On 13 March 2022, the pro-Russian TV channel Alt-Info promoted another item of disinformation about the Russian war against Ukraine (link 1 and link 2). On air on the Ganskhvavebuli Azri broadcast, Tristan Tsitelashvili, who was detained during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war under the charges of spying for Russia; Ramaz Gagnidze, leader of the Georgian Mission public movement and the broadcast’s anchor, Zaza Davitaia, talked about ongoing war in Ukraine and voiced numerous pro-Kremlin disinformation pieces.
Claim N1: Ukrainians are committing international crime when they use civilians as a shield.
Verdict: FAKE NEWS
Tristan Tsitelashvili that claims that it is the Ukrainians, not the Russians, who are committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine. According to him, Ukrainian troops use civilians as a shield to have mass casualties and accuse Russia of genocide. Mr Tsitelashvili says that this strategy is America’s signature approach.
In fact, the claim that Ukrainian troops use civilians as a live shield is one of the most widespread false Russian narratives which is promoted by the Russian state and it is not true. This claim acquired relevance once Russian occupiers started to blockade Mariupol, bomb critical infrastructure and hinder food supplies to the city. In this situation, pro-Russian sources started to blame Ukrainian troops and claimed the civilians were not allowed to leave since they were used as a live shield. This false information was also promoted by many in Russian media outlets, including lesser known online news agencies: sm.news, Channel One, Arguments of the Week, Vzglyad, Moscow Komsomolets, TASS.
The talk show guests also stated that the Azov battalion and the Right Sector did not let civilians out of the city. In fact, the Azov battalion and the Right Sector were not taking part in the defence of Mariupol. Of additional note is that the Russian soldiers shelled civilian infrastructure facilities such as hospitals, houses and schools. For instance, Russian forces opened fire on a Mariupol maternity hospital on 2 March 2022. As a result of Russia’s bombardment of critical infrastructure, the energy supply was cut off in the city. As stated by members of the Mariupol municipality council, Russian troops did not even let food supplies pass which were headed to the city in order to put Mariupol under a blockade.
The false information about Ukrainian troops taking civilians as hostages was again disseminated in the next days about the population of Irpen. In particular, Russian sources reported on 5 March 2022 that the “Ukrainian Armed Forces took civilians hostage in Kyiv’s suburbs.” According to this information, the Ukrainian military did not allow people evacuated from Irpen to leave the town.
Russian forces started to attack Irpen in the very first days of the invasion of Ukraine. After several unsuccessful attempts to capture the town, the Russians started to shell Irpen, although there is no military base, airfield or other military facility there. After a week of incessant shelling, the Ukrainians agreed with Russia to open a “green corridor” on 5 March 2022 and the population was supposed to leave the town by train. However, the Russians bombed the railway infrastructure and Irpen residents had to leave through the town. During the rescue operation, Russia opened fire at civilian columns and carried out airstrikes in Irpen. Ukrainian solders sought to hide civilians under the collapsed bridge.
Therefore, the claim that Ukrainian troops use civilians as a live shield is not true. It is in fact an item of Russian fake news according to which the population in Ukraine needs liberation and rescue from Russia.
Claim N2: “There are nearly 30 US-funded biological laboratories in Ukraine which are working on the creation of weapons of mass destruction. Victoria Nuland, too, confirmed this information.”
Verdict: FAKE NEWS
It was claimed on the TV show that biological weapons are being produced in Ukraine and international TV networks, American experts and the courts are speaking about this. According to the talk show host and guests, biological weapons are produced in US-funded biological laboratories and Victoria Nuland also confirmed the authenticity of this information.
This disinformation was disseminated by Russian government officials and propaganda mouthpieces (link 1, link 2, link 3 and link 4). Later, Kremlin-backed propaganda claims also infiltrated Georgia’s information space.
Information about the production of biological weapons in Ukrainian biological laboratories is fake. Victoria Nuland has not confirmed that there are biological laboratories in Ukraine where biological weapons are being produced. In fact, Ms Nuland said that “Ukraine has biological research facilities.” These facilities are there not to produce and proliferate biological weapons but to prevent them. The activities of these laboratories involve carrying out epidemiological and laboratory supervision on infectious and non-infectious diseases as well as the timely detection of disease cases, epidemiological outbreaks and other public health hazards. One of the objectives of these laboratories is to trace the origins of epidemiological outbreaks – whether it is a natural outbreak or a result of bioterrorism.
In regard to comment that Victoria Nuland made, at a US Senate hearing for Victoria Nuland on 8 March 2022, Senator Marco Rubio asked her whether or not Ukraine is in possession of chemical or biological weapons. Ms Nuland responded that Ukraine has biological research facilities and it is very concerned that the Russian military might attempt to take control of these facilities. Senator Rubio also asked Undersecretary Nuland whether or not she had any doubts that that the Russians would be behind the use of any chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine. She responded that she had no doubts, since accusing someone else of something that you are going to do is a classic Russian technique.
