General Christopher Cavoli—the current commander of U.S. forces in Europe—testified in Congress about the U.S. assessment of how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is progressing, noting that Moscow’s military threat remains potent.
But a number of his comments have been taken out of context and edited in social media posts, misrepresenting the substance and meaning of his testimony to promote pro-Moscow narratives, Newsweek Misinformation Watch found.
This comes amid ongoing speculation about both Russian and Ukrainian losses in the war that has entered its 15th month. While Ukraine’s and its Western allies’ assessments indicate Russia’s casualties could be as high as 200,000 soldiers, questions about the scale of Kyiv’s losses have also raised questions.
From left, Lieutenant General Christopher G. Cavoli of the United States Army, who commands United States Army Europe speaks during a press conference alongside Martin Schelleis, Lieutenant General of the German army, at Bremerhaven port on February 21, 2020, in Bremerhaven, Germany. Cavoli’s testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2023 has been misquoted to push false narratives about the Russia-Ukraine war.
David Hecker/Getty Images
On April 27, 2023, EUCOM Commander Cavoli delivered testimony on the current U.S. military posture and national security challenges in Europe to the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, DC.
During his testimony, Cavoli stated that while Russia’s ground forces have been damaged by the war in Ukraine, many other elements of its military have remained unscathed, highlighting the Russian submarine threat in particular.
But a number of quotes either wrongly attributed to the U.S. General, or misrepresenting his comments, have been shared and amplified on social media to promote pro-Moscow narratives.
“General Cavoli, Head of US European Command: Just confirmed that ‘much of the Russian Military has not been affected negatively by this conflict,'” a tweet on May 1, 2023 said, gathering 30,000 views.
3) General Cavoli, Head of US European Command:
Just confirmed that “much of the Russian Military has not been affected negatively by this conflict”.
In conclusion, the “spring counter offensive” is over before it began, and Ukraine are about to lose all defensive capabilities. pic.twitter.com/sOaxI4DXek
— Clandestine (@WarClandestine) May 1, 2023
Dozens of tweets repeating the exact wording have appeared in the ensuing days, often from accounts that exhibit signs of inauthentic behavior, as rated by Bot Sentinel, a service that helps identify potential Twitter “bots.”
“US General Cavoli: Russia is actually winning the conflict in Ukraine,” said another tweet, by an account called Spriter, seen by nearly 900,000 users.
“Cavoli stated this in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee. He explained that the degradation of the Russian armed forces” was grossly misrepresented by the media. ‘Most of the Russian military has not been affected by this conflict,’ Cavoli said,” the tweet claimed.
The key words and phrases including “Russia winning” and “military unaffected” were reposted by multiple low-profile accounts and briefly elevated into Twitter’s trending topics despite having low engagement. The claims were also cited by obscure media outlets, such as TruNews.
“Bombshell revelation! The Western media has been lying to us about the conflict in Ukraine. The Russians are actually winning, and their undersea forces are more active than ever before. This is all according to a U.S. General,” a TruNews tweet with nearly half a million views said.
🚨 Bombshell revelation! The Western media has been lying to us about the conflict in Ukraine. The Russians are actually winning, and their undersea forces are more active than ever before. This is all according to a U.S. General. https://t.co/wUYoyhKr5q pic.twitter.com/zTLI8d9rJv
— TruNews™ (@TruNews) April 28, 2023
The claims were also promoted on other platforms, including Reddit, Telegram and TikTok, with posts in English, Russian and Spanish gaining significant traction.
But did the top NATO general actually make any of these claims? Newsweek searched through his statements and found that many of the quotes attributed to him were misinterpreted, if not patently false.
What Cavoli Actually SaidCavoli has discussed the Russia-Ukraine conflict at length, both prior to and after the Senate hearings, saying in January that “the scale of this war is out of proportion with all of our recent thinking.”
“This is an unprecedented time for Euro-Atlantic security,” Cavoli said in his statement to the House Armed Services Committee, which is available online. “Russia’s illegal, unprovoked, brutal invasion of Ukraine upended many aspects of European security. It has forced us to recognize the imperative of collective territorial defense, which has altered North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) force posture requirements.”
In his response to a question about the degradation of the Russian military, Cavoli indeed states that “much of the Russian military has not been affected negatively by this conflict.”
But he goes on to clarify that he is referring to those elements of the Russian armed forces with limited involvement in direct combat and not deployed on the front lines.
“One of those forces is their undersea forces,” Cavoli said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing in response to a question from Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn). “I can say that the Russians are more active than we’ve seen them in years… and this is despite all the efforts they are undertaking inside Ukraine.”
This point is further expanded upon in Cavoli’s statement, which reads:
“Russia remains a formidable and unpredictable threat that will challenge U.S. and European interests for the foreseeable future. Russian air, maritime, space, cyber, and strategic forces have not suffered significant degradation in the current war.
“Moreover, Russia will likely rebuild its future Army into a sizable and more capable land force, all while suspending its implementation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, as it has done since 2007.”
The important context missing from the tweets, however, was that the limited impact of the war on some parts of the Russian military mentioned by Cavoli did not equate to him claiming the entire force was unscathed.
“Due to the resilience and heroism of the Ukrainian people, with assistance from like-minded nations, Russian ground forces have suffered significant losses in Ukraine,” Cavoli’s statement highlighted.
In another speech, the General stated that Russian casualties during the war may have been as great as 200,000 dead or wounded.
The Countries Committing Aid to Ukraine
This chart, provided by Statista, shows the governments committing the most aid to Ukraine and the amount as a percentage of their GDP.
Crucially, Newsweek did not find any statement by Cavoli in which he said “Russia was actually winning the war in Ukraine.” On the contrary, he affirmed that the U.S. “remains optimistic about Ukraine’s future.”
“The Ukrainians are in a good position,” Cavoli added.
As Newsweek reported earlier in May, the EUCOM Commander has on later occasions spoken about “eroded” Russian forces that ran into “big problems,” in Ukraine, although—much like in his testimony—he has warned against complacency. He also elaborated further on the U.S. assessment of “uneven” damage to Russia’s military capabilities.
“The Russian military’s demise in Ukraine is something that has to be studied very closely,” the general said, speaking at the Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn, Estonia, on Sunday, May 14. “It has not been even. It’s very easy to look and to think that the Russian military has collapsed, » …