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Examples of the large-scale disinformation campaign by the Western media, hyping the claim that Russia is planning to invade Ukraine

Source: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Late 2021 – early 2022 has seen a global media campaign that is unprecedented in scale and sophistication, the aim of which is to convince the world public that the Russian Federation is preparing to invade Ukraine.

Contrary to the standards of honest journalism, the Western media have been spreading outright disinformation, trying to manipulate the public into believing that Moscow has aggressive intentions. In the process, they have ignored the detailed, reasoned explanations of Russian officials who have assured the public many times that Russia is committed to the peaceful diplomatic settlement of the crisis in Ukraine along the lines of the Minsk Package of Measures. Russian officials have invoked the sovereign right of states to move troops on their own territory and pointed to the defensive character of the exercises conducted jointly with the armed forces of Belarus. In addition, no attention has been given to Moscow’s concerns that the West is moving its military infrastructure closer to Russian borders, rendering military-technical assistance to Ukraine, arming it, sending military advisors and holding large-scale and dangerous military exercises there.

In essence, the Western media have been carrying out a political order from their governments. They are disseminating false information in a well-orchestrated effort and taking part in a full-scale information war.

Presented here are some of the most glaring examples of documented “fake news” reported by Western media. They prove that Moscow is the target of a coordinated information attack aimed at undermining and discrediting Russia’s reasonable demands for security guarantees and justifying Western geopolitical aspirations and the militarisation of Ukrainian territory.

Published materials that contain false information about Russia

As expected, the most cited US media sources set the tone for this entire campaign. The language is deliberately lurid. In his Washington Post article published on January 25, David Ignatius writes as follows: “Russian missiles and jets will likely strike targets deep inside Ukraine, and Kyiv will respond by trying to kill as many Russian soldiers near the border as it can, as quickly as possible.” In fact, the reader is not given a chance to question the very premise of the article, and the information is delivered as if everything has been settled. Andrew Kramer from The New York Times (article dated January 22) follows in the same vein, interpreting through a distorted lens the manoeuvres of the Russian armed forces within our borders (this technique is widely used in this campaign): “Moscow began massing troops in a way that suggested plans for an incursion into Ukraine via Belarus. Kyiv also feared that Belarus might create a provocation such as herding migrants toward the Ukrainian border — as Belarus did with Poland — and provide the spark for war… But fears about an incursion from Belarus have only grown this week as Russia directs troops and equipment there ahead of planned joint exercises with Belarus in February.”

A special role was played by the Bloomberg news agency, which is closely associated with the US political establishment. Recently, this media outlet published unconfirmed deliberate fake news twice that had to be refuted at the very top. Shortly before the opening ceremony for the 22nd Olympic Games in Beijing, Alberto Nardelli wrote in a column on the agency’s website that according to a diplomat working in Beijing who preferred to remain anonymous, it is possible that Xi, during a recent conversation with Putin, asked him not to invade Ukraine during the Games. The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Moscow stated that this was an outright provocation and a lie immediately after the article came out, and was refuted by Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov and Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. Another article by the agency was really dangerous: in the early hours of February 5, breaking news “Live: Russia invades Ukraine” appeared on the Bloomberg website. A special statement was issued later saying that the report of an invasion was a “mistake.” According to independent analysts, if cited by other sources, this news could have not only crashed multiple economies, but also posed serious geopolitical consequences for the entire world.

Some of the fake news fed by the US media is simply made up out of thin air and written up in the worst traditions of propaganda. It cannot be called anything but manipulation. These, for example, include a piece on CNN’s website on February 7. Correspondent Natasha Bertrand reported the interception of Russian officials’ communications showing that a number of Russian officials are concerned that a large-scale invasion of Ukraine would be more costly and complicated than Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Kremlin leaders think.

