Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #877 Update on the Ukrainian Crisis

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This program was recorded in one, 60-minute segment

Valenthyn Nalyvaichenko, head of the SBU (Ukrainian intelligence service)

Introduction: We bring our reportage on the Ukrainian crisis up to date.

Governance in that benighted country continues to disintegrate. The Council of Europe has found that Ukraine’s investigation of the burning of anti-government protesters in Odessa has gone nowhere. This is not surprising in light of the nature of the Ukrainian government and security services, which are in the grip of the OUN/B heirs that ascended to power during the Maidan coup. The perpetrators of the attack are linked to the OUN/B successor elements.

The province of Odessa is now being governed by Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia. Unable to return to Georgia because of serious criminal charges pending against him, Saakashvili appears to have been plotting a coup in his native country.

The uninspiring activities of Saakashvili et al is leading to disillusionment on the part of the Ukrainian population, expressed by support for OUN/B-style fascists such as Svoboda in Western Ukraine, support for the political forces grouped around the corrupt former president Victor Yanukovych in the eastern and southern parts of the country and the election to the Odessa city council of a politician who assumed the name of a Star Wars villain.

In response to growing criticism of the Ukrainian situation, the EU is implementing an information warfare program directed not only at EU members in Eastern Europe but in Russia as well. A primary theoretical influence on the information warfare the EU is conducting appears to be former Wehrmacht general Wolf Stefan Traugott Graf von Baudissin, who served on Rommel’s staff during World War II.

Von Baudissin was a pivotal influence in the nullification of the de-Nazification edicts with regard to the formation of the postwar Bundeswehr. Bundeswehr colonel Uwe Hartmann is advocating von Baudissin’s methodology as essential to the success of the information warfare that the EU is conducting. Of particular importance is the use of the von Baudissin methodology in areas that had been the focal point of Waffen SS and Wehrmacht activity during the Second World War. Ukraine is just such an area!

No event in the Ukrainain crisis has been more propagandized than the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. Some of the key considerations concerning the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 are detailed in a recent post in Consortium News.  The author correctly points out that it is highly unlikely that information in the hands of U.S. intelligence analysts conforms to the claims supposedly buttressed by social media. Those dubious assertions are the only “documentation” that the West has been able to generate about the downing of the plane.

One of the relatively few stories accessible in the West that gives a view into the hearts and minds of citizens in the breakaway portions of the Ukrainian east is an article from The Financial Times. Many who were initially supportive of the removal of Yanukovich, hoping for an end to oligarch-dominated politics as usual, became alarmed at the rhetoric directed against the country’s Russian minority. They were further alienated by the warfare directed against their territories. As one observer noted, “How can I be for a united Ukraine when Kiev has spent the past six months bombing us?” she asked. “They came to power and destroyed the entire infrastructure of southeast Ukraine.”

Program Highlights Include:

  • Review of the use of Svoboda and Pravy Sektor militias as “counter-terrorist” forces in Ukraine.
  • Review of the role of those “counter-terrorist” forces in the Odessa atrocity.
  • Discussion of the long-standing desire on the part of Crimean citizens for reunification with Russia–something one never hears about in this country.
  • Review of Ukraine’s criminalization of accurate analysis of the Third Reich-allied OUN/B and its military wing the UPA.

(It is impossible within the scope of this post to cover our voluminous coverage of the Ukraine crisis. Previous programs on the subject are: FTR #‘s 777778779780781782783784794, 800803804, 808811817

818824826829832833837849850853857860, 872875876Listeners/readers are encouraged to examine these programs and/or their descriptions in detail, in order to flesh out their understanding.)

1. The Coun­cil of Europe just issued its assess­ment of Ukraine’s inves­ti­ga­tion into the Odessa fire. Not surprisingly, it is not encouraging. This is not surprising, in light of the nature of the Ukrainian intelligence service and national security establishment. The report on the sniper attacks in Kiev that precipitated the Maidan revolution wasn’t very pos­i­tive either.

“Ukraine Fail­ing to Probe Pro-Russia Pro­tester Deaths, Panel Says” by Daryna Kras­no­lut­ska and Kateryna Choursina; Bloomberg Busi­ness; 11/04/2015.

* Killings occurred in May 2014 in Black Sea port of Odessa

* No charges brought after 18-month inves­ti­ga­tion, report finds

Ukrain­ian author­i­ties are fail­ing to ade­quately inves­ti­gate 48 deaths, includ­ing of 42 pro-Russian pro­test­ers, in the Black Sea port of Odessa in May 2014, accord­ing to an inter­na­tional panel set up by the Coun­cil of Europe.

The demon­stra­tors clashed with foot­ball fans and par­tic­i­pants in a pro-government rally as the mil­i­tary con­flict in Ukraine’s east­ern­most regions erupted fol­low­ing Russia’s annex­a­tion of nearby Crimea. Most of the deaths occurred after a build­ing in which the pro­test­ers had bar­ri­caded them­selves was set on fire.

“Despite the lapse of some 18 months after the events, not a sin­gle charge has been brought in respect of the deaths,” the panel said Wednes­day in an e-mailed report. The body is track­ing the inves­ti­ga­tion to check it meets the require­ments of the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Human Rights and the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights.

The report is another blow to Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko and his gov­ern­ment as the U.S, the Euro­pean Union and Ukraine’s own cit­i­zens demand more progress on promises of reform and a crack­down on cor­rup­tion. Ukraine’s rulers have also failed to con­vict those respon­si­ble for more than 100 killings in the Kiev street protests that swept them to power a year and a half ago.

There’s evi­dence “reveal­ing a com­pa­ra­ble lack of con­fi­dence in the ade­quacy of the inves­ti­ga­tions and in the abil­ity of the author­i­ties to bring to jus­tice those respon­si­ble for caus­ing or con­tribut­ing to the many deaths and injuries” in Odessa, said the panel. The inves­ti­ga­tion in Odessa, like the probe in Kiev, has “seri­ous defi­cien­cies in inde­pen­dence and effec­tive­ness,” it said.

2. The current governor of Odessa and former president of Georgia is being accused of trying to stage a coup in the country he formerly headed.

“Geor­gia Ex-President Saakashvili Accused of ‘Coup Plot’”; bbc.com; 10/30/2015.

Geor­gia has launched a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion into the for­mer Pres­i­dent, Mikheil Saakashvili, who is accused of a coup plot.

In a leaked phone call between Mr Saakashvili and the head of an oppo­si­tion TV chan­nel he sug­gests using a “rev­o­lu­tion­ary sce­nario” and makes plans to pro­voke vio­lent confrontation.

The chan­nel, Rus­tavi 2, is in a legal dis­pute over its ownership.

Crit­ics of the gov­ern­ment say the dis­pute is a polit­i­cally moti­vated attempt to shut the influ­en­tial TV sta­tion down, reports the BBC’s Ray­han Demytrie in Tbilisi.

The author­i­ties deny that there is any polit­i­cal inter­fer­ence in the legal dis­pute. Rus­tavi 2 is the country’s most-watched broad­caster, our cor­re­spon­dent says.

The channel’s boss and Mr Saakashvili have both con­firmed the authen­tic­ity of the leaked phone call, and accuse the Geor­gian gov­ern­ment of ille­gal wire­tap­ping.

In the record­ing Mr Saakashvili dis­cussed erect­ing bar­ri­cades to ensure a con­fronta­tion in which “faces are smashed”. That clash would take place out­side the TV sta­tion, to pre­vent its takeover.

Sup­port­ers of the ex-president — who is now a regional gov­er­nor in Ukraine— say the charges against him and other for­mer gov­ern­ment offi­cials are polit­i­cally motivated.

3. Ukraine just com­pleted another round of elec­tions. Svo­boda surged, com­ing in first in a few regions and sec­ond in Lviv:

“Why a ‘Star Wars’ Emperor Won Office in Ukraine” by Leonid Bershid­sky; Bloomberg View; 10/26/2015.

