What plans does Putin have for the Ukraine?


Relations between Russia and Ukraine have deteriorated again since the beginning of 2021. The confrontation has been on going at least since the occupation of Crimea and the Donbass war, but in the last few years, the conflict has not really accelerated. Now the tensions are on the rise again.

One of the reasons are the recent steps taken by Ukraine. For example, the broadcasting of Russian propaganda channels was banned in February, pro-Kremlin oligarchs have had their wings clipped and cooperation with NATO is being actively developed. Ukraine is encouraged by changes in policy by its allies towards Russia, such as Putin being named a killer by the new US President, Joe Biden.

Russia’s contribution to the escalation of the situation has been primarily military. Attacks have increased in eastern Ukraine, for example, on March 26, four Ukrainian soldiers were killed there, a day with the highest number of casualties in several years. Since April, there have been a number of reports of Russian troops concentrating on Ukraine’s borders and in Crimea. More Russian warships, including landing craft, have reached the Black Sea.

Now the West is trying to figure out whether Putin really has a plan to start a war again.

Propastop looks at what the Kremlin has done on the propaganda front. We will list the narratives that Russia is spreading in the confrontation and try to deduce from them what the Kremlin’s plan is.

“NATO is fueling aggression”
The Russian media is presenting, from the point of view primarily that NATO, or the United States, is behind the escalation of tensions. News about the intensification of the number of spy flights and the increase in the number of military aircraft “at Russia’s borders” have been amplified. Great emphasis has been placed on an increase in US forces in Europe, albeit there has only been an increase of 500 USA soldiers in Europe.

At the same time, the image of Russia as a fortress surrounded by enemies has been circulating in the media of the eastern neighbor for years, and no special new developments can be seen at the moment.

“Ukraine is preparing for an attack”
While images of the concentration of Russian military equipment are spreading in the Western media, the Kremlin media is trying to create a similar impression of Ukraine. News about the movement of Ukrainian military equipment is circulated; sometimes the same is mentioned about Moldova, which also has its own separatist region of Transnistria.

“Ukraine is weak”
There is also another classic war narrative in the Kremlin’s media, which shows opponents as unwilling to fight. An example of this is a propaganda story of desertions in the Ukrainian army.

“Ukraine commits (war) crimes”
One of the most visible propaganda messages of the beginning of the Donbass war was the portrayal of Ukrainian fighters as inhuman “fascists” against whom fighting is morally justified. For example, a propaganda meme of a crucified child spread at that time, which had little to do with reality.

A recent example of this trend is the recent case in which the Kremlin media reported that a child had died in a Ukrainian drone attack on separatist territory. The allegations have been refuted by the Ukrainian site StopFake.

Has the number of articles in the news increased?
As a rule, the increase in the number of propaganda stories testifies to the plans of the attack. Although Propastop has no direct benchmark, watching the Russian media gives the impression that the number of propaganda narratives related to Ukraine has increased, but moderately. There is no direct hysteria of war and stories from Ukraine do not dominate. The conflict and diplomatic scandal with the Czech Republic now occupies the forefront of foreign policy news.

Predicting the intentions of the leaders of a militant authoritarian state is a thankless act, and some unexpected factor, event, or provocation can overturn the assessment. However, Propastop concludes from the relative calm tone of the Kremlin’s propaganda messages that Putin has no intention of attacking Ukraine, at least for the time being. Rather, it is about consolidating Russia’s forces and preparing for different future scenarios.

Additional reading:
An overview of the propaganda narratives of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war.



Brain scan: Florey Institute / Flickr / CC

Screenshots of the articles referenced in the post.