“Russia Is just Defending Itself” – the Main Disinformation Narrative in May

Фото: Исечок од видео на Kremlin.ru од Парадата на победата во Москва 09.05.2022 г.

Photo: Clip from a Kremlin.ru video from the Victory Parade in Moscow on 09.05.2022

Victory Day – 9 May – was the occasion for the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to utter the main disinformation narrative in May, which was, of course, accompanied by a series of others. That narrative was that Russia is the victim in the war against Ukraine because Russia is just defending itself. Truth be told, this month Putin had much to say about the drone battles and the two attacks on Moscow – the first one being on 3 May on Kremlin, while the second one on 30 May on the elite urban settlement in the capital of Russia. The circumstances of both attacks are unclear, as well as the culprit, although Western intelligence sources point to the possibility that, at least the first attack was performed with the support of Ukrainian intelligence


A major disinformation enigma occurred on 3 May, when Russian state-controlled media reported that Kremlin was attacked by drones, followed immediately by Moscow’s interpretation that the drones were Ukrainian in the attempt to assassinate the President of the Russian Federation (RF), Vladimir Putin, while Ukraine denied the allegations.

Kremlin assessed the incident as ”planned terrorist attack” and ”an attempt to assassinate the President of Russia”, and is now threatening to undertake ”retaliation measures”, reported Sloboden Pechat (Free Press) quoting Western media.

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken could not confirm whether the attacks was Ukrainian -as Russia claims – but added that Ukraine unilaterally decides how to defend itself.

Towards the end of the day, Macedonian media also published the statement given by the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy who denied Ukraine’s involvement in the attack.

We are not attacking Putin and Moscow. We are fighting on our territory. We are defending our villages and towns – stated Zelenskyy in Helsinki, reported by Nova Makedonija.

The next day the attack provoked a counter-attack with drones and missiles (that lasted until the end of May), but the Ukrainian Defense stated that it acted successfully. And while the USA warned the embassy staff and the members of their families not to ignore the danger alerts regarding upcoming bombings of Kyiv, frightened that the Embassy could also be targeted, Moscow rushed in to mark Washington as the main commander of the attack, regardless of the fact that the accusation was not substantiated by evidence. Also, those days, some experts also said that it was not much likely that the attack was real, i.e. that it is fabricated, and that it was not likle that Ukrainian sources were behind it, reported MKD.mk.

Photo: Clip from the videos broadcasted by global media and social networks from the attack on Kremlin

Such (dis)information hokum from Moscow and all other information related to the Kremlin incident continued which was probably a sufficient enough incentive for the main Russian propaganda expert, Dmitry Medvedev, to reappear with a propaganda narrative in Telegram claiming that Moscow had no choice and that ”Zelenskyy and his circle must be liquidated”. More information on the first two days of this event and all the information published by the media can be searched on the Time.mk news aggregator.

Already on 4 May Washington rejected Moscow’s claims as untrue, while the Press Secretary, Dmitry Peskov was called a liar.

Obviously, the claim is ludicrous. The USA has nothing to do with that. We don’t even know what exactly happened, but I assure you that the USA has no role in that, the White House national security spokesperson John Kirby stated for CNN.

Peskov is simply lying, Kirby added. In addition, Politico published on 3 May that the USA were not informed about any kind of drone attack on Kremlin for which Russia claims that is was executed by Ukraine and planned by Washington.

On the other hand, several Russian analysists who are either inclined towards the opposition or have fled to the West, discard the possibility of Russia instigating the attack as a motive to expand targets in Ukraine and the eventual resort to tactical nuclear weaponry, reported Nezavisen (Independent).

In that same direction, the EU, through Josep Borrell, called Russia not to use the incident as justification for escalation of events.

We call upon Russia not to use the alleged attack as an excuse for continuous escalation of the war, said Borrell before the meeting of the EU Development Ministers on 04.05.2023.

Ukrainian intellengence officers as possible planners and organizers

The story with the drones acquired new elements towards the end of May. On 25 May 2023, New York Times, quoting American intelligence sources, reported that they believed that one of the Ukrainian intellengence agencies could be behind the drone attack of Kremlin. This piece of news became widerspread in the Macedonian information area. Additional confirmation did not follow, but the suspicions of Ukraine being the possible perpetrator increased after the drone attacks of residential parts of Moscow on 30 May 2023. Official Kyiv did not claim direct responsibility, and even Zelenskyy did not confirm the attack the day after that, while Russia officially accused Ukraine, and even provided details about the attack being executed with eight drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, made in Ukraine.