Less than two years after Ukraine’s “rev­o­lu­tion of dig­nity,” local elec­tions on Sun­day handed power in the south and east to for­mer sup­port­ers of the ousted pres­i­dent, Vik­tor Yanukovych. The vote also cre­ated siz­able ultra­na­tion­al­ist fac­tions in a num­ber of local leg­is­la­tures, includ­ing in the cap­i­tal. The elec­tion proved vot­ers’ grow­ing mis­trust of the polit­i­cal class, which was only par­tially reshaped by the rev­o­lu­tion, and revealed a dis­ap­pointed nation that still is divided along an east-west line.

The vote was an impor­tant mile­stone for Ukraine. Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko has vowed to decen­tral­ize the coun­try by giv­ing cities and com­mu­ni­ties more polit­i­cal and bud­getary pow­ers. Ukraine is scrap­ping its sys­tem of regional gov­er­nors appointed from Kiev and giv­ing author­ity to local leg­is­la­tures, an attempt to shift from a Soviet-style super­central­ized state to a Euro­pean nation man­aged from the bot­tom up. It’s a good idea. But unless oli­garchs and cor­rupt local bosses are kept out, the coun­try risks get­ting a ver­sion of medieval feu­dal dis­unity instead of Euro­pean self-government. The elec­tions made that risk palpable.

A year ago, the out­come of Ukraine’s first post-revolutionary par­lia­men­tary elec­tion was worth cel­e­brat­ing: The rem­nants of Yanukovych’s Regions Party were on the run. Its suc­ces­sor, the Oppo­si­tion Bloc, won a plu­ral­ity in some Russian-speaking east­ern regions, but its over­all result was less than 10 per­cent, and it seemed to have only resid­ual influ­ence. The far-right party Svo­boda failed to get into par­lia­ment, show­ing that Ukrain­ian vot­ers had spurned xeno­pho­bic, extreme nation­al­ism. The vic­tory of the par­ties of Prime Min­is­ter Arseniy Yat­senyuk and Poroshenko was evi­dence Ukraini­ans sup­ported their reformist, pro-European orientation.

The vote count is still under­way, but it is clear that the Oppo­si­tion Bloc and other Regions Party splin­ters have done bet­ter than last year. That doesn’t mean more vot­ers are lean­ing toward Rus­sia: The Regions Party was only pro-Russian when it served the eco­nomic inter­ests of its lead­ers. But Ukraini­ans seem to have voted for the same cor­rupt elites that have run their regions through­out the country’s 25 years of inde­pen­dence, show­ing they have lit­tle con­fi­dence in the reformist rhetoric ema­nat­ing from the government.

This is espe­cially vis­i­ble in Ukraine’s sec­ond, third and fourth cities by pop­u­la­tion and its most impor­tant remain­ing busi­ness and indus­trial cen­ters: Kharkiv, Odessa and Dnipropetrovsk.

In Kharkiv, a for­mer Yanukovych backer with a crim­i­nal past, won the may­oral elec­tion by a land­slide. In Dnipropetro­vsk, two politi­cians who don’t sup­port Poroshenko will com­pete in a runoff for the may­oral race. In Odessa, where for­mer Geor­gian Pres­i­dent Mikheil Saakashvili was appointed as gov­er­nor to turn the region into a show­case of Western-style reforms, Saakashvili’s can­di­date was defeated by a wide margin. 

In the Ukrainian-speaking west, Svo­boda rad­i­cally improved its per­for­mance, com­ing in first in a few regions and sec­ond in crit­i­cally impor­tant Lviv, Ukraine’s cul­tural cap­i­tal. The ultra­na­tion­al­ist party also won a sur­pris­ing 10 per­cent of the vote in Kiev. These results raise con­cerns there could be a nation­al­ist rebel­lion against Poroshenko if he’s seen as too soft on the sep­a­ratists in the east.

The Poroshenko bloc has few suc­cesses. In Kiev, its rep­re­sen­ta­tive, for­mer world box­ing cham­pion Vitaly Klichko, will prob­a­bly hold on to the may­oralty after a runoff vote, and the party has a plu­ral­ity in the city and regional coun­cils. A few other cen­tral Ukrain­ian regions leaned its way, too. Nation­wide, the party expects about 18 per­cent sup­port. It had hoped to get 25 per­cent, down from almost 22 per­cent in last year’s elections.

To retain a sem­blance of con­trol over the newly empow­ered regions, Poroshenko and his team will have to make deals with oli­garchs, local barons, nation­al­ist mil­i­tants and pop­ulists. This will com­pound the country’s barely man­age­able chaos. It also will make more dif­fi­cult an eco­nomic rebound or strict adher­ence to the eco­nomic pro­gram dic­tated by the Inter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund as a con­di­tion of the country’s finan­cial res­cue pack­age. Root­ing out cor­rup­tion now appears a remote prospect at best.

Ukraine’s chaotic democ­racy pre­vents the coun­try from turn­ing into a Russian-style con­gealed, oppres­sive author­i­tar­ian state. Yet cor­rup­tion remains the glue hold­ing together the polit­i­cally, eco­nom­i­cally and cul­tur­ally divided coun­try. West­ern observers said Mon­day that the elec­tions “gen­er­ally showed respect for the demo­c­ra­tic process.” Nonethe­less, they pointed out “the dom­i­nance of pow­er­ful eco­nomic groups over the elec­toral process” and “the fact that vir­tu­ally all cam­paign cov­er­age in the media was paid for.”

No won­der Ukraini­ans weren’t par­tic­u­larly enthu­si­as­tic about going to the polls. The 46.6 per­cent turnout may seem accept­able by the stan­dards of Euro­pean and U.S. local elec­tions, but, as com­men­ta­tor Leonid Shvets pointed out, the indif­fer­ence of half the vot­ers in post-revolution Ukraine sig­ni­fies “a total mis­trust of those who offer their polit­i­cal services.”

Per­haps the best sym­bol of that mis­trust and the renewed sep­a­ra­tion between the state and the peo­ple is the elec­tion of Dmitri Pal­patin to the Odessa city coun­cil. If his last name seems famil­iar, it is because he offi­cially adopted the moniker of an evil emperor in “Star Wars” (also know as Darth Sid­i­ous). The newly elected city councilor’s day job is Emperor at Pal­patin Finance Group. And why not? To many vot­ers, the country’s pol­i­tics seem as real as those of a fic­tional galaxy far, far away.

4a. The EU is start­ing a new Russian-speaking counter-propaganda unit. There’s only up to 10 peo­ple involved accord­ing the plans. But don’t expect it to stay that size:  “Offi­cials say it is a first step in the EEAS’s response to grow­ing con­cern in east­ern Europe and EU Baltic states about the desta­bi­liz­ing influ­ence of Russian-language news reports”:

“EU Declares Infor­ma­tion War on Russia” by James PanichiPolitico.eu; 8/27/2015.

Task force will start try­ing to win hearts and minds in east­ern part­ner­ship coun­tries next month.

The Euro­pean Union’s for­eign affairs depart­ment said Thurs­day it was launch­ing a rapid-response team to counter what it con­sid­ers biased Russ­ian media reports.

The unit, which will include up to 10 Russian-speaking offi­cials and media pro­fes­sion­als from EU mem­ber states, will be fully oper­a­tional by the end of Sep­tem­ber and will be part of the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS). Offi­cials say it is a first step in the EEAS’s response to grow­ing con­cern in east­ern Europe and EU Baltic states about the desta­bi­liz­ing influ­ence of Russian-language news reports.

The EEAS was tasked by the Euro­pean Coun­cil in March with com­ing up with a response to what EU lead­ers described as “Russia’s ongo­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign,” with a spe­cific request that the EEAS estab­lish a “com­mu­ni­ca­tion team” as a “first step” in fight­ing back.

The team, which will be based in the EEAS’s Brus­sels head­quar­ters, falls short of requests from Latvia that the EU estab­lish a full-blown, EU-funded Russian-language tele­vi­sion chan­nel, to pro­vide an alter­na­tive source of news to Russian-speakers in both EU and “east­ern part­ner­ship” coun­tries (Arme­nia, Azer­bai­jan, Geor­gia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus).

Offi­cials Thurs­day stressed the lim­ited scope of the team and were adamant its role would be to improve EU com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Russian-speaking com­mu­ni­ties and not to be pro­duc­ing Brussels-funded propaganda.

