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Russian propaganda entangles NATO, West, and Ukraine in knot of ‘dangerous,’ ‘provocative’ rhetoric

Polish and other NATO troops take part in military maneuvers Steadfast Defender 24 in Korzeniewo, Poland, on March 4, 2024, as the alliance strengthens its defense capabilities on the eastern flank in the face of Russia's war on Ukraine. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Polish and other NATO troops take part in military maneuvers Steadfast Defender 24 in Korzeniewo, Poland, on March 4, 2024, as the alliance strengthens its defense capabilities on the eastern flank in the face of Russia's war on Ukraine. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The Kremlin seized on the narrative about possible NATO participation in Ukraine war to reinforce its long-standing assertion that ‘West waged war against Russia using Ukraine'

With war in Ukraine approaching its 27th month, and Russia steadily gaining more Ukrainian territories, Kyiv’s Western allies reevaluate the ways to help Ukraine defend itself.

In what the observers described as a major policy shift, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said recently that while the U.S. does not encourage or enable Ukrainian strikes inside the Russian territory using American weapons, “ultimately Ukraine has to make decisions for itself about how it’s going to conduct this war.”

In Russia, pro-war commentators offered opposite interpretations of Blinken’s statement.

Aleksandr Grishin, a notorious pro-war propagandists and columnist at Russia’s oldest and most popular tabloid KP, wrote that Blinken’s words only meant Washington gave Kyiv “de-facto permission to hit with American weapons the territory of ‘traditional’ Russia.”

He went on to offer a grotesque if not delirious insight.

Grishin translated verses from the Neil Young song Rockin in The Free World, to claim that the U.S. secretary of state chose to sing it at the Kyiv club “to confess that he is Satan,” and those were “the only honest words ever voiced by Blinken,” and all his gifts to Ukrainians are “Satan’s gifts.”

Grishin concluded his piece with a conspiratorial passage, “Signs are everywhere, everywhere there are signs.”

Another Russian veteran news outlet, Izvestia, emphasized that the U.S. “does not encourage or enable” part of Blinken’s statement making it a headline and a focus of its report. Yet, the paper cited Russian diplomats accusing the U.S. of “sponsoring Kyiv terror attacks” inside Russia’s territory.

Earlier, in February, French President Emmanuel Macron voiced a theoretical possibility of sending troops to Ukraine, “so that Russia does not win this war.” Macron’s words sent top Russian officials and state media into a months-long propaganda frenzy.

Two months later, on May 2, Macron said NATO allies “should legitimately” consider dispatching troops to war in Ukraine ″if the Russians penetrate the front lines, if there is a Ukrainian request,” adding that “it is not the case today.”

Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg repeated that Ukraine has not asked for NATO troop deployment.

The U.S. and NATO have no plans to send troops to Ukraine, the state department said immediately following Macron’s statement. UK, Spain and Finland mirrored that statement on the same day.

Still, “in response to provocative statements and threats of certain Western officials,” the Russian Defense Ministry announced tactical nuclear weapons drill near the border with Ukraine.

The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov clarified, “Mr. Macron, British representatives” and “representatives of the U.S. Senate” have “provoked” Russia’s nuclear drills by signaling “intentions to send troops to Ukraine.”

The allies consider the risk of nuclear escalation amid President Vladimir Putin’s systematic nuclear sable-rattling and won’t go to war against Russia, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said. He added that a limited number of NATO soldiers, observers and engineers were already in Ukraine.

A month earlier, Tusk said NATO’s direct participation in Ukraine is “not unthinkable.”

Russia used the rhetoric about NATO potential deployment as “proof” of the Kremlin’s long-standing propaganda narrative that the “West waged a war against Russia using Ukraine.” Top officials, foreign embassies military and intelligence joined the chorus.

The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova falsely claimed back in April that France was putting about 1,500 military personnel on alert for deployment to Ukraine that month.

The pro-Kremlin and state-owned news media boosted the claim.

REN TV channel reported, citing the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, "France is preparing 2,000 troops” for deployment to combat zone in Ukraine.

On the same day, the Russian state news agency Sputnik reported that France had already deployed “first units of the French Foreign Legion, numbering about 100 people” in Eastern Ukraine, to “take part in hostilities with the Russian army” and "help the Ukrainian Army defend Slavyansk when the front line shifts towards the city."

Stephen Bryen, former U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense, writing for Hong-Kong-based Asia Times amplified Sputnik's report, framing as a statement of fact that the French troops were already in Eastern Ukraine, and risking to “trigger wider European war.”

Russian state media frequently cite Bryen’s reports, as his commentaries often mirror the Kremlin’s talking points.

On April 15, state news agency RIA Novosti and the Russian Embassy in South Africa claimed, falsely, that the Russian Armed Forces struck the location of “French mercenaries” in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk.

None of the Russian publications cited credible independent sources to support the claim that the French troops were fighting in Ukraine. The French government denies deployment.

Russian propaganda has been spinning the “foreign mercenaries” narrative since its illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and clandestine invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014. In fact, Ukraine enrolls foreign volunteers in its armed forces and pays them salaries, which makes them regular troops, not mercenaries, in the eyes of conventional warfare.

Ex-President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chair of Security Council, and one of the most vocal advocates for “nuclear response” repeated his threats writing on X and Telegram that if NATO troops were in Ukraine, Russia should retaliate by “striking Western capitals” with nuclear weapons.

The Russian Embassy in South Africa, flurried again with two X posts, falsely claiming the French Foreign Legion “has likely suffered first losses” in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin also attempted to spin an online petition posted on the Ukrainian presidential web portal and asking Volodymyr Zelenskyy to invite NATO troops to help defend the country against the Russian aggression.

Posted on May 7 by a private citizen, the petition has gained to date less than 4,000 of the 25,000 signatures mandatory for it to be considered by the president. There is little chance this petition would gain enough votes to reach Zelenskyy’s table any faster than the other 2,000 petitions that had passed the 25K signatures threshold and now show up as “pending.”

Even if it does, the president would have to send it to the parliament for ratification, meaning, the legal process of dealing with online petitions is rather lengthily.

Yet Peskov called the petition a “dangerous move” and an “outrageous provocation” of the “unpredictable Kyiv regime,” and said the Kremlin was “closely following the situation.” Then the state-owned media reported the news with headlines entangling the West, NATO, and Ukraine in a knot with “outrageous,” “dangerous,” and “provocation.”

While Russia denies the legal basis for Ukraine requesting the NATO invasion, Article 51 of the United Nations Charter states that U.N. member states have the right to a collective self-defense “if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”

Putin used that same U.N. law to invade Syria and back up Bashar al-Assad in an ongoing civil war. On September 30, 2015, the Russian Air Force aviation group in Syria began striking targets of anti-government forces.

Russia maintains its military presence in Syria to this day, periodically carrying out missile and bomb strikes against the enemies of the Assad regime.

Putin again tried legalizing his military aggression in Ukraine by staging a plea for invasion in 2022 on behalf of Russian occupied Donetsk and Lugansk Ukrainian regions. People's Republics asked them to send troops.

Putin even claimed Russia’s war in Ukraine “fully complies” with the U.N. Charter.

But the U.N. deemed Putin’s claim illegitimate, and it demanded that Russia withdrew from Ukraine and stopped the war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians.