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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