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  1. World
  2. Europe
21 February 2022

Russia’s efforts to create a pretext for war are no less dangerous for being risible

Even the usual useful idiots will struggle to push obviously fake claims about Ukrainian provocations.

By Ido Vock

BERLIN – Europe is on the brink of war. Russia and its proxies continue to escalate tensions in eastern Ukraine. On Friday 18 February separatist authorities ordered the evacuation of civilians from the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, the two Russian-backed breakaway statelets in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Metadata from videos ordering the move indicates that they were filmed two days before they were released, despite references by one separatist leader to events “today, on 18 February”.

Separatist authorities baselessly accused Ukrainian forces of planning a massive offensive to retake the Donbas. Some Russian MPs have publicly claimed that a Ukrainian “offensive” might begin today (Monday 21 February).

The breakaway states blamed Ukrainian forces for a series of provocations, including the alleged killing of two civilians. Again, no evidence for the claims was provided. A car supposedly belonging to a local security chief was blown up in the centre of Donetsk on Friday. However, the Russian journalist Anton Pustovalov noticed that the car which was destroyed was not the same one the local boss had previously been spotted in, though it did sport the same number plate.

Over the weekend the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, oversaw nuclear deterrence drills. Yesterday Belarus announced that Russian troops stationed in the country for military exercises scheduled to end on Sunday would remain in the country for “further drills”.

Overnight the office of Emmanuel Macron, the French president, announced that Putin and Joe Biden, the US president, had in principle agreed to a summit, though the Élysée Palace gave the caveat that talks could only take place if Russia does not invade Ukraine. However, the Kremlin quickly played down the prospects of a US-Russia meeting, saying talk of one was “premature”.

The risible attempts by Russia and its proxies to either manufacture a pretext for war or heighten tensions to force further negotiations will not convince many outside the country. Even the usual useful idiots will have difficulty pushing obviously fake claims that Ukrainian forces blew up an old SUV in a central Donetsk car park, or the wider strategic imbecility of Kyiv supposedly planning a massive offensive at the precise moment that up to 200,000 Russian troops are massed on the border.

Alexei Navalny, the jailed Russian opposition leader, said after the failed attempt to poison him that corruption had so sapped the capacities of the Russian state that it was incapable of doing anything competently, up to and including murdering a political opponent. I am reminded of that argument watching this third-rate attempt at faking a pretext for what some leaders fear could be Europe’s most devastating war since 1945.

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