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Where we were for eight years. How to respond to Kremlin propaganda about the war

The information campaign to justify Russia's attack on Ukraine uses a well-established set of propaganda clichés, from asking «where were you for eight years?» and substituting the term «special military operation» for the word «war» to stories about «liberating Ukraine,» «flying time to Moscow» and «biological weapons». Many Russians simply avoid communicating with their family members who repeat clichés from television. The Insider offers short and clear counterarguments against the mainstream propaganda narratives.

  • «Where were you for 8 years?»

  • «We were left with no chance to do otherwise.»

  • «Special military operation»

  • «Liberation of Ukraine»

  • «Defending ourselves from NATO.»

  • «Flying time to Moscow»

  • «We don't abandon our own.»

  • «Russia does not start wars. It ends them.»

  • «Biological Weapons Against Slavs.»

«Where were you for 8 years?»

The question «where were you for 8 years?» first appeared in response to anti-war statements on social media and has gradually become one of the most popular talking points of state propaganda. It boils down to the following statement: all those who now oppose the war did not notice how there was a war in Donbass for eight years and how civilians were killed.

In fact, today's opponents of the war remember exactly where they were eight years ago: in 2014, they held «Peace marches,» demanding that the Kremlin stop its military intervention in Ukraine, including Crimea and Donbass. Among the organizers of the mass rallies were, for example, Boris Nemtsov (assassinated) and Alexei Navalny (poisoned and then imprisoned).

«Peace marches» failed to prevent Russian aggression. After the militants led by retired FSB colonel Igor Strelkov (Girkin) and then regular Russian troops appeared in Donbass, a bloodbath began. The cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions which the separatists did not seize (e.g., Mariupol), continued to live quietly and peacefully, while the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics plunged into violence and criminal strife.

Ninety percent of the deaths of Donbass civilians during the conflict occurred in 2014-2015, when the Kremlin sent into the conflict zone mercenaries from private military companies and sometimes entire military formations, in particular troops from the 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade stationed in Kursk. The international investigation team came to the conclusion that the brigade was responsible for the death of the passengers of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing aircraft in the sky over the region.

All these 8 years, Vladimir Putin consistently refused proposals to send peacekeepers under the auspices of the UN to Donbass. Since 2016, the fighting gradually subsided, and the conflict acquired a de facto «frozen» status. Suddenly, the Russian president decided to «save» Donbass, after which, within weeks, the number of civilian casualties in Ukraine exceeded the number of deaths during those same eight years.

«We were left with no chance to do otherwise.»

Vladimir Putin uttered this phrase at a meeting with representatives of the business community immediately after the start of the war:

What's happening is a forced measure: they simply left us no chance to do otherwise. The security risks created were such that it was impossible to respond in any other way.

This is roughly the same message Putin tried to convey in his address to the public about the attack on Ukraine:

You and I were simply left with no other opportunity to protect Russia, our people, other than the one we will be forced to use today.

The statement immediately appeared on billboards, in outdoor propaganda, and in the Kremlin media. The arguments in the vein of «we were left with no choice» have been repeated by government officials and broadcast on social media. Alexander Lukashenko made the same argument, only, according to him, Ukraine forced Belarus to defend itself.

Viewers of state TV channels should ponder – doesn't it seem strange that the Ukrainian army, modest in every respect, decided to go on the offensive against Russia (and simultaneously Belarus) at the very moment Moscow brought its 200,000 troops to Ukraine's borders? And if the threat was so serious, why were Russian officials and propagandists denying and making fun of the leaks in the Western media about an imminent attack on Ukraine just days before the war?

In practice, aggressors are very fond of attributing to their enemies the intention to start or provoke a war, including cases where differences in military strength make these excuses laughable. For example, before the invasion of Poland, the Nazis organized a provocation, simulating an attack on a German radio station in Gleiwitz, involving fluent Polish-speaking SS men (curiously, Russian propaganda, a few days before the war with Ukraine, reported an attempt by some saboteurs, allegedly speaking Polish as well, to blow up chlorine tanks in the DNR,).

«Special military operation»

A couple of days before the war with Ukraine, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said:

Russia, which has been through so many wars, is the last country in Europe that wants to say, or even utter, the word war.

