Ever since 2014, the Russian state press has been promoting the narrative about Ukraine as a false state, trying to question the need to comply with the rules of international law on territorial integrity and the inviolability of the borders of independent states. The said narrative was recently resumed by the former adviser to the President of Russia, Vladislav Surkov, in an interview with the ‘Financial Times’, translated and actively promoted by the Russian press.
NEWS: “Ukrainians fully understand that their state does not really exist at the moment. I’ve said it before, Ukraine could exist in the future, as there is a national nucleus in this regard”, Surkov is quoted by the RIA Novosti agency as saying. The former politician believes that, for Ukraine to exist in the future, it must be turned into a confederation. “The state can be reformed into a confederation, in which the regions will benefit from a wide range of decision-making freedoms, Surkov says. He believes that the issue of Ukraine's borders should become a topic of international discussion.
NARRATIVES: 1. Ukraine is a false state; 2. Ukraine's borders are arguable and are a topic of debate at international relations level.
LOCAL CONTEXT / ETHOS: After the victory of the Euromaidan protesters and the overthrow of the Viktor Yanukovych regime, the Russian Federation intervened in Ukraine by invading and annexing Crimea and supporting a separatist movement in the Russian-speaking east. Separatist forces were aided by Moscow with people and equipment. Also, Russia applied the hybrid warfare technique, using large-scale propaganda and disinformation, including through the Internet and the Kremlin-affiliated media. In this context, Russia has been trying to promote narratives that attack the idea of Ukraine's independence, while at the same time covering up the Kremlin's external crimes. Russia is trying to legitimize internationally the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics. In this context, the Russian and pro-Russian press in Ukraine and in the Russian-speaking news space use every opportunity to defend the idea that the Ukrainian state is an “artificial one”, which can easily fall apart. The concept of “false state” used in hybrid warfare is applied. In this way, the aim is to discourage efforts to support the position of Kiev, which demands respect for international law. At the same time, Russia presents its actions in Donbas and Crimea as being determined by “political necessity” and “historical truth”.
PURPOSE: The purpose of these narratives is to show the international community that Ukraine is not a nation-state and should be reorganized into a confederation. Moreover, the subject of the legitimacy of Ukraine's borders is being questioned. Russia seeks to argue before the international community that, in the context of the power vacuum in Ukraine, it had to intervene in Crimea and Donbas, and the self-proclaimed republics of DNR and LNR have every right to become legitimate elements of a Ukrainian confederation.
WHY THE NARRATIVES ARE FALSE: Surkov's statements are not the point of view of a former politician, but an attempt to promote the Kremlin's narratives in information spaces other than the Russian one. While the international community, global leaders and international organizations (NATO, EU, UN, etc.) support the territorial integrity of Ukraine and condemn the annexation of Crimea and the violence in Donbas, Surkov raises the issue of borders, which could be debated in the future at various international forums. The issue of territories and borders cannot be discussed in the era of supremacy of international law, and even if it could, it would be done only in the presence of or at the initiative of Ukraine. In reality, Surkov is not interested in discussing borders, but in creating favorable contexts for Moscow to present its actions in the Donbas and Crimea as determined by political necessity, the power vacuum, Ukraine's inability, as a “false state”, to deal with its own problems. Surkov, however, gives Ukraine a chance, saying it has “a national nucleus”. In fact, the statement in question is a continuation of the Kremlin's classic narratives. According to them, Ukraine is going to fall apart, the state will get smaller, with a nucleus in the west and center of the country, and the rest of the territories will be taken over by the neighbors, Russia included. These narratives are known in the media world as “Zhirinovsky's prophecies”. Zhirinovksy is a radical Russian politician, close to Putin, but who presents himself as an opposition leader, who has repeatedly said that Ukraine will fall apart because it is a false state, created by the Bolsheviks.Against this background, Surkov promotes the idea of Ukraine’s (con) federalization to allow the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, controlled by Russia, to acquire a legal status. In this way, Moscow will be able to control Kiev’s domestic and foreign policy in order to block the European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Ukrainian society.