Like many Russians, I don’t watch Russian TV. When I catch something from Russian news it is typically through Russian acquaintances on Facebook or the Russian social network VK. Needless to say, I see American news even more rarely. Today I caught a clip of CNN and suddenly realized that yes, journalism can sink lower.
Obviously this isn’t going to be the best sourced article I’ve written since I’m talking about something I saw on TV in a waiting room. The super-diligent reader will surely know how to track down roughly the same story on one of CNN’s other venues, perhaps on its website. Basically the story was about how there are claims that Russian special forces are involved with the insurgents in cities like Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine. The proof? Well the Ukrainian government in Kyiv furnished some photographs and a couple Russian passports, which CNN displayed during the story. Okay, couple points here:
-The long-time reader of this blog should be aware that I loathe the Kyiv government. That being said, I don’t think anything produced by the Kyiv government or the Russian government should be dismissed offhand for that reason. Now having said that, CNN admitted these photographs were provided by the Kyiv government and made no attempt to challenge the rather ridiculous claims which came with them. CNN apparently goes along with the US position that one side is automatically legitimate and has credibility.
-The photograph set consisted of what appeared to be a man with an unusually long reddish beard, supposedly taken during the Georgian War of 2008. The man’s interesting fashion choice suggests he might have been on of the Caucasian troops fighting on the Russian side. I’m not sure where the Chechen troops of Ramzan Kadyrov fit into the Russian order of battle, but Chechens were involved in that war of August 2008. The Kyiv government claims they have a photograph showing the same man in Donetsk recently. However I could see nobody in the photograph who resembled the man in question. It’s also been nearly six years since that war. Yes, a guy in the Russian spetsnaz is likely to be a career man, but I’m still calling bullshit on this one. Basically this government claim resembles something off of one of those conspiracy theory sites, e.g. This is the so-called Bin Laden in his jihad video. But here’s Bin Laden in a Pakistani uniform talking to an American CIA agent! See the beard?
-After CNN waded into Alex Jones territory, they quoted a NATO official who claimed the way the insurgents handle their weapons suggest professional military training. Hmmm…Could that have anything at all to do with the fact that Ukraine had conscription until 2013? Ukraine’s armed forces supposedly consisted of 40% conscripts and 60% contract soldiers. Given Ukraine’s living standards it’s not hard to imagine why many men joined the army willingly. It also seems to be a fact that in Russia at least, veterans often get involved in political organizations. It’s also possible that there are some Russian nationals there who happen to be veterans. That’s a far cry from Russian special forces orchestrating everything.
-Barring the fact that many of these insurgents could have had military training, since the people most likely to want to engage in armed insurgency would naturally be those who already had military training, I’m forced to ask as to how these outside observers knew that these men were handling their weapons in a professional manner? For one thing, it’s not rocket science. The US Army trains recruits to handle an qualify with their weapon during one three-week phase of basic training. Moreover, airsoft is a very popular, serious sport in both Russia and Ukraine. I’ve done airsoft training with individuals who were formerly involved in the police and military. It doesn’t take a lot to handle weapons in a competent manner, though a civilian is unlikely to know either way. Honestly what do they expect non-Russian spetsnaz citizens to do? Hold their Kalashnikovs backwards or upside-down?
I know at this point I might sound a little RTish, but these are all legitimate responses to this ridiculous form of “journalism.” If Russian journalists invited their counterparts in the West to air their videos “proving” the presence of “Blackwater” contractors in Ukraine, they’d be laughed at by CNN. Indeed they should be. But these idiotic claims coming from the Kyiv government, with evidence just as flimsy, were reported with almost total deference and not a hint of skepticism.