Photo: U 22, Drone made by the Ukrainian manufacturer Ukrjet/web

This attack was also utilized in favor of the main disinfo narrative in May – that Russia was the victim, fighting against the entire West under NATO-leadership. Namely, the very first day – on 30 May – one of the better known propaganda experts in the media, Vladimir Solovyov came out with a statement that:

The sooner the people in the Russian cities understand that their country was fighting NATO, the quicker Russia will win the war.

He, as published on the social network Telegram, even required the main Ukrainian cities such as Kyiv, Odesa, Dnipro, Lavov and others“ to be demolished”.

Putin: Russia is the victim and must defend itself
A large salvo of Russian disinformation narratives was fired on 9 May directly from the Red Square in Moscow by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his speech during the military parade on the occasion of the Victory Day.

The main Russian disinformation narrative in its original form was old – from the first months of the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022: That Russia was the one that was attacked and not vice versa. So, Russia was only defending itself.

⦁ The West is the one provoking conflicts and coupes, destroying traditional values in order to continue dictating its own rules that, in essence, are a system of thefts and violence. The goals of Russia’s opponents are disintegration and destruction of our country.
⦁ Every superiority ideology is horrendous, criminal and deadly, but Western elites are stilling talking about their exclusivity.
⦁ In the West, monuments are being destroyed, Nazi-cult is being created, and this rage is also criminal, to revenge those preparing a new campaign against Russia.
⦁ The West forgot what the claims on world dominance of the Nazis brought about, forgot who conquered evil and who undertook to liberate the peoples of Europe.
⦁ Ukrainians became victims of a coup and a bargaining tool in the hands of the West.

RS-24 Yars, one of the latest Russian ballistic nuclear missile on the parade in Moscow 2023. Photo: Wikipedia

These are some of the few key points of Putin’s speech that were encountered partially also in the Macedonian media area. Some media even had live broadcast, while others, with a great deal of details conveyed the keypoints of Putin’s address. Some media – such as Meta and Deutche Welle – caught the highlights of the disinformation narrative. ”Aggressor in the role of a victim…”, wrote Meta in the headline of the article on Putin’s speech, while DW in Macedonian language stressed in its subtitle that ”While Putin gave the speech, Russia performed a series of air raids in Ukraine”. More details about this disinfo narratives can be found in the Truthmeter report published the same day.

How many “Kinzhal” missiles were shot down by the Ukrainians
An “information war” in the current Russian invasion of Ukraine occurred the night on 16th towards the 17th May, when a major air-attack was performed on Kyiv by the Russian Army by means of missiles and drones and it was pretty difficult to decipher the disinformation aired form each of the sides. The confusion created was about the number of shot down Russian missiles since the Ukrainians claimed that they shot down 18 missiles – or almost all of them – including several hyper-sonic missiles of the type “Kinzhal”. Russia, on the other hand, through the Defence Minister, Sergey Shoigu, announced twice that it fired less “Kinzhal” missiles than what Ukraine claims to have shot down, as well as that the Russian attack was successful because the American anti-missile system “Patriot” was hit with “Kinzhal” missiles – or missile – which was the most valuable weapon that Ukraine had received from the Western allies. Official Washington admitted the attack and strike, but both the USA and Ukraine claim that the system was damaged and that the extent of the damage needed to be determined. It will however remain on Ukrainian territory to be repaired. All articles related to this event and published in the Macedonian media area can be found on Time.mk news aggregator.

Lavrov continues to accuse the USA and the West, but also Ukraine and Kosovo
Another Russian disinformation narrative was initiated by Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, which was spread as agency news in the Macedonian media area.

The Russian MFA Sergey Lavrov stated that the war in Ukraine can end ”when America will leave its allies, the same way it did in Afghanistan”, published some of the Macedonian media. He – truth be told – was quoting political scientists, not sharing his own personal opinion:

I hope that the contemporary politicians are paying attention to history. Political scientists are writing a great deal about that. They predict that this will last as long as the Americans need it. Those people will be in power as long they are needed by America, said Lavrov in an interview for the TV channel Tsargrad, and transmitted by the Russian Agency TASS.

Lavrov’s second statement with Russian disinformation narrative related to the West was published on 30 May 2023, when he commented the clashes in the north of Kosovo.

The situation in Kosovo is alarming. It can cause a big explosion in the middle of Europe, said Lavrov.
They violated all the principles of the Helsinki Charter and the other OSCE documents. The situation is alarming, but the West has taken the path of total submission of everyone who dares express their opinion in whatever manner, said Lavrov.

The statement was given in Kenya and was published by RTS. The statement reached the Macedonian media area through MIA.

Disinformation about the Russian aggression of Ukraine can still be actively found spreading from mainly Russian or pro-Russian sources on the social networks in Macedonian language as well as about the role of NATO, about the role of Poland, followed by the events in Bakhmut and other that are regularly assessed and can be read in the Fact-checking section of Truthmeter.

