Christmas came early for the Kremlin this year in the form of Vasiliy Prozorov, an alleged defector from Ukraine’s state security service, who is zealously promoting all manner of conspiracy theories about his homeland.
In Russia, where he is currently taking “refuge”, Prozorov has predictably received star treatment. On Monday this week, the Kremlin rolled out the red carpet for a highly-publicised press conference that gave a serious platform to Prozorov’s fever dreams. He promoted a smorgasbord of the Kremlin’s favourite anti-Ukrainian narratives: that Ukraine, naturally, was responsible for the downing of Flight MH17; that Kyiv was never interested in a peaceful resolution to the war in Donbas; that fascism is spreading wildly among the ranks of Ukrainian military and police; and that the upcoming presidential elections will be rigged.
But it is also important to give credit where credit is due, and Prozorov unquestionably deserves some points for originality. As it turns out, the Ukrainian secret police apparently established a clandestine torture prison in Mariupol called “The Library” where inmates are dehumanised and referred to as “Books”. Hundreds of people have been tortured here, and at least two killed. As “evidence” to support these claims, Prozorov even brought props to the event: a handful of vague and entirely unverified documents and photographs purporting to show the facility and injured prisoners.
The Kremlin’s newest star also revealed that officials from the CIA and MI6 are training Ukrainian special forces to carry out terror attacks in Donbas in order to undermine the local resistance. Some Russian parliamentarians were quick to jump on the bandwagon and are already demanding that the US and Britain investigate these allegations.
Prozorov’s performance also had the Russian state media frothing at the mouth in excitement. They reported on the press conference in real time to maximise its impact, churning out sensationalist headlines and uncritically repeating Prozorov’s claims.
NATO: Ever the Aggressor
March 24th marked the twentieth anniversary of NATO air strikes against Serbia, then still part of Yugoslavia, in response to the killings of Kosovar Albanians. The occasion was eagerly exploited by the pro-Kremlin media to push the false narrative that NATO is a belligerent, imperialistic power hell-bent on the destruction of Russia and other countries deemed problematic to its interests. NATO has long been a favourite topic of pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets, but this week they went into overdrive with efforts to show that, twenty years after its “criminal” bombing campaign against Serbia, NATO has devolved into the world’s largest terrorist organisation.
Disinformation about NATO typically involves elements of both historical revisionism and fearmongering about the alliance’s alleged hostile intentions. We are told that NATO “destroyed” Yugoslavia because it was an obstacle to US plans for the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and because it prohibited the Western Balkans from joining the EU. The 1999 bombing campaign was a “genocide” that deliberately aimed at environmentally dangerous targets to ensure as much death and destruction as possible. But these Russian narratives about Yugoslavia, which have always framed NATO intervention as illegitimate and ruthlessly destructive, grossly distort this sensitive and complex issue.
As the humanitarian situation in Kosovo deteriorated, fuelling pressure for international intervention, NATO bypassed the UN to authorize air strikes unless Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević agreed to get “Serbs out, peacekeepers in, refugees back [to Kosovo].” After Milosevic refused the terms and NATO began its air strikes against government infrastructure, Serb security forces escalated their violence and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Finally, in June 1999, after approximately 500 civilian deaths from the strikes, Milosevic agreed to allow international troops into Kosovo. From the beginning of Operation Allied Force, NATO pledged to minimise civilian casualties.
In the world of pro-Kremlin disinformation, however, there is no room for nuance. Today, we are told that NATO is as aggressive as ever, with imminent plans to invade Russia. Thousands of troops are already stationed along Russia’s border for this very purpose! Alternatively, NATO’s future military campaign against Russia will use Ukraine as a springboard, which is why the West is presently seeking to gain control of the Ukraine-Russia border.
We are told that NATO poses a serious threat to other countries as well. In Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia, NATO is perceived as a dangerous weapon of the United States, deployed only in pursuit of its own imperialistic agenda. And the alliance is accused of conquering Ukraine and attempting to destroy Venezuela – which is ironic, considering it was Russia that invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, and continues to wage war in the east, and that it was Russian planes carrying troops that landed in Venezuela earlier this week. By contrast, NATO activity in Ukraine has been limited to joint military exercises, and no NATO troops are present in Venezuela.