Peskov was not lying. Saying the word «war» in Russia is now fraught with legal problems (up to 15 years in prison). Roskomnadzor officially notified the media that the terms «war,» «invasion,» and «attack» cannot be used when describing the hostilities in Ukraine. The only correct wording is «special military operation».

But the scale of what is happening in Ukraine does not fit into the concept of a «special operation». According to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, losses of Russian troops have reached 14,000 people, while American intelligence estimates 7,000 dead. Even if these figures are exaggerated, we can consider the visually confirmed losses of military equipment which amount to nearly 1,500 units (which implies that several thousand servicemen were killed).

And it's not just a matter of scale, but also of objectives. Contrary to the propaganda assurances, it is not just military facilities that are under attack. We are talking about the shelling of residential buildings, the targeting of civilians (we might recall the shooting of a car with pensioners or the cold-blooded murder of a civilian travelling with his son and dogs), numerous cases of purposeful shooting at journalists, civilians fleeing the occupation, anti-occupation protesters, or a bomb dropped on a maternity hospital and other examples.

According to the UN, some 2,000 civilians have been affected by the fighting since February 24, and over 700 of them have been killed. If local authorities are to be believed, the number of civilians killed in Mariupol alone runs into the thousands. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights believes that Russian shelling of residential areas may fall under the definition of war crimes. Every day there is more and more independent evidence of the use by the Russian Armed Forces not only of indiscriminate weapons, but also of munitions directly banned by international conventions: incendiary air bombs, incendiary rockets, and cluster missiles.

If it is a special operation, it is an operation to destroy the residents of Ukraine.

«Liberation of Ukraine»

«To liberate Ukraine, to cleanse it of the Nazis,» was how Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov outlined the goals of the «special military operation» on the first day of the war. According to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Ukraine had to be «liberated from the oppression» of the neo-Nazis. Judging by indirect signs, the Kremlin seriously expected that the Russian troops would be greeted with flowers as liberators.

And flowers are indeed sometimes brought to them, as, for example, in Kherson: two carnations with a black ribbon. Neither in the territories occupied by the Russian Armed Forces, nor in other parts of Ukraine is there any sign of support for the Russian military. On the contrary, Ukrainians queue up at the military registration and enlistment offices for the territorial defense, and mass pro-Ukrainian rallies are held in the occupied cities. Even a regular contributor to Russian TV shows, film director Karen Shakhnazarov, was forced to point out: the reaction of the Ukrainians does not resemble the behavior of people yearning for liberation.

If Ukraine were a Russophobic country languishing under the oppression of neo-Nazis, how on earth did a Russian-speaking Jew manage to get elected as president in a national election there? And isn't it a sign of neo-Nazism to have the letter Z painted on the doors of human rights activists and independent journalists in Russia, just as the Stars of David were painted on the doors of the Jews in Hitler's Germany?

During the recent presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine, no candidate or political force with an extreme right-wing ideology received more than 6 percent of the vote.

On the other hand, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roskosmos, one of the Kremlin's most high-profile officials, led a nationalist party before taking up office and did not hesitate to address rallies surrounded by zig-zagging youths.

Vladimir Soloviev, the government's chief propagandist, made a film in praise of Benito Mussolini. The head of the odious RT television channel Margarita Simonyan joyfully reposted a racist Telegram post about «Negroes» by a member of the neo-Nazi group BORN, Dmitry Steshin. And the speech of Patriarch Kirill (Vladimir Gundyaev), who justified the invasion of Ukraine by the need to fight against gay pride parades, fits in well with the ideology of the Nazis, who believed gays should be exterminated along with Jews and Gypsies.

«Defending ourselves from NATO.»


Vladimir Putin, in his usual manner, explains the aggression against Ukraine by the threat from NATO:

Now, as NATO expands eastward, the situation is getting worse and more dangerous for our country every year. Moreover, in recent days, the NATO leadership has been explicitly talking about the need to accelerate, to force the advance of the Alliance's infrastructure to the borders of Russia.

In reality, NATO has been bordering on the Russian territory since it was founded in 1949, so by definition no additional threat could arise from Ukraine's accession to the alliance. The eastward expansion of NATO to which Putin refers occurred almost 20 years ago, and in all that time there was not a hint of any military threat to Russia's western borders.

Moreover, after the 1991 liquidation of the Warsaw Treaty Organization, the ground forces of the alliance's member countries in Europe were cut threefold, while Russia had a 2.5-fold advantage in terms of the number of permanently combat-ready units within its prospective theater of operations.

