Author(s): Nino Gozalishvili; Mariam Kalandadze
The year 2021:
September 27 - The Kremlin stated that any expansion of NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine would cross one of President Vladimir Putin's "red lines", while Belarus said that it had agreed with Moscow to take action against NATO's expansion.
October 11 - In an interview with “Kommersant '' Former Vice President of the Security Council of the Russian Federation and former President - Dmitry Medvedev, called Ukraine a "vassal" of the West. Kremlin representatives later confirmed that Medvedev's statements were in line with their official position on the Ukrainian government.
November 12 - Russia's Defense Ministry assesses the deployment of American ships in the Black Sea as a "threat to regional security and strategic stability."
November 26 - Ukrainian President Zelensky warns the international community that a Russian agency and pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov are plotting a coup to overthrow the government.
December 3 - Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov states that 95,000 Russian troops have been mobilized along the Ukrainian border. An open source investigative firm, Janes, said the 41st Army (based in Novosibirsk, a city 3,500 kilometers from the Ukrainian border) and the First Tank Army (based in Moscow) had moved to the Ukrainian border. The transfer of weapons, equipment and forces to the Ukrainian border continued before and after this announcement.
December 9 - Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke out about the discrimination against the Russian-speaking population outside Russia, saying: "I must say that Russophobia is the first step towards genocide. You and I know what's happening in Donbass. That, of course, is very much like genocide. " He also condemned the law on Ukrainian language adopted on July 16, 2019, which gave Russian and other minority languages the status of "regional language".
December 15 - Russia formally submits to the United States two draft security guarantees, according to which the United States and NATO, among other things, would not be able to deploy troops to non-NATO former Soviet states, ruling out further expansion of the alliance to the east. Russia has demanded that the United States refrain from deploying forces in countries other than those stationed in Europe as of May 27, 1997, and refrain from any military action in Ukraine, as well as in other countries in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia.
December 30 - Putin and Biden spoke by telephone: The US president stated that the United States had no plans to deploy offensive weapons in Ukraine. Biden warned Putin that if Russia continued its aggression against Ukraine, it would have "serious consequences and consequences", such as the US imposing additional economic sanctions on Russia, increasing the number of US troops in NATO's eastern members and increased aid to Ukraine.
The year 2022:
First Days - Russia begins withdrawing staff from its embassy in Kyiv.
January 14 and February 14 - Two major cyber-attacks on Ukrainian websites took place: For the first time, the websites of about 70 government agencies, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Cabinet of Ministers and the Security Service, have been shut down. The second cyber-attack was carried out on two major financial institutions, Privatbank and Oshadbank, after which ATMs, mobile applications, etc. went out of order.
February 17 - The situation in Donbas deteriorates, with 60 armed clashes taking place on this day alone.
February 18 - Russian troops are deployed at the borders of Ukraine via Belarus, with an announced aim of holding military training. The West suspects a cover for the upcoming invasion in Ukraine.
- A meeting of the Security Council of the Russian Federation was held, where the recognition of the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics was discussed. The issue of Georgia was repeatedly raised at the meeting: "NATO and the United States have not learned the lesson that Russia taught them by recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia!" - said Dmitry Medvedev.
- Within hours, Putin delivered a one-hour speech, presenting an extensive historical analysis of Russia, Ukraine, and the Soviet Union in general, saturated with misinformation, and propaganda narrative that had flowed from the Kremlin over the years.He stated that that Ukraine was created by the Soviet Union and personally created by Lenin, that if the region wants "real desovietization", then in his opinion, it should start with the return of the countries created at that time to Russia. At the same time, he connected the desire for Western integration of Ukraine to the social and economic situation in the country, thus trying to use a well-known propaganda narrative - a seemingly strong economic situation during the Soviet era.
- In general, Kremlin's disinformation policy is largely based on the instrumentalization of the falsified history of the former Soviet republics. His methods are similar as they create the impression that these countries without Russia were, in the past and now, independent and legitimate entities.
- Putin signed the so-called separatist agreement between Donetsk and Lugansk. Has signed recognitions of the "People's Republics" and memoranda of understanding with their leaders.
- US imposes sanctions on Russia (VEB and military bank)
- Stollenberg's statement - "Moscow has shifted from attempts to covertly destabilize Ukraine to open military action"
- According to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the certification process for the North Stream 2 gas pipeline project has been suspended.
- The British government imposes sanctions on five Russian banks (Bank Rossiya, Black Sea Bank Development and Reconstruction, Joint Stock Company Genbank. IS Bank, Public Joint Stock Company Promsvyazbank) and three individuals affiliated with President Putin (businessmen close to the Russian government): Gennady Nikolaevich Timchenko, Boris Romanovich Rothenberg, Igor Rothenberg.
