A characteristic feature of Russian propaganda is that, while trying to respond as quickly as possible to current news events, due to the huge staff involved in its production, it also exhibits significant inertia, repeatedly returning to the same key themes. Actual newsbreaks, which are constantly changing, are thus used only as “further evidence” confirming the narratives that have been promoted over an extended period of time. One of such recurring themes in Russian propaganda is the narrative about the inevitability of Poland’s invasion of Ukraine.
Two instrumental narratives of Russian propaganda are also actively spreading here. The first one can be referred to as the “global practice” narrative, according to which Russia is not doing anything extraordinary or bad, because everyone else is doing bad things as well. In fact, this is a modified form of the Soviet-era “whataboutism”, which has experienced a resurgence within the framework of Russian propaganda in the information age. According to this narrative, the policy of aggression is not something worthy of condemnation, because it is carried out by everyone who can or, at the very least, plans to do so. Within this narrative, the responsibility of Russia is purportedly supposed to be lifted, as Poland is allegedly preparing for aggression. The second instrumental narrative involves presenting reality as the customers of Russian propaganda would like to see it. Partitioning Ukraine with the involvement of its Western neighbors would be a favorably priced solution for the Kremlin, which is why Russian propaganda has been returning to this topic repeatedly over the years, presenting this narrative in new forms and attributing it to various speakers.
In August 2023, Russian propaganda once again began actively promoting the narrative of Poland’s occupation of part of Ukraine. The statements by the Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and Poland’s military development served as the basis for this.
Firstly, on August 9th, Shoygu made a statement that Warsaw had become the main instrument of US anti-Russian policy. According to the Russian Minister of Defense, as part of its military strengthening, Poland is purportedly forming a Polish-Ukrainian alliance for the occupation of Western Ukraine. Shoygu criticized the “militarization of Poland”, saying that “there are plans to create a so-called Polish-Ukrainian alliance on a regular basis, supposedly to ensure the security of Western Ukraine, but in reality, for the subsequent occupation of that territory.” The Russian Defense Minister promoted the idea of “risks” to international security that arise from hostile actions by Poland and the United States directed against Russia:
“The existing risks are linked to the militarization of Poland, which has turned into the main instrument of the anti-Russian policy of the United States of America. Warsaw has announced its intention to build, as claimed by the Poles, the ‘most powerful army on the continent’.” “In this regard, large-scale purchases of weaponry from the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Korea have been initiated, including tanks, artillery systems, air defense/missile defense systems, and combat aircraft.”
This statement about the “threat” coming from Poland was subsequently actively promoted through Russian propaganda media platforms, social media, as well as through propagandist commentators acting as “experts” for the media.
Additional triggers for Russian propaganda to re-activate the “Polish theme” were the Polish military construction and a decisive reaction to the situation associated with the threat of Wagner Group mercenaries and the movement of migrants from Belarus. In addition to the general military strengthening, another reason for Russian propaganda about aggressive plans by Poland was the statement by the Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak about the establishment of a “military working group” near the border with Belarus. Russian propaganda claimed that this was merely a fabrication to cover up the deployment of an invasion army for the occupation of Western Ukraine. According to the Russian narrative, Polish military preparations in response to the activity from Belarus are supposed to serve as a cover for the deployment of Polish military headquarters, which will invade Ukraine.
The strategy of Russian propaganda is to portray negatively anything that is disadvantageous to its sponsors. This applies to the strengthening of the Polish Armed Forces and military cooperation in Eastern Europe, which could negatively impact Russia’s ability to advance its interests through threats and blackmail. This also applies to the cooperation between Ukraine and Poland, which is currently effectively slowing down Russian military expansion, dealing a blow to the ambitions of the Kremlin leadership.
Despite the diversity of speakers, platforms and approaches, the Russian propaganda machine remains a fairly centralized structure, adhering to a common leadership, goals, and strategy. The promotion of recurrent narratives, such as the “Poland’s invasion of Ukraine”, serves broader goals of Russian policy. For successful expansion, it is necessary to see disunited enemies, compromised in each other’s eyes and incapable of presenting a united front. Accordingly, the development of Poland’s military forces also contradicts the interests of Russia, which aims to have weak adversaries. Therefore, Russian propaganda consistently seeks to undermine Polish military construction. The need to justify its own policies, divide its adversaries, and criticize the unfavorable development of Poland’s military forces makes it inevitable for Russia to continue using the described narrative in various variations in the future.
Author: Denys Moskalyk
Public task financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland within thegrant comp etition “Public Diplomacy 2023”