The Russian invasion of Ukraine has come with a Russian propaganda blitz across all forms of media. In order to justify and win its war, Russia has spread conspiracy theories, false narratives and historical revisionism as part of its information war. Here I try to debunk some of the most popular myths which Russia has been spreading ever since the start of this war.
PS: By now it has been already been clearly evident to everyone that Russia is not invading Ukraine to fight Nazism, so I didn’t include that.
Myth 1. The Soviet Union protected Poland from Nazism by signing the Non-Aggression Pact with Germany in 1939.
Protecting Poland from Nazism was never the intention of Stalin who considered Hitler a friend and an ally who would never invade the Soviet Union. The USSR was essential for Germany to break the Versailles Treaty and rebuild its army as Russia exported its expertise and armaments to it and in return, Russia imported from Germany much-needed machinery for its industrialisation drive. Both countries held a very strong symbiotic economic relationship which benefited greatly from. Stalin naively believed that this economic cooperation could also develop into a strong geo-political alliance against Britain and the US. By dividing Poland with Hitler, Stalin had an opportunity to subjugate the Poles who had been incorporated into the Russian Empire for the first time in the late 18th century. In fact, as much as a third of the Soviet army was stationed in the Far East by the time Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, given that it was the Japanese who Stalin feared most. When the Germans invaded the USSR they sped through villages and towns without any resistance as the Red Army was still in the process of grouping its formations on the western front. Stalin’s recklessness in leaving the western front undefended cost many lives.
A very useful source for this history is Stephen Mark Kotkin who has spent a career studying primary sources in Russia and has written a very voluminous biography of Stalin.
Myth 2. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia fell into chaos because it adopted neoliberalism and order was then restored thanks to Vladimir Putin’s anti-neoliberal policies. The West wants Russia to remain poor so as to exploit it.
Russia fell into chaos due to the incompetence, mismanagement and rampant corruption by ex-Communist Party and government officials who looted state agencies and national resources and abetted the formation of criminal organisations. One direct contrast to the reform of the Rouble which was badly mismanagement and subsequently crashed was the reform of the Polish Zloty which was a relative success and stabilised the currency ever since. The Russian economy had great opportunities and imported a substantial amount of foreign currency due to its exports of natural resources, yet, despite its strong potential, we see Russian exports slowing down throughout the 1990s. This is not quite consistent with the conspiracy theory that the West wanted to make Russia poor to steal its resources. Russia’s economic growth may have had more to do with the oil price than with Putin. Data also shows that the West benefits from a rich Russia because with a richer Russia there is more trading.
Myth 3. Russia is fighting Ukraine to halt NATO enlargement which threatens its security. NATO and the West provoked Russia by expanding NATO eastwards.
NATO is a defence alliance by which its members join it willingly. NATO is not an imperialistic organisation, and if anything it is accused of constant complacency and softness. Eastern European nations that decided to join NATO by democratic will, did so because they know very well that their weakness could provoke aggression from Russia which is in turn an imperialistic state. Indeed, Russia is the last standing empire of the traditional “European” empires. European is in quotation marks because today, historians have yet again new doubts whether Russia could be classified as European at all.
NATO does not threaten Russia in any way, but NATO does threaten Russian hegemony given that its absence would give Russia more leeway to invade its neighbours just as it did with Georgia and just as it did with Ukraine. Putin could have used the same arguments he used to invade Georgia and Ukraine to also invade Poland and the Baltic states, especially using the argument about racism against Russians living in those areas. However, Putin can’t do that, because Poland and the Baltic states are in NATO and NATO is by far much more powerful than the Russian defence and military capabilities.
In addition, there is no point for Russia to keep fighting Ukraine other than purely imperialistic intents given that NATO enlargement happened as a reaction to Russia’s invasion with Finland and Sweden becoming the newest members. In defence and military terms it is much worse for Russia that Finland and Sweden have joined NATO than it will ever be if Ukraine would join.
Myth 4. Russia’s strong 2 million men army is fighting a very advanced technologically equipped army in Ukraine.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has exposed the total state of shambles and disaster of the Russian army. Not only have we learnt that Russia doesn’t even have 2 million soldiers, hence is desperately trying to conscript civilians in the army, but Russia’s military and war capabilities are also incredibly low to the extent that the Russian army is being defeated in the battleground by a much less equipped Ukrainian army. Ukraine has HIMARS, but HIMARS isn’t even the latest technology as the US has much more advanced rocket and missile systems. And while Russia fights with tanks and warplanes, Ukraine has barely any, though Russia has helped to add Ukraine’s tank reserves significantly in goodwill gestures. Russia is losing in Ukraine not because the Ukrainian army is powerful, but because the Russian army is weak. Had the Russian army fought a strong opponent it would have surely been obliterated very quickly. Russia is also on track to lose all its tanks.
Myth 5. The sanctions against Russia are hurting the West more than Russia. Look at how strong the Rouble is! That’s because they have gas and oil!
First of all, just because you have gas and oil it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a strong currency. Venezuela is a disaster and guess what? Others who have lots of oil like Saudi Arabia have their currency pegged to the US Dollar: the most valued piece of paper in the world. The next most valued are the Dollar derivatives, like the Euro. The Rouble is strong because capital controls in Russia prevent the selling of Roubles so the value of the Rouble right now is only reflective of its value inside the borders of Russia. Once capital controls in Russia are eased, the flight from Roubles to Dollars is going to be massive.
The economic reality in Russia is bleaker than it is in Europe. Sanctions on Russia have hit their economy hard, and Russia risks turning into another Venezuela when oil and gas take the eventual road back down to where they came from. The gas crisis in Europe is also being addressed and positive results are being achieved.
There is an abundance of oil and gas in the world and the challenge is to extract it, transport it, and store it. The storage problem with gas is even much bigger but even this is being addressed as stated in the linked article above.
Myth 6. Ukraine should surrender its land to Russia and sign peace because otherwise, the war will escalate into a nuclear war.
This would be the worst precedent ever made in history: to appease a nation-state due to its threats of nuclear terrorism. The ramifications of this proposal are insane. Putin would be practically crowned world leader and the whole world would live under his leveraged nuclear button. This is the equivalent of giving in to Hitler, and maybe worse because in such a situation Putin would have an incredible amount of global power.
The right answer to Putin’s threats is to deter Putin by making him know very well that the West would undoubtedly fight back if he launches nuclear weapons.
We know by hindsight that deterrence against Putin works and therefore it should be used against him with maximum force and also in an active manner. If the West has intelligence that Putin is moving nuclear weapons to Ukraine as a threat, NATO should immediately declare Ukraine a no-fly zone for Russia and take-away Russia’s military and infrastructural capabilities before nuclear weapons are moved. If NATO would not be ready to be so proactive, then we would need a European Sarkozy to take the initiative on his own.
Launching a nuclear weapon is also not as easy as it sounds and would also achieve nothing in strategic terms.
Bonus: Angela Merkel’s “lasting peace in Europe cannot be reached without Russia.”
Angela Merkel is struggling with her conscience for being one of the causes of Europe’s energy crisis, so she has to justify her past stupidity and gross errors of judgement with some delusions. Soon she may also suffer from memory loss and dementia and may start thinking she was the Chancellor of the Soviet-German Democratic Republic instead of liberal Germany.
Allow me to rephrase Merkel’s words in something more appropriate.
Lasting peace in Europe will only be achieved with a denuclearised Russia.