The unit, which includes Russian-language experts from the U.K., Latvia and Swe­den, will be attached to the EEAS’s exist­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions team. The EU mem­ber states will pay the salaries of the per­son­nel, but the unit has not been allo­cated a budget.

“The team will carry out media mon­i­tor­ing and will work on the devel­op­ment of com­mu­ni­ca­tion prod­ucts and media cam­paigns focused on explain­ing EU poli­cies in the region,” the offi­cial said.

How­ever, the EEAS said it has nei­ther the resources nor the man­date to go beyond the capa­bil­i­ties of the new unit and the fund­ing of TV chan­nels in Russ­ian was not on the cards.

“This is not about engag­ing in counter-propaganda,” the EU offi­cial said. “How­ever, where nec­es­sary the EU will respond to dis­in­for­ma­tion that directly tar­gets the EU and will work … to raise aware­ness of these activities.”

The unit’s daily rou­tine will con­sist of mon­i­tor­ing Russ­ian media and sug­gest­ing ways for EU insti­tu­tions to tai­lor their media strat­egy to counter Russ­ian broad­casts, in a bid to win the hearts and minds of east­ern part­ner­ship audiences.

In June, a study funded by the Dutch gov­ern­ment rec­om­mended the cre­ation of a Russian-language “con­tent fac­tory”that would pro­duce enter­tain­ment and doc­u­men­tary pro­grams, along­side news and cur­rent affairs broad­cast from a “news hub.”

An EU offi­cial said the depart­ment had not been approached by Euronews, a mul­ti­lin­gual broad­caster which last year received €25.5 mil­lion from the EU, to expand its Russ­ian– and Ukrainian-language pro­gram­ming as part of the EU’s response.

4b. More about how the EU is partnering with the U.S. in is information warfare directed at Russia and other former republics of the Soviet Union:

“Media Cold War;” german-foreign-policy.com; 11/04/2015.

With a special “team” the EU is seeking to create a pro-western media audience in the East European countries and the Caucasus – including Russia – as was confirmed by the German government in its response to a parliamentary interpellation. The EU’s “East StratCom Team” seeks to establish networks with journalists in the countries of the EU’s “Eastern Partnerships,” and in Russia. It is also developing “communication campaigns” systematically aimed at the populations of these countries. “Young people” and academics are among the specially targeted audiences. Overall, the EU team is focusing on the urban middle classes, which, in large sectors of Eastern Europe are pro-western oriented and had significantly supported Ukraine’s Maidan protests. Asked about the orientation of these activities, officially labeled as “support for media freedom,” the German government has explained that the purpose is to “communicate” one’s own position to the public, like the PR-work of governments, parties, and associations. The government has also confirmed that the EU team will examine the East European activities of Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, for possible “synergy effects.”

Strategic Communication

The “EU team” for “strategic communication directed toward the countries of the Eastern Partnership and Russia” (EU’s “East StratCom Team”) was launched on the initiative of the EU foreign ministers (January 29, 2015), the German government has confirmed in its response to a parliamentary interpellation by the Left Party in the German Bundestag. On March 19, the European Council had officially commissioned EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, to prepare an “Action Plan on Strategic Communication” to counter Moscow. In early April, the European External Action Service (EEAS), led by Mogherini, began to establish the team and elaborate an “Action Plan,” which was presented by Mogherini on June 22. The document describes the work of the team, which was officially launched on September 1. It is formally integrated in EEAS’ “Strategic Communication Division” and has about ten functionaries, who had previously worked in other EU institutions or for EU member states. The German government is emphasizing its “working contacts to all members” of the EU’s “East StratCom Team.”[1]

Classical PR

As described in the “Action Plan on Strategic Communication” the EU’s “East StratCom Team” will not only be activated in relationship to the EU’s “Eastern partners” [2] but also “beyond,” which, according to the German government, is referring to Russia. The “Action Plan” calls for the team to draw up dossiers on themes in which the EU is being unfavorably depicted from the outside, or in which Brussels is victim of “disinformation campaigns.”[3] The German government has confirmed that this is aimed at “transmitting to the public” the substantial position of the EU, “like the public relations of governments, parties, associations etc.”[4] – therefore, classical PR. The EU’s “East StratCom Team” will place their PR products at the disposal of the EU’s political leadership, press services, EU delegations, and EU Member States, according to the “Action Plan.” This means that Brussels will be given a strictly coordinated public image.

Communication Campaigns

In addition, the EU’s “East StratCom Team” is to develop “communication campaigns,” targeting “key audiences” focused on specific issues deemed “of relevance” to those audiences, including “local issues.” The German government specifies “the local population” as an important targeted audience. The EU’s “Action Plan” specifies other targeted audiences: “young people,” “members of academia” (including scholarship holders of the “Erasmus plus” program) and “civil society.” Therefore, the focus is on urban middleclass milieus, who, in large parts of Eastern Europe, nourish hopes of advancing through cooperation with the West. Ukraine’s urban middleclass was the backbone of the Maidan protests.[5]

Media Networks

Furthermore, the EU’s “East StratCom Team” is to establish networks with disseminators in Eastern Europe, to “maximize the impact and effectiveness of its communications activities.”[6] “Journalists and media representatives” are named as central components of these networks, whose objective, according to the “Action Plan,” is “to better communicate EU policy.” Journalists from the region will receive targeted training “to better enable them to report on issues of relevance to local populations.” In addition, they will become part of a network of journalists from other East European countries. The “Action Plan” includes “maintaining contacts also to civil society actors.” The EU delegations in the targeted countries should support the coordination of these efforts. These networks are explicitly aimed at carrying out political activities. They are intended to “act as advocates for local reform efforts,” according to the “Action Plan.” Financial support, as the German government explains, will not come from the EU team, but rather be provided “by various financial instruments of the European Commission as well as by EU member states.”

Cooperation with NATO

NATO is also one of the EU’s “East StratCom team’s” cooperation partners. The German government admits that the Task Force is working with the Center of Excellence for Strategic Communication (CoE StratCom) headquartered in Latvia’s capital, Riga. Though “until now, there has been no official cooperation,” explains Markus Ederer, State Secretary in the German Foreign Ministry, “however, contact is maintained for technical purposes and for an exchange of information.” The EU’s “East StratCom team” sends “weekly reports on Russian information activities to the CoE StratCom.”[7]

More Important than Tanks

According to the German government, the EU’s “East StratCom Team” is exploring possibilities of cooperation with the state-financed Deutsche Welle. The team has already “developed a panorama” of the Deutsche Welle’s activities in Eastern Europe – with the intention of “identifying possible synergic effects and thereby contributing to more coherence,” explained State Secretary, Ederer. The Deutsche Welle, has appreciably expanded its activities in the Baltic countries – targeting the Russian-speaking minorities with their broadcasts. These minorities are massively discriminated against, particularly in Estonia and Latvia. Because of their close personal ties to Russia, they are suspected of potential disloyalty. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[8]) In May, for example, the Deutsche Welle entered a cooperation agreement with Estonia’s ERR public radio station, in which the Deutsche Welle would provide its Russian-language broadcasts and advanced training to ERR journalists. September 28, together with ETV+, ERR launched Estonia’s first Russian-language television channel. It is reported that, in its efforts to counter the influence of Russian Media on Estonia’s Russian-speaking minorities, ETV+ is not only benefiting from the support of the Deutsche Welle, but also that of NATO. According to a report broadcast by the German public ARD TV channel, NATO is financing the technical furnishings of its regional studios. There is a good reason for ERR’s Assistant Director, Ainar Ruussaar, declaring that “today, journalism can be more important than a tank.”[9]

 Please find excerpts from the “Action Plan on Strategic Communication” here.

[1] Antwort der Bundesregierung auf eine Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Dr. Alexander Neu, Andrej Hunko, Wolfgang Gehrcke, Inge Höger, Niema Movassat u.a. und der Fraktion Die Linke. Berlin, 22.10.2015.

[2] Die “Östliche Partnerschaft” der EU umfasst Belarus, die Ukraine, Moldawien, Georgien, Armenien und Aserbaidschan.

[3] Action Plan on Strategic Communication. Ref. Ares(2015)2608242 – 22/06/2015. Excerpts can be found here.

