Before His Invasion Putin Ran Propaganda Campaigns Against Ukraine for 14 Years

by | Apr 6, 2022 | Quick Facts

Photo by José Pablo Domínguez

Before His Invasion Putin Ran Propaganda Campaigns Against Ukraine for 14 Years

by | Apr 6, 2022 | Quick Facts

Photo by José Pablo Domínguez
The world should listen when Putin starts trash talking propaganda campaigns about other countries. Similar disinformation operations were run against Georgia before Russia’s invasion of that country in 2008.

As the invasion of Ukraine began in late February 2022, President Vladimir Putin offered several justifications for why Russia had no other option.

First: Russia needed to fight the rise of fascism and neo-Nazism by demilitarizing Ukraine. According to Putin, Ukrainian leaders, including the country’s democratically elected Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, were a bunch of neo-Nazis and drug addicts holding Ukraine hostage.

Second: Russian intervention would prevent the alleged genocide of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.

Third: Russian intervention would ensure that Ukraine does not join NATO, a military alliance that Russia views as an existential threat.

While those statements may seem strange and outlandish, Putin has been laying the rhetorical groundwork for an invasion of Ukraine along these lines for years.

Russian rhetoric – the language Russian officials use – toward Ukraine has changed over the past two decades from establishing a strategic partnership with Ukraine to delegitimizing Ukraine’s government. This was done by making unsubstantiated accusations of atrocities, false accusations of the rebirth of fascism, and blaming the West and neo-Nazis for escalating violence in Ukraine.

With hindsight, Russia’s statements should have triggered warning bells.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has spent 14 years building a case to invade Ukraine. AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

From Cooperation to Badmouthing

As researchers specializing in international relations, diplomatic communication and conflict, we investigated how Putin, key Russian diplomats and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs built these strategic stories. Our research using several types of documents and information, including press releases and statements by Russian officials, outlines a Russian effort that started over 14 years ago.

We traced Putin’s rationale for invading Ukraine as far back as 2008, more than a decade before the current invasion. In one statement on Sept. 11, 2008, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs alleged Ukrainian attempts “to heroize the accomplices of fascism,” violate “the rights of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population” and “oust the Russian language from the public life of the country, science, education, culture and the mass media.”

Our findings indicate that the world should listen when Russia starts trash-talking other countries. Similar accusations and storytelling were used about Georgia before Russia’s invasion of that country in 2008.

While the accusations are false and become pillars of dis- and misinformation campaigns, these repeated Russian claims appear to potentially foreshadow Russian aggression and intervention in neighboring countries.

In a period that has been largely forgotten, Russian-Ukrainian relations were largely defined by Russian attempts to build a strategic partnership with the neighboring country before 2013. Negotiations led to cooperative approaches for handling military threats and conflict in neighboring regions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov asserted on Sept. 23, 2005, that there was “a common striving to continue seeking to improve the atmosphere in Russian-Ukrainian relations.”

However, tensions rose between 2008 and 2010 when Russia began voicing concerns about anti-Russian sentiment in Ukraine and alleging a rebirth of fascism. On June 25, 2008, the Russian Ministry of Affairs publicly stated that it was “astounded” that the Ukrainian government sympathized with Nazis: “Extolling the Nazi accomplices is inadmissible. It defiles the memory of the millions of people of many countries and nationalities who died in the struggle against fascism.”

But the rhetoric of strategic partnership largely returned between 2010 and 2013.

The headquarters of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was key in spreading false accusations against Ukraine. Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Russia’S Thwarted Plan

Russia’s strategic partnership efforts, in part aimed at keeping Ukraine close to Russia and distant from Europe, seemed to be working. In 2013, Ukraine’s leaders reversed the country’s political course and rejected an agreement that would have fostered closer political and economic ties between Ukraine and the European Union.

But this reversal triggered large-scale citizen protests and civil unrest. They culminated in the Ukrainian government killing protesters and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych – long-considered a puppet of Vladimir Putin – fleeing the country to Russia. New government elections were held and in 2014, the previously rejected Association Agreement was signed that aimed to build closer political, financial and economic ties between Ukraine and the European Union.

During this period of turmoil, Ukrainian citizens protested Russian influence over the country and lack of progress in forging relations with Europe. In response, Russia alleged that Western powers were supporting rising far-right extremism, fascism and Nazism in Ukraine. Russia also falsely claimed the alleged rise of extremism was linked to biased Russophobic media in Ukraine.

When protests erupted in Kyiv in 2014 following the initial abandonment of the Association Agreement with the EU, Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, referred to protesters as “fascist-inspired radicals.”

The turmoil spiraled into the outbreak of armed conflict by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of the portion of Ukraine known as Crimea in 2014.

