WHAT KREMLIN PROPAGANDISTS SAY:
Throughout the course of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, Kremlin propagandists have stated that ‘Ukraine is being liberated’ by Russia. This disinformation narrative is central to Russia’s justification of its illegal war of aggression in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin used the term ‘liberate’ on eight separate occasions in his address to the nation on September 21, 2022. When referring to the Russian occupation, he stated, “Our brothers and sisters in the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and other areas that have been liberated from the neo-Nazi regime.”
As with many Russian disinformation narratives which seek to advance the Kremlin’s worldview, the idea of “liberating” Ukraine from a “Nazi regime” is intended to hark back to the Soviet era and arouse the deep-rooted patriotism that’s engrained into Russian society. Parallels are often drawn between the present-day Russia-Ukraine war and the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. Vladimir Putin, himself, has made such comparisons, stating that, “[Russian] soldiers, as their ancestors, are fighting side by side to liberate their native land from the Nazi filth with the confidence that, as in 1945, victory will be ours.”
Russia claims that they have ‘liberated’ Luhansk and Donetsk as well as Zaporizhia and Kherson which in turn have ‘chosen’ to become a part of Russian territory. The Kremlin-backed governor of the Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo stated that, “[Russia] has no choice but to once again liberate Kherson.” Russian state media outlets claim that the entirety of Ukraine must be liberated to protect these regions, and therefore Russian territory.
Many of the disinformation narratives promoted by Russia serve to create a false justification for its actions. Ahead of the 2022 full-scale invasion, Russia has sought to characterise Ukraine as a ‘Nazi state’ in order to portray itself as a ‘liberator’. This disinformation narrative serves to create an enemy for the people of Russia to unite against and obscures the true nature of Putin’s war of aggression.
WHAT ARE THE FACTS:
Ukraine is not a Nazi state. Nazi and Communist ideologies were banned in Ukraine in 2015, prohibiting the use of associated symbols. The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish and holds a personal connection to the Holocaust after losing three of his uncles. A group of over 300 historians of genocide, Nazism and World War II have condemned the remarks of Vladimir Putin when he called for the 'denazification' of Ukraine, branding the term “propaganda.”
Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine is in breach of international law and there is no justification for Putin’s ‘special military operation.’ Russia’s invasion of these regions has been condemned as illegal. Russia's claim that the “demilitarisation and denazification” of Ukraine was necessary to protect these occupied regions of Ukraine remains a false pretence for its illegal war.
The illegal referendums in the annexed regions of Ukraine were not free or fair. The organisers of the referendums announced an unusually high turnout for the ballot. According to organisers, turnout was 95.15% in Luhansk and 97.51% in Donetsk. The organisers also claimed remarkably large majorities, ranging between 87% and 99.2%, in favour of joining Russia. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, have condemned the referendums which have taken place under occupation and assert that they represent a clear breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. During the first four days of ‘voting’ ballots were collected from residents by organisers who went door to door wearing uniform and visibly armed. Polling stations which opened on the final day were also manned by heavily armed uniformed men.
The so-called ‘referenda’ which preceded Russia’s 2014 annexation of the occupied territories of Ukraine have never been internationally recognised. The referendum held in 2014 has never been internationally recognised, with the UN General Assembly passing a resolution calling the unofficial vote ‘invalid.’ The UN Security Council was also due to pass a resolution calling on countries not to recognise the results of the Crimea referendum after 13 of the 15 members voted in favour of the draft text. The resolution was not passed after the Russian Federation used its power to veto. Under the Ukrainian constitution, any alterations to the territory of Ukraine must be approved by a referendum of all the Ukrainian people. The Adjunct Senior Fellow for International and National Security Law, John B. Bellinger III, highlights that this requirement is in line with the general principles of international law.
Russia is alleged to have committed numerous war crimes and human rights abuses. Human rights organisations, including the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, have been monitoring the human rights situation in the conflict. Throughout the first year of the war, a number of reports have been released unveiling war crimes committed by the Russian federal military. On a number of occasions, Russia has deliberately targeted civilian objects through shellings, including residential blocks, hospitals and schools. The reality of Russia’s ‘liberation’ has been a brutal and bloody conflict with Russian forces displaying a shocking disregard for civilian life.
Debunker is a series of disinformation-busting articles from Debunk.org which focus on dispelling the harmful lies and propaganda being pushed by pro-Kremlin sources. Check out the rest of the series at debunk.org/debunker.