As part of the program Regional Initiative to Combat Disinformation, we present you a new monthly analyses of fake news and disinformation narratives.
The West is depleting its weapons stockpile by aiding Ukraine, they would not survive in the war against Russia
February 2023 marked one year since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The fierce response of Western countries, primarily NATO members, in the first days of the war surprised some observers, and that response consisted of several packages of sanctions and significant aid to the Ukrainian army.
A year later, the Western countries themselves began to deal with the sustainability of military aid to Ukraine for their military budgets and the necessary reforms that should be implemented for this purpose. The anti-Western media in Serbia used this opportunity to, referring to credible sources, emphasize the existing problems, and especially assess how the West would last a short time in a conventional war against Russia, regardless of the low probability of such conflict. On the other hand, the plans of the West to overcome these problems, as well as an objective analysis of the situation in Russia, which is also facing problems in the supply of weapons, were absent.
In addition to this type of narrative, in the media, there are also those who believe that even all the aid to Ukraine that caused the West to empty its stockpiles is not enough and that Ukraine will still lose. These claims are supported by assessments of anti-Western analysts and questionable sources from Russia.
The West would not survive a war against Russia
The main narrative in the anti-Western media related to weapons is that NATO countries, by helping Ukraine, have used up their stockpiles of weapons, and that they would not last in a potential conventional war, mainly against Russia.
The pro-Russian portal Webtribune contributed to this narrative, transmitting an interview of the British politician and anti-globalist George Galloway for China’s Global Times.
“A few tanks here or there, even a couple of hundred tanks here or there, will not make any appreciable difference, but they will leave the NATO members virtually defenseless, having emptied their own inventories to supply Ukraine, which is using, but failing to replenish its material…So it’s a good thing that Russia has no intention of invading Western Europe, because if it did, it could be in Paris pretty damn quick because who, short of the use of nuclear weapons, is going to stop them?”, stated Galloway in this interview.
Meanwhile, on February 11, the recently launched Serbian edition of the Russia Today (RT) portal reported a statement by the ruling Conservative Party MP Tobias Ellwood that the British armed forces would “last for about five days” if there was war.
Tobias Ellwood, Tory chair of the Commons Defense Committee, told the Financial Times that high inflation and the cost of replacing equipment sent to Ukraine had created “a really grim picture” and left military supplies seriously depleted.
Later it is added that “the Ministry of Defense announced that the ‘rumors’ about the state of the army are ‘speculations’ which they refuse to comment on”.
Two days later, the same portal published a paradigmatic headline for this narrative – “NATO is running out of ammunition? Sending weapons to Ukraine has depleted the allies’ stockpiles”.
As stated in this text, “if Europe were to face Russia, some countries would run out of ammunition in just a few days” – this was stated by an “unnamed diplomat” for Reuters.
“Even before the start of the special military operation on February 24 last year, many members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization did not meet the ammunition stockpile standards defined by that organization. Their officials considered endurance wars and large-scale artillery battles to be a thing of the past, reports Reuters. The pace of sending weapons to Ukraine, whose troops fire up to 10,000 artillery shells a day, has exposed the holes that exist not only in the stockpiles of ammunition in Western countries, but also in the ability of their military industries to produce ammunition,” the text states.
It is concluded that NATO is likely to raise munitions stockpile targets.
Another text published on the RT portal dealt with the same topic, this time with the United States of America. The title of the article read “Pentagon on the verge of collapse? The conflict in Ukraine and the rise of China expose the problems of the US military industry”.
“The question is how the U.S. military would hold up in a high-intensity conventional conflict lasting more than a few weeks”, according to a text taken from Bloomberg, and then former undersecretary of defense policy Michele Flournoy is quoted saying that Russia and China have overtaken the US when it comes to the speed of arming themselves with the most modern military technologies.
As in previous articles, RT at the end of this text establishes a balance by stating that the situation is not as catastrophic for the USA as it seems.
“As Bloomberg adds, there’s no reason to panic because America still spends more on its military than anyone else, and they also have technology that China and others want to copy.”
From these examples, it can be seen that pro-Russian media use analyzes of real problems with Western weapons, which are the result of internal intentions to improve the situation. For these media, however, the main message they want to convey is related to the current weaknesses and allegedly negative position in relation to Russia and China.
The West is unable to help Ukraine sufficiently
While the first version of the narrative about weapons emphasizes the gaps it leaves in Western countries, the second version adds that even what was sent to Ukraine is not enough, which is why it will be defeated. This was the subject of an article on RT, which reported the text of journalist Christoph Schlitz, published in the German Die Welt.