- Sanctions on Russia's "elite" (Alexander Bortnikov, director of Ephesus and member of the Security Council, as well as his son Dennis (president of VTB Bank); Sergei Kirilenko, Deputy Head of the Putin Administration, and his son Vladimir, CEO of the VK Group. Piotr Fradkov, President of the Military Bank (Promsvyazbank).)
- Canada and Japan have also imposed sanctions on Russia;
- Canada has sent another batch of lethal weapons to Ukraine - the Canadian Defense Minister wrote on Twitter that Russia's invasion of a sovereign state is unacceptable and they will continue to stand by Ukraine as it defends its sovereignty and independence.
- The National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine has supported a 30-day state of emergency.
February 24 - Russia authorizes its army for a so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine- aggressive invasion starts with missile and artillery attacks.
The scope, as well as the tone of Russian disinformation, has increased and strengthened after the aggressive invasion of Russia in Ukrainian territory. We could observe locally, in the Georgian language, disinformation narratives being spread in different directions.
One of the main narratives was that Ukraine is fighting alone in this war and the West has abandoned it. This was naturally disregarding the unprecedented levels of sanctions on strategic spheres of Russian media, economy, services and energy sector. At the same time, such a narrative was entangled with the idea that for Georgia - in case it chose to join sanctions - the same would happen. Against the background of the enduring EU and more widespread NATO skeptic narratives being disseminated in Georgia for some time now, this idea contributes to fixation of this skepticism in the country.
Another set of narratives circled by the local malign actors was related to the Russian aims in Ukraine and the “brotherhood” of the Ukrainian and Russian people. At the start of the war, Russian arguments about “safeguarding” the Ukrainian people and blames towards the Ukrainian government for not “cooperating” were also spreading in Georgia. Later into the war, we witnessed the factually incorrect narratives about the Russian army not attacking civilians. The latter one was adopted by Alt-Info as well, which has been actively creating and disseminating paralleling propaganda on this war. In the same context, there was the disinformation narrative about the West allegedly pushing the “brotherly” states (meaning Ukraine and Russia) toward the war. Naturally, such framing is, in a way, liberating Russia from the responsibility of aggressive invasion on the imperial grounds. Along the lines of such disinformation narratives, local fact-checking organizations have been identifying misplaced, misinterpreted or factually incorrect content (including visual materials) being spread on Russian sources and concomitantly adopted by the (mostly far-right) Georgian actors.
Disinformation narratives related to military neutrality have been exacerbated in Georgia, mainly advocated by the far-right illiberal groups. Even before the invasion, in the times when the threat to Ukraine became obvious, such groups have taken up the main Russian disinformation narrative interpreting NATO’s presence in the region as the sole reason for Russia’s activities. On February 21, three days before the invasion, these 53 organizations and political parties in Georgia issued a joint open letter in Russian directed to the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. The appeal states that Georgia and Ukraine should not join NATO and Georgia should declare military neutrality. The signatories criticized the Georgian government for "regularly devoting its territory to NATO exercises" and called such exercises "a direct challenge to Russia." The narrative does not only comply with the Russian interpretation of the situation in the region, but it also sparks fierce local debates on disregarding the Russian occupation of 20% of Georgian territory and general security concerns.
In the end, these disinformation narratives were adding up to the bigger informational weapon of Russia about its greatness and invincibility that has been used for years now in the region. We have to be conscious of such narrative insofar as it stands behind the widely-held arguments such as: “if Georgia expresses strong support for Ukraine, Russia will start a war here too for that reason;” or if “there is no sense in our Western aspirations insofar as Russia is still dominating the region, so we should just make peace with it.” Such disinformation in turn negatively affects Georgia’s democratic aspirations and the route toward Western integration.
Before the war, on January 27, the parliament of Georgia proposed a resolution in support of Ukraine that did not mention Russia as the aggressor. In response, the civil society gathered in front of the parliament and signed the petition in support of Ukraine.
The situation changed on February 21, after the meeting of the Security Council of the Russian Federation and the speech of Putin, followed by the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk talks.
The President, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia expressed their position and supported Ukraine:
President Zurabishvili stated that through the current crisis, "everyone remembers the example of Georgia. "Although it was slightly different, it was a scenario that Russia is using again and again."
Prime Minister Gharibashvili wrote on Twitter:
“The recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk by Russia is another step directed against the fundamental principles of international law and unfortunately repeats the occupation of Georgian territories in 2008. We strongly support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”
Davit Zalkaliani also made a supporting statement through twitter.
In turn, on February 24, the civil society organized another solidarity rally for Ukraine.