[4] Antwort der Bundesregierung auf eine Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Dr. Alexander Neu, Andrej Hunko, Wolfgang Gehrcke, Inge Höger, Niema Movassat u.a. und der Fraktion Die Linke. Berlin, 22.10.2015.

[5] See Umsturz per Krise.

[6] Action Plan on Strategic Communication. Ref. Ares(2015)2608242 – 22/06/2015.

[7] Antwort der Bundesregierung auf eine Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Dr. Alexander Neu, Andrej Hunko, Wolfgang Gehrcke, Inge Höger, Niema Movassat u.a. und der Fraktion Die Linke. Berlin, 22.10.2015.

[8] See Strategische Kommunikation.

[9] “Wichtiger als Panzer”. www.tagesschau.de 26.10.2015.

5. A primary theoretical influence on the information warfare the EU is conducting is former Wehrmacht general Wolf Stefan Traugott Graf von Baudissin, who served on Rommel’s staff during World War II. Von Baudissin was a pivotal influence in the nullification of the de-Nazification edicts with regard to the formation of the postwar Bundeswehr. Bundeswehr colonel Uwe Hartmann is advocating von Baudissin’s methodology as essential to the success of the information warfare that the EU is conducting. Of particular importance is the use of the von Baudissin methodology in areas that had been the focal point of Waffen SS and Wehrmacht activity during the Second World War. Ukraine is just such an area!

“Permanent Civil War;” german-foreign-policy.com; 11/13/2015.

Techniques of anti-Soviet propaganda that had been developed by Nazi officers, could serve today as a model for western anti-Russia psychological warfare operations, according to a semi-official publication from the entourage of the Bundeswehr. The current conflict between Russia and NATO has a “highly pronounced ideological dimension,” analogue to the Cold War, explains the author Uwe Hartmann, a colonel in the German armed forces. According to Hartmann, the Russian side is using the “freedoms of Western open societies” to “influence” public opinion with the aim of “relativizing the value of rights and freedoms,” “sowing discord” and “insecurity within the population.” To counter this strategy, attributed to Russia, Hartmann recommends reversion to the methods of the so-called ‘internal leadership’ concept elaborated by Wolf Graf von Baudissin, who had been on Hitler’s General Staff. This concept calls for preparing the armed forces as well as the society at large for a “permanent civil war” and for the leadership elite to convince Germans of the “worthiness of defending their country,” while immunizing them against all “ideological temptations” and “propaganda attacks.”

Destabilization

In a recent publication, Uwe Hartmann, a colonel of the German Bundeswehr, declared that Russia is applying a “hybrid” strategy in its conflict with the West. Analogue to the Soviet Union’s approach during the Cold War, the direct use of military force does not play the decisive role. “Smashing enemy forces” has lower priority than the “destabilization of state structures and social institutions” and “weakening national coherence” in the NATO countries. This, in turn, shows clear parallels to activities, for example, of the Afghan insurgents, according to Hartmann. Whereas, in Afghanistan, the western occupation forces were trying to protect the “development of state and society,” its enemy’s “hybrid warfare” was aimed at “eroding statehood through the destabilization of the political, social, and economic situation” and “delegitimizing the government and elites.”[1]

Western Values

Subsequently, the world is in a sort of “permanent civil war,” according to Hartmann. Because of its strained relationship to Ukraine, “Russia, from a German point of view, poses a greater threat to the peaceful European order than the hybrid wars in the Middle East and other regions.” This conflict’s “highly pronounced ideological dimension” is a crucial point. “Russia considers the continued spread of Western values to be a threat to its vital interests.” As in the Cold War, Russia is therefore using the “freedoms of Western open societies” to “influence” the populations living in NATO countries. Russian “propaganda,” according to Hartmann, “aims primarily” at “globally relativizing the value of rights and freedoms, sowing discord among partnerships and alliances, as well as fomenting divisions within societies and insecurity among their citizens.”[2]

Baudissin as a Model

To counter this alleged Russian ideological aggression against the West, Hartmann recommends resorting to the theoretical works of the German military officer Wolf Stefan Traugott Graf von Baudissin,[3] who, in World War II, had served on the General Staff of the Nazi Wehrmacht’s “Africa Corps” under General Erwin Rommel. In 1951, he joined the staff of the “Administration Blank” – the predecessor to West Germany’s Ministry of Defense, charged with the illegal re-establishment of the armed forces. He helped formulate the so-called Himmeroder Memorandum, in which former Nazi Wehrmacht generals laid down the conditions for their participation in the re-militarization of West Germany. The demands raised by the memorandum included the “liberation of Germans convicted of ‘war crimes,'” the “termination of any form of defamation of German soldiers (including the Waffen-SS deployed, at the time, in the framework of the Wehrmacht)” and the introduction of the necessary “measures to transform both domestic and foreign public opinion.”[4] Baudissin developed the Bundeswehr’s concept of “internal leadership,” aimed at preparing Bundeswehr troops for a “permanent civil war” against the Soviet Union – a concept, Hartmann now seeks to literally apply to the current political situation.[5]

Internal Leadership

As Hartmann explains, Baudissin had always placed “psychological warfare at the focal point of his concept of warfare.” From the outset, the focus of “Internal leadership” was always the individual. “He must be protected and prepared, because the most used weapons of the Cold War … were not those aimed at physical elimination, but rather those aimed at his ‘spiritual exhaustion’.” This is not unlike today’s conflict with Russia, declares Hartmann. “Internal leadership helps soldiers avoid being ‘intrinsically misled’ … by protecting them from the enemy’s ideological propaganda. It is essential before, during, and following crises, conflicts, and wars.”[6]

Enemy Narrative

Based on this assessment, Hartmann draws conclusions for how “strategic communication” aimed at German society and the Bundeswehr should be designed. On the one hand, “resistance to propaganda-induced insecurity and ideological temptations” must be strengthened and, on the other, readiness “to provide moral support to those using military or other forms of defense against these hybrid threats” must be enhanced, the officer declares. According to Hartmann, all measures capable of “exposing the enemy propaganda narratives” are of fundamental importance. This is particularly true, in cases where the enemy takes up “historically sensitive subjects” and, for example, criticizes actions of German soldiers on operation in regions, “where the Wehrmacht had once carried out operations and SS forces had ravaged.”[7]

Fifth Column

Hartmann’s recommendations concord with concepts elaborated by leading NATO and EU think tanks. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[8]) He believes that the threat is not only due to the fact that the West’s enemies can “publically question” the “legitimacy and legality” of the use of military force. Even the “social cohesion” of combat units, themselves, is threatened. “Individuals from an immigrant family background are a specially targeted group for enemy propaganda. The objective is to induce them to propagate ‘false truths’ and create growing insecurity, and even possibly attacks against one’s own troops.”[9]

[1], [2], [3] Uwe Hartmann: Hybrider Krieg als neue Bedrohung von Freiheit und Frieden. Zur Relevanz der Inneren Führung in Politik, Gesellschaft und Streitkräften. Berlin 2015.

[4] See Krieg ist Frieden.

[5], [6], [7] Uwe Hartmann: Hybrider Krieg als neue Bedrohung von Freiheit und Frieden. Zur Relevanz der Inneren Führung in Politik, Gesellschaft und Streitkräften. Berlin 2015.

[8] See Media Cold War and Informationskrieg.

[9] Uwe Hartmann: Hybrider Krieg als neue Bedrohung von Freiheit und Frieden. Zur Relevanz der Inneren Führung in Politik, Gesellschaft und Streitkräften. Berlin 2015.

6. Some of the key considerations concerning the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 are detailed in a recent post in Consortium News.  The author correctly points out that it is highly unlikely that information in the hands of U.S. intelligence analysts conforms to the claims supposedly buttressed by social media. Those dubious assertions are the only “documentation” that the West has been able to generate about the downing of the plane.

“Propaganda, Intelligence and MH-17” by Ray McGovern; Consortium News; 8/17/2015.

During a recent interview, I was asked to express my conclusions about the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, prompting me to take another hard look at Official Washington’s dubious claims – pointing the finger of blame at eastern Ukrainian rebels and Moscow – based on shaky evidence regarding who was responsible for this terrible tragedy.

