Why is the disinformation war around the Russia-Ukraine conflict harming Ukrainians?

The West's disinformation war around the Russia-Ukraine conflict has severely harmed the cause of the Ukrainian people and their aspiration for peaceful settlement of the conflict.

Why is the disinformation war around the Russia-Ukraine conflict harming Ukrainians?

Photo source: Ministry of Defence, Russian Federation

Russian special military operation in Ukraine completed one year on February 24th 2023. Throughout this period, there has been an incessant information war waged by the Western corporate-controlled mainstream media, which aimed to amplify Ukrainian narratives around the conflict and magnify Russian losses to discombobulate the common people of all continents. Truth has become the victim in this disinformation war around the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Throughout the year, the Western mainstream media and the Kiev government have claimed that Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine is at a dead end and its doom is inevitable. US President Joe Biden, the British prime ministers from Boris Johnson to Rishi Sunak, and other European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member state heads have been equally lambasting the Russians.

Although the EU, the US, and other Western forces have censored Russian media outlets that counter their narratives, going against the principle of freedom of the press, the trend to present the facts based on ground reports, which the Russian Ministry of Defence often acknowledges, has also gained momentum. However, in this scenario of a disinformation war around the Russia-Ukraine conflict, it’s quite tricky to find out the real casualties and analyse which side among the two is winning.

The disinformation war around the Russia-Ukraine conflict casualties

A month ago, The New York Times published a report by Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff that analysed the casualties of the wars based on estimates and what American and Western military officials commented and claimed that Russia is losing the battle due to poorly trained soldiers and mobilisation of convicts by President Vladimir Putin’s government.

The report estimated that Russia lost nearly 200,000 soldiers in the conflict between February 2022 and January 2023. It considered the last public estimate by US President Joe Biden’s administration in November 2022, where it was claimed that both sides lost 100,000 troops each since the conflict started. The New York Times claimed that US officers privately claimed that more than 120,000 had been killed on both sides.

The New York Times report also quoted Norway’s defence minister General Eirik Kristoffersen, who claimed in January 2023 that Russia lost nearly 180,000 soldiers, while Ukraine lost 100,000, along with 30,000 civilians since the beginning of the conflict. Then the report jumps to estimates by anonymous US defence officials who apparently claimed that Russia lost nearly 200,000 soldiers, which is eight times higher than what the US lost in Afghanistan in 20 years.

However, the reporters also mentioned that the Ukrainian side has been reluctant to provide information regarding the real status of casualties in the conflict. “Ukraine’s casualty figures are also difficult to ascertain, given Kyiv’s reluctance to disclose its own wartime losses”, the report stated.

Other Western mainstream media houses have followed the same template and focused on Russian losses in the conflict while maintaining a nonchalant position on the status of Ukrainian casualties. However, some articles like this have accepted that Russia’s strategy of prolonging the special military operation has paid higher dividends.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence’s last estimates, published through a tweet on February 21st, asserted that Russia lost 144,440 soldiers. It also posted a detail of the losses suffered by Russia in terms of equipment and vehicles.

These figures don’t match the estimates the anonymous US defence officials presented to The New York Times in January. If the Ukrainians had indeed killed over 200,000 Russian soldiers in the conflict, why are they presenting a conservative estimate when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s knack for marketing is well-known globally? He has been selling the ‘Ukraine’s resistance’ story to the West to bag billions of dollars worth of financial packages from the US, the EU and other NATO members. Such ‘achievements’ would certainly boost his profile and would have helped him garner more funds from the West!

The Russian Ministry of Defence has refrained from disclosing the exact number of its casualties regularly, which has provided enough ground for the Western speculative industry to magnify its losses. On March 25th 2022, the Russian Ministry of Defence gave an official toll of 1,351 deaths. The next update came six months later, on September 21st 2022, when Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that Russia had lost 5,937 soldiers since the beginning of the special military operations in Ukraine.

This estimate came at a time when the US and the Western forces started claiming that Russia had lost close to 100,000 soldiers in the conflict. Thus, the huge difference in the numbers provided by the Russians and the counterclaim by the Western forces raises doubt regarding the real toll suffered by Russia.

