In far 1991, Ukraine being at a geopolitical crossroads was facing a difficult choice. Where to go forward? Where does it belong? How not to do wrong? Fortunately, for Ukraine and its citizens, the answers to these questions were the simplest thing as they consisted in their cultural code, geography and the past. All these factors made it clear that the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian people belonged to Europe, just like they always did.
Nevertheless, the official Kyiv hesitated long. Close political and economic ties with the former “metropolis”, the prevalence of the old Soviet personnel in the highest echelons of power and the lack of public understanding of how to discover the place of Ukraine prevented it from choosing a clear development vector.
That is exactly why the multi-vector principle became the main concept of Ukraine’s foreign policy for a long time, until the early 2000s, when the post-communist Central and Eastern Europe began to change markedly. Many countries in the region have already joined the prestigious Western organizations, such as the EU and NATO, which led to a real improvement of living standards and comfort in these countries. And Ukrainians, having seen or witnessed all the benefits that the membership in these alliances provides to the neighboring countries, wanted to see Ukraine as part of Western civilization too.
Thus arose the background for the Orange Revolution, and after its victory the Putin’s Russia, which has just begun to build its neo-imperial ideology, took a more aggressive stance on both the West and Ukraine. After all, the Kremlin was not ready for such a development in the neighboring state, which he considered his sphere of influence. So it did not expect the West to support the protesters. Russia’s position became unsteady.
Moscow started accusing the United States and the European Union of organizing the protests. And the definition “color revolution” emerged in the lexicon of Russia’s political elite and is widely used until the present day. Thus, the Russian Federation started the information war, which in its external dimension was aimed at preventing the rapprochement of Ukraine and the West, and avoiding the revolutionary scenario on its territory.
However, in addition to the conspiracy narratives of the West against Russia, the Kremlin’s official interpretation of the Soviet Union’s end has been seriously revised. Vladimir Putin’s famous message to the Federal Assembly in 2005, in which he called the collapse of the USSR “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the ХХ century”, became a starting point for reassessing the events of 1991, and thus a foundation for increasing Russian nostalgia for the USSR.
This was followed by Putin’s Munich speech in 2007, devoted to the unipolarity of the world politics and the vision of Russia’s place in today’s world. And then, the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, where the Russian president made it clear to the Western leaders what would happen to Ukraine if it joins the Alliance.
We have to admit, that Putin’s propaganda and ultimatums often achieved their goal. For example, the above-mentioned NATO Summit in Bucharest, when Ukraine, like Georgia, were denied the MAP. And two years later, when the government loyal to the Kremlin came to power in Ukraine, it even announced about its non-aligned status.
Another example is the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, the negotiations on which began in the same period. And while previously Moscow mainly opposed the integration of Kyiv with the Alliance, after “resolving’ this issue Russia tried to prevent the rapprochement of Ukraine and the EU by all possible means, including the conclusion of the Association Agreement, accompanied by interference in the negotiation process, blackmail, support of the anti-Western forces in Ukraine, etc. There emerged narratives about economic threats, including the entry of the EU products through the territory of Ukraine into the markets of Russia and the CIS.
The Kremlin started to put intense pressure on Kyiv, which resulted in that Mykola Azarov’s government suspended preparations for the agreement in November 2013, a few days before the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit.
The main reasons for this decision included: falling demand for Ukrainian goods, job losses, increased external debt, and so on. Therefore, Ukraine’s European integration was shut down at the Kremlin’s request. It was not for long though.
The Euromaidan and the Revolution of Dignity did not let Ukraine turn towards Russia and the Customs Union. After the victory the Association Agreement with the EU was signed and the course towards NATO was resumed.
However, Moscow resorted to a new method of pressure – the force, by unleashing a military aggression against Ukraine in 2014, which Putin meant at the aforementioned NATO summit in Bucharest. The flywheel of Russian anti-Western narratives and misinformation has spun with great force, like no one has ever seen before, and which often gained whimsical manners. They are all well known. They include distortion of the provisions of the signed Association Agreement, and the “NATO boots on Ukrainian territory, and the “external management” of Ukraine…
At the same time, Russia continued to prevent Ukraine’s further European integration. One of the illustrative examples is the consultative referendum of the Netherlands concerning Ukraine’s association with the EU, which was helped by the Kremlin’s propaganda machine. However, it was temporarily. After that, the Agreement was eventually ratified by all the EU member states.
However, this is only one of the fronts of Russia’s propaganda war. The Kremlin usually attacks from several sides. And the Minsk agreements are one of such “flanks”, and Moscow constantly accuses Kyiv of their non-fulfillment. The goal is obvious – to show Ukraine as a non-negotiable and unreliable partner, to tarnish our country in front of the Western allies, and concurrently promote the narratives like their “being sick and tired of Ukraine” due to its alleged unwillingness to stop the war in Donbas, the failed fight against corruption, unsuccessful reforms, etc.
It is interesting how even years later, such fakes and propaganda continue to exist. Moreover, they are found with increasing frequency on Ukrainian territory and are often heard in its domestic information space. The Kremlin still dreams of keeping Ukraine in its geopolitical orbit. Without Ukraine the revival of a new empire or the “USSR 2.0” is supposed to put a full stop.
Nonetheless, things have become worse for Moscow lately. Almost all the post-Soviet space is beginning to flow from its hands. In addition, Russia’s policy and economy have been dramatically hit by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In addition, there has been a change of the US president, who is unlikely to be loyal to Putin’s Russia.
However, this does not mean that the disinformation campaign of the Russian Federation will decrease. On the contrary, Russian anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian narratives will continue to expand. And in order to reduce their influence, Ukraine should continue to fight the Kremlin’s propaganda, while informing the world about itself as a reliable partner, a supporter of peace, able to successfully implement reforms to meet the Western standards as much as possible. After all, this is perhaps the best weapon against the adverse impact of the Kremlin.