Tragedy in the school in Belgrade and the disinformation
Another big event that produced a great deal of disinformation was the tragedy with the mass murders in Belgrade and in the vicinity of Mladenovac, Serbia, that took place in the beginning of May within 48 hours.

In the first hours – even until noon – Macedonian media due to the fact that they did not check the information received or took over from Serbian media, informed about 10 or more victims in the school, plus the disinformation about the motive of the committed crime from both the teenage perpetrator from Belgrade and the adult perpetrator from the place close to Mladenovac.

Laying flowers in honor of the victims. Photo: Source of photograph: PIXSELL, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=131557666

However, a separate disinformation wave was spread due to uncritical republishing without checking the news piece that the father of the mass murderer from the vicinity of Mladenovac died from a broken heart. The disinformаtion burst like a enormous soap bubble a few days later, when it became clear that the Serbian Police arrested the already “dead” father. Nevertheless, some of the media outlets in North Macedonia, were virtuous enough to recognize this infamous information blunder. Full analysis of this disinformation that also spread on the social networks and about the way the disinformation was disseminating was published by Truthmeter in the Fact-checking section on 10 May.

The Constitution and the Bechtel and Enka Agreement – main topics for disinformation at home
Two main topics in the disinformation narratives and specific disinformation could be seen in May. The sources of these topics were the two largest parties in the countries – the ruling SDSM and the opposition VMRO-DPMNE.

This time, like in April, one of the disinformation narratives was related to the Bechtel and Enka Agreement for the construction of Corridor 8 and 10-d. This time, however, the Agreement was considered through the legal amendments required by the Agreement that previously the Government – more precisely, SDSM and DUI – tried to amend in a regular procedure within the Parliament, but were blocked with thousands of amendments submitted by, above all, Levica, followed by VMRO-DPMNE. Faced with the tight deadlines and raising sums for the expensive works on the corridors, as officially stated by the government officials, in the beginning of May, the Government adopted new draft laws for amending five laws and sent them to the Parliament by applying the fast-track procedure with the European flag. The main narrative, uttered by the Deputy Prime Minister, Artan Grubi, that it is all due to the fact that Corridor 8 recently had become part of the Trans-European Networks, obviously, was a disinformation that was immediately denied first by the EU itself through its Delegation in Skopje.

To make the public even more confused in terms of this disinformation narrative, Prime Minister, Dimitar Kovachevski repeated the same reason about the Trans-European Corridors later on 12 May in a statement, but also in a special television interview. EU Ambassador, David Geer, responded, yet again, to make it clear that the laws were not connected with the use of the European flag. Deputy Prime-minister in charge of EU accession, Bojan Marichikj, at the beginning of the month admitted that the reasons for using the European flag were of political nature, not for harmonizing the laws with the European acquis.

Session of the Parliament of the RNM. Photo: Government of the RNM/web

The opposition did not refrain from exaggerated criticism for the use of the European flag either, stating that such behavior threatened the European future of the country. Truthmeter analyzed some of these disinformation narratives in the Counterspin section.

This entire series of disinformation related to the corridors officially ended on 27 May with their adoption by the majority in the Parliament. The ruling SDSM released an announcement that the road towards the construction of the corridors with cheaper prices and within five years time was opened.

VMRO-DPMNE: The constitutional amendments lead to tranformation into bi-national state
The second disinfo narrative that was not grounded in reality but still made a great public impact, was connected with the talks within the ruling coalition and the special body of the Ministry of Justice on the Constitutional amendments about the alleged transformation of Macedonia into a bi-national state.

What worries me is that I hear information that the issue is not just including that minimum Bulgarian minority in the Preambule, but also about an entire redefinition of Macedonia as a state – to make it a binational state of two peoples, several ethnic communities that are now part of peoples within the framework of the Preamble and all the rest above a specific percentage of the census to be defined as minorities. The only thing missing is to draw the borders and Macedonia will even formally become a federal state, declared the leaders of VMRO-DPMNE, Hristijan Mickoski on 23.05.2023.

This statement of by Mickoski was widely disseminated in the Macedonian media area. Although SDSM on a lower level immediately responded that that was not true, he, and some of the media, continued with this disinformation narrative for two whole days, until the arrival of a denial and total rejection from Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski.




This article was produced within the framework of the project “Promoting Access to Reliable News to Counter Disinformation”, implemented by the Metamorphosis Foundation. The article, which has been published on the Macedonian-language version of Truthmeter, was produced with the support of the American non-profit foundation NED (National Endowment for Democracy). The contents of the article is the responsibility of the author and do not always reflect the positions of Metamorphosis Foundation, NED or their partners.

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