Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Russia’s global information war on discrediting Ukraine finds supporters not only in the European capitals but also on the Capitol hills

President Emmanuel Macron's statement that “Europe will disappear”, if it fails to reconsider its strategy regarding the Russian Federation” which he made speaking to the French ambassadors on August 27, 2019, became a real international sensation. “We cannot restore Europe without restoring ties with Russia, otherwise Russia will become closer to other states” he said. The French leader stressed that the new sanctions are “not in our interests”. He said it was time to “reconsider our relationship with Russia”. According to him, it is necessary in order to avoid a new Cold War. “Some of our allies will always push us to implement tougher sanctions, but it is not in our interests. We need to build an architecture of trust in Europe ... Russia's GDP is equivalent to Spain's, and its population is shrinking. Do you think anyone can hold out like that? We need to offer this state a strategic option, which it will inevitably need” the French President said. According to Macron, pushing Russia aside is a “deep strategic mistake”. And Europe's “weaknesses and mistakes” have helped Russia strengthen its Alliance with China and restore its influence in Syria, Libya and Africa, the French President concluded. Macron also stated the need to restore “European sovereignty”, stressing that “sovereignty” is not a dirty word that should be left to extremists.[1]

In addition, the United States joined France the drift to Russia. In Congressional testimony as part of the investigation of the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump, United States Chargé d'Affaires in Ukraine, William Taylor said that freezing U.S. military aid to Ukraine was related to the requirement to investigate the Burisma case. According to Taylor, when he became Chargé d'Affaires in Ukraine, he found that there are two channels through which the state carried out US policy: official, associated with the United States Department of State and the Embassy, and unofficial, which included former special envoy, Kurt Volcker, U.S. Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry and Trump's personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani.

Taylor confirmed, referring to a number of conversations with senior U.S. officials, that from this unofficial channel, President Volodymyr Zelensky was required to continue to investigate the Burisma case, as well as the alleged interference of Ukrainians in the 2016 American elections. At first, these requirements were put forward as a condition for a meeting between Trump and Zelensky. Taylor later found out from Sondland that "everything depends" on continuing investigations, including U.S. military aid to Ukraine, which was frozen in July 2019. «Zelensky should approach the microphone and say that he is beginning an investigation about Biden and electoral interference», that’s how Taylor conveys Trump's demands. Taylor claims that, according to Sondland, Zelensky agreed to make such a statement in an interview with CNN in September. However, later, when military aid was unlocked, Taylor, through the  Secretary of the NSDC of that time, Oleksandr Danylyuk, advised Zelensky not to interfere in U.S. domestic policy, and received a response that there would be no interview.[2]

In addition, Trump's personal lawyer openly admitted to the New York Times in an attempt to force the new government of Ukraine to help the American President. Rudy Giuliani said that he met in Madrid with a close ally of the Ukrainian President and demanded to resume the investigation against Biden's son. Giuliani also wants an investigation that would prove that disclosure of secret payments from the "Party of Regions" to Republican campaign Chief, Paul Manafort was part of a campaign aimed at hurting Trump in 2016. In short, the U.S. President's entourage wants the Ukrainian government to prove that Ukraine illegally acted against Trump during the 2016 election, and also interfered in the U.S. election in his favor in 2020.[3]

On October 21, 40 Democratic congressmen from the United States House of Representatives signed an appeal to U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in which they demand to include the Ukrainian regiment "Azov" and two right-wing organizations in Europe in the list of foreign terrorist organizations. The congressmen who signed the appeals insist that "Azov" is a well-known ultra-nationalist military organization in Ukraine, which openly invites neo-Nazis to its ranks". "In the relatively short history of this group, the UN has recorded human rights violations and cases of torture. Despite these facts, according to the FBI, "Azov" recruits, radicalizes and trains American citizens for years", congressmen note in the address. In addition, the congressmen claim a connection between the "Azov" and the terrorist who staged a shooting at the mosques of Christchurch in New Zealand in March 2019. "In his manifesto, the shooter recalled that he trained with the regiment "Azov" in Ukraine and constantly wore a symbol associated with them. Both shooters in Poway, California and El Paso, Texas said that they were directly affected by the Christchurch attack. The link between the "Azov" and terrorist attacks in America is obvious," U.S.  lawmakers claim. Later, the regiment "Azov" called such accusations by U.S. congressmen unsubstantiated.[4]

On October 25, the head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Foreign Affairs, Bohdan Yaremenko said on Facebook that Ukraine is ready to provide the U.S.  Congress with information about the "Azov" regiment. He noted that he had prepared a draft letter to 40 American congressmen who appealed to the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo with an appeal to make the regiment "Azov" in the list of terrorist organizations. "The letter to the U.S. Congress contains a proposal to provide any necessary assistance in finding out objective and unbiased information about the "Azov" regiment of special purpose, Yaremenko wrote. He added that the text of the letter can also be signed by other deputies of the Verkhovna Rada. Yaremenko also noted that "Azov" was created by participants of the Maidan. "Azov" participated in the liberation from the Russian occupation of Mariupol and many other settlements, " he stressed.[5]

In turn, on October 28, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Pavlo Klimkin on the air of "Pryamiy" said that Ukraine should respond to the initiative of the U.S. Congress to add the regiment "Azov" in the list of terrorist organizations, as the consequences of this decision may affect all defenders of Ukraine. "I believe that this is a situation in which we need to act immediately. In general, it was necessary to act yesterday, to react almost immediately. Because this story threatens very difficult processes for our society. I do not believe in conspiracy theories, but the fact that it is fake is one hundred percent," the diplomat said. In particular, Klimkin warned that if Russia takes advantage of this, "it can be not just dangerous, but catastrophic." "There may be wave lap at all defenders who fight with the Russian aggression. Russia will get not just a bargaining chip, but a set of bargaining chips, which it will operate. The Kremlin will get opportunities to push this situation further. In addition, there are also forces in Europe that can be manipulated. Therefore, the situation is extremely dangerous," the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine stressed.

Klimkin also noted that the initiative of the U.S. Congress to add the regiment "Azov" in the list of terrorist organizations is not accidental. "Today, in the United States, Ukraine is perceived as a hot potato, if such a comparison can be made. Everyone says that they want to protect Ukraine, but in today's situation, no one wants to join in it. And this story with "Azov" would definitely need to be done, if for Russia it would not happen. Therefore, I believe that all this is absolutely not accidental: not accidental in terms of content and not accidental in terms of time," he said.[6]

Now, unfortunately, there are serious attacks on Ukraine. Obviously, Russian disinformation and Russia's powerful channels of influence in Europe and the United States played a role in this. The Russian Federation uses the American congressmen for slander on "Azov" as the tool of distribution of disinformation and discredit of Ukraine, after all "Azov" represents one and the most battle-worthy parts of the Ukrainian army which takes active part in defense of the state against the Russian aggression. Thus, Russia as an aggressor state has the opportunity to discredit the Ukrainian regiment by the hands of American’s congressmen and stop U.S. military aid to Ukraine.