A Guide to Deciphering Pro-Kremlin Disinformation Around Putin’s War

For years, the Kremlin and its media and trolls have used cheap tricks of the rhetoric of disinformation. It has gone into overdrive during Putin’s war. We have listed these acts here by using the SWAMPED model. Source : EUVSDISINFO – 2 March 2022.

a guide to russian semantics compass cover
A guide to Russian semantics compass

S: Strawmen: Attack views or ideas never actually expressed by the target.

W: Whataboutism: Deflect the discussion away from the topic.

A: Attack: Use brutal language to discourage the opponents.

M: Mockery: Use sarcasm to belittle the opposition.

P: Provocations: Who benefits from this?

E: Exhaust: Drown the opposition in details and technicalities.

D: Denial: Flatly deny any evidence.

For a comprehensive account of the Kremlin’s main disinformation narratives related to Ukraine, see our “Seven Kremlin Myths debunked” and “The Kremlin Playbook, More Myth as pretext to invade Ukraine

Pro-Kremlin semanticsDebunk
“Self-defence of Russia”Attack and invasion of a sovereign state which does not pose any threat 
“Limited military operation”All-out attack. Missile strikes, air and land invasion. Civilian targets, cities and infrastructure included. Large urban bombardments. 
“No occupation”Intent to occupy as much as possible, as long as necessary. Place Ukraine under Moscow’s control. Indefinitely.
“De-nazification of Ukraine”Stalinist-type repression of elected, legitimate officials of a sovereign country.
“Holding election for a new government”Gun-point fake-democracy to place Kremlin-loyal puppets in power.
“Negotiations”Maximalist demands while bombings of civilians continue. Trying to buy time to regroup, refuel and reload the war machine which experienced resistance in advancing.
Only Russians suffered from the Nazi occupation during 2 WW With Kremlin’s use of Nazi, it is alleged that only Russians suffered during the Second World War. This is false. In relation to size, Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation was suffering the most during the Nazi occupation. More Ukrainians died fighting the Nazis than fighting for Hitler.
Genocide is committed by Zelensky and Kyiv leaders against Donbas / Russian speakersThe claims of genocide made by Putin, Lavrov and other Russian leaders are absolutely unacceptable and misuse the word genocide itself.Genocide: United Nations definition(opens in a new tab) – In the UN Convention, genocide means the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”.There is nothing to suggest that the modern Ukrainian state would want to destroy the part of its population being Russian speaker. The laws provide for the use of Russian language, culture and traditions in daily life. Secondly, president Zelenskyy and the government recognise this group. (see below under “Russian language and culture is prohibited by Kyiv”)There is no evidence that Russian-speaking or ethnic Russian residents in eastern Ukraine face genocide.This has been confirmed in reports published by the Council of Europe, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights(opens in a new tab)(opens in a new tab), and the OSCE.It is an infamous Putin lie to postulate genocide. Further, it is an insult to the millions of victims in earlier wars. In the Second World war you can speak about genocide. Slobodan Milošević was accused of 66 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo between 1991 and 1999. These crimes affected hundreds of thousands of victims throughout the former Yugoslavia. Milosevic died during the ICTY trial.Then, numbers in this Putin’s war: if we speak about casualties and victims during this Putin’s war which he started in 2014, many more Ukrainians have been killed, wounded, displaced or driven into refuge. Until recently, before 24 February, the toll stood around 13.000 dead including over 3,000 civilians. Many more have been injured. By far the majority on the Ukrainian government side. This is due to shelling, sniping, attacks of all kind launched by the Moscow-backed armed militants. The OSCE Monitoring Mission(opens in a new tab) have been documenting this daily. Even if Russia is a member of the OSCE, Russia and the militants have put all sort of obstacles to the mission, likely because it does not want to hear the truth.The killings committed by Russian forces is getting worse by the hour. As we witness every day since 24 February with the brutal, unprovoked full-scale attack on Ukraine. Missile attacks, air bombardment, artillery shelling on civilian targets. 
Humanitarian and financial blockade of Donbass made by KyivWrong. For years, large groups of the population in Donbas have crossing regularly into Kyiv-controlled areas for business, shopping and collecting their Ukrainian pensions. Crossing had been kept open for this and other reasons. 
Russian language and culture are prohibited by KyivWrong. Ukraine passed a law ensuring the functioning of the Ukrainian language as a state language(opens in a new tab) in 2019, but this legislation only regulates the use of Ukrainian in public spheres. Russian and other languages of national minorities can be freely used in private communication, in book publishing, in the press, radio, television, education, and the service sector. The law also allows the use of other languages in the healthcare system and law enforcement.See more disinformation cases here.
Minsk Agreements: Kyiv and its Western patrons destroyed it The Kremlin tries to hide the fact that Russia is party to the Minsk agreement. By recognising DNR/LNR, Moscow de facto rejected the Minsk agreement.Nevertheless, Ukraine has passed legislation on special status and amnesty (2014), and prepared draft legislation on local elections (2014). Ukraine adopted constitutional amendments to provide more autonomy to the territories currently outside its control (2015). See Myth #6 here 
Russia is not to occupy Ukraine and it is a limited operation to demilitarise and de-nazification of UkraineThe biggest lie of them all. Putin’s king-pin ridiculous and grotesque lie is pronounced while a full-scale air, land and navy attack is ongoing. Bombardment of civilian targets and several other violations of the Geneva Conventions. 
Kosovo conflict: NATO bombed Belgrade deliberately targeting civiliansAnother Putin and Lavrov favorite trying to make a parallel between Milosevic’s war of killing and ethnic cleansing and the conflict in Donbas. Kosovo was facing the abyss with more than 900.000 people; half Kosovo’s population killed, displaced or driven in refuge. The responsibility to protect was clear. Totally unlike in Donbas. 
After liberation from militarization and neo-Nazism, Russia want to give Ukrainians the chance to determine their own future, without external influence. Since 2013-2014 Euromaidan protests, the pro-Kremlin media have falsely claimed that Ukraine was controlled from the outside.There are over 100 examples of similar disinformation claims in the EUvsDisinfo database.Such claims have no factual basis.In fact, “liberation from neo-Nazism” is euphemism for Moscow wanting to execute large scale suppression of political opponents; like Stalinist-type repression.“Elections to determine own future: euphemism for gun-point fake democracy – just like in Crimea in 2014 where Russian armed forces drove through a mock referendum which no international body recognise.See our short debunk here
The West sabotaged any agreements on Russian proposals for security guarantees.Putin resorted to war, not diplomacy.The Russian demands put forward in December 2021 in so-called draft ‘treaties’ between Russia and US and NATO respectively were designed to be rejected so Russia could play the role of martyr. In essence, the demands called for rolling back the situation in Europe to before 1997; US leaving large parts of Europe; several NATO members de facto demilitarise and indefinitely restricting free countries right to decide own policy.This quasi-diplomacy, which did not seek compromise and solutions, was in fact a smoke-screen and part of a psychological operation to confuse, distract and split the West. Meanwhile, Russian forces were being massed and prepared for invasion. The West called out Putin’s bluff by sharing intelligence of offensive plans with the public.
Budapest memorandum [1994] is not relevant any moreThe Kremlin avoids the central issue: Ukraine scrapped its nuclear weapons and in exchange, the leaders of the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom signed(opens in a new tab) the Budapest memorandum with guarantees(opens in a new tab) on the integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.See disinfo cases debunked here