It is often said that in war, the first casualty is the truth. It would seem that there is little truth coming out of Russia’s state-controlled media since it launched its unprovoked attack on Russia last month. As nearly all independent and foreign news outlets have been forced to shut down, it is unlikely that Russia’s own citizens are even getting a clear picture of what is unfolding in Ukraine.
Over the weekend, Russia’s Tass News Agency reported that “over 4.5 million civilians” have been used as “human shields” by Ukrainian neo-Nazis, and that as part of Russia’s “special military operations,” it has delivered 75 tonnes of humanitarian aid.
“Despite the fact that humanitarian corridors are opened every day, Ukrainian neo-Nazis continue to keep more than 4.5 million civilians as a human shield in Kyiv, Kharkov, Chernigov, Sumy and more than 20 other blocked large cities. There are 6,838 citizens of 18 countries among them,” Mikhail Mizintsev, chief of Russia’s National Defense Management Center, said on Sunday.
He added, “The most horrific humanitarian catastrophe has emerged in Mariupol due to lawlessness, carried out by Ukrainian nationalists. Desperate and out of their mind, the bandits, realizing that any help from Kyiv is impossible, have embarked on mass terror in Mariupol districts that they still control. Meanwhile, the verified information that we receive, indicate horrible atrocities carried out by the militants gone insane out of desperation.”
Western media reports have painted a very different picture of the situation.
Russia has continued to shell the city’s residential areas, inflicting massive causalities. Around 300,000 people are believed to be trapped in the city and supplies are running out as aid is blocked from entering. Ukraine had also accused Russia of shelling a previous evacuation corridor from the city, breaking a temporary ceasefire.
Russia has been desperate in its attempts to capture Mariupol, as it would open the land corridor between the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, controlled by Russian-backed separatists and Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.
Western military experts have warned that as Moscow was denied a quick victory, it has increasingly turned to the scorched earth tactics that the Russian military previously employed in offenses in Syria and Chechnya. That has included pulverizing population centers with airstrikes and artillery bombardments.
Additional False Flags: Chemical Weapons
Since its ground forces have stalled in their campaign, Russia has begun to plant other “false flags” and a repeated claim – lacking any evidence – is that biological weapons were being developed in laboratories from Ukraine with support from the United States. Moscow has claimed the material is being “destroyed” to conceal the Ukrainian weapons program.
Last week, Russia also warned that “Ukrainian nationalists” were planning to launch a chemical attack in multiple regions.
“We warn the entire civilized world and international organizations about the Ukrainian authorities’ cynical provocations, which, if realized, will be blamed on Russian troops as it has been done more than once,” Mizintsev said via state media on Friday.
Western officials have warned that Russia maybe inventing and building a false narrative, which could be used as a pretext for using its own chemical weapons against Ukraine.
“Russia has a track record of accusing the West of the very crimes that Russia itself is perpetrating. These tactics are an obvious ploy by Russia to try to justify further premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attacks on Ukraine,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement earlier this month.
“The United States does not own or operate any chemical or biological laboratories in Ukraine … It is Russia that has active chemical and biological weapons programs and is in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention,” Price added.
While Russia is one of 193 countries that signed the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, an arms control treaty that prohibits the production and use of chemical weapons, it is believed that Moscow that has maintained an illicit chemical weapons program. Russia is also believed to have helped Bashar Assad’s government forces cover up the use of the nerve agent sarin against civilians in the Syrian Civil War. Moscow has denied the allegations.
It now looks as if Russia’s disinformation campaign could be ramping up a pretext to use chemical and biological weapons again. The truth may be the first casualty, but tragically it won’t be the last one in this terrible war.
Ukrainian vs. Russian News
There is no also denying that Ukraine has likely attempted to use propaganda as well, but it is hardly the type of disinformation that Russia is spreading.
“Ukraine’s president is a master at tapping into the hearts and minds of people from around the world – referencing 9/11 when he spoke to the U.S. Congress was just one example. Other Ukrainian officials are equally skilled at sharing their stories,” explained Susan Campbell, a former newspaper editor and distinguished lecturer at University of New Haven.
“Russia’s propaganda isn’t landing outside of Russia, in parts of the world where people have access to a variety of news sources,” Campbell said via an email to 19FortyFive. “What’s resonating with people outside Russia is the Ukrainian’s people unwillingness to surrender – saying f**k you to an entire Russian warship, handing seeds to soldiers so when they die, their rotting bodies can serve as fertilizer for those seeds. ‘Scrappiness’ doesn’t begin to describe this. Also having Ukrainian citizens tweeting in English the status of their neighborhoods, their friends, their lives is an incredible window into the carnage we don’t often get in real time. These stories have made this personal for people who might not otherwise pay attention.”
This is hardly disinformation.
“Is any information that comes out of a war zone trustworthy? Information is a weapon in times of war, and if Ukraine is outgunned militarily by the despot Putin, the country has the distinct advantage in their skill in disseminating information,” added Campbell. “That, in the end, just may turn the tide. I hope so.”
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.