News appeared late last week about telephone conversations between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu with his Western counterparts – the ministers of defense of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Turkey.

This news prompted a number of questions, assumptions and even conspiracy theories.

What did they talk about?

Everything seems to be clear here. All sides of these conversations confirm that the main topic of the discussion was the fabrications by the Russian side that Kyiv is allegedly preparing a “dirty nuclear bomb” for use on its own territory in order to later blame Russia for it. Following Shoigu, Russian propaganda resources also began to spread this absurd and senseless information.

In general terms, this is Russian style, as in the well-known anecdote, “to spite the enemy, we will bomb Voronezh.” But this is also the style of Russian propaganda – to accuse Ukraine of crimes that Russia committed. Russia started a bloody war against Ukraine, but justifies it by saying that Ukraine, together with NATO, allegedly intended to attack Russia. They described the crimes they committed in Irpin and Bucha as staged. Putin and an ex-president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, not to mention Russian propaganda, scared the whole world with the possibility of using nuclear weapons in the war against Ukraine, and against Western countries as well. But suddenly they realized they were playing with fire, and therefore, out of habit, began to blame Ukraine for this.

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Why involve the Russian Minister of Defense in this propaganda campaign? It would have been possible to limit themselves to ordinary propaganda media outlets – Russia Today, RIA-Novosti, Olga Skabeeva, and Vladimir Solovyov. And why, then, have Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and other high-ranking officials been involved in Russian propaganda campaigns for a long time? Because, in the opinion of the Kremlin, this increases the importance and influence of the statements in question, and allegedly adds official reliability to them. This is not just propaganda, but IPSO – an “information and political special operation,” according to the slang used the Russian special services. It is in such formats that the Russian president, who hails from the special services, thinks and programs the political process. And it should work not so much for the domestic audience as for the Western world.

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This is not the first time that the Kremlin has tried to discredit Ukraine in the eyes of the international community and our partners. The whole world now accuses Russia of terrorism, therefore, the Kremlin decided to invent a version of events about terrorist acts that Ukraine is allegedly preparing. But it didn’t work. President Zelensky and other officials of Ukraine refuted this nonsense. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said that Ukraine is open to any monitoring mission. The governments of the United States, France and Great Britain released a joint statement regarding Russian accusations of possible use of a “dirty bomb” by Ukraine, in which they rejected Russia’s blatantly false claims and reaffirmed unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity amid the ongoing Russian aggression.

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What is the purpose of these conversations on the part of Shoigu? Was it solely his initiative, or did they take place on Putin’s behalf?

Information and political special operations at this level, particularly official communication with high-ranking officials of Western countries, cannot be the independent and uncoordinated actions of an individual Russian minister. Such things happen only with the approval of the main person in Russia. It is indicative that all these conversations took place at the initiative of the Russian side, which also confirms the version about this being an IPSO.

It is quite likely that the purpose of these telephone conversations between Sergei Shoigu and his Western colleagues was not only an attempt to accuse Ukraine of non-existent sins. Putin sends signals to the West through various high-ranking couriers (Federation Council Chairwoman Valentina Matvienko in Indonesia, Sergei Shoigu via telephone) that he is ready to negotiate. This is no longer for propaganda. The Russian dictator already understands that he cannot win the war against Ukraine, wants to get out of this operation, but still hopes to do it on his own terms.

Why did the defense ministers of the leading Western countries talk to Shoigu? And was it only the “dirty nuclear bomb” that was discussed in the conversations between defense ministers? Pay attention to the fact that Shoigu had two conversations with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last week – on Oct. 21 and Oct. 23. By the way, perhaps it was the first such conversation that prompted the Russian leadership to talk about the stupid IPSO regarding the “dirty bomb.”

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But Lloyd Austin’s motives for communicating with his Russian counterpart are completely different from Shoigu’s. He explained this by the importance of maintaining communication amid the war unleashed by Russia. But there was a break of five months in his communication with Shoigu (from May 13 to Oct. 21). Why did it resume, as, by the way, did the communication between Chief of the General Staff of Russia Valery Gerasimov and his American colleague General Mark Milley? It can be assumed with high probability that this is connected with the escalation of Russia’s war against Ukraine and Russia’s public threats to use tactical nuclear weapons. It is necessary to probe the enemy’s position and intentions, as well as warn him of severe consequences for any possible unacceptable actions.

There is probably also an attempt, on the part of Western high-ranking officials, through such communication, to prevent Russia from using nuclear weapons. All the more so since the story about the “dirty bomb” already resembles an open provocation – when Ukraine is accused of what the Russians are going to do – or an information and political cover for Russia’s possible use of tactical nuclear weapons. President Zelensky drew attention to this in his address.

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Don’t these telephone conversations speak of some secret peace negotiations between the West and Russia taking place behind Ukraine’s back?

When it comes to any contacts between high-ranking officials of leading Western countries and Russia, such assumptions will inevitably arise, at least according to the logic of conspiracies. But if these are official contacts (as Shoigu has with his Western colleagues), then these cannot be secret negotiations, especially over the phone. Moreover, immediately after the talks with Shoigu, the US Secretary of Defense spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksiy Reznikov. Afterwards Reznikov held talks with all his colleagues who’d communicated with Shoigu, primarily in order to refute the lies of Russian propaganda.

It should also be understood that political negotiations on a peaceful settlement will be conducted either by the political leaders or foreign ministers of the countries, or by authorized representatives of the country’s leaders. Defense ministers talk about purely military and security matters. They can be participants in negotiations, but as part of a negotiating team, and not alone. And most importantly, there are no clear signs of such negotiations yet. Any such negotiations can be held only with the participation of Ukraine, otherwise it won’t be possible to implement the relevant agreements. At the moment, after the annexation of four temporarily-occupied Ukrainian regions by Russia, the probability of any peace agreement between Ukraine and Russia tends towards zero.

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Therefore, it’s not necessary to look for a black cat in a dark room, but to deter Russia from new insanities, both through direct communication with Russian officials and by increasing military support for Ukraine, which, according to the experience of the current war, is more effective.

The views expressed are the authors’ and not necessarily those of the Kyiv Post.

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