The second most active media landscape after the United States is the Federal Republic of Germany, an important US NATO ally and the driving force behind the European Union. The fake news was largely outsourced to Julian Roepcke, a columnist for the popular German tabloid Bild. It was Roepcke who published a column on December 3, 2021, “This is how Putin could destroy Ukraine”, which included the so-called invasion map of Ukraine and a description of Russia’s military plans: “During the first phase, South, southern Ukraine will be invaded in order to secure supply lines to Crimea and to cut off Ukraine from the sea. In parallel with the first phase of the war, Putin’s air force and ballistic missiles will weaken Ukraine’s military capabilities across the country. This will be the second phase, Northeast. During the third phase, Kiev, the Kremlin army will advance towards Kiev from the north. Russia’s forces will then move approximately as far as the Korosten-Uman line and force Kiev to capitulate.”

Apparently, Roepcke was given the go-ahead to keep pushing the story. Bild ran at least four more of his stories, including an article on February 5 this year, where the German journalist discusses Russia’s plans for Ukraine: “The Russian attack on Ukraine has not even started yet, but intelligence agencies already have information about what Russia has in store after its big war and the cruel puppet regime the Kremlin wants to install in Ukraine. Intelligence services are aware of Russia’s post-war plans for Ukraine. Stage 1: Ukrainian cities surrender. Stage 2: Convene the People’s Rada. Stage 3: Declare a state of emergency.”

The UK media frequently churn out “invasion” reports using the same rhetoric as their colleagues in NATO – using words such as imminent (Daily Mirror, February 5, 2022, Dan Warburton: “More than 100 members of Britain’s elite special forces have been sent to Ukraine amid fears a Russian invasion is imminent”), producing one-sided takes on events (The Guardian, February 7, 2022, Andrew Roth: “Tanks, tanks, tanks: Russians on the military buildup at Ukraine’s border”), and perpetrating a sleight of hand in trying to present Russian and Belarusian military exercises as evidence of plans to invade Ukraine (Daily Express, February 8, 2022, Millie Cooke: “Putin plots Ukraine invasion with 140 ships and 10,000 troops – biggest mission since 1991.”)

The most shocking use of this last trick came from the media of seemingly neutral Switzerland, or rather its SRF television channel. Its correspondent in Moscow, David Nauer, claimed in a TV report on January 28, 2022, that “Russia was moving huge forces towards the Ukrainian border. Military equipment, including tanks, has been brought thousands of kilometres from Siberia.” This claim was supported by video footage showing combined units of the Southern Military District carrying out objectives of the exercises, giving viewers a false impression that offensive weapons were being moved towards the Ukrainian border to further Moscow’s aggressive plans that only exist in the minds of Western propagandists.

Canada’s news outlets are reporting in a similar vein, practically on a daily basis, although they are somewhat less peremptory. The Canadian press abuse the right of invited experts to freedom of expression and pass off propaganda under the label “Opinion” thereby shedding any editorial responsibility for publishing blatantly untrue information. Here is a sample in the January 23, 2022 issue of the Toronto Sun, “Understanding, confronting Russian aggression toward Ukraine” by McDonald’s Institute researchers Marcus Kolga, Balkan Devlen, and Richard Shimooka: “Russia’s military preparations point to a possible invasion in several weeks’ time. Military action is becoming increasingly likely, but we are likely a few weeks away from an open attack.”

Media outlets in France with their long-standing journalistic traditions are carrying out the fake agenda in their own style, with literary expressions and a greater reliance on imagery than facts. Examples include the February 3 report by Guillaume Perrier, Le Point’s special correspondent in Kiev: “The sound of marching boots in the east is bringing Ukraine closer to the West, while the most determined take up arms. The conclusion is made by Ukrainian pro-Western MP Klimpush-Tsintsadze: ‘We are in the vanguard of opposing the Russian world. The security of Europe depends on a free and democratic Ukraine. It’s time for Western societies to wake up’” and the opinion column of the left-liberal philosopher, Bernard Henri-Levy, that appeared in the weekly L’Express on January 27: “I think it will be a blood bath.” In addition to all that literary hackwork the French propagandists stoop to repeating their German colleagues’ speculation on “Russia’s plans” for Ukraine which they made up out of thin air. One such plan was also reported in L’Express by Paul Veronique on February 3 of this year in his piece, “Crisis in Ukraine: Five scenarios of a possible Russian invasion – Complete Invasion of Ukraine, Restoration of Imperial Novorossiya, Join Crimea with Donbass without Seizing Odessa, Coup d’Etat or Overthrow of Zelensky, Diplomatic Solution or Blind Alley.” This pseudo-analysis has ample illustrations such as infographics, much like Julian Roepcke’s piece in Bild.

