony of the West. Another goal is to demoralize the army, which is fighting off Russian aggression, and which is actually eating potato mash produced by its very enemy. The end goal of these disinformation campaigns is to mislead public opinion and blur the notions of East and West, partners and enemies, friendship and war.
WHY THE NARRATIVES ARE FALSE: Potato mash made from dry potato flakes is not on the standard list of foods and meals of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. For this reason, the difficulties experienced by enterprises manufacturing potato-based foodstuffs in Ukraine have nothing to do with this country’s army. Moreover, the statements of certain Ukrainian experts are dotted with falsehoods. They speak of Ukraine having to meet NATO standards in the future, which involves the supply of potato mash and other processed foods, but actually refer to imports pertaining to the current year. At the same time, NATO has no official document stipulating a standard for potato mash. There’s equally no official document in Ukraine describing this product as “strategically important”. Besides, the Russian media has been harassing Ukraine over the last 3-4 years regarding its food crisis and potato shortage after the deterioration of relations with Moscow. The topic has also been used as an excuse to link the old agrarian narratives to the new ones about NATO and the army. Some Russian pundits have commented on Russian blogs based on this misleading information that “Ukraine will not join NATO without Russian potatoes”.
GRAIN OF TRUTH: In recent years, Ukraine has been facing a potato shortage, being forced to import this product. Farmers prefer to export their output in large quantities for a profit, thus increasing the demand, which the internal market cannot cover. In 2020, Ukraine imported potatoes from Poland, Belarus and even Russia. The topic sparked a debate in the Ukrainian media, and Kiev has been trying to curb its potato imports from Russia, by increasing its imports from Poland. The situation worsened in 2019-2020 due to a poor harvest. At the same time, this whole situation is completely unrelated to the Ukrainian Army.
OFFICIAL REACTIONS: The Ministry of Defense in Kiev writes on its website that the processed food “potato mash” is not included on the list of foodstuffs consumed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. According to the press release, starting 2021 the meals of the Armed Forces are ensured based on the Foodstuffs Catalogue, and that the range of products this year has been expanded to include 409 items. The Ministry of Defense denies having used foodstuffs imported from Russia, and that the latest stories about processed foods and potato mash are fake news disseminated by the aggressor state.