Unlike serious professional investigative reporters, intelligence analysts often are required by policymakers to reach rapid judgments without the twin luxuries of enough time and conclusive evidence. Having spent almost 30 years in the business of intelligence analysis, I have faced that uncomfortable challenge more times than I wish to remember.

So, I know what it feels like to confront issues of considerable consequence like the shoot-down of MH-17 and the killing of 298 passengers and crew amid intense pressure to choreograph the judgments to the propagandistic music favored by senior officials who want the U.S. “enemy” – in this case, nuclear-armed Russia and its Western-demonized President Vladimir Putin – to somehow be responsible. In such situations, the easiest and safest (career-wise) move is to twirl your analysis to the preferred tune or at least sit this jig out.

But the trust-us-it-was-Putin marathon dance has now run for 13 months – and it’s getting tiresome to hear the P.R. people in the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper still claiming that the U.S. intelligence community has not revised or updated its analysis of the incident since July 22, 2014, just five days after the crash.

Back then, Clapper’s office, trying to back up Secretary of State John Kerry’s anti-Russian rush to judgment, cited very sketchy evidence – in both senses of the word – drawn heavily from “social media” accounts. Obviously, the high-priced and high-caliber U.S. intelligence community has learned much more about this very sensitive case since that time, but the administration won’t tell the American people and the world. The DNI’s office still refers inquiring reporters back to the outdated report from more than a year ago.

None of this behavior would make much sense if the later U.S. intelligence data supported the hasty finger-pointing toward Putin and the rebels. If more solid and persuasive intelligence corroborated those initial assumptions, you’d think U.S. government officials would be falling over themselves to leak the evidence and declare “we told you so.” And the DNI office’s claim that it doesn’t want to prejudice the MH-17 investigation doesn’t hold water either – since the initial rush to judgment did exactly that.

So, despite the discomfort attached to making judgments with little reliable evidence – and at the risk of sounding like former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld – it seems high time to address what we know, what we don’t know, and why it may be that we don’t know what we don’t know.

Those caveats notwithstanding I would say it is a safe bet that the hard technical intelligence evidence upon which professional intelligence analysts prefer to rely does not support Secretary of State Kerry’s unseemly rush to judgment in blaming the Russian side just three days after the shoot-down.

‘An Extraordinary Tool’?

When the tragedy occurred U.S. intelligence collection assets were focused laser-like on the Ukraine-Russia border region where the passenger plane crashed. Besides collection from overhead imagery and sensors, U.S. intelligence presumably would have electronic intercepts of communications as well as information from human sources inside many of the various factions.

That would mean that hundreds of intelligence analysts are likely to have precise knowledge regarding how MH-17 was shot down and by whom. Though there may be some difference of opinion among analysts about how to read the evidence – as there often is – it is out of the question that the intelligence community would withhold this data from President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Kerry and other top officials.

Thus, it is a virtual certainty that the Obama administration has far more conclusive evidence than the “social media” cited by Kerry in casting suspicions on the rebels and Moscow when he made the rounds of Sunday talk shows just three days after the crash. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Kerry told David Gregory that “social media” is an “extraordinary tool.” The question is, a tool for what?

The DNI report two days later rehashed many of the “social media” references that Kerry cited and added some circumstantial evidence about Russia providing other forms of military equipment to the rebels. But the DNI report contains no mention of Russia supplying a Buk anti-aircraft missile system that Kerry and the DNI cited as the suspected weapon that downed the plane.

So, why does the administration continue refusing to go beyond such dubious sources and shaky information in attributing blame for the shoot-down? Why not fill in the many blanks with actual and hard U.S. intelligence data that would have been available and examined over the following days and weeks? Did the Russians supply a Buk or other missile battery that would be capable of hitting MH-17 flying at 33,000 feet? Yes or no.

If not supplied by the Russians, did the rebels capture a Buk or similar missile battery from the Ukrainians who had them in their own inventory? Or did some element of the Ukrainian government – possibly associated with one of Ukraine’s corrupt oligarchs – fire the missile, either mistaking the Malaysian plane for a Russian one or calculating how the tragedy could be played for propaganda purposes? Or was it some other sinister motive?

Without doubt, the U.S. government has evidence that could support or refute any one of those possibilities, but it won’t tell you even in some declassified summary form. Why? Is it somehow unpatriotic to speculate that John Kerry, with his checkered reputation for truth-telling regarding Syria and other foreign crises, chose right off the bat to turn the MH-17 tragedy to Washington’s propaganda advantage, an exercise in “soft power” to throw Putin on the defensive and rally Europe behind U.S. economic sanctions to punish Russia for supporting ethnic Russians in Crimea and eastern Ukraine resisting the new U.S.-arranged political order in Kiev?

By taking a leaf out of the Bush-Cheney-Tony-Blair playbook, Kerry could “fix the intelligence around the policy” of Putin-bashing. Given the anti-Putin bias rampant in the mainstream Western media, that wouldn’t be a hard sell. And, it wasn’t. The “mainstream” stenographers/journalists quickly accepted that “social media” was indeed a dandy source to rely on – and have never pressed the U.S. government to release any of its intelligence data.

Yet, in the immediate aftermath of the MH-17 shoot-down, there were signs that honest intelligence analysts were not comfortable letting themselves be used as they and other colleagues had been before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

To buttress Kerry’s shaky case, DNI Clapper arranged a flimsy “Government Assessment” – reprising many of Kerry’s references to “social media” – that was briefed to a few hand-picked Establishment reporters two days after Kerry starred on Sunday TV. The little-noticed distinction was that this report was not the customary “Intelligence Assessment” (the genre that has been de rigueur in such circumstances in the past).

The key difference between the traditional “Intelligence Assessment” and this relatively new creation, a “Government Assessment,” is that the latter genre is put together by senior White House bureaucrats or other political appointees, not senior intelligence analysts. Another significant difference is that an “Intelligence Assessment” often includes alternative views, either in the text or in footnotes, detailing disagreements among intelligence analysts, thus revealing where the case may be weak or in dispute.

The absence of an “Intelligence Assessment” suggested that honest intelligence analysts were resisting a knee-jerk indictment of Russia – just as they did after the first time Kerry pulled this “Government Assessment” arrow out of his quiver trying to stick the blame for an Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus on the Syrian government.

Kerry cited this pseudo-intelligence product, which contained not a single verifiable fact, to take the United States to the brink of war against President Bashar al-Assad’s military, a fateful decision that was only headed off at the last minute after President Barack Obama was made aware of grave doubts among U.S. intelligence analysts about whodunit. Kerry’s sarin case has since collapsed. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.”]

The sarin and MH-17 cases reveal the continuing struggles between opportunistic political operatives and professional intelligence analysts over how to deal with geopolitical information that can either inform U.S. foreign policy objectively or be exploited to advance some propaganda agenda. Clearly, this struggle did not end after CIA analysts were pressured into giving President George W. Bush the fraudulent – not “mistaken” – evidence that he used to make the case for invading Iraq in 2003.

But so soon after that disgraceful episode, the White House and State Department run the risk that some honest intelligence analysts would blow the whistle, especially given the dangerously blasé attitude in Establishment Washington toward the dangers of escalating the Ukraine confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia. Given the very high stakes, perhaps an intelligence professional or two will summon the courage to step up to this challenge.

Falling in Line

For now, the rest of us are told to be satisfied with the Sunday media circus orchestrated by Kerry on July 20, 2014, with the able assistance of eager-to-please pundits. A review of the transcripts of the CBS, NBC, and ABC Sunday follies reveals a remarkable – if not unprecedented — consistency in approach by CBS’s Bob Schieffer, NBC’s David Gregory (ably egged on by Andrea Mitchell), and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, all of whom hewed faithfully to a script apparently given them with two main talking points: (1) blame Putin; and (2) frame the shoot-down as a “wake-up call” (Kerry used the words repeatedly) for European governments to impose tight economic sanctions on Russia.