It is telling that this campaign is tailored to the audience of different publications. The media of Belgium are a good example. The daily De Standaard, for example, is speaking to a large Belgian audience. In its article by Peter de Lobel on February 3 of this year, the newspaper breathlessly reports, albeit without much detail, on what is going on, fulfilling a political order based on American statements: “Moscow planned to use a fake video as an excuse for its invasion. The plan to make a fake video of an attack by Ukrainian military squares with the Russian propaganda war that has been going on for some time.” Peter de Lobel’s fellow propagandists from L’Echo are also making fact-free claims about a potential invasion in the spirit of German and French tabloids: “There may be three scenarios in case of a Russian attack. The first one involves Ukraine’s complete takeover. Most experts believe this would take Russia a week or two. Most likely, it would be followed by the start of a guerilla war. The conflict could even spread to the rest of Europe. Russia could seize Berdyansk, a city on the Black Sea coast and thus connect Donbass with Crimea. This is the second scenario that the experts consider highly likely. We believe Moscow may further strengthen its grip on Donetsk and Lugansk and finally occupy these regions. This is a third potential scenario.” (Article of January 31 of this year).

At the same time, an EU publication of a quite different level, EUobserver that is geared toward readers in the EU’s international hub in Brussels, cites in its article on January 26 of this year sophisticated arguments, even attempting (though failling) to understand Russia’s motives in the “forthcoming” invasion: “Europe is divided emotionally. While the East European countries fear the return of Russian imperialism, the average Western European seems to believe that Russia is still resisting alleged US imperialism. The West largely ignored Moscow’s concerns when it expanded the EU and NATO and spread its military influence. Russia is humiliated and all it wants is a place in the sun. Even if the attitude to the EU is positive in Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine, in reality their sovereignty is already greatly compromised by Moscow. Belarus is part of the Union State with Russia and a member of the CSTO, “Russian NATO”. There are Russian peacekeepers in the east of Moldova. And there are Russian soldiers in Ukraine (in the east and Crimea).” That said, the message is still the same — Russia is getting ready to invade the territory of a neighbouring state.

Media outlets in countries in the same region often rely on the same arguments, which supports the claim that this media disinformation campaign is coordinated and directed. On February 8, 2022, Maris Antonevics from Latvijas Avize (Latvia) used some emotionally charged and absolutely inappropriate historical parallels: “The news has again reminded many people of the so-called Gleiwitz incident in 1939, which Hitler used as a casus belli to justify the invasion of Poland and the start of WWII. As we know, the Nazis accused Poland of seizing a radio station in the border town of Gleiwitz at night and broadcasting an anti-German message. Initially, this was perceived as a thinly disguised provocation, which was later confirmed by the facts – the attack was a covert operation planned by the Nazis, referred to as Canned Goods. The Nazis used this lurid phrase to describe several corpses dressed in Polish uniforms and left at the scene so that they appeared to have been killed while attacking the station.”

There is obvious similarity with what the columnist Vahur Lauri wrote on the website (Estonia) on January 18, 2022. “There are reports that Russia has carried out subversion and sabotage operations in the area. We have seen this scenario in history before, when Stalin’s Soviet Union invaded Finland in November 1939, or Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939,” he wrote in his column quoting Kalev Stoicescu, a researcher at the International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS) think tank.

The Balts (in particular, the TV3 channel from Lithuania) are also playing on the fears harboured by the region’s Russophobic minority by suggesting that an attack on Ukraine could be a cover for a larger operation involving certain Lithuanian territories: “Russia can easily make this maneuver – drive 30-50 metres onto our side of the Curonian Spit, occupy that small area and see what happens. What about NATO unity – will we fight for this territory?” (broadcast of February 5, 2022).