On February 25, Georgia's PM Irakli Gharibashvili stated that Georgia would not participate in sanctions imposed by the West. The Georgian Dream disrupted an extraordinary parliamentary session on Ukraine. Earlier, President Salome Zurabishvili called on the parliament to hold this sitting. As the Speaker of the Parliament said, the demand of the extraordinary session by the opposition is not to declare solidarity with Ukraine, but "to use the issue of Ukraine for domestic political purposes."
On the same day, the statement of the Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Gharibashvili was discussed on one of the main Russian propaganda programs "Время покажет"[time will show]. The host of the program Artyom Sheinin noted that Gharibashvili's statement was the result of successful Russian military operations.
- "When asked if I am going to visit Kyiv, you know that the airspace is closed, not me, but the leaders of the most powerful state in the world can not enter Ukraine."
- “As for whether the session of the parliament should be held or not, of course, I will not go, I have my own work, the parliament has its own work. The war is going on in Ukraine and we are, of course, watching the developments in Ukraine with great concern and attention.”
In response to these actions and statements, civil society demanded the resignation of Irakli Gharibashvili and the Government. Protests continued over February 26 and 27.
On February 28, Gharibashvili stated that Russia could not be stopped and sanctions would not be effective. Hence, the PM’s rhetoric in a way, aligned with the content of disinformation narratives described above.
“How do they ask me to impose sanctions on my own people? Who will be deprived of all this income? Our people, our population, our economy will be reduced, 1 million of our fellow citizens will be oppressed, who will not be able to transfer, for example, if we complicate their financial operations," Gharibashvili said.
The issue of convening the Ambassador of Ukraine, Igor Dolgov, to the plenary session of the Parliament was raised by the opposition on February 28. The majority of members did not share their demands. “The Ukrainian people do not deserve to see such behavior in the Georgian parliament, which, unfortunately, will be in the parliament tomorrow. When Ukrainian citizens are in bunkers, fighting and losing loved ones every day, there is no place for a circus show at the plenary session," Papuashvili said.
On the same day, the Georgian authorities refused to provide a charter flight, which was to take volunteers from Georgia to Ukraine. On February 28 and March 1 civil society still demanded the resignation of the Government.
On February 27, the campaign “From Georgian People” was launched by civil movement organizations and oppositional parties, who aimed to send humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
All along these, the Georgian public expressed its position towards the events in Ukraine together with their perception of Georgia’s political stance. According to the latest public polls, the Georgian public believes in the effectiveness of the sanctions (70% of the respondents), puts the full responsibility of the war on Russia (91% of the respondents), and strongly supports Ukrainian victory in this aggressive invasion (9 out of 10 respondents). In contrast, with the earlier remarks by the state officials, almost the absolute majority of the respondents believe that the current events in Ukraine are fully or partially related to and concern Georgia too (96%). Hence, the Governmental and Civil Society responses to the war in Ukraine were contested and reflective of the deep socio-political polarization in the country. A worrying low level of inter-sectoral cooperation was observed. As noticed, the disinformation narratives have been incorporated not only by the extra-parliamentary powers but at times, by the governing actors too.
In the long term, we should think about advocating for increased state involvement and stronger positioning of the security council towards the issues of disinformation and propaganda.
In past, when a multiparty thematic inquiry group on disinformation and propaganda was established in the Parliament of Georgia IDFI formulated several recommendations which were taken into consideration by the thematic inquiry group, such as:
(1) To counter the foreign propaganda it is crucial for the country to develop unified strategy and the action plan;
(2) State security services should declare the fight against foreign propaganda as one of their priority directions;
(3) The high-ranking officials should be more actively and publicly involved against disinformation campaigns;
(4) Media broadcasters, especially the state broadcasters should be actively involved in combating the disinformation and foreign propaganda.
We still stand by these recommendations and are waiting to hear about the progress of their implementation, which was allegedly suspended due to the pandemic.
It is also necessary for us to invest in better understanding and studying the history of the region, insofar as it is often instrumentalized by Russia to legitimize its imperial aims. As we witnessed in the case of Ukraine, the Russian government created a legitimizing framework for itself precisely by providing a fragmented and misinterpreted historical narrative. Providing a critical perspective on the historiography of the region should be one of our strategic areas for the future.
Moreover, we stand by the idea that we should be helping society become more resilient to the increasing disinformation and propaganda coming from foreign as well as local sources. In this milieu, IDFI, with the University of Georgia, is strongly devoted to the idea to bring issues related to propaganda, media literacy, cyber security, and such into the university discussions.
Finally, as we can observe, on many occasions Georgian political and public domains lack coordination and cooperation even during critical times. Promoting such cooperation in regards to the informational integrity in the country shall be our target goal. The war is still undergoing and we have to closely observe the main strategies and hybrid operations used by Russia for understanding and developing resilient mechanisms in the future.
This material has been financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida. Responsibility for the content rests entirely with the creator. Sida does not necessarily share the expressed views and interpretations.
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