“Donbas genocide myth” gets new spin with staged evacuation and foiled false flag “chem attacks”

Donbas_evacuation false flag

Residents of occupied Donetsk queue to withdraw cash after the announced evacuation of the residents of Russia's proxy "republics" in Donbas. Credit: twitter.com/dneprotwit 

Hybrid War, War in the Donbas

The staged evacuation of civilians and allegations of a chemical attack by Ukrainian/Polish saboteurs is the next stage in the “genocide narrative” called to create a picture of Kyiv having violent plans for the victims of a conflict engineered by Russia.

After yesterday’s shelling of Ukrainian positions amid accusations of Ukraine’s alleged “Donbas genocide,” the occupation authorities of Donetsk (“DNR”) have reported about two ostensibly foiled Ukrainian plots to cause chemical leaks in the Russian-occupied city of Horlivka, claiming to have killed two Ukrainian “saboteurs” and intercepted “conversations of saboteurs in Polish.” As usual, all major Russian media have relayed this propaganda story without any questioning.

Meanwhile, a month ago, Ukrainian intelligence informed that the Russian occupation administration was preparing a false flag attack on a chemical plant in Horlivka to blame Ukraine for using chemical weapons as a pretext to intensify Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Amid the escalation in the Donbas war zone and the fears of a possible full-scale Russian invasion, Russian propaganda has brought back its narrative on Ukraine’s impending “chemical provocations.”

In his remarks at the UN Security Council’s meeting on 17 February, US State Secretary Antony Blinken said Russia plans to manufacture a pretext for its attack on Ukraine

“This could be a violent event that Russia will blame on Ukraine, or an outrageous accusation that Russia will level against the Ukrainian Government. We don’t know exactly the form it will take. It could be a fabricated so-called “terrorist” bombing inside Russia, the invented discovery of a mass grave, a staged drone strike against civilians, or a fake – even a real – attack using chemical weapons,” he said, adding that Russia may describe such an attack “as ethnic cleansing or a genocide.”

Earlier, on 15 January, Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense (GUR) informed that on the previous day leaking containers with ammonia were delivered to the chemical plant Stirol, based in the Russian-occupied city of Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast.

“This can lead to an environmental catastrophe in eastern Ukraine that could be used by Russia to accuse Ukraine of using chemical weapons and as a pretext to intensify the armed aggression against Ukraine,” intelligence warned.

Сhemical leak in Russian-occupied Donbas may be red-flag operation, Ukrainian intelligence warns

Allegations of chemical terrorism

Today, the so-called “DNR people’s militia,” the Russian-led army formed in Donetsk from locals and Russian mercenaries, issued a statement claiming that they repelled two “special operations groups of Ukraine’s armed formations,” killing two “saboteurs.”

The groups were claimed to be going to blow up a tank with chlorine on the premises of a sewage treatment plant near the city of Horlivka.” This implied the water-treatment chemical sodium hypochlorite, yet the statement used the word for the poisonous chlorine gas used as a chemical weapon in World War I.

The occupation authorities claimed to have intercepted “the conversations of saboteurs in Polish and discovered “an action camera mounted on a bulletproof vest.”

Update: Metadata on Telegram shows that video from the “Ukrainian/Polish saboteur action camera” claimed to be dated 18 Feb was created on 8 Feb from 2021 clips.

The disinformation narratives about foreign mercenaries from NATO and US-friendly countries ostensibly fighting in Ukrainian ranks in the Donbas is one of the recurrent themes of Russian propaganda. The latest occurrence of this narrative was on 7 February when the “DNR” claimed that Polish mercenaries arrived in the Donbas, while Russian media as per usual relayed that message.

Multiplied by major Russian media, the statement by the “DNR people’s militia” with allegations about foiled Ukrainian attacks on chemical facilities additionally accused Ukraine of preparation to “unleash hostilities,” claiming that another “group of Ukrainian saboteurs” attempted “to blow up an ammonia storage tank at the Stirol plant,” while the Ukrainian army ostensibly attacked an oil depot in Olenivka and Horlivka’s sewage treatment facility and the Stirol plant, and put out of action two transformer substations.

The Kyiv-based disinformation watchdog StopFake notes that a fake narrative about Ukraine preparing a “chemical attack” first appeared at least four years ago, as in 2018 Russian propagandists stated that “Ukraine, together with US special services prepares a radioactive sabotage on the water bodies of the Donbas.

More allegations and pre-planned evacuations and panic-mongering

Today’s groundless accusations of Ukraine’s war-mongering were not limited to this “DNR people’s militia’s” statement.