The media agenda of another East European country, Poland, which is generally rife with an anti-Russian sentiment, has become a breeding ground for most of the above-mentioned ways to confuse their readers or viewers about Moscow’s plans. On January 18 of this year, the government-run Polish Press Agency posted on its website a “map” marking “potential directions of a Russian invasion of Ukraine” following the illustrations in the German press. Just like in some other countries, opinion columns are the prime avenue for delivering fake news. Thus, on January 30, the state-owned Polish Radio offered a stand to Mason Clark, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C. who said that the invasion is “a matter of weeks, not days.” Onet, another Polish website, reported on February 2 of this year, also citing Washington analysts, that “Russia does not have all the elements in place yet but it is deploying them there. They are likely to be deployed by February 9. That’s when the escalation is most likely.” Polish media have become a platform for spreading US fake news and conjecture in general. It is remarkable in this respect that the state-owned Polish Press Agency repeated almost verbatim the above CNN report on Russian military chatter allegedly intercepted by US intelligence.

Such tactics on display by the media of many East European countries, such as Romania, are in the spirit of Dr Joseph Goebbels’s teaching “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth,” i.e. legitimating it by having it cited in multiple sources. For example, Digi 24 news channel gave a lot of attention in its news feature of February 3 to US State Department’s suppositions, voiced earlier at Ned Price’s briefing, that Russian special services are fabricating a video clip where actors imitate a Ukrainian assault, and Ukrainian forces will be accused of a terror attack with supposed victims not only in East Ukraine but also in Russia. Meanwhile, journalist Eugen Cismasu of the website continues in this vein in a February 4 article, offering new details, “Several video clips posted on social networks show that this month the Chechen troops are enthusiastically moving in columns in an orderly way towards Ukraine. The video features a column of armoured personnel carriers of the Northern Infantry Regiment. Russia’s National Guard, along with the Chechen leader, keeps moving troops near the border with Ukraine.”

There are also incidents of US officials directly imposing the agenda formulated by Washington on others. For example, on February 3, several Montenegrin daily newspapers, including Dan, Pobjeda and Vijesti, carried a column on Russia by US Ambassador to Montenegro Judy Rising Reinke, where she repeats the same set of trite and groundless accusations against Moscow: “Russia’s actions are a threat not only to Ukraine, but to Europe and to the international rules-based order… Over the past two decades, Russia has invaded two neighboring countries, interfered in others’ elections, used chemical weapons to conduct assassinations on foreign soil, wielded gas deliveries as a political tool, and violated international arms control agreements… Unlike Russia, Ukraine has upheld its commitments under the Minsk agreements, which were designed to ensure a ceasefire in Donbass. What Putin truly fears is that democratic values and the exercise of human rights will continue to gradually erode his grip on power.”

Americans did the same thing in other countries, including Portugal, the Republic of North Macedonia and the Autonomous Province of Kosovo: on February 4-7, US Ambassador to North Macedonia Kate Byrnes, Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Lisbon Kristin Kane and US Ambassador to Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier published their articles, which have the same title: Diplomacy over War; Truth over Lies. The local media, including the MIA news agency in North Macedonia and the Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias, republished the articles for their readers at home. The recitation of well-known Western propaganda clichés in these texts boils down to the following conclusion: “The world is watching Russia’s pattern of unprovoked aggression toward Ukraine.” The articles offer no reasonable arguments that would not be overturned by a reference to the right of a country to redeploy troops on its territory, while the list of threats they contain, like imposing sanctions on Russia, is impressive indeed.

