On December 21, 2021, the Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu made a provocative statement at the extended board meeting of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation which was attended Vladimir Putin, apparently with the primary purpose of launching a strong propaganda message.
Shoigu pointed to allegedly having information that “US private military companies” are preparing a provocation in the part of the territory of the Donetsk Oblast controlled by Ukrainian troops. “Containers with unidentified chemical components were delivered to the cities of Avdiivka and Liman to commit provocations,” Shoigu said.
Diplomats, analysts and military experts see in this statement a threat that Russia, the aggressor state which has been waging a hybrid war against Ukraine since 2014, is thus trying to conduct preparatory information operation for its own act of sabotage in order to shift the responsibility for it onto Ukraine and the United States.
The overwhelming majority of countries in the international arena have for a long time treated the statements of Russian officials, diplomats, ministers or even the President of the Russian Federation with deep distrust, as fakes and manipulations have long become the mainstay of the Kremlin’s modern policy. Nevertheless, every Russian provocative claim based on fakes should be treated with caution.
As of December 22, official representatives of Ukraine and the United States issued statements denouncing the talking points of the Russians as outright fakes.
It is noteworthy that since 2014 this is not the first time that Russia uses fakes and threats of a chemical attack in the Donbas.
Analysts of InformNapalm volunteer intelligence community believe that Shoigu’s new fake allegation, akin to a Russian nesting doll, has several layers. This is the claim about “American private military companies” (PMCs) in the Donbas, and then another claim about “preparation of provocations with the use of chemical components”.
Shoigu’s allegation about “American PMCs” probably comes as an asymmetrical reaction to the recent rather painful reports of the European Union introducing new sanctions against the Russian Wagner PMC, associated with Yevgeny Prigozhin. It is well known that this businessman, who is known as “Putin’s chef” and is a member of the Russian president’s close circle, also runs Russian propaganda troll factories.
Structures related to this PMC have been also included on multiple US sanctions lists. Numerous facts and ample evidence indicate that the mercenaries of the Russian Wagner PMC committed war crimes while participating in hostilities in the interests of the Kremlin in Ukraine, Syria, and Libya.
Shoigu’s second claim about “chemical components” (which was actively picked up by the Russian propaganda and transformed into “chemical weapons” in numerous news and publications) is perhaps a kind of attempt to recoup (in the media field for now) for the US strike on the Shayrat airfield in western Syria on April 7, 2017. That strike was a response to the attacks on civilians using bombs containing the lethal chemical warfare agent sarin by the forces of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Back then, Russia urgently called on the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting because of the US strike in Syria. Vladimir Putin then called the US strikes against the troops of Bashar al-Assad “an act of aggression under false pretenses.” This statement looked especially cynical, coming from Russia, an aggressor state, which had grossly violated the norms of international law around the world – from Georgia and Ukraine to Syria, and appealing to the UN Security Council, whose resolutions it periodically vetoed.
But as in the case of the plans to deploy new Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile and gun systems to the occupied part of the Donbas to hunt for Bayraktar UCAVs, in order to try to take revenge for the devastating defeat of these Russian systems in hostilities in Syria and Libya, Moscow apparently plans to use the occupied part of the territory of Ukraine as a field for other kinds of “geopolitical revenge”.
We can only guess whether the Kremlin is ready to resort to real provocations using chemical agents, or whether these claims are just another attempt to retake initiative in the media field and force the West to discuss the “chemical attacks” announced from Moscow, and not NATO’s close attention to the movements of Russian troops near the borders of Ukraine.
Top Russian military and political leadership continues to produce fakes and make provocative claims, creating loud talking points for the Russian propaganda machine. This piece of propaganda is primarily targeted at the domestic Russian audience. For, despite the significant funds and resources invested by the Kremlin in brainwashing the populations of Russia and the territories it occupied, a rather small number of Russian citizens (compared to the total population) are ready to fight and die on foreign soil. It comes in stark contrast with the spring of 2014, when amid the euphoria following the seizure of Crimea, the number of Russians willing to fight against Ukraine in the Donbas was significant. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the Kremlin to attract ideologically driven volunteers, whereas the brunt of the hybrid war against Ukraine is borne mainly by the regular Russian military. Moscow is trying to hide their presence in the conflict zone, but it cannot prevent new leaks of facts and evidence.
Recent rhetoric of the top Russian officials sounds more and more threatening. Seeing certain concessions and chances to bargain for some more indulgences from the West in exchange for “a shaky peace that is better than a big war,” Putin continues to raise the stakes. And his appetites keep growing. Therefore, we hear ever more claims coming from Moscow and its puppets about “terrorist threats” or about “captured saboteurs.” These talking points, taken collectively, are intended to create a pretext for a large-scale aggression. A pretext that the collective West could swallow. But over the years of Russian hybrid aggression against Ukraine, the collective West has got to better understand the rule book of Moscow’s game.
Will Russia, for the sake of further raising the stakes, resort to a reckless chemical attack exposing more Russian-speaking citizens in the Donbas to another danger? We do not know. And it is impossible to tell, based only on the statements of Shoigu. However, Russia would have been definitely discouraged if it knew that in addition to the “infernal sanctions”, the United States, for example, could fire 59 Tomahawk missiles at the concentration areas of the Russian forces in the occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. As symmetrically, as they delivered a strike on the Shayrat airfield in Syria. Or there could be another successful strike against the hybrid grouping of the Russian occupation forces in Ukraine, like the one against the Wagner PMC mercenaries who were advancing near Deir ez-Zor.
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