If the U.S. government’s hope was that the combination of Kerry’s hasty judgment and the DNI’s supportive “Government Assessment” would pin the P.R. blame for MH-17 on Putin and Russia, the gambit clearly worked. The U.S. had imposed serious economic sanctions on Russia the day before the shoot-down – but the Europeans were hesitant. Yet, in the MH-17 aftermath, both U.S. and European media were filled with outrage against Putin for supposedly murdering 298 innocents.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders, who had been resisting imposing strong economic sanctions because of Germany’s and the European Union’s lucrative trade with Russia, let themselves be bulldozed, just two weeks after the shoot-down, into going along with mutually harmful sanctions that have hurt Russia but also have shaken the EU’s fragile economic recovery.

Thus started a new, noxious phase in the burgeoning confrontation between Russia and the West, a crisis that was originally precipitated by a Western-orchestrated coup d’état in Kiev on Feb. 22, 2014, ousting Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych and touching off the current civil war that has witnessed some of the worst bloodshed inside Europe in decades..

It may seem odd that those European leaders allowed themselves to be snookered so swiftly. Did their own intelligence services not caution them against acquiescing over “intelligence” from social media? But the tidal wave of anti-Putin fury in the MH-17 aftermath was hard if not impossible for any Western politician to resist.

Just One Specific Question?

Yet, can the U.S. concealment of its MH-17 intelligence continue indefinitely? Some points beg for answers. For instance, besides describing social media as “an extraordinary tool,” Kerry told David Gregory on July 20, 2014: “We picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”

Odd that neither Gregory nor other “mainstream” stenographers have thought to ask Kerry, then or since, to share what he says he “knows” with the American people and the world – if only out of, well, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind. If Kerry has sources beyond “social media” for what he claims to “know” and they support his instant claims of Russian culpability, then the importance of his accusations dictates that he describe exactly what he pretends to know and how. But Kerry has been silent on this topic.

If, on the other hand, the real intelligence does not support the brief that Kerry argued right after the shoot-down, well, the truth will ultimately be hard to suppress. Angela Merkel and other leaders with damaged trade ties with Russia may ultimately demand an explanation. Can it be that it will take current European leaders a couple of years to realize they’ve been had — again?

The U.S. government also is likely to face growing public skepticism for using social media to pin the blame on Moscow for the downing of MH-17 – not only to justify imposing economic sanctions, but also to stoke increased hostility toward Russia.

The Obama administration and the mainstream media may try to pretend that no doubt exists – that the “group think” on Russia’s guilt is ironclad. And it seems likely that the official investigations now being conducted by the U.S.-propped-up government in Ukraine and other close U.S. allies will struggle to build a circumstantial case keeping the Putin-did-it narrative alive.

But chickens have a way of coming home to roost.

7. One of the relatively few stories accessible in the West that gives a view into the hearts and minds of citizens in the breakaway portions of the Ukrainian east is an article from The Financial Times. Many who were initially supportive of the removal of Yanukovich, hoping for an end to oligarch-dominated politics as usual, became alarmed at the rhetoric directed against the country’s Russian minority. They were further alienated by the warfare directed against their territories. As one observer noted, “How can I be for a united Ukraine when Kiev has spent the past six months bombing us?” she asked. “They came to power and destroyed the entire infrastructure of southeast Ukraine.”

“Renewed Sense of Identity Takes Hold in Donetsk” by Courtney Weaver; Financial Times; 2/15/2015; p. 3.

. . . . While some may see this week’s Minsk memorandum, which calls for a ceasefire in east Ukraine and the eventual re-establishment of national borders, as the first step towards the Donetsk People’s Republic’s disbandment, there are few signs of a rebel leadership preparing to relinquish control–or a society that wants them to.

After a months-long siege that has destroyed local infrastructure, left the population under the near-constant percussion of artillery, a new sense of regional identity has taken hold in Donetsk. Although some of it is being transmitted via top-down initiatives such as Ms. Prussova’s class, much of it has come through the Ukrainian army’s shelling, which has turned many former pro-Ukrainian locals against Kiev.

Another source of anger for many was an October speech by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in which he declared that the region’s citizens would suffer for the rebel leders’ actions. “Our children will go to school and nursery school, and theirs will sit in [a] basement!” he declared, waving a finger.

“As a student, as the future generation, I was for a united Ukraine. We really believed in Poroshenko,” said Yekaterina, a 20-year-old at Donetsk National University. While her family fled to the Ukrainian side during the summer, they were forced to return to Donetsk in  September after they ran out of money. Then, her feelings changed.

“We thought [Poroshenko] would come to Donetsk, but he didn’t come once,” she said. She dismissed claims that Donetsk locals were being brainwashed by the rebel leadership and Russian television. “you don’t need to be a soldier to understand from what direction artillery fire is coming,” she said. “we have access to the internet. We’re not in the Stone Age. We’re not zombies.”

In Donetsk’s Kievsky district, one of the most heavily bombed neighbourhoods, 53 year-old former plant worker Svetlana said she had been living in a cold war-era shelter with neighbours since the bombing began in May. . . .

. . . . “How can I be for a united Ukraine when Kiev has spent the past six months bombing us?” she asked. “They came to power and destroyed the entire infrastructure of southeast Ukraine.”

Enrique Menendez, a Ukrainian-born businessman with Spanish roots, said one of Kiev’s biggest mistakes was to vilify the people of southeastern Ukraine rather than open a dialogue.

“At the beginning a lot of journalists, bloggers, opinion leaders, most of them pro-Ukrainian, left Donetsk. But when they got to Kiev, the rhetoric [about southeast Ukraine] was very negative,” Mr. Menendez said. “This aggression and lack of understanding of what was going on here really offended the people that stayed behind.”

One of a dozen organizers for a March rally for united Ukraine, he eventually decided to stay on Donetsk to set up humanitarian aid. In August, there were just five left in his apartment building. They would crowd into the corridor during the shelling. Nearly all the 80-or-so former residents have now returned.

“The wartime mentality has changed us,” he explained. “We’ve stopped valuing the superficial things in life. We’ve lost everything: our savings, our prospects, our businesses. Some lost their relatives. But we’ve become more pure.” . . .

8. Another story from Consortium News reports on how Russians view the West. Among the interesting points raised by author Natylie Baldwin concerns the sentiment in Crimea for reunification with Russia. Expressed in popular and parliamentary votes in the past, Crimean desire for reunification with Russia had been rebuffed by previous Russian governments.

“How the Russians See the West and Russia” by Natylie Baldwin; Consortium News; 11/19/2015.

The U.S. mainstream media’s recent depictions of Russia amount to little more than crass propaganda, including the inside-out insistence that it is the Russian people who are the ones brainwashed by their government’s propaganda. Author Natylie Baldwin found a different reality in a tour of Russian cities.

By Natylie Baldwin

After a year and a half of conducting research on Russia, the world’s largest country, mostly for a book I co-authored on the history of post-Soviet U.S.-Russia relations and its context for the Ukraine conflict, it was time for me to finally go see this beautiful, fascinating and complex nation in person and to meet its people on their own terms and territory.

On this maiden voyage to Russia, I visited six cities in two weeks:  Moscow, Simferopol, Yalta, Sevastopol, Krasnodar and St. Petersburg. In each city, I talked to a cross-section of people, from cab drivers and bus riders to civil society workers, professionals, and entrepreneurs of small- to medium-sized businesses.

I even had an opportunity to hear what teenagers had to say in two of those cities as my travel mate and I participated in a Q&A session with students of a private high school in St. Petersburg and teens who were part of various youth clubs in Krasnodar. Their questions reflected a thoughtful engagement with the world as they led to discussions on environmental sustainability, socially responsible economics and how to promote initiative, goodwill and peaceful conflict resolution.

Many of the adults were no less thoughtful during the formal interviews and informal conversations I had with them. Admittedly, I wondered how I would be received as an American during one of the most acrimonious periods of U.S.-Russia relations since the end of the Cold War.

It helped that my travel mate has been going in and out of Russia since the 1980s, lives part-time in St. Petersburg, and has developed good relations with many Russians across the country. Once most Russians realized that I came in goodwill and did not approach them or their country with a superiority complex, they usually responded with some combination of curiosity, honesty and hospitality.

Below is a summary of what Russians that I spoke to thought about a range of issues, from their leader to their economy to the Ukraine war, Western media’s portrayal of them and what they wanted to say to Americans.