The media in Norway, another NATO member country, highlighted specific military and technological details, leading the reader to believe that some major experts with access to classified information had had a hand in preparing the materials. On January 31, the Aldrimer.nо website posted an article by journalist Kjetil Stormark, which says that the Norwegians have information regarding “the redeployment of troops from Russian regions that are close to Norway” and suggests they will be moved to Ukraine: “Russia is redeploying troops from the Kola Peninsula to the south on a massive scale, presumably, to build up forces at the border with Ukraine. This news bodes ill for the stability in the north and also for Ukraine. “Military analysts believe that the photos might show the units of the 200th Separate Motorised Infantry Brigade and the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade, which are deployed near the village of Pechenga, a few kilometres from the Norwegian-Russian border.” On January 20, citing Lt Col Palle Ydstebo, Head of the Land Forces Section at the Norwegian Military Academy, the Verdens Gang newspaper wrote: “Due to its superiority in aviation, drones and artillery, Russia will be able to destroy the major part of Ukrainian defences. The attack will be, so to say, dirty and bloody. Russia has military advisers, reconnaissance and some special-purpose units in Donbass.”

At the same time, another northern NATO country published an item that borders on comical. Michael Bjerre from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (February 5, 2022) writes, in all earnest, that Russia could invade Ukraine via the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

Icelandic media are busy writing about Russia’s alleged cyber activity in Ukraine. On January 14, the newspaper Frettabladid wrote that “Russian hackers have attacked Ukraine many times, and tensions are running high between the two states. Hackers have provoked blackouts across a vast territory in Ukraine in the winter of 2015, leaving almost 250,000 people without heating and electricity. A similar attack was launched in 2016. The hackers were likely Russian. In 2017, banks, news agencies and large corporations became the targets of a virus attack launched presumably by Russian hackers.” It is notable that other types of fake news posted by Icelandic media were promptly deleted by editors, like the January 15 story broadcast by the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service RUV about Russia’s plans to send a large “group of vandals” to stage provocations in Ukraine as justification of the subsequent “invasion”.

The issue of cybersecurity in the context of a “future war with Ukraine” is a major concern for journalists in the Netherlands. Local media mostly cite Western propaganda resources, such as Bloomberg or CNN, when writing about a “physical invasion,” but the issue of hackers was given special attention in the fake news posted by the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation (NOS) on January 25 (Nieuwsuur).

The Luxembourg media are somewhat limited in their ability to wage this fake news campaign, mostly reprinting news from the neighbouring French and German media. When local journalists accept a political contract to produce fake news, they usually pepper their texts with Russophobic statements without any hints at analysis. A case in point is an item posted by Francoise Hanff in the Luxemburger Wort daily on January 25, according to which “observers believe that Vladimir Putin has not yet decided if he is going to invade Ukraine. He obviously wants more than just to restore order in the recalcitrant neighbouring country. The Kremlin chief is out to reorganise the European security architecture to reintroduce zones of influence, like during the Cold War.”

Such discourse follows a simplified formula in the countries which Washington and NATO consider to be less significant for the global information campaign regarding Ukraine. The “invasion” news reported in Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Greece and Croatia were mostly reprints from US media, including Bloomberg. As expected, local news agencies refrained from publishing alternative views, contrary to the generally accepted standards of journalism.

Apart from its NATO allies, the United States exerted indirect influence on the media in other regions it considered important for itself. In addition to traditional reprints of Western news reports, the media in Finland developed the “forecasting” method that was first tested in France and Germany. Thus, on January 22, the Ilta-Sanomat tabloid carried an article by Jari Alenius about future scenarios of events in Ukraine. Indicatively, like his colleagues in other media, he reproduced five such scenarios: “If Putin decides that his tough actions cannot prevent the westernisation of Ukraine and its potential entry into NATO and that this poses a threat for Russia, he may use different options of actions for his army, which is concentrated at the Ukrainian border. There are five scenarios. The first one concerns Eastern Ukraine, which Putin may occupy with the help of so-called peacekeepers that were recently seen in Kazakhstan, and then, with time, start snatching parts of Ukraine and expanding the separatists’ territory. The second scenario implies a direct armed clash. Russia will start its military aggression from afar. At first, it will try to strike at units of the Ukrainian army, artillery, air bases and command centres from the zone covered by artillery and missile launchers on the Russian side of the border. Iskander short-range ballistic missiles will be Russia’s most formidable weapons. Under the third scenario, Russian troops will move from Crimea to the east and west. Next, if Russia continued its offensive by making a landing in Odessa, it would also gain access to the territory of Transnistria while the remaining Ukrainian state would have no sea access. The least probable scenarios include a Russian offensive from the east and the north with a view to establishing a new border along the Dnieper River or even a complete seizure of the entire Ukrainian territory. The latter may happen only if Putin decides to create an entirely new world order in Europe in addition to the capture of Belarus.” As expected, the author of the article cites materials from NBC, The Guardian and some Western research.

