The war that begins every day: How the media in the region report on tensions in Ukraine

Unsplash: Egon Myznik

In recent weeks, the media, tabloids, numerous analysts and individuals on social networks have focused on the events in Ukraine. As tensions between Russia and Ukraine grow, so does the number of “predictions” about conflicts. According to some regional media and analysts, the war has started several times. If you read the headlines of some media, you can see that not only Russia and Ukraine are participating in the war, but also the United States, NATO, and Montenegro with “gay soldiers”.  

Recalling the history of tensions and the previous conflict in Ukraine, Al Jazeera points out that the first conflict began in 2014, when Ukrainian President pro-Russian oriented Viktor Yanukovych was ousted for refusing to sign an agreement that would bring the country closer to the European Union (EU).

Russia responded to Yanukovych’s removal by annexing Crimea and supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, territories in eastern Ukraine, declare independence. Although Russia denies supporting these two territories in the ongoing fight with official Ukrainian forces, some sources claim that Russia’s closeness with these rebellious Ukrainian provinces is expressed by issuing Russian passports to the population, having a single currency, school system, trade ties and more.

The armed conflict lasted for five months, after which official Ukraine and the separatists signed the agreement from Minsk, which ended the war. The Minsk 2 agreement was signed in February 2015, but sporadic fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine continued.

Ukraine’s aspiration to join NATO is most often taken as a reason for constant tensions, which Russia openly opposes.

The world media report daily on the accumulation of the Russian army on the border with Ukraine and a possible conflict, which triggers an avalanche of arbitrary claims and disinformation in the regional media.

“A scheduled” war

“The war between the United States and Russia begins on February 4”, the daily paper Objektiv reported on its front page in mid-January. This “gloomy prediction” was made by security analyst Darko Trifunovic, a frequent guest on Kopernikus, K1 and Happy televisions, as well as on YouTube channels such as Balkan info and Slavija info. According to Trifunovic’s erroneous prediction, “the war between Russia and the United States will certainly begin in early February and coincide with the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics because the differences between the White House and the Kremlin are so great that no negotiations can avoid war”.

Trifunovic did not explain what this has to do with the Beijing Winter Olympics. Let’s recall, several countries boycotted the Beijing Olympics, which began on February 4 and ended in the meantime. These include the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, India, Australia, Lithuania, Belgium, Denmark and Estonia. Great Britain and the United States have said they will boycott the Games for “human rights abuses” in China, while India has said it will boycott the Winter Olympics because one of the Olympic torchbearers took part in Chinese military actions on the Indian-Chinese border. However, it should be noted that athletes from these countries participate in the Olympic Games, and the Games are actually boycotted only by state officials of these countries. Also, New Zealand, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands and Slovenia did not send their officials to Beijing, but according to the BBC, the reason for that is the situation with COVID-19.

The Beijing Winter Olympics have begun, but not the war between Russia and the United States, which Objektiv has announced. However, Objektiv did not allow Trifunovic’s wrong prediction to ruin the scheduled war. On February 4, the paper published an article entitled “Ukraine started the war”, in which it tries to show how the conflict really started and that the Ukrainian side, with the support of NATO, is to blame for the escalation. This text does not mention Trifunovic’s earlier announcements or the Winter Olympics.

The backbone of the new manipulative text of Objektiv are parts of the interview given for the Russian state news agency RIA by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic Nataliya Nikonorova.

“Ukraine has already used the weapons of the western countries in Donbas and thus started the war”, said Nikonorova, according to Objektiv.

However, such a quote cannot be found in the interview with Nikonorova published on the RIA website the day before. In the mentioned interview, Nikonorova said that recently “an electrical substation was targeted with 60 mm caliber ammunition”, which is a “NATO standard”. The paraphrase of this quote could possibly mean that “Ukraine has already used the weapons of Western countries in Donbas”, but Nikonorova did not say that Ukraine “started the war”, as Objektiv reported.

Also, paraphrasing Nikonorova’s statements, Objektiv states that she said that “Kiev is bringing more and more weapons to the line of demarcation, which leads to new shelling, and thus the declaration of war”. Nikonorova did say that “the supply of any weapons leads to a new shelling of Donbas”, but she did not mention any declaration of war. In fact, Nikonorova used the word “war” only once in an interview with Objektiv, in the following quote: “Although Ukrainian officials keep saying that they are allegedly at war with the Russian Federation, Russia is allegedly an aggressor, they have always shot at Donbas”.

The war “started” on several occasions, even before Trifunovic’s announcements published by Objektiv. Some websites “embellished” their articles with titles that implicitly or explicitly claim that the war between Ukraine and Russia “began”.

Thus, Novosti and Alo announced back in October that “Ukraine attacked the Russians”.

Although Alo claims in the title that “Ukraine attacked the Russians”, the article talks about the attack of the Ukrainian security forces on the troops of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic. Given the fact that Lugansk is officially still part of Ukraine, not Russia, describing the attack by Ukrainian forces as an “attack on the Russians” is manipulative, as it implies that Ukraine attacked Russia, which is not true. The news was also shared by other tabloids from Serbia, such as the website Pravda, and the region, such as the Bosnian edition of the Alo newspaper.

“It started” several times

Although wars usually have one beginning and one end, regional tabloids have seen the beginning many times.

“KIEV OPENS A NEW WAR CHAPTER WITH RUSSIA!”, this was announced by Alo less than a month after it pointed out to us that “blood is spilled” and “Ukraine attacked the Russians”.

 “Ukraine is in a state of energy war with Russia”, Ukrainian Deputy Energy Minister Maxim Nemchinov told 1 + 1 television. Based on this quote, Alo reported on a “new war chapter”.

Slobodna Bosna “informed” readers in January that “the war is starting”, and the war “started” again on the same website when the American embassy called on its citizens to leave Ukraine.

In February, the website Cafe informed us that it had “started” and that “heavy artillery is used”, with reference to posts from social networks and that it was not clear who was firing the artillery.

Informer was somewhat “milder” in its January article, which informed the audience that “there will be no peace”, although it only recounted the press conference of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. It is easy to assume that neither Stoltenberg nor Russian officials said “there will be no peace”.

The recycling of old untruths in times of tension is not foreign to the website Nacionalist, which in January shared its text from September 2021. It claimed that the President of Ukraine threatened Moscow with war.

“It is the worst thing that can happen, but unfortunately, there is that possibility”, this is the quote of the President of Ukraine, which Nacionalist conveyed as a threat of war.

Finally, the tabloids also speculated about the sexual orientation of soldiers involved in the NATO mission in Ukraine.

For instance, Alo announced that “Montenegro is sending gay soldiers to Ukraine”. As a source for this claim, Alo used the satirical portal Zicer, while not knowing or ignoring the fact that it was a humorous text.

Vjerno also shared the alleged quote from the Chief of the General Staff of the Army of Montenegro Milutin Djurovic.

“We want to fully participate in all obligations and all rights arising from membership. We are not a big country, and according to our capabilities, we will send 10 soldiers, three of whom are gay, which is very important to emphasize, and we are proud of that… We expressed the wish that our soldiers be stationed somewhere in Lviv because we estimated that it was here, in the Ukrainian hinterland, that the Russians could cause the most serious impact”. This was the quote that Djurovic, of course, never actually said.

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