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Quote by Putin in today's Victory Day speech:

“In December last year, we proposed the conclusion of an agreement on security guarantees. Russia called on the West to enter an honest dialogue, in search of reasonable compromise solutions, to take each other’s interests into account. It was all in vain.”

“NATO countries did not want to listen to us, meaning that they in fact had entirely different plans, and we saw this. Openly, preparations were under way for another punitive operation in Donbas, the invasion of our historical lands, including Crimea.

“In Kyiv, they announced the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons, the NATO bloc began actively taking military control of territories adjacent to ours. As such, an absolutely unacceptable threat to us was systematically created, and moreover directly on our borders.

Are the two bolded sentences true?

Edit: I'm asking about "preparations were under way for another punitive operation in Donbas" (possibly Crimea too, the sentence is ambiguous) and "In Kyiv, they announced the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons".

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    Putin's whole point is predicated on Donblas and Crimea being "our" political lands. And he also seems to think that a country democratically deciding to join NATO amounts to "the NATO bloc taking military control". I don't think may outside Putin's coterie think those are valid. May 9 at 16:05
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    NATO doesn't "actively take military control" of anywhere. Membership is voluntary, and as Ukraine can tell you, not guaranteed. So that part, at least, is just a lie.
    – jdunlop
    May 9 at 17:05
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    This will be probably be deleted, but the whole pitch is no better than twisting the facts into a "you are forcing me to shoot you" scenario of a B movie. May 9 at 18:03
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    @DJClayworth If "we" is understood to be "Russia", and Russia is taken to be the successor state of the Russian empire, it's not really debatable that the Donbas is "our" historical land. The real issue is the irredentist attitude that the current country of Russia having a historical link to a former political entity that controlled the territory gives them rights to it. May 10 at 2:10
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    In my family, there is a saying: If Soviets tell you that the sun rises in the East, it means it started rising in the West. May 10 at 16:31

4 Answers 4

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It's difficult to prove a negative of this kind. Zelensky said the plan to attack Crimea didn't exist. If the Kremlin has compelling evidence, it's up to them to present it. Actually, it seems they did produce some such, but it was ridiculed in western venues, e.g. in The Atlantic Council, based on their apparent inconsistencies

On March 24, the pro-Kremlin Telegram channel Оперативные сводки (“Operative news”) published photos of medals and certificates that it alleged were going to be used to reward Ukrainian troops “for the capture of Crimea.” The post said the medals and documents were found in Ukrainian conscription offices. Another Telegram channel, Kremlin Z, claimed that these items were discovered in the city of Kherson, currently occupied by Russia. Russian media amplified this message, claiming that the medals were evidence that Ukraine, with the help of NATO, was planning to attack Crimea.

This appears to be the latest in a string of Russian false-flag allegations, due to the alleged evidence’s incorrect use of official Ukrainian terminology. Ukraine considers Crimea to be temporarily occupied or annexed by Russia, so if such materials were to exist, they would likely reference the “liberation” of Crimea rather than its “capture.” Further, official Ukrainian documents refer to Crimea as “the Autonomous Republic of Crimea” or “AR Crimea,” while materials allegedly found by Russia did not. The certificates also mention that the medal would be awarded under a Ukrainian presidential “order,” even though Ukrainian military personnel only receive awards via presidential “decree.” Notably, Russia itself uses the word “order” to describe ministerial awards and decrees for presidential awards, as documented in an investigation by Bellingcat.

And that "evidence" apparently also got Zelensky's initials wrong (in Ukrainian).

As for "another punitive operation in Donbas": it is too vague to be meaningfully confirmed or refuted. One drone strike on an a separatist artillery position (artillery which had been firing, according to Ukrainians) back in the fall of 2021 drew stern condemnation from Russia, and a gathering of troops at the border.

As the NYT recounted that incident:

Deployed for the first time in combat by Ukraine and provided by a country that is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the drone hit a howitzer operated by the separatists. Things quickly escalated.