Publications in the Swedish media look pretty much the same. Articles about “Russia’s inevitable/probablе attack on Ukraine” mostly contain excerpts from the American and British media (CNN, BBC and the like) or represent direct translations of Anglo-Saxon news reports. The Swedish media space stands out for the mass scale of such reprints. Assertions about Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine regularly appear in the majority of the Kingdom’s main reputable newspapers (Expressen, Dagens Industri, Aftonbladet and Svenska Dagbladet). Outside Britain, it was the Swedes that widely cited a Foreign Office fake about Moscow’s preparations to set up a puppet government in Ukraine (the article by Johan Edgar in Aftonbladet on January 23): “According to the available information, Putin plans to stage a coup d’etat in Ukraine with a view to putting a pro-Russian government in power there.”

Outside Europe, the media of Australia and Japan were particularly active. The Australian media (for instance, the Sky News channel) used the materials of their British colleagues or supplemented them with texts written in the same spirit. In addition, some media (The Australian and the website focused on a fake about an increase in donor blood reserves by the rear troops of the Southern Military District (articles by Maria Bervanakis on February 2 and Alexis Carey on February 1).

As for the Japanese media, journalists from Tokyo (Yuichi Onoda from Sankei Shimbun and Sekine Hiroki from FNN Prime Online) are making parallels with the situation in 2008 that seem natural to them but are based on false facts. They write about the Olympic Games in Beijing in the context of growing tensions on the Russian border: “In August 2008, an armed conflict flared up between government troops and local residents on the territory of pro-Russian South Ossetia in pro-Western Georgia. Russia, which granted citizenship to residents of South Ossetia earlier, invaded Georgia on the pretext of protecting its citizens.”

The local media did not forgo the demonstration of “invasion maps,” a technique that proved effective in the opinion of the masterminds of this campaign. On February 1, one of Japan’s leading television channels, Nippon TV, held a discussion during its Shinsou News analytical programme “Tensions around Ukraine. Three directions of a Russian troop offensive. Assessments by American experts.” Relying on information from the US Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the authors of the programme savoured in detail the patently false information about Russia’s alleged preparations for an invasion of Ukraine: “Let’s discuss in detail the plan of Russian troops’ attack on Ukraine.”

The stand taken by Western officials amid the large-scale disinformation campaign against Russia deserves special mention. They are doing all they can to avoid commenting on it, thereby actually confirming their connection to fake news. A case in point is the statement made by EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano about the fake news posted by Bloomberg which reported that Russia had invaded Ukraine.

Even when Bloomberg itself admitted that it was posted by mistake, Mr Stano said in reply to a media question that it was “a mistake with a short life span.” In other words, he tried to make light of the problem because it allegedly had no serious consequences.

We regard this as collusion between the Western governments and media aimed at fanning tensions over Ukraine by means of a massive and coordinated fake news campaign designed to serve their geopolitical interests, in particular, to divert attention from their own aggressive actions.

The stand taken by Western officials amid the large-scale disinformation campaign against Russia deserves special mention. They are doing all they can to avoid commenting on it, thereby actually confirming their connection to fake news. A case in point is the statement made by EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano about the fake news posted by Bloomberg which reported that Russia had invaded Ukraine.

Even when Bloomberg itself admitted that it was posted by mistake, Mr Stano said in reply to a media question that it was “a mistake with a short life span.” In other words, he tried to make light of the problem because it allegedly had no serious consequences.

We regard this as collusion between the Western governments and media aimed at fanning tensions over Ukraine by means of a massive and coordinated fake news campaign designed to serve their geopolitical interests, in particular, to divert attention from their own aggressive actions.