What Russians Think About Putin 

In every place I visited in Russia, there was a consistent attitude among the people on a number of significant issues. First of all, there was consensus that the Yeltsin era in the 1990s was an unmitigated disaster for Russia, resulting in massive poverty, an explosion in crime, the theft of the Soviet Union’s resources and assets by a small number of well-connected Russians who went on to become the oligarchs, and the worst mortality crisis since World War II.

As Victor Kramarenko, an engineer and foreign trade relations specialist during the Soviet period and, more recently, a years-long executive with a major American corporation in Moscow, explained the Yeltsin era: “The Russian economy was devastated. We went from being an industrial power that defeated the Nazis, showed resilience, rebuilt quickly, and had great achievements in aviation and space to a place where morale collapsed and a lack of trust and a pirate mentality emerged.”

I learned from my interviews that Russians credit Vladimir Putin with taking the helm of a nation that was on the verge of collapse in 2000 and restoring order, increasing living standards five-fold, investing in infrastructure, and taking the first steps toward reigning in the oligarchy. Many stated that they wished Putin would do more to decrease corruption.

A couple of people I spoke to said they believed that Putin would like to do more on this front but has to work within certain limitations at the top. However, according to a recent report by Russian news magazine, Expert, Putin may be initiating a serious anti-corruption drive using a secret Russian police unit that is outsmarting corrupt officials who are used to evading investigation and accountability. Time will tell how successful and far-reaching this turns out to be.

Russians also think Putin has been a good role model in certain respects. As Natasha Ivanova told me over lunch at an Uzbek restaurant in Krasnodar, “He’s fit and doesn’t drink alcohol or smoke. Now you see young people more interested in sports and fitness and not smoking and drinking.”

After the mortality crisis of the 1990s when millions of Russians died premature deaths from heart problems and complications from alcoholism, this development is celebrated. Natasha Ivanova’s friend, Anna, chimed in, “Putin’s also orderly and has common sense.”

Natasha Shidlovskaia, an ethnic Russian who grew up in western Ukraine and now lives in St. Petersburg, admires Putin’s sharp mind: “He’s very smart. His speech is very structured and organized. When a person speaks, you know how he thinks.”

Jacek Popiel, a writer and consultant with first-hand experience in Russia and the former Soviet Union, has commented on the Russian historical experience of constant invasions and periodic famines and how it has shaped their view of government and leadership: “Russians will readily accept an authoritarian government because such is needed when national survival is at stake — which, in Russia’s history, has been a recurring situation.”

But Russian acceptance of powerful central authority also includes a check on it. This is the concept of Pravda. The literal translation of this word is “truth,” but it has a deeper and wider significance — something like “justice” or “the right order of things.” This means that while accepting authority and its demands, Russians nevertheless require that such authority be guided by moral principle. If authority fails to demonstrate this they will, in time, rise against it or remove it.

A group of professionals in Krasnodar echoed this when they insisted during a discussion one evening that a strong leader was needed to get things done, but the leader needed to be responsible to the people and their needs. Most believed that Putin successfully met this criteria as is confirmed by his nearly 90 percent approval rating. Moreover, when the subject of freedom and its definition was raised, one participant asked, “Does freedom presuppose a framework of rules and order? Or does it just mean that everyone does whatever they want?”

One criticism I heard from two women in Krasnodar was disappointment that Putin had divorced, particularly in the same time frame as when he’d declared “The Year of the Family.”

Another four women, who were involved in civil society work, were upset that some authentic Russian non-governmental organizations (or NGO’s) were getting caught in the dragnet of the foreign agents law — legislation they understood was motivated by a desire to crack down on provocateurs associated with the National Endowment for Democracy.

But, due to the effects it was having on genuine NGO’s in the country, they believe the law is ultimately a mistake. Three of the four were prepared to continue their work, including reform of the law’s implementation, while the fourth was considering leaving Russia.

Economic Conditions

Russians acknowledge that they are in a recession and attribute it to a combination of sanctions, low oil prices and lack of economic diversity and access to credit. But they generally do not blame Putin and did not express despair, or resentment that money was being invested in Crimea. Instead, they are putting their heads down, adapting and getting through it.

As the participants at the Krasnodar meeting of professionals explained, Russian entrepreneurs were becoming more creative by forming cooperatives to get new ventures off the ground; for example, finding one person in their network who has access to raw materials and another who has needed skills.

Despite what some commentators in the western corporate media have said, Russians are not going hungry. I saw plenty of food in the markets and some Russians told me that there were pretty much the same everyday products on store shelves as before, they just noticed higher prices due to inflation, which has started to come down. That downward trend is expected to continue into 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund.

We ate out frequently during our stay and most restaurants were doing decent business while some were very busy, including during non-rush hours. I did not notice any significant number of vacant or shuttered buildings, although many were under renovation. Russians in every city I visited were as well dressed as people in American cities and suburbs and looked as healthy (although, I noted fewer overweight people in Russia).

And, alas, the smart phone was nearly as ubiquitous among Russian youth as American.

Ukraine, Crimea and Foreign Policy

Almost everyone I spoke with strongly supported what they view as Putin’s calm but decisive policies of standing up to major provocations from the West, including attempts to exploit historical ethnic and political divisions in Ukraine, resulting in the illegitimate removal of a democratically elected leader.

Kramarenko explained a sentiment I’ve often heard from Russians about the high hopes they had after the end of the Cold War and how Russians have subsequently become disillusioned over the years with the actions of Washington policymakers. It also helps one to understand the more negative attitudes toward the West that the independent polling agency, Levada Center, has reported in recent months:

“’Back to the civilized world.’ That was the motto. Russians were fairly open about wanting to cooperate and integrate [with the West]. But they have gotten three wake-up calls over the years. The first was the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. It was painful and wrong but we figured ‘let bygones be bygones.’ The second wake-up call was the Sochi Olympics. I worked with a sponsor and there was a flood of anti-Russian sentiment, Russia was always in the wrong. Russians asked – why do they characterize us so black when it doesn’t correspond to reality? Ukraine was the third wake-up call. We were under no illusions about Yanukovyich’s corruption, but the turning point came when the [Maidan] protests became violent and the police were attacked. There was a split among Russian intellectuals at that point, but the general people turned against it.”

Volodya Shestakov, a lifelong resident of St. Petersburg, agrees:

“Yanukovich was extremely corrupt and ripe for a revolt. The original Maidan protesters wanted to get rid of oligarchy, but they didn’t get less oligarchy. The Ukrainian economy is in very bad shape. Western corporations like Monsanto planned to go in. There are also shale gas deposits. It will be an environmental nightmare. [Current President Petro] Poroshenko is a puppet of Washington.”

The conclusion that Kiev’s current leadership consists of Washington lackeys came up often in conversations with both continental Russians and Crimeans. Tatyana, a professional tour guide from Yalta, a resort city in Crimea, told me:

“No one asked us if we wanted to go along with Maidan. There are Russians as well as people who are a mix of Russian and Ukrainian here. We are not against Ukraine as many of us have relatives there, but Maidan was not simply a spontaneous protest. We are aware of the phone call with Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt, we saw the photos of her with Yatsenyuk, Tiagnibok [leader of Svoboda, the neo-fascist group that was condemned by the EU in 2012], and Klitschko on television. We saw the images of her handing out cookies to the protesters.”

Crimeans saw the violence that erupted on the Maidan as well as the slogans being chanted by a segment of the protesters [“Ukraine for Ukrainians”] and became very concerned. The citizens of Sevastopol, a port city in Crimea and longtime home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, had meetings on what they should do if events in Kiev spiraled further out of control, possibly creating dangerous consequences for the majority ethnic Russian population there.

They believe that those dangerous consequences were prevented when Putin intervened and agreed to requests from Crimeans to be reunited with Russia. Crimeans and continental Russians believe that this intervention protected Crimea from those extremist elements that had hijacked the Maidan protests and risen to power in Kiev, threatening Crimeans’ safety and interests.

