Pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets claim Russia wants peace, even as it continues to wage its brutal war against Ukraine. Blaming the West and falsely claiming the world is on Russia’s side reveal the Kremlin’s efforts to manipulate the peace narrative. In fact says EUvsDiSiNFO, we have seen this manipulative tactic to reverse the roles of the victim and the aggressor in other pro-Kremlin disinformation cases. This time, the Kremlin deploys it to deny Ukraine’s legitimacy as the victim of aggression and dismiss its striving for peace. If the Kremlin were really interested in peace, it should be willing at least to engage in negotiations with Ukraine, the country that it has invaded repeatedly since 2014.
Source — EUvsDiSiNFO — September 27, 2023 —
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Twenty months have passed since Russia launched its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. Now, the unconditional triumphalism is all but gone from the Kremlin’s rhetoric and the longer the Russian forces fight to hold onto the temporarily occupied territories in Ukraine, the more the Kremlin talks about peace. In July, Putin claimed that Russia does not reject the idea of peace talks as long as Ukraine accepts its ‘new territorial reality’ – a euphemism for Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian lands.
More recently, Putin said that Russia is ready for a cessation of hostilities, if Ukraine stops trying to liberate its own territory and ceases the counteroffensive. Pro-Russian outlets have also made friendly noises about peace proposals floated by countries whose favour Russia seeks to curry – including China, fellow BRICS members, and states in Africa.
At the same time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has crudely dismissed the only path toward a just and sustainable peace in Ukraine – the ten-point peace plan proposed by Kyiv. Such statements go beyond the mere rhetorical device to distract from the fact that Russia offers no credible options for peace, only ultimatums for Ukrainian surrender. In fact, we have seen this manipulative tactic to reverse the roles of the victim and the aggressor in other pro-Kremlin disinformation cases. This time, the Kremlin deploys it to deny Ukraine’s legitimacy as the victim of aggression and dismiss its striving for peace.
So how serious is the Kremlin’s newfound passion for peace? Not very. We can see why by examining a few recent Kremlin narratives that have attempted to frame media discussions around various peace proposals.
The two-faced West
If the Kremlin were interested in peace, it should be willing at least to engage in negotiations with Ukraine, the country that it has invaded repeatedly since 2014. But the Russian leadership routinely rejects any Ukrainian proposals, dismissing Ukraine’s very statehood and sovereignty. The reason is clear – Ukraine’s proposals for a just and sustainable peace call to respect its territorial integrity. This notion directly contradicts Russia’s land grab designs in Ukraine. Hence, pro-Russian commentators insist that Ukraine doesn’t want peace.
Regarding the West, pro-Kremlin disinformation is strangely two-pronged. On the one hand, Russian state-controlled outlets insist that the West doesn’t want peace, allegedly pursuing the war for their own profit and somehow ‘cashing in’ by delivering weapons to Ukraine. On the other hand, more recently, some commentators have claimed that the West is waiting for Ukraine’s counteroffensive to fail before imposing a draconian peace that legitimises Russia’s occupation. According to the Kremlin, the West is tired of providing support and will soon beg for negotiations.
This pro-Kremlin idea – that the West is poised to stab Ukraine in the back – is either a conscious effort to sow distrust between Ukraine and Western countries, or delusional optimism, or a combination of both. The ultimate goal of this blame-shifting game is to distract from the simple fact that Russia is the sole aggressor in Ukraine.
Well-known pro-Kremlin fearmonger and one-time presidential seat-warmer Dmitry Medvedev provided another example of purposefully twisting the narrative about peace when he claimed that Western military support stands in the way of peace and prolongs the war. A blatant lie to deny Ukraine’s right of self-defence against Russian aggression. The truth is much more dire. As put succinctly by NATO Secretary General “If Russia stops fighting, there will be peace. If Ukraine stops fighting, it will cease to exist.”
But by far the best demonstration of selective memory and twisting the narrative about peace negotiations came from Putin himself when he declared that Ukraine rejected an April 2022 peace proposal after Russia graciously ‘withdrew the troops from Kyiv, as we promised’. The chutzpah was breath taking. Russia forces withdrew only because Ukrainian resistance had inflicted a series of humiliating defeats upon them. Once again, Putin was portraying Russia’s failure as a success and making it sound as if Russia’s forced retreat was a gesture of good faith.
“The world is on Russia’s side”
Having backed itself into a corner of international isolation by launching an unwise and illegal war, the Russian leadership is desperately looking around for allies. Pro-Kremlin outlets have gone out of their way to report on peace proposals put forward by non-Western countries. The same outlets have also showcased statements that could appear to be sympathetic to Russia.
For example, some pro-Kremlin outlets prominently covered comments that could be misconstrued as “bothsidesism” if deliberately taken out of context. Others sought to equate calls for diplomacy to prevail as explicit endorsement of the Kremlin’s narratives. And some outlets resorted to paraphrasing statements of foreign officials, to make them sound more supportive. Pro-Kremlin outlets are more than ready to twist the words of world leaders if they can be made to appear to parrot the pro-Kremlin line of ‘’Western aggression’ and remove Ukrainian agency as a sovereign state.
Such comments are not necessarily disinformation. But when reported by pro-Kremlin outlets they are selective and often out of context. By portraying Russia’s invasion as a ‘crisis,’ they posit a false equivalence between the two sides. The wanted effect is to frame Russia’s aggression as an absolute last-resort option that only became inevitable due to reasons beyond Russia’s control. If anyone is to blame – and the Kremlin has many ideas on that topic – it certainly isn’t Russia.
The Jeddah meeting on 5 August, however, presented a problem. The conference brought together representatives of over forty countries, including all BRICS members – except Russia. Pro-Kremlin outlets belittled the event. Where they could, they also highlighted comments by officials from non-Western countries bemoaning Russia’s absence from the event. The apparent goal was to portray Russia as united with its interlocutors around the globe in opposing the West’s ‘futile, doomed efforts’ to promote a peace that does not allow Russia to keep Ukrainian lands.
Fumbling towards the future
Perhaps the most extreme example of pro-Kremlin efforts to diminish Ukrainian peace proposals happened in the context of a visit by African leaders to Kyiv in June. As the visit began, Kyiv’s air defence sirens blared and two explosions shook the city as Russian missiles threatened the capital.
Shortly thereafter, a pro-Kremlin outlet declared that the Ukrainian government had carried out a ‘psycho-operation’ and staged the attacks to portray Russia as the ‘evil aggressor’. In addition, RT in French falsely alleged that President Zelenskyy had ‘rejected’ the African leaders’ offer to mediate, using a photo of Zelenskyy clenching his fists while seeming to ignore an African leader’s open hand as ‘proof’. In fact, President Zelenskyy simply reiterated a common-sense position, that Russia must withdraw from Ukrainian territories before peace can be achieved.
Make no mistake: Russia is the aggressor in Ukraine, and the Kremlin’s attempts to twist the truth can only make the path to real peace longer. No doubt, Russia’s only idea of peace is an unconditional Ukrainian surrender. But that is neither just, nor sustainable.
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