Denial Stage: How Z-channels Lie about F-16s for Ukraine

Denial Stage: How Z-channels Lie about F-16s for Ukraine

Photo: unsplash.com / Inge Wallumrød
28 March 2024
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Russians consistently spread disinformation about Western weaponry supplied to Ukraine, following a predictable pattern. First, they claim that Ukraine won’t receive the weaponry or won’t be able to train people to use it. Then they argue that this equipment is ineffective and won’t change anything. However, once Ukraine receives Western weaponry and effectively employs it, Russia falsely claims it has been completely or nearly destroyed. This pattern had been observed with HIMARS, Patriot, Western tanks, BMPs, and now with F-16 aircraft.

Russian propaganda in November 2023 made unsubstantiated claims alleging that F-16 aircraft had already arrived in Ukraine in a dismantled state. Additionally, Russian and pro-Russian sources spread photos of a fake document purporting that Moldova had allowed the transit of F-16 fighters through its airspace.

The discussion surrounding aircraft and fakes about them gained traction following The New York Times publication of an article titled “Ukraine Could Deploy F-16s as Soon as July, but Only a Few” on March 11, 2024. Let’s analyze several examples of “fresh” fakes about the transfer of F-16s to Ukraine spread by Russian propaganda.

Difficulties of Translation

Let’s start with the NYT article, which the Russians used for manipulation. Citing this article, Russian Telegram channels alleged that pilot training in Denmark was significantly delayed due to Ukrainian pilots’ lack of proficiency in the English language.

In reality, the article states that the training progressed slower than Ukraine or its allies had hoped. The reason was that the pilots had to improve their English language skills and familiarize themselves with Western military practices, rather than learn them from scratch. Here’s how it appears in the original:

«The Ukrainian pilots’ training began last August at Skrydstrup Air Base in southern Denmark, but their deficiencies in language skills and knowledge of Western flying techniques slowed things down.»

At the same time, the publication asserts that by ordinary standards, training Ukrainian pilots happens at lightning speed, reducing years of training to mere months.

“Human Shield”

Another piece of news that couldn’t leave Russians at ease was the statement by the Ukrainian top official. Oleksandr Kubrakov, Vice Prime Minister for Reintegration and Minister for Development of Communities, Territories, and Infrastructure, announced official negotiations regarding the opening of Ukraine’s airspace. Following this, the Russians claimed that Ukraine would use civilian airports as a “human shield” to conceal F-16s.

However, instead of providing evidence, they linked two different pieces of news together. Russians continue to spread the narrative that the Ukrainian Armed Forces shield themselves with civilians, although it’s actually Russia that does so. Similar assertions were made about air defense systems: allegedly, Ukraine intentionally places them in cities rather than outside them “in open fields.”

Russian propagandists also contradict themselves: sometimes they talk about using civilian airfields to accommodate F-16s, while other times they point to the preparation of special military airfields to service Western aircraft. In other words, the main goal of Russian propaganda is to confuse the public with contradictory information.

Another round of nuclear threats

Russia once again resorts to nuclear blackmail and talks about deploying nuclear weapons on the territory of Ukraine. Before this, Russian sources spread fake news that the Ukrainian side was secretly purchasing uranium for the production of nuclear weapons or that the radiation background had allegedly increased in the Khmelnytskyi region after “the explosion of depots with depleted uranium.”

This time, Russian propaganda decided to suggest that modifications of the F-16, which can carry nuclear weapons, would end up in Ukraine. A similar statement was made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on June 6, 2023. At that time, the White House responded that the United States is consistent in its actions to prevent the escalation of war, while Russia, on the contrary, indulges in reckless nuclear rhetoric.

If Ukraine truly wanted to deploy nuclear weapons, including using aircraft, it could have modernized its Soviet aviation fleet. For example, Russia was upgrading Belarusian Su-25s to have the capability to carry such weaponry. Similar aircraft, but without “nuclear” modifications, are already in Ukraine’s arsenal. However, Ukraine voluntarily relinquished nuclear weapons carriers in the 1990s and 2000s. The process of transfer, creation, or use of nuclear weapons is complex, especially when Western partners oppose escalation and are not always willing to transfer even conventional weapons.

Russia regularly intimidates the world with nuclear weapons. For instance, Putin did so in his latest interview on March 12, 2024, stating that Russia is ready for a nuclear war against the West. Starting from February 24, 2022, Putin has consistently issued threats involving nuclear weaponry: he has placed Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert, threatened to withdraw from the US-Russia Treaty on Strategic Offensive Arms, and so on. Reuters news agency counted that over two years since the full-scale war began, the President of Russia has made nuclear threat pronouncements at least 10 times. The primary target audience for the narrative regarding “red lines” and nuclear weapons is Western countries, whom the nuclear threats are intended to dissuade from supplying new weapons to Ukraine.

Pseudoprophecy

The Russians decided to deny the transfer of Western aircraft outright, so they “predicted” that Ukraine supposedly wouldn’t receive F-16s. They arrived at this conclusion after an interview with Jake Sullivan, the US President’s National Security Advisor, for ABC News on February 25, 2024. During the interview, he stated that the issue with the transfer of aircraft lies in the small number of pilots who can undergo training: “So, the issue there has been, there aren’t very many Ukrainian pilots to be able to pilot those aircraft. It’s not about whether or not F-16 could possibly have been on the battlefield in the spring of last year.” Therefore, Sullivan didn’t mention at all that the transfer of aircraft wouldn’t happen; he merely described the complexity of the issue.

At the same time, he added that the United States, along with its allies and partners, would strive to provide Ukraine with all the tools and capabilities it needs for effective combat. Sullivan also pointed out that previously, the United States had agreed to transfer F-16s to Ukraine.

The New York Times reported that 12 Ukrainian pilots would be ready to pilot American F-16 fighters in combat conditions as early as this summer. By that time, Ukraine will receive the first 6 aircraft out of the promised 45. Currently, we can’t verify this information as it has not been commented on by either Ukrainian or Western officials.

Where to Read News about Military Equipment Transfer?

Fake reports about the transfer of F-16s to Ukraine were spread not only by Russian propaganda but also by some Ukrainians. For example, videos were published claiming to depict the first aircraft en route to Ukraine, or American airshows were misinterpreted as demonstrations by Ukrainian pilots following the completion of training. Therefore, it is crucial to rely on truthful information from credible sources. When it comes to news about military equipment, such sources may include specialized media outlets like Militarnyi, official government sources, or OSINT analysts such as Jakub Janovsky, who currently updates the Oryx website.

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