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FAKE NEWS: Ukrainians want peace, but Zelensky wants a war with Russia

Zelensky
©EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO  |   Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference at the Antonov aircraft plant in Kiev, Ukraine, 20 May 2021.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, wants to go to war with Russia, while Ukrainian society wants peace, the Russian state media writes, rehashing a number of false narratives about the conflict in Donbass. The narratives are based on certain user comments critical of the Ukrainian president on the social media accounts of the pro-Kremlin publication “Sharij.net”. Volodymyr Zelensky’s discourse on the need to create a powerful weapon in Europe was presented as a declaration of war.

NEWS: “People point out we need to have peace, not war […] It’s a Freudian predicament – they still want to drag the people into a bloody war. When the country is engaged in a military conflict, it’s impossible to monitor expenses”, Evgeny K. said. “I don’t believe he’s the same man the majority of Ukrainians voted for!”, Denis E. also wrote.

[…] “We want peace and a normal life. We don’t want your army, your war”, Sergey A. also commented. “So, our president, who is the warrantor of constitutional order, sees only a military solution to the conflict? What are the Minsk peace agreements for then?”

NARRATIVES: 1. The Ukrainian political elite seeks a war in Donbass. 2. Kiev’s war-mongering does not have popular support. 3. Ukraine does not observe the Minsk peace agreement.

BACKGROUND: In 2014, after the Euromaidan protests and the demise of the fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, Russia invaded Ukrainian territories, annexing Crimea and starting a military conflict in Donbass. Moscow continues to fund mercenaries in Eastern Ukraine, providing them with weapons and munition. Fighting in Eastern Ukraine broke off at times due to the Minsk peace agreements, which at the time benefited all parties: Ukraine was able to organize a military defense, while Russia seized the opportunity to keep Kiev in its geopolitical sphere of influence. The Russian state media launched a genuine information war against the Ukrainian authorities after the Euromaidan protests, promoting fake news about a civil war in Donbass, about Kiev’s belligerent actions and about the peace agreements being violated by Ukraine, not by the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, which Moscow controls.

PURPOSE: These narratives are aimed at convincing the general public that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, does not enjoy popular support regarding the resolution of the conflict in Donbass. The conflict is depicted as a unilateral whim of Kiev’s, not as a project to destabilize Ukraine, funded and supported directly by Moscow. The main narrative exonerates Moscow and shifts the blame for the victims in Ukraine on Kiev, which allegedly wants a war with Russia.

WHY THE NARRATIVES ARE FALSE: The Russian state media examined the critical reactions on social media against Volodymyr Zelensky’s statement for Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Associated Press, according to which, unless it has the West’s diplomatic backing, the Ukrainian army will have to become a force to be reckoned with in Europe. User commentaries on Facebook and VKontakte (the Russian social network, banned in Ukraine) are depicted as representative of the entire Ukrainian society, although the pro-Kremlin publication “Sharij.net” addresses Russian readers first and foremost. During a survey conducted by “Ukrainska pravda” (The Ukrainian Truth), 52% of YouTube views of “Sharij.net” originate from Russia, which means that the users who commented on the particular posts are not representative of Ukrainian society.

In fact, according to sociological studies, 70% of Ukrainian respondents believe Russia is primarily responsible for the conflict in Donbass, accusing it of trying to maintain tension in the area. Additionally, 51% of Ukrainians support the partial militarization of the country, the creation of special territorial defense units, the consolidation of border security and preparations for defensive maneuvers in case of a direct attack from Russia. Therefore, the Russian state media manipulates public opinion, presenting comments on social media (we don’t rule out the possibility that the comments in question were also Russia’s design) as the opinion of society as a whole, while sociological research shows that the Kremlin-backed narratives are false.

Both Russian president Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Kiev of refusing to observe the ceasefire agreement. In fact, the conflict actually pits the Ukrainian army against Moscow-funded mercenaries, a fact acknowledged by most global leaders and international organizations (even though separatist forces have been recruiting locally). Ukrainian authorities refused on a number of occasions to talk with the leaders of the self-proclaimed people’s republics about the developments in the East, saying that a dialogue would legitimize Russia’s aggressions. Kiev says Russia started the conflict in Donbass in order to block Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic track. Ukrainian army spokespersons submit daily reports of ceasefire breaches by Russian-funded mercs to the OSCE. Kiev points out that, if Russia hadn’t supported the separatist forces in Donbass, hostilities would never have broken out, and the territory would have been liberated in 2014.


  • Publication / Media:
    Regnum, Riafan.ru, Ru news
  • Date of publication:
    16/06/2021
  • Language / Target audience:
    Readers in ex-Soviet states
  • Amplification:
    Social media
  • Political affiliation:
    The Kremlin
  • Key narrative:
    Ukraine’s political leadership seeks a war with Russia while the people want peace.
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  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, wants to go to war with Russia, while Ukrainian society wants peace, the Russian state media writes, rehashing a number of false narratives about the conflict in Donbass. The narratives are based on certain user comments critical of the Ukrainian president on the social media accounts of the pro-Kremlin publication “Sharij.net”. Volodymyr Zelensky’s discourse on the need to create a powerful weapon in Europe was presented as a declaration of war.
  • NARRATIVES: 1. The Ukrainian political elite seeks a war in Donbass. 2. Kiev’s war-mongering does not have popular support. 3. Ukraine does not observe the Minsk peace agreement.
  • PURPOSE: These narratives are aimed at convincing the general public that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, does not enjoy popular support regarding the resolution of the conflict in Donbass. The conflict is depicted as a unilateral whim of Kiev’s, not as a project to destabilize Ukraine, funded and supported directly by Moscow. The main narrative exonerates Moscow and shifts the blame for the victims in Ukraine on Kiev, which allegedly wants a war with Russia.
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