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EUvsDisinfo - Waiting for another offensive

As different Christian faiths celebrate Easter, the Russian so-called spring offensive in Ukraine has slogged on without making significant territorial gains. In Russia, ‘meat grinder(opens in a new tab)’ is now a standard phrase to describe the bitter fighting. Unlike last Christmas, this time there are no false calls to postpone the fighting like Putin’s sudden proposal for a truce in Ukraine around the Orthodox Christmas. Kremlin press secretary Peskov recognised(opens in a new tab) that the idea of an Easter ceasefire ‘has not been proposed by anyone’.

The siege mentality analysed last week is well captured by main headlines(opens in a new tab) from Russian state TV channels in recent days capture the trend:

– Kyiv is preparing provocations

– Is Ukraine preparing for a counter-offensive?

– The classified documents – a real leak or disinformation?

– Leaked Pentagon classified documents may force Ukraine to change its plans

– The Russian-Western confrontation continues

A Ukrainian offensive and leaked documents?

News of leaked US classified documents attracted the attention(opens in a new tab) of the Russian public, with many questions. Are the documents authentic or fabricated(opens in a new tab)? Can the information be trusted? (opens in a new tab)Is it a hoax? A sinister plan by the Pentagon to mislead Russian forces, as claimed by Kremlin affiliate Sergey Markov on his Telegram(opens in a new tab) channel? Or do the documents truly reveal planned Ukrainian operations(opens in a new tab)?

Many commented, but one shared feeling seemed to emerge to viewers: something is brewing even if the time, place, and direction of enemy action is not certain. This feeling was reinforced when the Kremlin press secretary noted(opens in a new tab) US Secretary Blinken’s words about a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Some of the main Russian political talk shows(opens in a new tab) have promoted the view that disinformation has become so widespread that there is as much disinformation as credible information. Have they become a victim of own tools? In any case, the Kremlin ecosystem will likely use the leak story to push further its own fabrications, including manipulated casualty figures or stories promoted on their own sting operation called WarOnFakes(opens in a new tab). See our account here.

Counting the beans: how best to divide the West?

Kremlin’s attention has also been devoted to the visit to China by French President Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Russian commentators picked up on Macron’s remarks(opens in a new tab) to the press regarding European strategic autonomy, speculating if his words will widen the distance between Europeans and the US.

Pro-Kremlin commentators made little, if any, mention of international reporting describing Macron and Von der Leyen encouraging China to persuade Russia to end its war in Ukraine or to begin negotiations. Instead, Russian state outlets(opens in a new tab) focussed on President Xi’s words about not being pressed into anything. In Moscow, a main narrative(opens in a new tab) suggests: von der Leyen did not turn China against Moscow. The West is confronting Russia, and Russia is just defending itself. What a relief!

There is also little mention or discussion in Russia of the Chinese position paper on the Ukraine crisis(opens in a new tab). After the first few days of amplification and verbal support for the paper by pro-Kremlin outlets – see our account here – the paper has faded from attention. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as it was not a peace plan and there has been no sign of China getting more deeply involved in ending the war.

Belarus: smoke and mirrors as Lukashenka demands that Russia defend Belarus if attacked by Poland and Lithuania

On 10 April, Russian Defence Minister Shoigu met Belarusian ruler Lukashenka in Minsk to discuss security cooperation. According to official Belarusian media reporting(opens in a new tab), they praised the training conducted in Belarus of Russian soldiers. Lukashenka used the opportunity to thank Russia for the security contingent and to fan imaginary fears of external aggression, a staple of Belarusian state propaganda since the popular protests in 2020. He said,(opens in a new tab) ‘We must keep our guard up. You can see that Poland, Lithuania are beginning to take action in our direction’.

While Lukashenka is losing more Belarus sovereignty, pretending to be under threat from Poland and Lithuania is likely a smokescreen to avoid committing Belarusian soldiers to the fight against Ukraine. Many people from Belarus and Ukraine share close links, including family relations, and the majority is against direct involvement in the fighting, according to this independent poll(opens in a new tab) from March. Independent Belarus observers have assessed(opens in a new tab) that many Belarus soldiers could even resort to mutiny or desertion if ordered to join Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Lukashenka is doing everything possible inside Belarus to create an atmosphere of fear. Repression has accelerated even more from an already high level, as we recently documented here. Will extra Russian soldiers and the prospect of having Russian nuclear weapons stationed(opens in a new tab) in the country add to the tense atmosphere, allowing Lukashenka’s apparatus to purge society even further?

Finland’s membership of NATO: an obvious target

Sometimes disinformation is almost too predictable. But of course Finland’s membership of NATO would become a topic for either scaremongering, ridicule, or denunciation from Moscow. For the time being, the focus is on scaremongering to build the case for more public support for Russia’s armed forces and their posture in the Karelian area facing Finland.

Pro-Kremlin outlets continued to claim that Finland as a NATO member is ‘trying to start a world war’ or that it will ‘turn into an anti-Russian springboard’. This ‘springboard’ image builds on the analogy Putin and Russian politicians(opens in a new tab) used to legitimise the illegal annexation of Crimea, claiming: ‘Crimea would host a NATO naval base and become a springboard towards Russia’.

Another claim: ‘Finland’s NATO membership aims to corner Russia’ begs to revisit basic geography. Is Russia, with a more than 22,000-kilometre land border and Pacific and Arctic coastline, really cornered or encircled?


Article and pictures first time published on the EUvsDisinfo web page.


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