In the 21st century, it seems crazy that someone might use a chemical or even nuclear weapon, being fully aware of the consequences. The realization hits especially hard after learning about the horrors of WWI chemical poisonings and the disasters that followed the WWII nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, it seems like the military-political leadership of the Russian Federation pays no regard to any of these concerns, and not only uses chemical weapons in Syria but also actively threatens the world with its nuclear power, acting recklessly and heedlessly, like a monkey with a grenade.
However, what is scary in this situation is that today the Russian propaganda is working hard to convince the population that the use of weapons of mass destruction against Ukraine, and anyone else for that matter, would be completely justified.
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Analyzing the events of the past couple of years, it is easy to see propaganda at work and to separate the process into a few chronological stages.
Stage 1 – Preparation. This stage started a while ago, before 2014 when the Russian Federation was establishing the foundation for future actions. An important element of this stage was the false narrative of the biological labs in Ukraine. Russian media, as well as the pro-Russian media in Ukraine, were actively pushing the story that in the period between 2005 and 2014 US-backed Ukrainian officials created a network of laboratories to study different diseases and the ways they spread. The publications mentioned alleged local outbreaks, fake death tolls, etc. Later on, the narrative changed, and the media outlets started spreading a copy-pasted story about how the Americans were turning Ukraine into a ticking biological weapon in the military bio labs created in the period from 2014 to 2017. Despite the official statements from both the American and the Ukrainian state institutions denying these claims, the press continued to spew novel after novel about biological or chemical weapons. However, the stories were pretty conflicting, some claimed there were 13, 15, or 30 laboratories in Ukraine. The journalists couldn't agree on the lists of alleged locations, but the most common were Kyiv, Odesa, Kherson, Vinnytsia, Lviv, and Kharkiv, and, of course, almost every article mentioned it being “a violation of the 1972 Convention on Chemical Weapons”.
All of this was done to plant the idea that Ukraine is developing biological weapons into the subconscious of the Russian populace.
Stage 2 – Actively convincing the population that Ukraine poses a threat to Russian national security. This stage started before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation on February 24, 2022, and continues now. At this stage, the efforts of the Russian propaganda are focused on forcing the Russian populace to conclude that Ukraine has been developing biological weapons specifically to destroy ethnic Russians. Kremlin has already implemented a few steps of this plan. At first, the propaganda machine started spreading fake news about the military laboratory of combat drugs established in the vicinity of Mariupol. Later on, Russian troops claimed that during combat, they had captured documentation proving the conduct of biological experiments and the destruction of dangerous chemicals. Then the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (represented by lieutenant general Ihor Kyrylov, the CBRN forces commander of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) made an official claim accusing the US and Ukraine of developing biological weapons. At the same time, the statement also included the following information: “the MOD of the Russian Federation is aware that the scientists in the Kharkiv Institute of Veterinary Medicine studied wild birds, as the carriers of highly pathogenic bird flu”.
Looking closely at these claims, it becomes obvious that they lack any cause and effect connections, however, it does not seem to startle Russian propagandists. Following their logic, any events/circumstances/documents could be used in false claims about the development of weapons of mass destruction. No matter how hard Russian propaganda tries to project the radical Russian approach to dealing with political issues onto the democratic civilized world, it does not make it any more true.
Afterward, according to plan, Russia called for an emergency UNSC meeting to discuss the US biological weapon labs in Ukraine and to share "new evidence". The response is very clear, the nonsensical claims are called out right away. This could be the end of it. However, in reality, the target audience of all of these efforts of the Russian government, from the fake news to the UNSC discussions, is the population. The goal is to perpetuate false narratives, like "the world pays no attention to all of these violations", "the world refuses to acknowledge the crimes committed by the US" and "only Russia, being the main advocate for the good in the world is able to fearlessly bring to the light American and Ukrainian crimes".
Against the backdrop of these events, Russian propagandists were working tirelessly to spread epically absurd information about Ukrainian biological weapons mentioned by the Russian MOD. Allegedly, the agency was aware of the US project launched in Ukrainian labs to study the spread of dangerous infections in migratory birds. Russian TV channels started to extensively discuss the claim that Ukraine was planning to send sick birds to Russia to spread diseases and infect certain ethnic groups. The claims also mentioned that the birds that were experimented on and released in Kherson Conservation Area were later caught in Ivanov and Voronezh regions of the Russian Federation.
Worst of all, the Russian population fell for it. Case in point, a leaflet was posted on the wall of one of the apartment buildings in Belgorod, where the residents were asking their neighbors to not feed the doves as "the Americans have infected these birds in Ukrainian bio labs to target and kill Russians, Ukrainians..."
Stage 3 – Threats and actions. This stage began recently. It is focused on conditioning the population to believe that the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Russian Federation would be normal and justifiable. The main narrative here is "Moscow is being forced to take such measures, as there are direct threats to national security".
This stage is worth discussing in more detail. Considering the significant losses suffered by the Russian Federation in the war against Ukraine and Russia's inability to reach previously identified goals, the officials in Kremlin started publicly discussing the weapons of mass destruction. Thus, on March 23,Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov refused to rule out Russian use of nuclear weapons during military attempts to occupy Kyiv. He claimed that the Russian government would resort to this "if there is an existential threat to the Russian Federation".
Later on, on March 25, Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia Dmitry Medvedev also claimed that the Russian Federation could use nuclear weapons and quoted the following conditions for their use, defined by the Decree of the President of the Russian Federation of June 2, 2020 "The Basis of the State Nuclear Deterrence Policy of the Russian Federation": information about the launch of ballistic missiles targeting Russian territory; the use of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction by the adversary targeting the Russian Federation; impact on the critical infrastructure that would paralyze Russian nuclear deterrence assets and conventional aggression against Russian Federation that threatens the very existence of the state.
Most public conversations on the topic should be perceived as threats aimed at forcing Ukraine and the world to give in and make concessions. However, no matter the reaction, Kremlin has already designed the most suitable conditions for the acceptance of any decision. On one hand, by actively spreading the false narrative of bacteriological or biological weapons in Ukraine and the alleged targeted release of Kherson birds in Russia, Moscow is attempting to create legal grounds for the use of weapons of mass destruction, as partially defined by Paragraph B Article 19 of the above-mentioned Decree of the President of the Russian Federation: "use of other weapons of mass destruction by the adversary targeting the Russian Federation". On the other hand, the Russian population perceives the threat of Ukrainian biological weapons as very real and is ready to accept any response either a chemical or a nuclear strike targetting Ukraine.
However, it is worth noting that the Russian Federation does not believe it will be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons. There were multiple instances when Russian troops have utilized illegal phosphorous bombs in Ukraine. Kremlin has perfected an algorithm to respond to any accusations: they either call the situation "a provocation, set up by the Ukrainians to falsely accuse the Russians" or simply blame the Ukrainians for whatever happened. This approach is nothing new. Russia has done this multiple times, not only in Ukraine but also in Syria.
In regards to nuclear weapons, the only decision-maker here is Putin. Looking at the massacres that this follower of Hitler's philosophy and his troops are committing in Ukraine, one can assume that this is a decision Putin can easily make.
Will the Russian population accept it? Of course. Many years of propaganda, the myth about the blood-thirsty Ukrainians, and the extreme losses of the Russian Armed Forces have done the trick. However, if it does happen Russia as a country will lose any chance of having a future.
Serhiy Hrinchenko, specially for Defense Express
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