Is the United States Guilty of “Hysterical Fearmongering” in the 2022 Ukraine Crisis?

In a typically acrimonious diplomatic brawl on Monday January 31, 2022, at the U.N. Security Council, the United States asserted that Russia has been jeopardizing peace by amassing troops at Ukraine’s borders.[1] Russian diplomats dismissed American concerns as “hysterical U.S. fearmongering.”[2] Tensions today between the United States and Russia mimic those of the Cold War era and are cause for a deep look into whether the United States truly is overreacting—or not.[3]

Less than six months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin penned a manifesto detailing the history between Russia and Ukraine, in which he described the Russian and Ukrainian people as “’one people’ part of a ‘single whole.’”[4] In November of 2021, President Putin began amassing Russia’s armed forces in multiple strategic locations along Ukraine’s border with Russia.[5] By December of 2021, the U.S. estimated there were 70,000 troops, along with newly-arrived armor, artillery, and tanks accumulated at Russia’s border with Ukraine.[6] What is more is that Ukraine has been on the receiving end of hundreds of uncredible bomb threats, thought to be orchestrated by Russia to sow fear and panic.[7]

While Russia announced to the international community several times that they do not plan to invade Ukraine, their intentions remain clouded, especially as the number of Russian troops amassed at Ukraine’s border ballooned to more than 100,000 as of January 31, 2022.[8]

In addition to moving an alarming number of troops to Ukraine’s border, in January alone Russia sent 7,000 tons of fuel, tanks, weapons, including ammunition, artillery systems and mortars to separatist regions of Ukraine, a move that prompted further fear of an all-out war for Ukraine.[9]

Importantly, Russia has utilized similar “intense disinformation campaigns” against its rivals and its own citizens to make sudden advances in military escalations in the past.[10] For example, Russia used disinformation campaigns for military interventions in Syria in 2015, and Georgia in 2008.[11]

When analyzing the disinformation being spread by Russian state news outlets, Russia’s current campaign of disinformation appears to fearmongering itself.[12] A senior analyst at Logically, a U.K. based data analytics agency that tracks misinformation and disinformation highlighted recent tropes of disinformation promoted by Russia such as claims that the United States and Ukraine “are forementing the rise of neo-Nazism in western Ukraine; that there is genocide of Russian-speaking populations in eastern Ukraine and they require Russia’s help; and that a NATO invasion of Ukraine is imminent.[13]

While presenters and guests on Russian state media continued to accuse NATO and allies of Ukraine of “generating ‘mass hysteria’ around ‘supposed Russian aggression’”, the United States continued to broadcast accurate U.S. intelligence about the crisis to the world in the hopes of deterring Russian President Vladimir Putin.[14]

While President Putin did not predict that his next move would be broadcast to the world so publicly, it was ultimately not enough to stop an all-out assault on Ukraine.[15] On February 24, 2022, President Putin proved “U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration were right” when he declared war on Ukraine in an early morning televised address.[16] The Russian President authorized a “special military operation” to protect Russians subjected to genocide in Ukraine—a claim that is unsubstantiated and widely regarded as “baseless propaganda”.[17]

Immediately after President Putin’s declaration of war, gunfire and explosions were heard around Ukraine.[18] As powers around the world watched in awe, President Biden condemned President Putin’s actions, stating Putin had a “sinister vision for the future of our world.”[19]

While there is not much to be certain about regarding Russia’s war in Ukraine, this author believes that if one thing is certain, its that the United States got this one right.

[1] Yosur Al-Hlou, U.S. and Russia Accuse Each Other at U.N. of Stoking Ukraine Crisis, The New York Times (Jan. 31, 2022, 7:26 PM), https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/01/31/world/ukraine-russia-us.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Lauren Chadwick, Ukraine Crisis: Why Now? What’s the History? What are Putin’s Motivations?, Euronews (Jan. 28, 2022), https://www.euronews.com/2022/01/27/russia-ukraine-border-crisis-explained-why-now-what-s-the-history-what-are-putin-s-motivat.

[5] Shane Harris, Russia Planning a Massive Military Offensive Against Ukraine Involving 175,000 Troops, U.S. Intelligence Warns, The Washington Post (Dec. 3, 2021, 7:00 PM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/russia-ukraine-invasion/2021/12/03/98a3760e-546b-11ec-8769-2f4ecdf7a2ad_story.html.

[6] Id.

[7] Rick Gladstone, Angry U.S.-Russia Exchange at U.N. Punctuates Deepening Ukraine Rift, The New York Times (Jan. 31, 2022, 8:41 PM), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/31/world/europe/ukraine-russia-united-nations.html.

[8] Chadwick, supra note 3.

[9] Id.

[10] Yvgeny Kuklychev, Is Putin Bluffing on Ukraine War? Russian Media Offers Some Clues, Newsweek (Feb. 4, 2022), https://www.newsweek.com/putin-bluffing-ukraine-war-russian-media-coverage-offers-some-clues-1673606

[11] Id.

[12] Id. at A Shift in Tone.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.; Rachel Martin, U.S. Intelligence Didn’t Stop the Invasion of Ukraine, but it Had Positive Effects, NPR (Feb. 22, 2022), https://www.npr.org/2022/02/25/1083003294/u-s-intelligence-didnt-stop-the-invasion-of-ukraine-but-it-had-positive-effects.

[15] Id.

[16] Dan Baer, Six Reflections on The First Day of Russia’s War in Ukraine, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Feb. 24, 2022), https://carnegieendowment.org/2022/02/24/six-reflections-on-first-day-of-russia-s-war-in-ukraine-pub-86524; Natalia Zinets, Missiles Rain Down Around Ukraine, Reuters (Feb. 24, 2022), https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/putin-orders-military-operations-ukraine-demands-kyiv-forces-surrender-2022-02-24/.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Baer, supra at note 16.