Ukraine: the perennial disinformation target
Four years have passed since the protests and subsequent violence on Maidan square in Kyiv, and also another anniversary is soon upon us; that of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia. It is therefore no surprise that we see a focus on these events in pro-Kremlin disinformation this week: anniversaries are often used as a hook to reinforce the disinformation narratives constructed to obscure the facts about what happened.
If we go through the disinformation narratives we have seen this week in a chronological order, firstly we notice the narrative that the events in Ukraine were initiated by a Western-backed coup. This is a recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation theme. The demonstrations which began on Maidan square in Kyiv in November 2013 were not provoked from outside but were a result of the Ukrainian people’s frustration with former President Yanukovych’s last minute U-turn when, after seven years of negotiation, he refused to sign the EU–Ukraine Association Agreement and halted progress towards Ukraine’s closer relationship with the EU as a result of Russian pressure.
Secondly, we find the disinformation narrative that tries to blame anyone but the Yanukovych government for the killing of unarmed protesters during a couple of dark days in February 2014. This week, as we have seen often before, the snipers were suggested to have been instructed variously by the leaders of the protests, by the then US-Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland or by former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. This is one of the most common disinformation tactics: to confuse the audience with a number of contradictory (and unproven) conspiracy theories.
Thirdly, we see disinforming narratives about the illegal annexation of Crimea spread again, claiming that Crimea is Russian territory, that Crimea smoothly separated from Ukraine or that Crimea simply “reunited” with Russia in 2014. In fact, Russia illegally annexed the Ukrainian peninsula in violation of international law.
This leads us to another prevalent theme lately; disinformation about sanctions.
A case of the chicken or the egg?
In response to Russia violating international law and appropriating parts of a sovereign country, the EU and the US imposed sanctions on Russia. But in pro-Kremlin disinformation, it is those very sanctions – and not the illegal action they respond to – that are referred to as undermining global stability. This is confusing cause and effect: a case of the chicken or the egg.
But here we actually do have an exact starting point to the problem. In the end of February 2014, “little green men” later known to be Russian soldiers, seized key buildings in Crimea. On the 18th of March 2014, President Putin signed a bill that absorbed Crimea into the Russian Federation. Cause and effect.