Three months have passed since Russia’s unjustified and unfounded invasion of Ukraine. In this time, Russian disinformation mouthpieces have been busy promoting fake news and conspiracy theories to blame the West for the outbreak of the war as well as for the protracted warfare.
One Facebook user posted footage that claimed that Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine was in fact prepared in 2016 by American senators and Petro Poroshenko when they met with the Azov Battalion whilst visiting the Donetsk region.
In fact, this claim which is a conspiracy theory concocted by Russian propaganda, has nothing to do with the reality.
On 30 December 2016, US Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Emy Klobuchar indeed visited Kyiv to meet the then President Petro Poroshenko. The three senators celebrated the 2017 new year together with Ukrainian troops in the village of Shirokino in the Donetsk region’s Pryazovie area.
The frontline village of Shirokino, which the Senators visited, is situated between Mariupol and the occupied Novoazovsk. Approximately 15 minutes before the visit of the senators, Russian occupiers carried out artillery shelling of the village. In response, John McCain, together with the Ukrainian troops, stated that Putin cannot take Ukraine’s independence away.
The footage also shows Senator McCain thanking the Ukrainian soldiers and saying: “In 2017, we will defeat the invaders and send them where they came from. I address Vladimir Putin: You will never be able to defeat the Ukrainian people and take away their independence and freedom.”
Of note is that the former Governor of Odessa and ex-President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, also hosted the senators during their visit in Kyiv.
The visit of the senators to Ukraine at the end of 2016 and the beginning of January 2017 was part of their week-long tour when they visited the former Soviet republic. As a part of their tour, the three senators visited the capitals of five countries (the three Baltic states, Ukraine and Georgia) and two frontlines.
The tour of the US senators was launched on 27 December 2016 in Tallinn when they met with Estonia’s political leadership. On 28 and 29 December, the senators visited Riga and Vilnius, respectively, to have meetings with politicians from Latvia and Lithuania.
The visit of the US Senators to the post-Soviet countries was preceded by the Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential elections and Donald Trump winning the presidency. From the very beginning, John McCain openly opposed Trump’s decision to warm relations with Putin. The senators, by visiting the post-Soviet countries, tried to reassure them that the US would continue to support them in the face of Russian aggression.
Of note is that apart from false claim about the advance planning of the war, the Facebook user’s publication contains another false claim where he refers to the Azov regiment as Nazis. Myths about Nazis in Ukraine and, particularly, the Azov regimen being comprised of Nazis have been promoted actively after Vladimir Putin declared that the “denazification and the demilitarisation” of Ukraine were the reasons for invading Ukraine.
In fact, the Azov regiment is an official government special unit of Ukraine’s National Guard which is controlled by the Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. At the same time, none of the units in Ukraine’s National Guard is formed on any ideology.
In addition, the founder of the regiment is Andriy Beletsky, although Ihor Kolomoiskiy, who is a Ukrainian oligarch of Jewish origins, also participated in creating and funding the regiment.
In 2014 when the regiment was being established, there were people among the founders who indeed had a neo-Nazi past. However, not all of the founders had an analogous past, although Azov has its dark sides similar to any military formation which was created hastily and amid revolution, government change and unexpected war. In the past few years, however, it has been fixed within the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The method of recruitment of new members was also significantly changed as compared to what it was in 2014. Therefore, the Azov regiment’s priority is currently its military potential instead of any ideology.
At the same time, contrary to Russian propaganda claims, most of the Azov fighters come from Eastern Ukraine which is considered as Ukraine’s pro-Russian part. In 2014-2015, the influence of Nazi ideology on Azov was vastly exaggerated which is confirmed by non-Ukrainian sources as well. For instance, BBC journalist Dina Newman, who was critical vis-à-vis the Nazi ideology in the ranks of the Azov regiment, admitted that Nazi-influenced members were in the minority.
Therefore, the Facebook user’s claim that US senators and Petro Poroshenko were jointly plotting an attack on Russia in advance together with the “Azov Nazi battalion” is false. On the one hand, myths about the Azov regiment being Nazi are not confirmed and, on the other hand, Ukraine did not plan or start an attack on Russia. In fact, the non-provoked and unjustified full-scale war against Ukraine was launched on 24 February 2022 by Russia on Ukraine’s sovereign territory.
This article was produced as part of Facebook’s Fact-checking Programme. Given the rating, Facebook may impose different restrictions – click here for full information. For information on issuing a correction or to dispute a rating, please see here.