Analysis of the Narrative “Russia forced to self-defense”

March 2022

As part of the Regional Initiative in Combating Disinformation “Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub: Exposing Malign Influences through Watchdog Journalism”, we present you a new monthly analyses of fake news and disinformation narratives.

Russia forced to self-defense

When it comes to the war in Ukraine, the most commonly observed narratives are based on the view that Russia was forced to react preventively by intervening in Ukraine in order to prevent the Third World War. These circumstances were caused by the West, led by the United States of America, with its Nazi policies as well as plans to launch an attack on the Russian Federation or to overthrow the government in Russia.

Below we highlight some of the news that supports and spreads this very narrative.

  1. Lavrov revealed: A war plan is being prepared against Russia! We are warning everyone…

Fake news/Manipulative news

There is no evidence that a war plan is being prepared against Russia.

Narratives that were used and created:

  • Russia’s security is threatened by the West/Ukraine is the one threatening;
  • Russia is forced to intervene;
  • The West is the aggressor;
  • The West is in hysteria (Russophobia);
  • The Ukrainian battalions in Donbass are nationalists, bandits, robbers and murderers, and the West is silent about it;
  • The USA is an aggressor and hypocritical actor.

Disputed parts:

  1. The text mentions the statement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, that Russia “can no longer allow a threat of direct attack on Russia to come from the territory of Ukraine” and that “a special military operation is a forced solution, because the West did not listen to us”.

Such statements are controversial for several reasons. First of all, there is no data and information that Russia was under the threat of a direct attack from Ukrainian territory, but on the contrary: part of the Donbas territory has been under the control of pro-Russian forces since 2014, and the Russian Federation annexed Crimea in the same year. Such constructions create the impression that Russia has been silent for a long time and suffered threats and that the attack on Ukraine is a reaction.

  1. The news conveys assumptions and beliefs of Minister Lavrov without reference to sources or verified information. Also, the text contains accusations that have no basis in verified information and news:

The head of Russian diplomacy said that he is convinced that war plans are being prepared against Russia. Lavrov does not rule out the possibility that the United States of America will encourage Ukraine to delay the negotiations. The US in the United Nations are engaged in blackmail and arm-twisting in order to vote for resolutions against Russia, however, Russia does not feel that it is politically alone,” said the head of Russian diplomacy. The possibility of a nuclear war is being discussed, but it is not Russia that is talking about it, but NATO and Ukraine, he emphasized.

There is no data or evidence of the preparation of war plans against Russia, as well as information that the US used blackmail or threats to influence the course of voting in the UN. There is no information that NATO and Ukrainian officials talked about the possibility of using nuclear weapons against Russia.


Fake news/Manipulative news

Narratives that were used and created:

  • The West is the aggressor/It is the West that is violating international law, not Russia
  • Russia’s security is threatened by the West
  • The West is a hypocritical and untrustworthy actor
  • The West unfairly accuses and attacks Russia
  • The West continues and implements Nazi policy

Hate speech is used in the news: “That can only happen in the minds of some deranged globalists.”

Disputed parts:

  1. “The British ‘Guardian’ writes that the West is most seriously planning to expel Russia from the United Nations (UN)!” This is incorrect information. The Guardian wrote about the possibility of Russia being excluded from the UN Security Council as a permanent member and to remove the possibility for the Russian Federation to hold the Presidency of this body, but not to be excluded from UN membership.
  2. The text indicates that a renewed Nazi attack on Russia is taking place, thereby identifying Ukraine and the West with the Nazis during World War II. “The gloves have been completely taken off and all the masks have fallen. This is no longer about the fight for ‘democracy’, ‘values’, ‘human rights’, etc., but now the political West is waging an open war against the Russians and Russia. All this is just a renewed Hitler’s march on Moscow, only in a different guise”. The facts are that it is Russia that attacked a neighboring sovereign state and is waging war on the territory of that state. Russia has not been attacked nor has war been declared to it by a third country/entity. It is also very problematic to identify the democratic countries of the West with German Nazism from the thirties of the last century, because there is no real basis for such claims.
  3. Pointing out that the West abuses and violates international law and commits violence.

The text also quotes a political scientist who, in addition to the conclusion that “a total, hysterical war against Russia is on a scene”, also states the following: “And as for exclusion from the UN, no country could legally be expelled from the UN outside the Security Council. Russia, as one of the five permanent members, will certainly not vote against its own membership. This is according to the laws and rules, but violence is something completely different…” while another analyst states that it is still possible: “… because we know that the West only invokes international law when it suits them”. Such conclusions, although common in Serbia primarily due to, according to international law, the illegal aggression of NATO on Yugoslavia in 1999, are not correct. There are a large number of UN resolutions and examples of the application of international law supported by Russia even when they were initiated by Western countries, both in the UN Security Council and in other international organizations. Such is the example of the sanctions imposed on Yugoslavia in 1998 (Resolution 1160).

Author: Jovana Bogosavljević