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Breakdown of Putin's false narratives to justify aggression against Ukraine

February 23, 2022 12:27 amby Oleg Sukhov
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People hold signs during a protest outside the Russian Embassy in Kyiv on Feb. 22, 2022. (Chris McGrath/ Getty Images)

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s bellicose speech on Feb. 21 was full of false narratives and half-truths that he used to justify his aggression against Ukraine. 

The speech was ostensibly his rationale for his recognition of the Kremlin’s proxies in Ukraine’s Russian-occupied areas in the Donbas as independent states, as well as for officially sending Russian troops there. 

But Putin went much farther than that. He effectively questioned the legality of Ukraine’s sovereignty and the legal basis for the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991. 

He also demonized and vilified NATO, saying it was a lethal threat for Russia. 

Below is the analysis of some of Putin’s false and dubious allegations. 

Putin claimed that Ukraine was “entirely created by Russia and — more precisely — by Bolshevik Russia.” He was referring to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, which was set up by Bolshevik troops in 1919. 

This statement ignores the fact that Ukraine had many predecessor states in history long before the Russian Revolution of 1917.

They include Kyivan Rus, the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Zaporizhian Sich, the Hetmanate, and the Ukrainian People’s Republic. In all of these states, the Ukrainian language and culture or its prototypes were predominant.

Putin’s entire speech was a scathing critique of Bolshevik dictator Vladimir Lenin, who he claimed created the Ukrainian state. The irony is that this criticism was used as a justification for a motion to recognize Russia’s proxies, initiated by Russia’s Communist Party which worships Lenin.

Putin claimed that the U.S. and NATO are using Ukraine as a potential tool of aggression against Russia. 

Ironically, this is the other way around. Ukraine’s NATO aspirations were an inevitable result of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in 2014. A much bigger percentage of Ukrainians want to join NATO because they want the alliance to defend Ukraine from Putin’s militarist dictatorship. 

This is also the main reason why Eastern European countries have joined NATO — something that Russia has opposed, calling it “NATO’s eastward expansion.” As a result of World War II, they were occupied by the Soviet Union, which established totalitarian communist dictatorships there and suppressed popular uprisings. 

Putin claimed that “Ukrainian society faced the growth of extreme nationalism, which was soon transformed into aggressive russophobia and neo-Nazism.” 

Nationalist and neo-Nazi groups exist in Ukraine, like in most European countries, but they have never been very popular.

Six nationalist parties united under the Svoboda party brand got 2.2% in the 2019 parliamentary election. Ex-President Petro Poroshenko and his party lost the presidential and parliamentary elections to the relatively less nationalist Volodymyr Zelensky and his party in the same year. 

Moreover, a negative attitude to Russia became more widespread in Ukraine after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea and invaded the Donbas in 2014.

Putin claimed that Ukraine is under “foreign management” carried out “through a network of foreign advisors, NGOs and other institutions.” He also claimed that Ukraine has “no independent judiciary” because foreign experts will play a crucial role in the formation of Ukraine’s main judiciary bodies - the High Council of Justice and the High Qualification Commission of Judges. 

“Foreign management” is a false narrative often used by both corrupt officials and pro-Kremlin politicians in Ukraine to justify the continuation of corruption and lawlessness. Whenever Western organizations and NGOs tried to help Ukraine carry out any reforms and transform Ukraine into a Western-style democracy, local corrupt bureaucrats accused them of violating Ukraine’s sovereignty. For them, sovereignty is equivalent to their own right to keep the corrupt business as usual.

Foreign experts were given a crucial role in the creation of a new High Council of Justice and a new High Qualification Commission because they are independent from corrupt vested interests and are not proteges of any political clans in Ukraine. This is an attempt to create a truly independent judiciary.

The irony is that in Russia the courts have even less independence than Ukraine’s unreformed and politicized judiciary. Judges are effectively bureaucrats entirely subordinated to Putin’s dictatorial regime. 

Putin said that corruption “has acquired a unique character” in Ukraine and “has literally saturated and eroded Ukraine’s whole state, (political) system and all branches of government.” 

It is true that Ukraine is one of Europe’s most corrupt countries. But it is only half of the truth. 

In Ukraine, corruption is partially a result of its Soviet legacy and its failure to integrate into the West. Among others, this corruption has been perpetuated by pro-Kremlin parties favored by Putin, including ousted ex-President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. 

In Russia, corruption is as much of a curse as in Ukraine but there it is more centralized and monopolized by Putin and his allies. 

Under Putin’s rule, his cronies, including Igor Sechin, Alexei Miller, Gennady Timchenko, Yury Kovalchuk and Arkady Rotenberg — have become Russia’s most influential businessmen and powerbrokers. 

Sergei Roldugin, a cellist and long-time friend of Putin, is linked to offshore companies with cash flows of up to $2 billion and is widely believed to be a frontman for Putin, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

In 2021, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny released an investigation about Putin’s palace on the Black Sea coast. Putin’s friends and allied businessmen, as well as state firms Rosneft and Transneft, have channeled a total of 100 billion rubles ($1.3 billion) to build the palace - something that Navalny called “the world’s largest bribe.”

Oleg Sukhov
Author: Oleg Sukhov

Oleg Sukhov is a political reporter at the Kyiv Independent. He is a former editor and reporter at the Moscow Times. He has a master's degree in history from the Moscow State University. He moved to Ukraine in 2014 due to the crackdown on independent media in Russia and covered war, corruption, reforms and law enforcement for the Kyiv Post.

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