The Russian Ministry of Defence has also refrained from making tall claims about enemy casualties so far. They provide the number of casualties separately, which makes it hard to compile. The last estimates published by the Russian Ministry of Defence on February 23rd 2023, showed that the Ukrainians lost more military hardware vis-à-vis Russia, although they own lesser equipment.

The disinformation war over Ukraine’s crimes against humanity

In this disinformation war around the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the status of the civilians who suffered due to violence and were displaced is not highlighted in most discourses. Although the Western governments and their mainstream media outlets have been publicising the agony of Ukrainians who were rendered refugees due to Russia’s special military operations, and they have been claiming that Russia has killed civilians in Ukraine, the fact that the real war started in 2014 and a genocide of ethnic Russians in the Donbas region killed more than 12,000 people, including women and children, remains concealed.

A massacre of ethnic Russians, communists, trade unionists and dissenters by Ukrainian neo-Nazi forces took place since 2014 in the Donbas region when patriotic forces of Ukraine opposed the alleged CIA-sponsored coup that toppled former president Viktor Yanukovych’s government that preferred to maintain a neutral position regarding NATO and EU.

The coup against Yanukovych was allegedly organised by then US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland, now under secretary of state and worked under Jake Sullivan, who happens to be the ‘National Security Adviser’ to President Biden now. Sullivan held the same position under Biden in 2014, when the latter was vice president in former president Barak Obama’s administration.

The total casualties of the Russian side, including the victims of the anti-Russian genocide, have been higher vis-à-vis the Ukrainian side. Moreover, Moscow has alleged that the Ukrainian neo-Nazi forces have carried out massacres in Ukraine during Russia’s special military operation to blame Russia. The disinformation war around the Russia-Ukraine conflict used such optics to stoke deep hatred against Russia globally while concealing the crimes against humanity committed by the Ukrainian neo-Nazis.

While Russia has consistently maintained that it has no desire to occupy Ukrainian territories but to liberate the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk from neo-Nazi threat and provide security to their civilians, who are ethnic Russians, the Western forces have been claiming that Russia intends to colonise Ukraine.

Moreover, in his recent speech to the Federal Assembly of Russia, President Putin claimed that the Russian side wanted to peacefully settle the issue of the Donbas region with Ukraine as per the Minsk Agreement of 2015; however, Kiev, provoked by the West and NATO, continued supporting violence against the ethnic Russians in the region.

Disinformation war: Where will it lead to?

The Russian special military operation in Ukraine continues unabated, and President Putin showed no signs of slowing it down. However, after strongly criticising Kremlin during his tour to Ukraine and Poland, Biden’s administration retreated following a threat by Moscow to suspend the New START treaty on reducing the nuclear arsenals of both countries. US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told the TASS that Washington DC is ready to start a dialogue with Moscow on the New START treaty “tomorrow” if the latter wants.

This sudden retreat shows that the US administration is unwilling to risk jeopardising its security, albeit it has pushed Ukraine to an abyss of incessant violence through its manoeuvrings. The US expects Ukraine to become the Afghanistan of the 1980s, where the CIA-sponsored Mujahidin bled the Soviet troops in a long-drawn conflict. However, Ukraine must remember how the US pushed Afghanistan to a sheer crisis following a two-decade-long invasion and occupation, which ended with crippling its economy and a fundamentalist power’s rise.

The disinformation war around the Russia-Ukraine conflict only serves the US’s interests and is doing no good to the people of Ukraine, who are at the receiving end of this violent episode. The longer Russia’s military operations and the Western disinformation campaigns will run, the more harm it will do to the common people of Ukraine. Moreover, it will also affect the world as such disinformation will help Western powers create biased narratives and suppress the truth.

Tanmoy Ibrahim is a journalist who writes extensively on geopolitics and political economy. During his two-decade-long career, he has written extensively on the economic aspects behind the rise of the ultra-right forces and communalism in India. A life-long student of the dynamic praxis of geopolitics, he emphasises the need for a multipolar world with multilateral ties for a peaceful future for all.

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