The existence of the bio-laboratory facilities about which Victoria Nuland was speaking has never been classified. Therefore, any claim that she “acknowledged” the existence of laboratories is disinformation. The information about these laboratories was already publicly available. In Ukraine as well as in Georgia, biological laboratories were established on the basis of agreements o of Cooperation in the Area of the Prevention of the Proliferation of Technology, Pathogens and Expertise that Could be Used in the Development of Biological Weapons. This agreement, in turn, was signed as a part of the biological weapons non-proliferation treaty (NPT). See FactCheck’s article for more details on this topic.
On top of the aforementioned claims, Tristan Tsitelashvili also claimed that Ukraine is ruled by fascist forces sponsored by the US special services and this is why Russia launched a special military operation in Ukraine. This ludicrous accusation is the Kremlin’s narrative and Russia is the only one which blames Ukrainian authorities for being Nazis. There is no evidence whatsoever that would prove that mass killings or ethnic cleansing took place in Ukraine. Calling Russia’s military attack on Ukraine a special military operation is a pro-Kremlin narrative which is actively promoted by Russian propaganda mouthpieces. The aim of this message is to justify Russia’s military aggression and showing it in a way that Russia pursues “noble” goals in Ukraine which is crushing fascist forces and protecting civilians. On 24 February 2022 prior to starting the war, Putin named the planned invasion of Ukraine as a special military operation.
There are plenty of facts to prove that there are no Nazis in the government of Ukraine and this is only the Kremlin’s propaganda message. The international community has expressed unprecedented support vis-à-vis Ukraine. The United Nation’s General Assembly session on 2 March 2022, where a resolution about Russia’s aggression was adopted, is particular importance. The resolution, entitled Aggression Against Ukraine, demands that “the Russian Federation immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.” The resolution condemns Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine which started on 24 February 2022 and expresses grave concern over attacks against civilian facilities and killing civilians, including women, elderly, disabled people and children.
Of note is that the aforementioned resolution is the first of its kind adopted by the UN General Assembly in the last four decades. The document was voted in favour by 141 sovereign nations whilst only five voted against (Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Eritrea). This is yet another confirmation that only five nations join Russia’s ludicrous claims about Ukraine being governed by a Nazi regime. All these 141 nations say that Russia, not Ukraine, is the aggressor.
As early as on 17 February 2022, in his in his speech before the UN Security Council, US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, whose father was a Holocaust-survivor Jew, warned the world that Russia would create a pretext for the invasion of Ukraine: “Russia may describe this event as ethnic cleansing or a genocide, making a mockery of a concept that we in this chamber do not take lightly, nor do I do take lightly based on my family history.” The German ambassador to Israel also stated that Putin’s allegation on Nazism was “abhorrent:” “It’s disgusting, it’s abhorrent. This is distortion of the Holocaust. Putin calls everything democratic “Nazi.” With all my soul, I apologise to Ukraine’s courageous Jewish president.”
Of note is that Ukraine is the only country, except for Israel, whose head of government and state is Jewish. President Zelenskyy responded to Putin’s ludicrous allegations after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the following manner: “How could I be a Nazi? Please, explain this to my grandfather.” Currently, Ukraine is home for 360,000 to 1,400,000 Jewish people who enjoy equal rights in the country. Recently, some far-right groups, which painted fascist symbols on synagogues and Jewish memorials, have become more active indeed, although last month the Government of Ukraine amended an existing law on preventing and countering antisemitism in Ukraine to make it stricter to and put an end to these actions.
Kyiv’s Jewish community also thinks Putin’s claims are ludicrous. A Jewish businessman, Ilya, says that Putin is “absolutely mad.” He said: “The Jews are an integral part of Ukrainian society. We have never encountered Nazism or Fascism here and we feel safe here in Ukraine. However, we do not feel safe when Russia says that Nazis are here.” The attitudes of Jewish people towards Putin’s rhetoric is reflected in their decision made a few days again when they started to take up arms to fight against Russia.
Holocaust experts agree that no matter how many people actually believe Putin’s claims, such statements are nonetheless a distortion and dilution of history. They argue that Putin’s use of the word “denazification” is a reminder that the term “Nazi” has become a generic term for “absolute evil” that is completely disconnected from its original historical meaning and context.”
Of note is that one of the largest World War Two mass graves is in Ukraine. The Babi Yar Holocaust memorial is located on the grave and it was damaged on 1 March 2022 as a result of Russia’s missile strikes against Kyiv’s TV tower.
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