Poland: 18-24 July 2016

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A pro-Moscow, Polish-language web portal reports a claim by freed pilot Natalia Savchenko that if the Ukrainian government were armed by the West, it could start a third world war.

Event: On 12 July 2016, the Polish-language web portal Gazeta Bałtycka (Baltic Newspaper) published an article by Piotr Sobolewski, “NATO no longer fits the reality of the XXI century.” The piece—which analyzed this month’s NATO summit in Warsaw—featured an interview with Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian Air Force pilot who in 2014 was captured by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, taken to Russia and put on trial there. She was convicted of complicity in the murder of two Russian journalists, despite significant evidence proving her innocence. A Russian court sentenced Savchenko to prison, but following international pressure, the Kremlin traded her for several Russian soldiers who had been taken prisoner by Ukraine during the conflict. Savchenko is now a deputy in the Ukrainian parliament and ranks as one of her country’s most popular politicians. 

False facts or narrative: The article quotes Savchenko as saying the Ukrainian government would be ready to start World War III if the West supplied it with weapons. Gazeta Baltycka claimed her comments were aired in a 22 June interview with the US-funded Voice of America.
Reality on the ground: In the VOA interview, Savchenko—responding to a question about how the United States could help Ukraine—said something quite different: “There was a time in which the bloodiest battles were taking place and indeed we needed arms.  Is it worth helping by supplying weapons? It depends on the degree of determination with which it is done. Simply affecting the supplies of weapons may lead to a third world war. If we take into account the present situation and analyze it, undoubtedly the aid should be consistent. But firstly and mandatorily, political and economic aid is needed: sanctions against Russia.”

Technology: Her comments, critical of Russia and rejecting the need for Western arms, are distorted and the opposite of what she actually said.  

Audiences: Western public opinion, especially in Poland (regarding the discussion of aid to Ukraine). For Ukrainian audiences, the intent is to discredit Savchenko. This particular article was taken from the Russian TV station REN, a subsidiary of Russian energy giant Gazprom. It was also picked up by a number of Russian media.  
Analysis: The Kremlin sees Savchenko as a potentially dangerous anti-Russian politician, yet some Ukrainians view her opposition to military aid from the West negatively. Russia’s goal here is to discourage international aid to Ukraine.