Just as Ukrainian army chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi warned yesterday, the Russian occupation authorities have started the evacuation of civilians, anticipating a Ukrainian attack.

After launching escalation, Russian proxies prepare to evacuate civilians, Ukraine’s Army chief says

On the evening of 18 February, evening, “DNR head” Denis Pushilin and “LNR head” Leonid Pasechnik announced the evacuation of civilians to Russia, “First of all, women, children and the elderly are offered to leave,” Pushilin stated in his video address, but not men so far.

“President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky will soon order the military to go on the offensive,” assured Pushilin.

Meanwhile, the authorities of Russia’s Rostov Oblast, which Pushilin mentioned as a destination for the evacuees, learned from media about the evacuation from Donetsk.

Aric Toler of Bellingcat and Mark Krutov of RFE/RL examined the metadata of Pasechnik’s and Pushilin’s video addresses, shared on Telegram, and found that both videos were filmed two days ago, on 16 February.

“Denis Pushilin even says ‘today, on February 18th…’ Everything that happens today is clearly and undoubtfully staged,” Mark Krutov noted.

Among today’s other notable developments and allegations were the following:

  • The Russian occupation authorities claimed that a Ukrainian tank shelled Horlivka.
  • The civil defense siren went off in Donetsk.
  • The empty car of “DNR people’s police head” Denis Sinenkov was blown up in central Donetsk at the parking lot near the “DNR government’s building” – “DNR head” Pushilin labeled it an “act of sabotage” and “preparation for Kyiv’s  offensive.” Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications believes that the explosion was a deliberate provocation by the militants.
  • The “DNR militia” accused the Ukrainian army of pulling in military equipment to the line of demarcation, including placing it in residential areas.
  • Later the gas pipeline Druzhba caught fire after a massive explosion in Luhansk’s Mala Verhunka. The pipeline has been poorly maintained and last year, an explosion occurred at the same place. This time, Russian media have already accused Ukraine of a terror attack on the pipeline.

Ukraine’s response

In reply to this and multiple other allegations put forward by the Russian propaganda machine and leadership, the Ukrainian foreign ministry issued a statement on “Russia escalating the security situation in Donbas,” in which it said,

  • Allegations on Ukraine’s intentions to launch an offensive operation in Donbas are “divorced from reality.”
  • The Ukrainian government doesn’t conduct or plan any sabotage acts in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
  • Ukraine “categorically rejects” Russia’s attempts to aggravate the “already tense security situation”.

The Ministry accused Russia of carrying out a disinformation campaign while escalating hostilities:

“In contrast, we observe the Russian Federation unfolding its campaign to disseminate massive disinformation, increasing shelling of Ukrainian positions and civilian infrastructure, using the weapons banned by the Minsk Agreements, and escalating the security situation,” the statement reads.

Addressing the evacuation started by “LNR/DNR,” Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, stressed that there were no orders to liberate Ukrainian territories of the Donbas by force.

Ukraine’s defense ministry dismissed as disinformation the allegations about the preparation of an “offensive” by the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Donbas.

The recent developments feed into the “Donbas genocide” narrative being currently spun by Russian officials. Such propaganda efforts work towards backing the narrative of Ukraine’s “genocide against its own people,” consistently present in Russian disinformation.

Lately, it has been promoted by Russia’s State Duma in an appeal to recognize Russia’s puppet statelets in the Donbas as independent republics on the pretext of Ukraine allegedly conducting actions “quite comparable with a genocide of their own people” and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement about “genocide in Donbas” to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on their meeting in Moscow on 15 February.

Additionally, on 16 February, in order to substantiate allegations of genocide, the Investigative Committee of Russia opened a criminal case “on the discovery of mass graves of civilians in the territory of the Donbas,” claiming that it received “data on impromptu mass unmarked graves, formed under the necessity outside specially designated places in connection with ongoing hostilities.”

Accusing Ukraine of genocide without substantiation by any evidence has been one of the recurrent narratives of Russian propaganda. “LNR head” Leonid Pasechnik’s accusations of Ukraine’s “massive strikes on civilians,” issued after the Russian hybrid forces of Donbas shelled Ukrainian positions all over the frontline, hitting a Ukrainian kindergarten and Ukrainian school, perfectly align with this narrative, hyped up by the Duma and Putin two days ago.

The “Donbas genocide myth” in the making: a kindergarten shelling case study

The staged evacuation of civilians and allegations of a chemical attack by Ukrainian/Polish saboteurs is the next development in the “genocide narrative” called to create a picture of Kyiv having violent plans for the victims of a conflict engineered by Russia.

Further reading:

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