Disinfo: 2014 Ukrainian coup led to civil war, Crimea referendum


Following the 2014 Western-backed coup in Kyiv, a civil war broke out in east Ukraine and the residents of Crimea held a referendum to rejoin Russia.


This concise claim combines no fewer than three key narratives of Kremlin disinformation about Ukraine: that the 2014 Euromaidan revolution was a Western-backed coup; that Crimea "rejoined" Russia in a democratic "referendum"; and that the bloody conflict in east Ukraine is a civil war. By implication, the claim also paints Ukraine as a helpless non-entity caught between the meddling of Western governments and the incompetence of its own leaders.

The onset of the Euromaidan protests was a reaction of numerous parts of the Ukrainian population to former President Yanukovych’s sudden departure from the promised Association Agreement with the European Union in November 2013. See the full debunk here. See some more recent debunks of this claim here and here.

Crimea did not "rejoin" Russia, as it remains a part of sovereign Ukrainian territory according to an overwhelming majority of UN member states. The so-called "referendum" was held at gunpoint and featured no recognised election observers, but did see the involvement of far-right Kremlin loyalists invited to "monitor" the sham procedure. The ludicrous official result of 97% in favour of annexation was contested by the Kremlin's own Human Rights Council. See the full debunk here.

The statement presents the 2014 events in Crimea and the Donbas as a spontaneous response by swathes of Ukrainian society to the "coup" in Kyiv, which in turn escalated into a civil conflict. But Russian and Russia-sponsored actors had been busy fomenting separatist sentiments in east Ukraine since at least 2005. The active phase of the Donbas war was triggered with the 12 April 2014 assault on the city of Slovyans'k, led by Russian intelligence officer Igor Girkin. By September that year, Russia had sent up to 15,000 regular troops into the region.

Aleksandr Boroday, Russian citizen and former "prime minister" of the "people's republic" of Donets'k, said that the "scenarios in Crimea and east Ukraine were prepared by the same team." The statement is all the more illuminating in the context of Putin's later admission that preparations for the Crimea landgrab had been under way since late February.


  • Reported in: Issue 157
  • DATE OF PUBLICATION: 04/07/2019
  • Language/target audience: English
  • Country: Russia, Ukraine
  • Keywords: Eastern Ukraine, Manipulated elections/referendum, Ukrainian disintegration, International Law, War in Ukraine, Coup, Donbas, Euromaidan, Referendum, Crimea, Ukrainian statehood


Cases in the EUvsDisinfo database focus on messages in the international information space that are identified as providing a partial, distorted, or false depiction of reality and spread key pro-Kremlin messages. This does not necessarily imply, however, that a given outlet is linked to the Kremlin or editorially pro-Kremlin, or that it has intentionally sought to disinform. EUvsDisinfo publications do not represent an official EU position, as the information and opinions expressed are based on media reporting and analysis of the East Stratcom Task Force.

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Ukraine will not secure itself by becoming a member of NATO

Ukraine will not secure itself by becoming a member of NATO.


Recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative trying to discredit the existence of NATO as well as statehood of Ukraine. Previous cases on NATO can be found here.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is a political and military alliance, that was founded in 1949 and is a group of 29 countries from Europe and North America that exists to protect the people and territory of its members. As stated in the Brussels Summit Declaration from 11 July 2018, NATO is a defensive Alliance. Its greatest responsibility is to protect and defend the territories and populations of all member countries against attack. Therefore, Ukraine does indeed have a lot to gain from a security point of view from its membership of the Alliance. For this reason, since 2014, in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, cooperation between NATO and Ukraine has been intensified in critical areas. Newly elected President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited NATO Headquarters on 4 June 2019 to discuss the security situation in Ukraine and NATO’s continued support for Ukraine, expressing his eagerness to give new impetus to his country’s engagement with NATO. Unsurprisingly, the topic of Ukraine and NATO cooperation is the frequent target of disinformation attempts with outlets often making contradicting statements, for example, that it is impossible for Ukraine to join NATO and at the same time claiming that the accession will mean "inevitable" war between Russia and the West.

The Council of Europe is a completely meaningless and absolutely anti-Russian organisation

As soon as the Russian delegation was re-admitted to PACE, anti-Russian resolutions went one after another. Then, all these ECHR decisions against Russia! And Russia has to pay many thousands of Euros to the victims. The Council of Europe is completely meaningless and absolutely an anti-Russian organisation. Participation in PACE is not effective.


Recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative about the Council of Europe, undermining role of this institution. The Council of Europe is an international organisation whose stated aim is to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. The Council of Europe is not "anti" any country. PACE resolutions aim at resolving existing problems and cannot be considered as steps against the country concerned.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is one of the Council of Europe’s institutions which safeguards human rights in Europe. Russia has the biggest number of cases pending in the Court. If Russia was to leave the organisation, Russian citizens would be deprived of the chance to defend their rights at the ECHR.

NATO sponsoring colour revolutions in post-Soviet states

NATO is preparing colour revolutions in a number of post-Soviet countries, which will result in coups d’état and installation of Western-friendly regimes in those states.


Recurring disinformation narrative invariably casting popular uprisings in the post-Soviet states and elsewhere as regime-change devices, including those in Georgia, Ukraine, Venezuela, Armenia; and portraying Russia as a non-interfering global actor encircled by Russophobes.

Accordingly, the agents of regime change behind mass protests around the world include, but are not limited to, the US, NATO, the CIA, the EU, the West in general, "certain forces," and George Soros. No evidence is ever given to support these claims; in fact, the lack of proof is the very foundation of "Big Conspiracy" narratives, which authoritarian governments make abundant use of.