DISINFO: Kyiv passed from rejecting nuclear weapons to preparing a dirty bomb
In February 2022, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave a speech in the Munich Security Conference in which he announced that he would start consultations about the Budapest memorandum and pointed that Ukraine could revoke its status as a country without nuclear weapons.
Weeks later, in March 2022, Russian intelligence announced that it had information that Kyiv was actively working on a nuclear weapon.
In October, the Russian army declared that it had intel on Ukrainian and British contacts to acquire nuclear weapons technology, while Russian defence minister accused Kyiv of “planning a provocation with the detonation of a so-called ‘dirty bomb’”.
This is a mix of several recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives, part of a wider disinformation campaign whose ultimate goal is to present Ukraine as a threat to Russia and therefore justify Russia’s unprovoked aggression against its peaceful neighbour.
Moscow violated the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, through which Ukraine agreed to turn its USSR-inherited nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees from signatory countries, one of which was Russia, later turned into aggressor. Russian officials and propaganda have deliberately distorted president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speech at the Munich Security Conference to portray him as threatening to acquire nuclear weapons, when he actually meant that the Budapest Memorandum would be null if the security guarantors failed to protect Ukraine.
None of the claims made by Russia about Ukraine’s plans to acquire or detonate a nuclear artifact have been backed by any evidence, and some of them have been positively proven as false.
For example, pictures presented by the Russian Foreign Ministry to illustrate allegations about Ukraine’s ‘dirty bomb’ were actually from 2010 and originally posted by the Slovenian Radioactive Waste Agency, and therefore totally unrelated to the current situation.
Western leaders have rejected Russia's 'dirty bomb' claim, and EU High Representative Josep Borrell dismissed the allegations as false. In addition, diplomats from France, Britain and the United States called Russia’s allegation a pretext that Moscow has developed for escalating the war. However, pro-Kremlin outlets continue amplifying this unproven claim, since repeating previous baseless allegations as established facts while introducing minor variations is a frequent pro-Kremlin disinformation technique.
See other examples of similar disinformation narratives, such as claims that Ukraine is going to use a dirty bomb to accuse Russia of using tactical nuclear weapons, that Ukraine asked NATO for preemptive nuclear strikes against Russia, that Ukraine wanted to acquire nuclear weapons because of American pressure, or that Zelenskyy is pushing the world towards a nuclear war.