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Before the Russian full-scale attack on Ukraine, a number of Russian officials made statements to assuage fears of an imminent invasion:

Washington — Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov denied Sunday that the Kremlin is preparing for an invasion of neighboring Ukraine, despite a build-up of roughly 150,000 Russian forces and U.S. intelligence that Russian commanders have received orders to proceed. "There is no invasion, and there [are] no such plans," Antonov said in an interview with "Face the Nation." (Source)

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov emerged from the nearly eight hours of talks and declared, "There are no plans or intentions to attack Ukraine." He went on to say, "There is no reason to fear some kind of escalatory scenario." (Source)

However, I am not sure they really lied. Maybe they were not aware of Putin's plans and believed Russia was not going to attack.

Putin himself apparently avoided making any promises not to attack. For example, in December 2021 he dodged a direct question as to whether there was going to be a war with Ukraine.

So, did any Russian official really lie that Russia was not going to attack? What I am looking for is two things: (i) a statement by a Russian official that Russia was not going to attack and (ii) evidence that the official knew, or is highly likely to have known, that he or she wasn't telling the truth.

I understand that no ultimate proof may be available, so I am looking for any evidence, for example:

  • admission by a Russian official to having lied before the attack,

  • accounts of political refugees or former Russian politicians who fled to the West and told how things work in Russia, or

  • evidence to the contrary, like statements by Russian officials that very few people had known about Putin's plans.

Is there any evidence that sheds at least some light on the matter?

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    When no one really seems to know when, by who and why the decision was made, what you are asking is hard to know right now. This is for later, for historians to pick apart. Eyewitnesses, cross-correlations of timelines of meetings vs public announcements, etc. For now we generally think it wasn't just a bluff, but it might have been. Certainly the level of military preparation was (thankfully) unconscionable. Which means the decision might have been taken very late, on the whim of one man or a few. Jun 2, 2023 at 0:27
  • @JeffLambert Yes, I understand that proving a lie may be very difficult. I asked this question because I wanted to see if there are any facts, statements, or other evidence suggesting that Russian officials lied. I've heard there were some leaked documents, for example. Or is there nothing that can shed any light on the matter?
    – Mitsuko
    Jun 2, 2023 at 0:37
  • I don't think this is a very answerable question, but I edited the tile to add "knowingly", since that's what's implied by the qualifiers in the question. I think that more accurately reflects why this question isn't really answerable, too: It's probably impossible to say whether someone was out of the loop, lied to themselves, or actually intentionally lied.
    – Bobson
    Jun 2, 2023 at 5:52
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    Voting to reopen, because the original close reason is invalid: "because answers would be based on speculation and their correctness could not be verified with sources available to the public." The OP explicitly asks for information that is not based on speculation, and this information is in my opinion obtainable from public sources. For examples, there have been high-level defectors to the West. Also, the public statements by the former and present very high-level officials are available. Jun 2, 2023 at 12:47
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    Voted to Close: There is no reliable way to know whether any politician, whether in Russia or Ukraine, is lying as they are at war and disinformation campaigns are at their peak.
    – sfxedit
    Jun 2, 2023 at 21:16

2 Answers 2

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An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.

-- English Diplomat Henry Wotton in 1604 C.E. while serving as a diplomat in Augsburg (which at the time was a Free Imperial City within the Holy Roman Empire, in what is now the State of Bavaria in Germany).

It is hard to know if particular spokespersons for the government of Russia actually knew that an invasion of Ukraine was imminent when they denied denied on behalf of Russia that this was the case, presumably at the direction of the central government of Russia.

Communicating this message was a team effort involving multiple mouthpieces for the Russian government. Some of those spokespersons may have known. Some may have been stunned to learn that the statements they were directed to make were not true. And still others may have long ago stopped having any opinions, feelings, or interest in knowing whether the statements that they were directed to communicate were true, false, or not even wrong.

It is clear that some senior people in the Russian government, including their ultimate boss, Russian President Vladimir Putin, knew that an invasion was imminent at the time that spokespersons for the Russian government were saying, at the direction of these senior Russian officials, that no Russian invasion was planned.

Thus, it is clear that the Russian government, collectively, intentionally, at the direction of senior Russian government officials, mislead the world about its intent to invade Ukraine through its ambassadors and official spokespersons, who were making statements that no invasion was planned.

Whether particular spokespersons for the Russian government knew that the official position that they were directed to disseminate to the world was true or not is basically irrelevant.

The diplomats and official spokespersons for a national government are cogs in a machine who are bound to disseminate the government's official position without second guessing its veracity. It makes no more sense to blame them legally or morally for transmitting untrue statements (even if they knew that those statements were false), than it does to blame the telephone company or their Internet provider for transmitting that information.