Across the border, Russia scrambled jets. The next day, Russian tanks mounted on rail cars rumbled toward the Ukrainian border. [...]

The troubles began about a month ago when separatists closed a checkpoint on their side — where local residents also traveled for shopping — for unclear reasons, possibly as a coronavirus precaution.

In response, on Oct. 25, Volodymyr Vesyolkin, the administrator of Hranitne, a position akin to mayor, led a contingent of about a dozen soldiers across the footbridge. The same day, the military laid concrete blocks for a new bridge about 700 yards away that would be accessible for vehicles.

His motive, Mr. Vesyolkin said, was humanitarian: to assure locals of access for shopping and deliveries of coal for winter heating.

“How can it violate anything?” Mr. Vesyolkin said in an interview. “This is our village. These are our people. They walk several kilometers to buy groceries.”

The separatists interpreted it otherwise — as a land grab — and soon their artillery shells filled the air.

Even Ukrainian military officers concede a misperception was possible. “They maybe thought we would send heavy weapons” across the new bridge, Major Sak said.

Through the night and into the next morning, a separatist unit with 122-millimeter artillery guns fired toward Ukrainian forces in what is known as a shoot-and-scoot maneuver intended to skirt counterattacks by the enemy.

In total, the separatists fired about 120 rounds at the unfinished new bridge, but every shot missed. They hit nearby houses instead, destroying one with such force that it appeared turned inside out, with a pile of cinder blocks covering the street.

Major Sak said he requested the drone strike because it was the only weapon that could hit the maneuvering enemy artillery and because civilians were in danger, though none were hit.

“Only modern weapons allow us to halt Russia’s aggression,” he said in an interview.

So it's hard to say what Putin meant exactly, but we know how the Russian forces reacted in the past to some events.

In the week leading to the Russian invasion proper, Ukraine reported some 70 (or 80) shelling incidents from the Russian [separatist] side in some 40 different locations. Some of these were confirmed by Western eyewitness/video accounts or otherwise documented on the ground. In the Kremlin's view, any Ukrainian [preparation for an] armed response to [any of] these probably would have satisfied Putin's claim that Ukraine was doing something "punitive".

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  • and don't forget that any sane military has operational plans for actions against known rebelious parts of the country and known foreign beligerents. Doesn't mean that execution of those plans is imminent or even likely. Heck, the US in the 1930s had detailed plans for war against the UK and Canada (among others).
    – jwenting
    May 25 at 12:03
  • As a small addition, I came here through remarks from Peskov and Denis Pushilin that some 120k Ukrainian troops were amassing at the border of Donbass. I suppose if their statements were correct, we should be able to verify it independently. While we are not it will be a matter of deeming trustworthy the authority which has also denied plans to invade Ukraine right up to the point where they invaded Ukraine. Sep 12 at 13:57
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The falsehoods in Putin's speech are not so much outright factual lies as mischaracterisations.

He starts by referring to "the invasion of our historical lands", by which he appears to mean Donbas and Crimea. Donbas been part of Ukraine for at least 100 years (either the Independent Republic of Ukraine or the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic). Crimea was transferred from Russia to Ukraine during the time of the USSR, and its status as part of Ukraine was recognized by Russia in the 1997 Russian-Ukrainian Friendship Treaty. Since 1991 they have been part of an independent Ukraine, until the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014 and the Russian-backed civil war in Donbas.

A civil war has been ongoing in Donbas since 2014, so it is entirely likely that military operations were planned there by the Ukrainian military. This can be characterized as "the invasion of our historical lands" only if you consider Donbas to belong to Russia.

There is no evidence that Ukraine was planning a military attack on Crimea, and the Ukrainian government has denied it.

In April 2021 a Ukrainian diplomat did indeed suggest that if it was not permitted to join NATO it might consider renouncing its non-nuclear status. There is no evidence that any attempt to acquire nuclear weapons has been made.

