The last week was encouraging for Ukraine: Plumes of smoke above a Crimean airbase; the destruction of the last bridge used by the enemy to transport fuel, weapons and ammunition to its Kherson forces on the right bank of the Dnipro; and local successes for Ukraine on the frontline.
At the same time, Russia continued waging missile-led terrorism against peaceful Ukrainian cities; while on the information front, the occupiers even tried to launch a counterattack, using the scandalous recent report by Amnesty International.
Ukraine was, and must be ready again, to rebuff such unfounded accusations.
in temporarily occupied Crimea, Vladimir Putin’s regime is conducting a massive information campaign. It paints a rosy and pastoral picture of life on a peninsula, which, having been returned to “Mother Russia”, is a wonderful, safe, and comfortable resort.
In doing so, the Kremlin is also trying to lay the political foundations for greater power. According to Ukrainian intelligence, about one million Russian citizens have been resettled in temporarily occupied Crimea, most of whom are military personnel, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, employees of the special services and members of their families.
On August 9, the Russian dream was instantly destroyed by multiple explosions on military infrastructure near the seaside resorts of Saky Raion on the west of the peninsula.
Let’s not spend too much time analyzing what resulted in such an “unfortunate” event for the Russian aggressor: missile strikes by the Armed Forces of Ukraine; the use of drones; sabotage by Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (SSO); or (as Russia might have it) the apparent simultaneous violation of fire safety rules by operatives at military bases located in completely different places.
For the aggressor, to admit that the explosions were the result of missile strikes by the Ukrainian army or the actions of the SSO would be to declare to the entire world the impotence of the Russian air defense and security systems.
The General Staff of Ukraine for its part stayed modestly silent about the role of the armed forces in this event – evidently sensing that to be the shrewdest move.
Turning to the consequences of the explosions, the main blow to Russia is in the sphere of public opinion. The event has “broken” the deep meanings and narratives of Kremlin propaganda. Through pictures available for everyone to see, it shows that Russia is waging a real war and not some so called “special military operation.”
The war came to the Russians very loudly and clearly in Crimea, causing mass panic on the beaches and multi-kilometer traffic jams at the exit to the Crimean Bridge. Furthermore, the explosions at the Novofedorivka site clearly confirm that neither Russia’s air defense systems nor its anti-sabotage units are capable of ensuring the security of the occupiers’ military bases and the serenity of life on the peninsula.
According to the most pessimistic calculations, Russia lost up to nine Russian combat aircraft, six rotorcraft and air defense equipment. Dozens of pilots, air engineers and technicians may also have been killed. The 43rd Marine Assault Aviation Regiment of the Russian Federation ceases to exist as a combat unit, which significantly weakens the aggressor’s aviation group.
The feeling of insecurity and awareness of the fact that a real war is going on in Ukraine, which may come to the territory of Russia, is increasing among “rashists” (a term used to describe the political ideology and social practices of the Russian authorities during Putin’s rule).
Prerequisites are gradually being created for the Ukrainian Air Force to gain air superiority and set the stage for a successful counterattack.
Amnesty International ‘s scandalous report
While all this has been going on, Russia has attempted a counterattack on the information front, using for its purpose a now infamous August 4 report by human rights organization Amnesty International.
Prior to that, Russia typically promoted its narratives through the so-called “yellow press” (mass-bought “tabloid-style” media), using these outlets for the initial release of information. Following that would come the public legitimization of disinformation materials from more widely reputable publications.
Amnesty’s report refers to violations of international humanitarian law only by Ukraine. It does not contain a single word about Russian war crimes. It is a gift for Kremlin propagandists, who have only to distribute this report and its comments by paid experts to fuel interest in the topic.
Amnesty’s report caused severe indignation in Ukrainian civil society, about which the Kyiv Post has already written, including an open letter by the Chief Editor calling for Secretary General Agnes Callamard to resign. By that point, Oksana Pokalchuk had already quit as head of Amnesty’s Ukrainian office. She stated that the report was prepared by a special team of the investigation department and that neither she nor the Ukrainian team were involved in its preparation.
Since the article’s publication, the number of donors to human rights defenders has decreased around the world, and several prominent figures around the organization have also announced their resignations.
Amnesty caused no less indignation among the Ukrainian authorities. At Bankova Street in Kyiv, a special meeting was even held by the Presidential Administration, during which measures for how to respond to the report, including strategies to counter disinformation, were discussed.
Experts of the Information Defense project have analyzed Amnesty’s report and discovered spurious circumstances behind which the ears of Russian propaganda stick out.
- False narratives: The report neither has a basis in objective fact, nor lists a single – I repeat, single – concrete fact regarding so-called violations of international humanitarian law by Ukraine. Instead, it is littered with statements in the style of “someone said something at an unknown place, at an unknown time.” Added to that, it accuses the Ukrainian authorities and the armed forces of not doing anything to evacuate the civilian population from the war zone. In fact, a powerful evacuation program has been developed and is being implemented, but not all Ukrainian citizens are ready or willing to use it.
- Manipulation: The report refers to actions that are in no way a violation of international humanitarian law by Ukraine. For example, the Ukrainian military is accused of being placed in schools, which immediately stirs a negative reaction among readers. The reality is the army is located in non-functioning schools, in which teaching does not take place. If it were based out of functioning schools, then naturally that would be tantamount to war crimes.
- No mention of Russian war crimes: There are no words in the report about Bucha, Mariupol, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Mykolaiiv, Vinnytsia, the shooting of captured “Azov” soldiers in Olenivka, or the intolerable shelling of the Zaporizhzya Nuclear Power Plant.
- Lack of logic: Ukrainian cities are being shelled by invading “rashists”, yet somehow Amnesty believed that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are to blame.
- Bias: The so-called human rights defenders do not distinguish between the aggressor (i.e. Russia) and its victim – One of the main accusations contained in the report is that the Armed Forces of Ukraine conduct combat operations in populated areas, which leads to their shelling by the Russian invaders, thus posing a threat to the civilian population.
So, for all these reasons, Amnesty’s scandalous report plays into the hands of Russian propagandists to sow the seeds of further disinformation among its own population and among Western partners – thus seeking to present negative public opinions in democratic countries about Ukraine.
Under public pressure, Amnesty said it would review its report. This is one small victory. And with great effort, thanks to the consolidated actions of civil society and the authorities, the informational counterattack of the rashists has been repulsed. But we must be ready for the next one.
So-called human rights defenders might try to deny Ukrainians of our right to self-defense. But we will protect our homes, our families and our communities. We will refuse to surrender to the enemy. We will defend our country if it is the last thing we do.
Ihor Zhdanov is a co-founder of the Open Policy Foundation, a National Government Organization (NGO) in Ukraine.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Kyiv Post.
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