The opposite is true - only the annexation of Crimea in 2014 forced NATO to develop logistical infrastructure for possible operational reinforcement in the immediate vicinity of Russia. At the same time, the alliance has so far complied with the provisions of the NATO-Russia Founding Act and has not deployed any permanent contingents to the new member states. After the invasion of Ukraine, NATO declared that the agreement no longer worked. Thus, it was Putin who by his actions transformed the NATO threat from hypothetical to very real.

«Flying time to Moscow»


One subspecies of the NATO threat cliché describes the exact threats to Russia posed by the North Atlantic Alliance. President Vladimir Putin usually puts them under the «flying time» category:

It will take less than 35 minutes for Tomahawk cruise missiles, 7-8 minutes for ballistic missiles from the Kharkiv area, and 4-5 minutes for hypersonic strike weapons to reach Moscow. This is called a knife to the throat.

This raises at least two questions. Firstly, why would the aggressive NATO block deploy its offensive armaments near Kharkiv and admit Ukraine into the alliance, if it is possible to do the same thing on the territory of Latvia or Estonia, already members of the alliance which lie approximately at the same distance from Moscow as Kharkiv?

Second, it is absolutely unclear why the United States and its allies would launch ballistic and hypersonic missiles at Moscow, knowing that Russia has the world's largest arsenal of nuclear weapons? The Americans gave no reason to believe they had such suicidal intentions.

In Russia itself, both television talk shows and Putin's speeches are striking in their fixation on the topic of Russian nuclear capabilities. Propagandists, while live on the air, showed maps with plans to take over the Baltic states. TV host Dmitry Kiselev threatened to turn the United States into radioactive ash. And now, after the attack on Ukraine, nuclear war has become much more likely.

«We don't abandon our own.»

Patriotic «flash mobs» are being organized all over Russia under the slogan «We don't abandon our own.» They use the Latin letters Z and V - tactical signs from the boards of military vehicles that have become a symbol of the Russian invasion, the black-and-yellow military ribbons, the Russian tricolor, and portraits of President Putin.

But against the backdrop of these dog-and-pony shows, the state is demonstrating the opposite: having sent 100,000 troops (including conscripts, with whom contracts were hastily drawn up) to Ukraine, the military leadership has abandoned them to their fate.

Russian servicemen abandon their equipment for lack of diesel fuel, go begging for food from the local population because there are no rations or they have expired, get lost in the fields because they have no normal communication, surrender en masse - but the Kremlin does not even try to exchange prisoners, does not want to pick up dead bodies and lies about the scale of casualties (in the first days of the war the Russian Defense Ministry even declared that there were no losses, despite numerous photo and video evidence).

«Russia does not start wars. It ends them.»

This phrase is used in various forms on social media and in outdoor propaganda. Its general meaning was succinctly expressed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov: «the goal of Russia's special military operation is to stop any war that may start on the territory of Ukraine or spread from there.»

In fact, Russia has more than once started wars of aggression, and they usually ended badly.

In 1853, Russia provoked the Crimean War, which turned into a humiliating defeat.

In November 1939, the USSR began the war against Finland, a country which three months earlier, as a result of an agreement with the Nazis (the secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact), had been included in the Soviet zone of interest. The USSR failed to conquer Finland, and the irretrievable losses of the Red Army amounted to almost 130,000.

In 1979 Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. The decade-long war ended in an inglorious withdrawal of troops, with estimated irretrievable losses of about 25,000.

«Biological Weapons Against Slavs.»

Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Ministry officials have been relentless in exposing a secret military-biological program that the U.S. allegedly conducted in Ukraine to create biological weapons components. Igor Kirillov, head of the Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense Forces of the Russian Armed Forces, went so far as to say that the Americans, together with Ukrainians, were developing bio-agents capable of targeting certain ethnic groups.

The pro-government media immediately launched a wave of publications and TV stories about some kind of miracle weaponry aimed at «the total destruction of the Slavs», for which the biomaterials of Ukrainians were gathered, about coronavirus experiments and the preparation of a viral attack on Russia using migratory birds.

In the scientific community, these accusations are perceived as sheer ignorance, paranoia, or the ravings of a lunatic. Biology department graduates from Russian universities even wrote an open letter demanding that the false information be disproved. Of course, to no avail.

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