As its troops fight on the ground in Ukraine, Russia is waging a parallel war of misinformation. Even before Russian forces crossed the border, Russian officials were crafting a narrative at odds with reality. Publicly claiming one thing while intelligence suggests another isn’t unusual, but Russia has gone so far as to insist its actions don’t constitute war or that it has no plans to impose forces even while Russian troops set off explosions in key Ukrainian cities and attempt to gain control of strategic sites.
Most recently following an attack on a hospital in Mariupol, a key city in the south of Ukraine, Russian officials have repeatedly changed their narrative. First, they stated Russia would never attack civilian targets, then claimed it was a false flag operation conducted by Ukrainian rebels, but they never took responsibility.
Here are five examples of Russian officials essentially trying to gaslight Western officials and the broader public regarding Ukraine.
After the March 9 attack which wrecked Mariupol’s maternity and children’s hospital, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested civilians had not been present at the time.
“All the women in labor, all the nurses, in general, all the staff was driven out of there,” Lavrov said on March 10.
Ukrainian officials say Russian forces were behind the attack, though Russian officials have insisted that’s not the case.
On March 10, Lavrov flat out denied Russia had attacked Ukraine, saying, “Russia has no plans to attack other countries. We have not even attacked Ukraine.”
Lavrov’s remarks came more than a week after Russia’s initial invasion into Ukraine and as Russian forces attempted to seize control of several key Ukrainian cities. For example, authorities described the situation in Mariupol, which had been under siege from Russian forces, as “critical” due to heavy shelling. And a week before Lavrov insisted Russia had not attacked Ukraine, a Russian strike hit an apartment building in a city north of Kyiv, leaving at least 33 people dead.
A limited operation
When Putin dispatched Russian troops into the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine on February 22, he initially described it as a “peacekeeping” mission.
And in a TV broadcast early on the morning of February 24 after troops had invaded Ukraine, Putin referred to it as a “special military operation,” insisting it was limited to the Donbas region and stating that Russia does “not plan to impose ourselves on anyone.”
Russia’s presence in Ukraine is not limited. Their forces span most of the country, surrounding or attempting to surround key cities well beyond the Donbas.
During and shortly after Putin’s speech, reporters on the ground noted explosions could be heard in the capitol city of Kyiv as well as Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, and Odessa, a key port city – none of which are in the Donbas region. That same day, Russian forces took control of Hostomel airport just outside of Ukraine’s capital.
In response to US aggression
Pushing back on reports of aggressive Russian troop positioning around Ukraine, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov suggested in an interview on December 11 that any movements of Russian forces were in response to US military presence and movements in the region.
“Russia is moving its forces within its territory, and we can move our forces in any direction we want and closer to the areas that could pose a threat [and currently] we see US warplanes landing in Ukraine and US military equipment approaching our borders,” Peskov said.
Less than a week later, after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to discuss Russia’s military build-up in and around Ukraine, Russia announced it wanted a legally binding guarantee that NATO would give up any military activity in eastern Europe and Ukraine and end a nuclear sharing agreement which allows the US to keep its nuclear weapons in Europe and use aircraft from European members of NATO to deliver nuclear weapons if needed. These proposals were in response to what Russia sees as threats to their own security from Ukraine’s relations with NATO and NATO member nations.
However, the US has been providing aid to Ukraine since 2014, and US warplanes landing in Ukraine with military equipment is not unusual. Some small arms and ammunition from the US were delivered to Ukraine days before Peskov’s remarks as part of a previously scheduled security assistance package approved in September. The US military also helps train Ukrainian troops, though CNN reported that the Pentagon would not go into detail about timelines for operations or deployments, nor would it say if any schedules changed in light of the buildup of Russian forces near Ukraine. The Pentagon did note that US Marines operate throughout the continent for training and exercises.
No plans to attack
On November 28, 2021, Peskov told state news agency TASS that “Russia has never hatched, is not hatching and will never hatch any plans to attack anyone.”
US intelligence regarding Russian troop movements and Putin’s decision to invade largely proved true. For months, Russia amassed forces along the border, underlying the premeditated aspect of the ultimate invasion in February. And in the weeks leading up to the invasion, the US widely shared that its intelligence suggested Putin would invade shortly.