Perfected by communist leaders like Lenin and Stalin, the Big Lie’s success in shaping public discourse inspired George Orwell to author his famous novel “1984.” A former KGB officer, President Vladimir Putin has resurrected the Big Lie as a policy tool for shaping the popular narrative. Examples abound, but here are six that stand out during the Ukraine crisis-conflict.

• A country headed by a Jewish native-Russian speaker “needs denazification.”

Putin’s ridiculous narrative about Ukrainian Nazis defies credulity. In fact, no far-right Ukrainian political party is represented in Ukraine’s parliament (Verkhovna Rada). Putin’s “Lie” is made bigger by his own cooptation of xenophobic Russian nationalism at home, where ultra-nationalist parties and paramilitary organizations, such as Russian National Unity, are tolerated and some even have seats in the Russian parliament (Duma).

• Russia’s aim is to demilitarize Ukraine.

Putin said this in his Feb. 24 speech announcing the start of a “special military operation” in Ukraine. But Russia has maintained forces in the Donbas and organized pro-Russian separatist forces there since 2014. In fact, a Russian surface-to-air missile was transferred to the Donbas rebels from Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, which the rebels used to shoot down a Malaysian civilian aircraft in 2014, killing all 298 passengers.

What Putin actually means by demilitarization is the destruction of all vestiges of Ukrainian independence. Ironically, Russia’s invasion will likely militarize Ukraine if a popular insurgency emerges, as many predict.


• The Ukrainian government was conducting a genocide against Russian speakers.

The Kremlin has leveled this canard against Kyiv since 2014. While language has become a divisive issue in Ukraine, there has been no genocide. In actuality, the only genocide Ukraine has suffered in the last century was carried out by Moscow in the early 1930s, when agriculture was collectivized and starvation purposefully used to break the Ukrainian peasantry. The Great Famine (Holodomor), which killed at least 4 million Ukrainians, was followed by a policy of forced Russification. This is a history that Moscow has put back in the closet, unlike the late 1980s and 1990s.

• Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government is a puppet of the United States.

U.S. officials certainly have had a very different experience. Zelensky complained loudly about U.S. “war hysteria” before the invasion – even while requesting increased arms sales.  Zelensky is, of course, an independent actor – unlike Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, a satrap whose stay in office now depends fully on Putin.

• Ukraine is “not a real country”; it’s just a junior “brother nation” of Russia.

Putin said this to President George W. Bush in 2008, and in a July 2021 essay he claimed Ukraine had been unjustly severed from Russia in 1991 and had to be reunified. On the eve of Russia’s invasion, Putin made some wild claims in a televised speech. He blamed Lenin for wrongly founding Soviet Russia along nationality lines in 1922, which he called a “farce.”

By Putin’s logic, Russia is now helping the cause of decommunization of Ukraine by restoring Russia’s historic (imperial) borders. In short, he blames Soviet communists for an independent Ukraine and casts Ukrainian nationalists as the inheritors of the communist legacy. It doesn’t matter, in his view, that Ukrainian soldiers and civilians fighting Russia’s invasion don’t see Ukraine as a Russian appendage.

• Russia had to invade Ukraine because NATO failed to meet Putin’s security demands.

Throughout the Ukraine crisis, Russia rejected charges it planned an invasion and gave repeated assurances there was room for diplomacy. The Kremlin even agreed – while actually finalizing war preparations – to schedule a meeting Feb. 24 (on the day of the invasion) between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. Saying one thing and doing the opposite is the essence of a Big Lie strategy, but it may now cost Russia dearly in terms of credibility, economic pain, international isolation and, not least, renewed domestic opposition – for this is a lie the Russian public is unlikely to embrace.

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