The statement that "the NATO bloc began actively taking military control of territories adjacent to ours" mischaracterizes the whole process. Several independent states have indeed opted to join NATO, some adjacent to Russia. Ukraine was seeking membership. Such actions were freely chosen by the states concerned; their militaries remain independent and membership does not constitute "taking over militarily".

Here is a fact-check from the BBC

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    The administrative transfer of Crimea from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR (both part of the Soviet Union) took place in 1954, which is rather less than 100 years ago.
    – Henry
    May 10 at 1:47
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    @Henry It was originally annexed by Russia in the 18th century.
    – graffe
    May 10 at 2:25
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    Stating matter of factly that Russia's occupation of the Donbas since 2014 is/was a civil war is inaccurate and reductive. May 10 at 4:16
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    @Henry one could also argue that crimea was a semi-autonomous region from 1921 until 1945, tho that would be a bit of a stretch as a autonomous republic in the RSFSR is not really autonomous. I just thought it was interesting
    – SirHawrk
    May 10 at 5:49
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    @Hobbamok : Ukraine applied to integrate with a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) in 2008, 6 years before Russian invasion of Crimea. However, France and Germany refused to start adhesion procedures for Ukrain (and Georgia) back then. What you meant is probably that Ukrain's public opinion, which was very divided on that issue, and then-president Yatseniuk, shifted impressively toward NATO adhesion after 2014. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukraine%E2%80%93NATO_relations
    – Evargalo
    May 10 at 12:33
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For the first claim - that preparations were underway for a Ukrainian offensive in Donbas/Crimea - I perused the Wikipedia article on the Prelude to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine and didn't see anything. The closest was this source, which does say that Ukraine had prepared some measures (including military ones) to reintegrate Crimea. However, this makes no mention of Donbas, and there's no indication in both this source and the Wikipedia article that Ukraine actually attempted to put those plans into action:

According to the press service of the head of state, the document defines a set of measures of a diplomatic, military, economic, informational, humanitarian and other nature aimed at restoring the territorial integrity, state sovereignty of Ukraine within internationally recognized borders through the de-occupation and reintegration of Crimea.

For the second claim - that Ukraine announced the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons: Ukrainian president Zelenskyy did apparently hint at this in early 2022:

Since 2014, Ukraine has tried three times to convene consultations with the guarantor states of the Budapest Memorandum. Three times without success. Today Ukraine will do it for the fourth time. I, as President, will do this for the first time. But both Ukraine and I are doing this for the last time. I am initiating consultations in the framework of the Budapest Memorandum. The Minister of Foreign Affairs was commissioned to convene them. If they do not happen again or their results do not guarantee security for our country, Ukraine will have every right to believe that the Budapest Memorandum is not working and all the package decisions of 1994 are in doubt.

The nuclear weapons aren't mentioned directly, but Zelenskyy did mention the Budapest Memorandum, in which Ukraine (and Belarus/Kazakhstan) gave up nuclear weapons for security guarantees. I imagine the idea is that if "all the package decisions of 1994 are in doubt" then Ukraine can reacquire nuclear weapons. That's certainly what Putin thought since he argued in the linked article that Ukraine is capable of acquiring nuclear weapons easier than most countries (i.e. Ukraine is nuclear latent).

The Ukrainian ambassador to Germany said something similar in 2021:

Ukraine will consider arming itself with nuclear weapons if it does not become a member of the NATO military alliance, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany said.

"Either we are part of an alliance like NATO and contribute in this way to making Europe stronger ... or we are left with the other option, which is to arm ourselves," Ambassador Andriy Melnyk told Deutschlandfunk radio Thursday.

Kyiv would then "perhaps also consider its nuclear status," he said. "How else can we guarantee our defense?"