In the text, Schlitz emphasized “that the lack of support from the West is the reason for the probable defeat of Ukraine””, i.e. “that the weapons that have been promised fade away in comparison to the unenviable situation in which Ukraine is, and especially compared to the enormous capacities of the Russian army”.
The journalist assessed that, in fact, the West hesitates to provoke Russia in order not to cross its red lines.
“The logic of Western leaders is the following: the more powerful, deadly and precise the delivered weapons, the greater is the risk of a ‘spillover’ effect. The West suffers from a kind of self-deterrence and therefore supports Ukraine only in a way that implies that it does not have to capitulate immediately,” the text states.
It is worth mentioning that the journalist in the text called the possible defeat of Ukraine a “bitter” reality, which was not reported by RT. Thus, this article became one of those that take the negative analyzes of the situation in Ukraine from the Western media according to the principle “they themselves admit that it is bad”, but do not transfer the negative analyzes of Russia.
A few days later, the Webtribune portal published another text with a narrative about insufficient Western aid to Ukraine. The portal quoted Scott Ritter, an analyst critical of US foreign policy and, therefore, a frequent “guest” of anti-Western media in Serbia.
Ritter stated that the new NATO aid package to Ukraine “will not meet Kiev’s expectations”, and that “this military equipment will not last even a month in combat conditions”, because, in his opinion, part of the equipment will be neutralize by Russian troops, and the remaining systems will fail due to poor maintenance.
“The fact is that the Western military equipment promised to Kiev is a real nightmare in operational terms. The biggest problems for the Armed Forces of Ukraine will arise with the US M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles,” Webtribune quoted Ritter’s text, which originally began its analysis of the war by recalling the Stepan Bandera regime and the Soviet conquest of Berlin during World War II, with the obvious intention of presenting Ukraine in a negative way and Russia in a positive way.
Ritter was once again quoted in a similar context during February, by the portal Fakti.org. This portal conveyed his statement for the Warsaw newspaper Misl polska. Ritter estimated that Kiev mainly relies on artillery, and that by the summer it will deplete its stockpile of grenades, and NATO will no longer have the possibility to replenish them.
“Poland believed that NATO could arm Ukraine to the point of winning the conflict with Russia. Warsaw is only now beginning to realize that there will be no Ukrainian victory. Russia will soon stand on the Polish borders and look at it through binoculars,” said Ritter.
The pro-government newspapers “on the same task”
In addition to pro-Russian portals, the media close to the authorities in Serbia also contributed to the widespread dissemination of the narrative about problems with weapons.
The portal of the pro-government newspaper Večernje novosti published the following headline in February: “THEY TRICKED UKRAINE: First they promised them tanks, but now they’ve changed their minds.”
“The German newspaper “Die Welt” announced that the governments of the Netherlands and Denmark revised their earlier decisions and will not send modern “Leopard 2″ tanks to Ukraine,” the text states. The reason for this decision was not given.
In a similar vein, on February 16, the pro-government tabloid portal Alo published an article with the title “FROM LONDON – NOTHING! Britain ignored Ukraine!”
It was about the statement of British Defense Minister Ben Wallace, who told the BBC a day earlier that his country would not send fighter aircrafts to Ukraine “in the near future”, but rather that the focus will be on enabling Kiev to “defend itself in the long term”. Later, Wallace added that Britain could “cover” deliveries of Soviet-made aircraft from Eastern European countries, but that training Ukrainians to use British aircraft would take too much time and manpower.
Alo focused and emphasized Wallace’s statement in which he says that “Europe is exhausted and vulnerable because of military aid to Ukraine,” and that “our ammunition and the level of defense ability to withstand attacks is currently below our capabilities.”
And the portal of the most read pro-government tabloid, Informer, joined this narrative during February. “THE SHAME OF NATO PACT! Information surfaced about the MASS destruction of WESTERN WEAPONS, the Russians are DESTROYING everything that ARRIVES at the FRONT – THE STOCKS ARE EMPTYING?!” is the title of the article, which transmitted the text from the Russian Sputnik.
“The Foreign Intelligence Service has information that during the period of aggression against Russia from December 2021, NATO countries delivered to the Armed Forces of Ukraine 1,170 air defense systems, 440 tanks, 1,510 infantry vehicles, 655 artillery systems… Most of the military equipment supplied by the West was destroyed by Russian troops,” the text states. The verifiability of these sources is limited.