Russian State Media Bolster Putin’s Narrative for Ukraine Invasion

From a Wall Street Journal story by Ann M. Simmons headlined “Russian State Media Bolster Putin’s Narrative for Ukraine Invasion”:

MOSCOW—Russian authorities and state-controlled media outlets have issued disinformation that seeks to support President Vladimir Putin’s claims that Moscow was compelled to invade Ukraine to protect Russia’s own security.

State broadcasters, lawmakers and pro-Kremlin pundits have sought to advance Mr. Putin’s narrative that Ukraine is an aggressor that threatens Russia and the Russian-controlled territories in the Donbas, in eastern Ukraine.

“The Armed Forces of Ukraine don’t stop shooting at settlements of Donbas,” Russia’s Channel One reported Friday.

Earlier this week, Mr. Putin ordered an invasion of its smaller neighbor and, on Friday, Russian forces had entered Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, with fierce fighting threatening the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

State media has cited Ukrainian media saying residents of various cities, including the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, had heard several explosions and the sound of shelling. But Russian state news reports adhere closely to the Kremlin’s narrative, repeated in statements by Russia’s Defense Ministry, that their armed forces “do not strike cities and towns [and] they take measures to save the lives of civilians.”

On Saturday, a special edition of the political talk show “60 Minutes” aired on Russia’s Channel One, showing residential buildings with shattered windows, blown-out walls and rivers of rubble on streets in the Russian-led Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, as a result of what was described as assaults by Ukrainian forces. Residents were shown picking through debris in their homes.

Also on Saturday, Russia’s communications regulator ordered the removal of reports from media that describe Moscow’s attack on Ukraine as an “assault, invasion or declaration of war,” or face being fined or blocked. It accused several independent news organizations of publishing “false information…under the guise of reliable messaging.”

“We emphasize that it is Russian official information sources that have reliable and up-to-date information,” the agency said in a statement.

On Friday, Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook said it would block Russian state media from running ads or making money from ads shown on its platform, after Moscow said that it was restricting access to Facebook in the country.

The most prominent argument being promoted by pro-government figures and media to justify the invasion is that Ukraine has the potential to revive its nuclear arsenal and intends to do so with the purpose of targeting Russia.

On Friday, one morning broadcast in Russia presented charts showing what it said was Ukraine’s nuclear potential, including its ability to create what the presenter said was “the most primitive, but no less dangerous” so-called dirty bomb, or a conventional bomb that combines radioactive material.

In 1994, three years after the demise of the Soviet Union, newly independent Ukraine agreed to give up its roughly 1,800 nuclear weapons, including short-range tactical weapons and air-launched cruise missiles, in exchange for security assurances from the U.S., the U.K. and Russia.

This week, Moscow seized on recent comments by Mr. Zelensky regarding Ukraine’s decision to cede the nuclear weapons as evidence of the threat Kyiv poses to Russia.

Addressing the Munich Security Conference last weekend, Mr. Zelensky said today his country has neither those weapons, nor security for his country.

But he added, “We have something—the right to demand a shift from a policy of appeasement to ensuring security and peace guarantees.”

Moscow charges that Ukraine wants nuclear weapons with the intention of attacking Russia. Mr. Putin has often said that Kyiv “has nuclear technologies created back in the Soviet times,” specifying that some such weapons, including tactical missiles, have a range of over 100 kilometers, which is roughly 62 miles.

And “they can do more,” the Russian president said in a televised address earlier this week. “It’s only a matter of time.”

“Ukraine intends to create its own nuclear weapons,” he said, “and this isn’t just bragging.” If Kyiv is allowed to acquire “weapons of mass destruction, the situation in the world and in Europe will drastically change, especially for us, for Russia. We cannot but react to this real danger.”

The Russian leader has also reminded Russians that their country is one of the most powerful nuclear nations in the world, warning that an attack on Russia would lead to defeat of any potential aggressor.

On Friday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian responded, telling French radio that Mr. Putin “knows very well that NATO is also a nuclear alliance.”

Nikolai Sokov, a senior fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, worked for Russia’s Foreign Ministry between 1987 and 1992 and handled the portfolio of nuclear weapons that remained out of Russia following the demise of the Soviet Union.

While Ukraine inherited a significant share of the USSR’s nuclear arsenal, it didn’t have launch control, Mr. Sokov said in an email. That was entrusted to Russia under two agreements brokered in 1991.

The last weapons that Kyiv inherited from the defunct Soviet state were withdrawn from Russia in 1996, and while Ukraine has a rich history of nuclear research and has deposits of uranium, “it has never had key elements of nuclear industrial infrastructure critical for building nuclear weapons,” Mr. Sokov said.

Further, even keeping Soviet nuclear weapons “was de facto impossible,” because they need regular maintenance, refurbishing and the replacement of components, Mr. Sokov said. Ukraine didn’t have the capacity to dismantle nuclear weapons and didn’t produce many of the essential components for replacement, he said.

Today, building the necessary industrial infrastructure would take years and massive spending, and would encounter major opposition from the West, the analyst added.

Rafael Loss, coordinator for pan-European data projects of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank, said the transfer of nuclear material was completed in 2001 and since then Ukraine has been fulfilling all of its obligations as a nonnuclear weapon state under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

“International experts also do not consider Ukraine a likely proliferant,” Mr. Loss said. “Putin’s claims to the [contrary] are supposed to conjure up an imaginary threat that has no basis in reality.”

It is “Russia that has modernized its vast nuclear arsenal in recent years [and] it has been the Kremlin that regularly threatens nuclear annihilation on countries that dare to stand up to Russia,” he added.

Russians like Elena Tarusova, 33, a mother of two from Bashkiria in the southwest part of Russia, said she supported the Kremlin’s military campaign, because it was “absolutely justified and necessary” to expel what she described as the “war criminals and henchmen of the West” leading Ukraine.

But some Russians are repudiating the state’s narrative defending Mr. Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. On Thursday, crowds of Russians took to the streets across the country to denounce the move, defying a continuing crackdown on political opposition that has markedly raised the risks of dissent and seen almost all prominent activists jailed or driven into exile.

OVD-Info, a group that monitors police detentions, said more than 2,440 people were detained across at least 58 cities for participating in what the authorities deemed as unauthorized gatherings on Thursday and Friday. Russia’s Interior Ministry didn’t respond to a request for information on the size of the protests but published that 600 people were detained in Moscow for joining the unsanctioned event on Thursday and didn’t respond to subsequent requests for information regarding protests on Friday.

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday that Russian citizens were allowed “have their own point of view,” but weren’t allowed to organize actions without “following the appropriate procedures.” In a published statement, the Interior Ministry urged residents to refrain from participating in further illegal demonstrations.

An antiwar petition on Change.org, entitled “No To War,” by Saturday afternoon had garnered more than 681,000 signatures.

“Putin ordered the start of a military operation against Ukraine, despite the terrible price that both Ukraine and Russia will undoubtedly pay for this war, despite all the voices of reason that sounded in Russia and beyond,” the petition said. “Official Russian rhetoric claims that this is done in self-defense. But history cannot be fooled,” it said.

Tatyana Pertseva, an independent film director in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second city, said Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine made her uncomfortable.

“I am ashamed as a citizen of my country and I do not share this position,” she said. “Something is happening that should never be happening. All people must now unite in the struggle for peace.”

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