Edit: the BBC fact-checked the latter claim and concludes that although Andriy Melnyk did say it was possible, there's no evidence Kyiv was actually seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

However, the Ukrainian government has not expressed an intention to acquire nuclear weapons and a military strategy document published last year did not refer to them ... The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says it has seen no signs in Ukraine "of the diversion of nuclear material, intended for peaceful activities, for other purposes."

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    I'm not sure where the ambassador to Germany actually says anything about nuclear weapons. You've quoted the interpretation of what he said from an Indian website of low journalistic quality. They have a lot of trash-level coverage of Russia and Ukraine.
    – Fizz
    May 10 at 3:58
  • @Fizz changed the source /shrug.
    – Allure
    May 10 at 4:02
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    But that doesn't change the fact that it seems to be mere editorializing from al-Jazeera. I see nothing in the actual quote from DPA where he says anything about nuclear weapons.
    – Fizz
    May 10 at 4:06
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    Ok, that makes it more clear. Still it was put in conditional way: if NATO doesn't accept us, we might do that. Somewhat silly attempt to "strongarm" NATO that way, if you ask me.
    – Fizz
    May 10 at 4:37
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    "actually attempted to put those plans into action" ("preparations were under way") does not equal "planning an attack", +1. ... Honestly, it'd be incompetence to not have a plan for all situations. I'd presume the US has a 'plan' for invading every country on the planet, including itself.
    – Mazura
    May 10 at 23:11
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The main part of the question does not really fit the format of this forum because it is supposed to rely on published evidence. But the Donbas has been in a state of war for almost ten years. You can not expect the Army to release reliable information about military operations over the media. I see that some users still posted answers based on what is available on the media, but that is not an evidence even if the answer is accepted as good.

Taking into account the fog of war we cannot say whether Ukraine was planning an attack in Donbas and we cannot say whether this specific claim is credible or not. But on the other hand we can say that overall Putin declaration wasn't really honest because all the other claims he added are way less credible.

The first questionable claim is that the Donbas is part of their historical land. Historically the majority of the population was Ukrainian. From Wikipedia

According to the Russian Imperial Census of 1897, Ukrainians ("Little Russians", in the official imperial language) accounted for 52.4% of the population of the region, whilst ethnic Russians constituted 28.7%.

The ethnic composition changed during the soviet era, but a Russian majority is difficult to prove since a lot of Ukrainians were forced to become Russian speakers and the present is not history.

Putin could still claim that Crimea is part of their historical land, after all the majority of the population is Russian speaking and before becoming russified the majority of the population was Tatar, not Ukrainian. But an attack there was extremely unlikely. Why should the Ukrainians attack an army which is much better equipped than their own while they are already bogged down in Donbas? Here Putin would need some very strong evidence to support this claim.

In summary I would say that Putin's trick was to mix up a credible claim, the Ukrainian attack in the Donbas, with other less credible claims.

Update:

Given the comments to the answer I modified it adding the first part because I think that asking for evidence from the media about military operations is the wrong way to investigate such claims.

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    I've downvoted because this answer answers a different question from the one that's asked.
    – Allure
    May 11 at 13:14
  • @Allure I focused on the first of the two sentences in bold and just one sentence shows how many claims can be mixed up into it.
    – FluidCode
    May 11 at 13:21
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    As I wrote in the OP, I'm asking about "preparations were under way for another punitive operation in Donbas" (possibly Crimea too, the sentence is ambiguous) -- not in whether Donbas/Crimea are historically part of Russia.
    – Allure
    May 11 at 13:26
  • @Allure "An attack in Donbas region might have been possible since there has been a civil war going on for more than ten years there" I did not add evidence because you can can find dozen of articles and a Wikipedia page about the civil war in Donbas. So Putin here might be credible.
    – FluidCode
    May 11 at 13:31
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    Civil war sounds like a mischaracterisation to me (similarly to a conflict in Ukraine that is sometimes used to describe what is going on now). May 12 at 12:26

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