Media from all over the world, including our region, are intensively reporting on the war in Ukraine. Some media try to report on the events responsibly, accurately and ethically. On the other hand, some openly side with Russian war propaganda, promoting Putin’s claims about the “denazification” of Ukraine and the prevention of the alleged genocide in Donbas.
In such reports, the invasion of Ukraine is described by terms such as “special military operation in Donbas” and a “counter-offensive”, the Russian military is described as “liberating”, and Russian warfare efforts are minimized and portrayed in a positive light.
In our region, pro-Russian media, mostly from Serbia, participate in spreading this narrative. Thus, for example, the website Srbija danas, on several occasions, claimed in several separate articles that Russia was conducting a “counter-offensive” in Ukraine:
A map that shows what the Russian counter-offensive has taken
An independent collective from Bulgaria that deals with war conflicts, maps and reports from war events published a map on Twitter that best shows how far the army of the Russian counter-offensive has reached. (February 24, 2022)
Even Chechens are helping Russia’s counter-offensive
A picture of the GAZ Tiger armored vehicle with the striking sign of the National Guard of Chechnya, commanded by the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, appeared on social networks. Three days before the invasion, a large column of Chechen fighters was seen along the Ukrainian border. (February 24, 2022)
Earlier, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia activated NATO Article 4 to initiate consultations within the alliance on the Russian counter-offensive against Ukraine. (February 25, 2022)
Myanmar supported the Russian counter-offensive
Myanmar has said it supports Russia’s counter-offensive against Ukraine. (February 25, 2022)
The Ukrainian army is now sending its main T-64BV battle tanks to fight against the Russian counter-offensive (February 25, 2022)
The subtitle of the article published on February 24 states that the Russian “liberating army” has achieved great success.
Numerous websites also shared a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense made on February 24, stating that the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, with the support of Russian aviation, launched a “counter-offensive” against Ukrainian forces (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
What are the facts?
Despite the propaganda claims that the current events in Ukraine are “Russia’s counter-offensive”, the fact is that Russia is attacking this country and thus grossly violates international law.
Russian officials have argued that their use of force in Ukraine is justified under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which prescribes the right of every member of the United Nations to the individual or collective self-defense. But Ukraine has not committed an armed attack on Russia or any other UN member state, nor has it threatened to commit such an attack. On the other hand, by attacking Ukraine, Russia is directly violating Article 2, paragraph 4, of the UN Charter, which requires UN member states to refrain from “using force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.
The narrative of the “counter-offensive” is being supported by Russian officials with claims about the alleged genocide in Donbas, which is claimed to be carried out by the Ukrainian authorities over the Russian population in Donbas.
However, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine found no evidence of mass targeted killings of civilians in the Donbas region.
Allegations about how the militias of the so-called LNR and DNR, with the help of the Russian army, launched a “counter-offensive” against Ukrainian forces are also manipulative.
According to Reuters’ article published on February 18, 2022, Russia then expressed concern over the intensification of shelling in eastern Ukraine, claiming that Ukrainian forces were violating peace agreements. Ukraine has denied accusations of shelling civilians and violating peace agreements, accusing Moscow of waging an “information war”.
The article also explained that Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists have been clashing in Donbas since 2014, thus killing about 15,000 people.
According to a February 17 article by the website Fortune, it is true that shelling in eastern Ukraine intensified during this period, with pro-Russian separatists blaming Ukrainian forces and the Ukrainian army blaming rebels. But all this was happening at a time when Russia had already deployed about 190,000 military troops on the border with Ukraine. Moreover, Russia began to gather military troops on the border with Ukraine in December 2021, months before the accusations of shelling in Donbas and certainly before Russia recognized the independence of the self-proclaimed LNR and DNR. This recognition was used to start the invasion of Ukraine, after the so-called LNR and DNR asked Putin for military assistance on February 23.
The accusations of shelling were, therefore, reciprocal, but no “version” has yet been confirmed by independent sources. On the other hand, at the moment when Lavrov stated that an “attack by the Ukrainian army” was taking place in Donbas, this country was still intensively trying to resolve the crisis through diplomacy, together with EU and NATO countries.
So, there is no evidence that Ukrainian forces launched an offensive against the rebel republics, and the whole story was supported and confirmed exclusively by the rebel “militias” and Russian officials – whose state already had nearly 200,000 soldiers on the border with Ukraine.
Therefore, the claims that Russia is conducting a “counter-offensive” in Ukraine, or that its military action in this country is “assistance to the counter-offensive of LNR and DNR forces” are not based on facts. This is another example of promoting the narrative in which the Russian army seeks to portray itself as “liberating” and to portray the targets of the invasion as a “special operation to help Donbas”.
The “counter-offensive” was not mentioned as the reason for the withdrawal of the Montenegrin ambassador from Ukraine
In addition to adopting the term “counter-offensive” in its articles, Srbija danas attributes this term to those who did not use it. Thus, one of the articles states that the Embassy of Montenegro withdrew its ambassador from Kyiv due to the “counter-offensive of the Russian population”:
Montenegro withdraws ambassador from Kyiv
Montenegro withdrew its ambassador in Ukraine, Dragica Ponorac, due to, as it is stated, the counter-offensive of the Russian population, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced today. (February 25, 2022)
However, in the announcement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from February 24, 2022, this term is not used:
Due to Russia’s military actions and a complex situation, we are informing the public that Ambassador Dragica Ponorac has been withdrawn from Ukraine and that our embassy in Kyiv currently has local staff. Since the early morning, the Embassy of Montenegro has been in intensive communication with our citizens who are in Ukraine, some of whom have expressed interest in leaving the country. As the Ukrainian authorities informed that the air traffic is closed, the Embassy points out that the return is possible by land, but at the same time, they warn that the roads are congested due to the large number of citizens who want to leave the city.
The current actions of the Russian army in Ukraine are, therefore, an invasion and a military attack on the territorial integrity of a sovereign, internationally recognized state, and not a “counter-offensive” or “liberation”.
According to the facts, we evaluate the articles in which the Russian invasion of Ukraine is described as a counter-offensive as fake news. We give the same assessment to the claim that the Russian army in Ukraine is “liberating”.
The claim that the Montenegrin MFA claimed that they withdrew the ambassador from Kyiv because of the “counter-offensive of the Russian population” was also assessed as fake news.
Lastly, we assess the claim that on February 24, the self-proclaimed LNR and DNR, with the help of the Russian army, launched a “counter-offensive” on Ukrainian positions, as disinformation.