The truthfulness of a government's official statements goes to the future credibility of that government, not to the credibility of the messengers who deliver those statements.

Relevant Considerations Of International Law

The international laws of war certainly don't require a country to tell the truth about precisely when it will take military action or if it actually intends to do so. It isn't a war crime to lie about this, and indeed, misleading one's opponent about this kind of time sensitive military planning is accepted practice in the military of every country that has a military force.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine violated general principals of international law, and at least one treaty directly on point, the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which Russia recognized the validity of Ukraine's borders.

The way that Russia has conducted its invasion of Ukraine has likewise violated the Geneva Conventions, which are the main source of the international law of war, on multiple occasions, and many individual Russian combatants in the Ukraine War have committed war crimes.

But, the international law violations of Russia in connection with its invasion of Ukraine have nothing to do with the fact that it mislead the world about the fact that it had plans in place to imminently invade Ukraine in a massive invasion on February 24, 2022.

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  • Has a (conceptually, meaning at least not Russian or Ukrainian) independent judicial body convicted anyone of war crimes as a result of the Russian invasion? The evidence appears convincing, but I'm not sure it appropriate to definitively declare that war crimes have been committed as of this date. A quick search only revealed meetings and investigations so far. Jun 3, 2023 at 23:45
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    @SethRobertson The truth exists when it happens. Convictions merely confirm the reality.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 4, 2023 at 0:10
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    "cogs in a machine": unless they pass the Eichmann threshold. Jun 4, 2023 at 22:13
  • @SethRobertson Absence of actual conviction and reasonable evidence of a crime are not mutually exclusive. From a purely legal standpoint, in any state of law, you must indeed be convicted in a trial to be "legally" called a criminal. This is true even if someone is caught by the police doing a bank robbery: they still have to stand trial. However, common sense and political judgement are another thing. Yes, unless a trial in some court of law is carried out, we cannot "legally" claim any crime has been committed. ... Jun 5, 2023 at 9:13
  • @SethRobertson ... But after all the evidence that has popped out from independent sources I have absolutely no qualms in saying I'm thoroughly convinced that some crimes has been perpetrated in Ukraine by Russians invaders (there is no way, IMO, all that evidence could even be remotely fake, as the Russians claimed at the beginning of the invasion, e.g. Bucha). Jun 5, 2023 at 9:15
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Russia is not going to attack anyone. It’s not like that.

This has been said by Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, in November 2021, in the context of the possible Ukraine attack. In accordance they own Russian source (TASS), in December 25, 2021, Dmitry Peskov also said on the Russia-1 TV channel:

Russia never attacked anyone first

The invasion has been planned in advance. U.S. intelligence has found that December, 2021, the Kremlin has been moving 175,000 troops toward the border with Ukraine while demanding Washington guarantee that Ukraine will not join NATO (source, the Washington post). Seems unlikely that any Russian official has been sincerely not aware about these preparations.

Finally, in 1994, Russia promised to never attack Ukraine if it gave up its nuclear weapons. This treaty, Budapest Memorandum, is, well, a treaty that has been broken. In February 2016, Sergey Lavrov claimed, that

Russia never violated Budapest memorandum

when from the six obligations in the text of Budapest Memorandum, the first is "respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine" This claim was made in 2016 and Crimea annexed in 2014 hence S. Lavrov either was not aware about the Crimea annexation by the own country (unlikely), was not aware about the text of the memorandum (would be strange), assumed that annexing of territory of another sovereign country does not violate its borders (how?) or, well, knowingly lied, expecting at least some listeners to be less informed.

In general saying "we did not invade the Ukraine" with the war ongoing also needs other explanation than "I did not know". As a representative of Russia he may explain why, but .. not at all? Here is the BBC video interview with S.Lavrov.

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    Is there any evidence that Dmitry Peskov or Sergy Lavrov knew that an invasion was in the works? Sure plenty of lies got tossed around but that doesn't mean that the knew what was being planned.
    – Joe W
    Jun 2, 2023 at 20:43
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    @JoeW Peskov is the Putin's spokesman. Whatever he says is Putin's official position. He doesn't guess: if he doesn't know the answer, he says so. If he gives an answer, it means that the answer has been communicated to him by Putin himself in one form or another.
    – Greendrake
    Jun 3, 2023 at 2:36
  • @Greendrake Sure but that doesn't mean he knowingly lied and himself could have been mislead about the information he gave out.
    – Joe W
    Jun 3, 2023 at 2:45
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    True, @JoeW, but it means that Putin lied, via his personal spokesman. Jun 3, 2023 at 12:47
  • @Greendrake "plausible deniability". If you don't tell Peskov about The Plan, he can't lie about The Plan.
    – RonJohn
    Jun 3, 2023 at 14:02

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