Moreover, Crimeans that I interviewed who participated in or were witness to events that led up to what is variously referred to as the “Crimean Spring” or the “Third Defense of Sevastopol,” did not expect the Russian government to step in and assist them or to accept their requests for reunification. This was due to the numerous times since the 1990s when Crimeans voted, either directly or through their parliament, for reunification, which Russia had always ignored.

According to Anatoliy Anatolievich Mareta, leader (ataman) of the Black Sea Hundred Cossacks, a turning point came after the Feb. 21, 2014 agreement (in which Yanukovych agreed to reduced powers and early elections) was rejected by armed ultra-nationalists on the Maidan and the Europeans subsequently abandoned their role as guarantors:

“A one-day meeting of anti-Maidan supporters was held in Sevastopol. Thirty thousand Crimeans gathered in the center of the port city to resist and declare that they didn’t recognize the coup government in Kiev and would not pay taxes to it. They then decided to defend Sevastopol and the Crimean isthmus with arms. They chose a people’s mayor, Aleksai Chaly, and checkpoints were set up. After extremist Tatars and Ukrainian ultra-nationalists showed up in Simferopol, throwing bottles, teargas, and beating busloads of ethnic Russians with flag poles, our help was requested.”

As the situation deteriorated further, with a standoff between local residents and local police officials who were beholden to and taking orders from Kiev underway, Mareta admitted that the Cossacks realized that theirs was a revolt that amounted to a suicide mission if Kiev gave the order to put it down with full force. “Their hearts were in it, but their minds knew they might lose,” Mareta said.

This was confirmed by Savitskiy Viktor Vasilievich, a retired Russian naval officer and resident of Crimea who served as an election monitor during the Crimean referendum in Sevastopol.  “The Russian military was very cautious and waited for the order to intervene,” he said. “It was an unexpected gift.”

From Feb. 28-29, 2014, Cossacks from parts of continental Russia, including Kuban and Don, began to arrive to reinforce the isthmus after Ukrainian planes were blocked from landing at the local airport as Russian soldiers, stationed legally in Crimea under contract, manned the gates.

Crimeans told me that it was understood at the time that the “little green men” who appeared on the streets in the coming days were Russian soldiers under lease at the naval base who had donned unmarked green uniforms. The people viewed them as protectors who allowed them to peacefully conduct their referendum without interference from Kiev, not invaders.

The population expressed gratitude to the Russian president for protecting them. I saw billboards throughout Crimea with Putin’s image on them, which read: “Crimea. Russia. Forever.” I asked several residents if this represented the general sentiment among the population. They confirmed enthusiastically that it did.

While in country, I attempted to get an interview with a representative of the Crimean Tatars, an ethnic minority population in which there is reportedly division in terms of support for the reunification with Russia, but was unsuccessful.

But the overall support for reunification with Russia should not come as a surprise to those familiar with Crimea’s history. The Russian naval fleet has been based at Sevastopol since Catherine the Great’s reign in the Eighteen Century. During the Soviet era, Premier Nikita Khrushchev — who was Ukrainian — decided to move Crimea from Russian administration and give it as a gift to Ukraine.

Since both Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union at the time, the possible future consequences of such a decision were not considered. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Crimea remained in Ukraine as an autonomous region while Russia kept its naval base there as part of a legal agreement (lease) with the Ukrainian government.

Not only is Sevastopol Russia’s only warm water port, it is the place where the Soviet army blocked the Nazi advance for eight months during World War II. By the time, the siege was over, around 90 percent of the city had been devastated.

Kramarenko summed up continental Russians’ view of the reunification: “Most people, both Crimean and Russian, think Crimea is Russian. The referendum, along with the lack of violence, gives it legitimacy.”

Surveys of Crimean and Russian opinion by Pew, Gallup and GfK within a year of the referendum show consistent support for Crimea’s reunification with Russia and the legitimacy of the referendum itself. See herehere and here.

Western Media

When I asked Russians if they had access to Western media, they all said they did, through both satellite and the Internet. But they did not find the Western media to be accurate or thorough in their coverage of Russia in general and the Ukraine crisis in particular.

Volodya Shestakov told me, “The Western media narrative of Russia is distorted. The corporate media distorts news in its own interests … and to suit politics. Americans are the first target of corporate propaganda.”

Nikolay Viknyanschuk, originally from eastern Ukraine and also a resident of St. Petersburg explained further: “There are certain patterns used [within the Western media] and they prefer to stay within those patterns. What they cannot explain, they cut off or ignore. If Russia is an aggressor, why didn’t it take Kiev?”

He also lamented Western media’s over-reliance on a short news cycle, sound bites and talking heads who lead the audience in what to think, “Commentators and so-called journalists’ interpretations are relied upon instead of presenting primary source material.”

Lack of context was another complaint about the Western media’s presentation of the Ukraine issue. I can personally attest to this as the conversations I had with educated Americans about the Ukraine crisis reflected little to no historical understanding of the country as having been under the control of different political and cultural entities, creating divisions that, combined with poverty and deep corruption, made it vulnerable to instability.

As Shestakov explained: “Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia [Belarus] are ethnically and culturally the same. There are only mild differences. Russia started in Kiev [Kiev Rus] but expanded and the capital moved to Moscow. When Ukraine got independence in 1991, a fictitious narrative was pushed in school textbooks of an independent people who were repressed by Russia. The Ukrainians have been manipulated. Russians don’t hate Ukrainians. There is no hostility on our part. We regret what has happened.”

Vasilievich reiterated these historical points: “There was resentment that Ukraine was always viewed as the ‘little brother’ in the relationship after Russia united to become its own independent nation. Parts of Ukraine were always under the rule of Russia [in the east], Poland or the Austro-Hungarians [in the west]. Ukraine is a vast area with rural villages and there is an ideology of small rural areas with Polish influence in the western most regions. The Americans knew what divisions they were manipulating.”

According to the extensive research of Walter Uhler, president of the Russian-American International Studies Association, there was no historical reference to even a clearly defined, much less independent, territory called Ukraine until the Sixteenth Century when the term was used by Polish sources, but “with the demise of Polish rule, the name Ukraine fell into disuse as a term for a specific territory, and was not revived until the early Nineteenth Century.”

Tatyana confirmed that Western media is freely available online in Crimea as well for those who understand English, but it is often seen as distorted.

Additionally, most Russians find the demonization of their president by Western media and politicians to be childish and a reflection of the observation that Washington policymakers seem to have assigned Russia the role of enemy long ago for their own reasons, regardless of what Russia actually is or does in reality.

As Valery Ivanov, a 25-year old college graduate who earns a living as an emcee and a translator in Krasnodar, said, “The Western media and government portrays Russia as an aggressor because Russia is a strong country and a potential competitor.”

What to Say to Americans

One thing that stood out in my discussions with Russians was how they almost always made a point of differentiating between the American people and the government in Washington. They like and admire the American people for their openness and achievements, but they find Washington policymakers’  penchant for interfering in other parts of the world in which they don’t understand the consequences of their actions to be profoundly misguided and dangerous.

At the end of my interview with each person, I asked them if there was one thing they could say to the American people, what would it be. It was interesting how, even though they all worded it differently, the essence of their answers was identical: we are all the same; we may have minor differences in language, culture and geography that influence us but we all want the same things — peace and a stable, prosperous future for our children and grandchildren.

Several Russians underscored the point that if Russians and Americans got together and related to each other as regular people, there would be no real conflict. Valery Ivanov said, “If we were to meet in a bar for a drink, over American whiskey or Russian vodka, we would become good friends.”

Nikolay Viknyanschuk added, “Let’s be friends on a personal and family level. We should strengthen friendship between San Francisco and St. Petersburg. You are people and we are people. We all have five fingers on each hand.”

Volodya Shestakov offered this insight about his own transformation in how he saw Americans during the Cold War versus how he saw them afterward, when he was able to travel and to meet them: “When I looked at U.S. people, I saw them as alien, like from another planet. When I met American people, I no longer saw them that way. The liquid in our bodies is all from the same ocean.”

They also would like more Americans to come visit Russia and open themselves up to what Russia has to offer. Marina and Irina, two of the civil society activists in Krasnodar emphasized, “Let’s cooperate. Let’s share experience and meet each other. We have a rich history and culture to share and we want to invite Americans to come and meet us.”

 

 

 


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