At that point, Russia sought to delegitimize the Ukrainian government again by castigating it for alleged atrocities, including “massive deaths of civilians as a result of the punitive [military] operation of Kiev.” Russia repeatedly linked Ukrainian anti-Russian groups to fascism – one official statement referred to “The growing spread of the radical, primarily ultranationalist, neo-Nazi ideology.” Russia blamed the West for fueling the conflict, asserting that a grave humanitarian crisis was taking place in eastern Ukraine.

Russia also accused Ukraine of a campaign to promote anti-Russian sentiment, alleging on March 30, 2019, that Ukraine was targeting journalists and practiced “gross infringement on the rights of journalists and the freedom of the media.” Russia also charged that Ukraine was guilty of various human rights violations. Importantly, even though such claims have been thoroughly debunked throughout the years, Russian rhetoric remained mostly unchanged.

False Claims Justify a War

As Russian troops prepared to cross the Ukrainian border en masse on Feb. 24, 2022, Putin expanded on the anti-Ukrainian language that he had begun using over a decade before.

According to Putin, Ukraine was a fascist, neo-Nazi country propped up by the West, and he was seeking to “demilitarize and denazify” the country. Allegations of atrocities expanded into accusations of genocide of Russian speakers, as Putin also claimed, “We had to stop that atrocity, that genocide of the millions of people who live there and who pinned their hopes on Russia.”

Putin attempted to further delegitimize Ukrainian leaders by calling them “a band of drug addicts and neo-Nazis.” He blamed the West for the escalating tensions in Ukraine.

While many in the West were shocked at hearing Putin’s justifications for invasion, he has been remarkably consistent for more than a decade.The Conversation

Republished with permission from The Conversation, by Juris Pupcenoks, Marist College and Graig Klein, Leiden University

The Conversation

The Conversation

The Conversation is a nonprofit, independent news organization dedicated to unlocking the knowledge of experts for the public good. We publish trustworthy and informative articles written by academic experts for the general public and edited by our team of journalists.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles

Sep 24 2022

DeSantis Sued Again for His Martha’s Vineyard Stunt

A Florida state senator has filed a lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis for his abuse of Florida state funds for his Martha’s Vineyard scheme.
woman raise signage
Sep 20 2022

A New Survey Shows the Top Issues Motivating American Voters

A 19th/Survey Monkey Survey finds the economy is a bigger deal for Republicans and preserving democracy is bigger for Democrats as a motivating factor in this year’s...
Queen Elizabeth II in an open carriage with Prince Philip for trooping the colour 2015 to mark the Queens official birthday, London, UK
Sep 09 2022

The Long Reign and Enduring Legacy of Queen Elizabeth II

Elizabeth II inherited a monarchy whose political power had been steadily ebbing away since the 18th century but whose role in the public life of the nation seemed, if...
Sep 06 2022

Facebook Accused of Fueling Bolsonaro Coup-Mongering in Brazil

Facebook and Meta are actively helping mobilize an online army in Brazil that’s peddling conspiracy theories about the integrity of the election and threatening a...
Sep 03 2022

Judge Orders Lindsey Graham to Testify in Georgia Grand Jury’s Election Probe

A U.S. District Court judge has ordered South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham to testify in Fulton County special grand jury investigation into attempts to overturn...
Aug 28 2022

A Legal Expert Answers Questions About the FBI’s Mar-A-Lago Search Warrant Affidavit

The information revealed in the affidavit indicates that our national security and the safety of intelligence agents were put at severe risk when national defense...
Former President Donald Trump, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Aug. 6, 2022, in Dallas. Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images
Aug 16 2022

Someone Doesn’t Have to Be a Spy to Violate the Espionage Act

When you hear “espionage,” you may think spies and international intrigue. More typically the Espionage Act applies to the unauthorized gathering, possessing or...
People vote in the primary election at the civic center in Silver Spring, Md., on July 19, 2022. Robb Hill for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Aug 08 2022

No, Local Election Officials Don’t Tilt Elections in Favor of Their Party’s Candidates

Have these officials, as some charge now, used their authority to interfere with America’s democratic process? Do local election officials abuse their power? The short...
Jul 29 2022

How Polio Snuck Back Into the U.S.

The first sign of trouble surfaced when a young man in Rockland County, New York sought medical treatment for weakness and paralysis in June. By the time tests...
Jul 29 2022

How a Grand Jury Works and Why Prosecutors Are Using Them to Investigate Insurrectionists

Aside from considering whether individuals may have committed a crime, a grand jury can also be used by a prosecutor as an investigative tool to compel witnesses to...
Subscribe for Updates!

Subscribe for Updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This