Here’s a riddle for you. What’s worse than RT giving expert credentials to someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about? The answer, RT giving expert credentials to someone who not only doesn’t know what they’re talking about, but who tries to cover for this by claiming other journalists don’t know what they’re talking about. And wouldn’t you know it, RT served us up exactly that.
In case you haven’t heard, Putin recently made a tacit admission of Russian military involvement in Ukraine at his annual press conference last Thursday. Almost immediately, Putin’s press secretary tried to walk back Putin’s words, claiming that he was referring only to Russian “volunteers” and not serving military personnel. Of course in 2014 Putin also tacitly admitted to the presence of Russian volunteers, yet he hilariously claimed they weren’t receiving any material compensation and he was suspiciously unconcerned about his citizens crossing a border illegally to fight in an armed conflict for states not recognized by his government. You’d think that with the West constantly accusing Russia of orchestrating and supporting the rebellion in the Donbas, indeed using it as the basis of their sanctions, Putin would have been cracking down on any attempt by Russian citizens to engage in that conflict and thus provide fodder to the West.
Before we get into RT’s hilarious attempt to spin the words of a president who is increasingly detached from material reality, let’s be clear- there would be no war in the Donbas were it not orchestrated by Moscow. A basic understanding of very recent Ukrainian history and talking to anyone from the region, plus basic common sense regarding insurgencies and military science is more than sufficient to support this conclusion. This is then backed by tons of evidence in a variety of forms, including admissions from some of the rebellion’s leaders themselves, many of whom are Russian citizens who have returned to Russia without facing any legal consequences of their actions, in spite of the fact that said actions were embarrassing for Russia and directly related to the West’s sanctions. There is no need to rely on grainy satellite photos that supposedly show Russian vehicles crossing the border or artillery firing into Ukraine from Russian territory. Here are just a couple examples:
Reports coming from inside of Russia speak of serving military personnel being asked to sign contracts if they are conscripts (as only contract soldiers can be sent abroad under Russian law), while captured Russian personnel are said to have resigned from the Russian armed forces prior to the time of their capture, implicitly prior to their arrival in Ukraine. It is important to note here that the actual status of the military personnel is irrelevant. The Russian government has steadily denied all involvement in the conflict that they claim is a “civil war,” including providing arms and financing for the “rebels.” A Russian soldier fighting in the Donbas is a Russian soldier regardless of whether or not he signs a meaningless document claiming that he “resigned.”
It’s also worth noting that this tactic of creating pseudo-states and denying involvement in supporting them militarily is by no means new, nor is it exclusive to Russia. In the beginning of this video, we see the late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic publicly denying that the Belgrade-controlled Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was supporting the Serbian Republic forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina:
Russia did essentially the same thing in the run-up to what would become the first Chechen War.
There are debates as to what percentage of the “rebels” are actually Russian military personnel and what their official status is within the Russian armed forces, but there can be no debate about Russia’s involvement in this conflict. War is extremely expensive and complex. Insurgencies so well armed and trained do not simply pop up within a matter of a few months as they did in Ukraine. The “rebels” simply have too many shells, too much heavy artillery, too many tanks, too many personnel capable of using such modern weaponry effectively, and engage in tactics far too conventional to be local insurgents. Anyone still insisting otherwise is either deliberately lying, like Putin and other Russian officials, or simply doesn’t know what they are talking about, like these “experts” on RT.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about those two “experts,” shall we? The first is from Neil Clark, a journalist from the UK. He is quoted in the Op-Edge as saying:
“It’s misreporting again in much of the Western media. [Some time ago] the claims were of “Russian invasion of Ukraine” and, of course, soldiers were mentioned. And Putin isn’t saying this. What he is saying is that military advisors are, or were in Ukraine, the same way US military advisors were in Ukraine, too. So, I think it is a bit of a non-story, really. He is not saying that there were Russian soldiers coming in; that was the claim. And now his words are twisted again …”
Apparently Clark hasn’t been following the story closely, because first and foremost, Putin specifically denied the existence of Russian instructors or advisers in Ukraine. You can see him say exactly that in this video:
So no, Neil, Putin wasn’t admitting to instructors or advisers on par with those from the US. If he were talking about military advisers, which he had denied in the past, he could have just said they had advisers or instructors instead of talking about people handling “questions in the military sphere.” It’s clear from their other attempts to spin this that we’re talking about people who were actually fighting in Ukraine. That’s why the comparison with the US and Western advisers is inaccurate, particularly in light of the fact that the US and NATO were totally open about the instructors and training missions that were carried out in Ukraine from the beginning. In fact, they made a pretty big deal of it.
So nice try, Neil, but you lose this round. Next time figure out what your masters have been claiming before you try to cover for them. Also maybe this little item can be of use:
Next at bat is Marcus Papadopolous of Politics First, a UK publication which I’m told typically deals in domestic politics. Papadopolous tries a different tack, accusing unnamed journalists of not knowing anything about Ukraine.
“Western journalists remain very ignorant of Ukraine. Prior to the crisis in Ukraine, many of them wouldn’t have been able to find Ukraine on a map. And if you said to them Kiev, they wouldn’t have thought of the capital of Ukraine, they probably would have thought of a certain dish that you can find in Russian and Ukrainian restaurants.”
Strong words there. Before I go on, I just want to point out that on a certain level he is right; Western journalists often didn’t know much about Ukraine until 2014, as many of them didn’t know much about Russia either. This fact makes many Western journalists prime targets for bullshit coming from both sides. Of course this is somewhat irrelevant to the issue here, because one doesn’t have to be an expert in Ukrainian history to discover evidence of Russian military involvement in Ukraine.
Getting back to Marcus’ statement, I think that it’s at least reasonable to infer that if he’s attacking unnamed Western journalists as having utterly no knowledge of Ukraine, including its basic geographical location, he must possess some solid background knowledge of Ukraine that they just don’t have. So let’s see what insight Marcus can give us based on his vast knowledge of Ukraine.
“The reality is this that Ukraine is a very important part of the Russian people’s identity, their cultural identity, their linguistic identity. And, of course, Kiev is the mother of all Russian cities; it is the birth place of the Russian state. And it is only natural that the Russian government will have an interest in eastern Ukraine where millions and millions of Russian speaking people reside rather than ethic Russians or Ukrainians who consider the Russian language to be their mother tongue.”
There’s plenty to pick apart in this statement, but I think it is unnecessary because this does nothing to demonstrate any real insight or background knowledge of Ukraine. This is basically cobbled together from information which could be gleaned from Wikipedia, plus the regurgitation of a Russian-government narrative. Anyone with real knowledge of Ukraine and Russia would be able to see the flaws in this non-argument. For one example, look how he speaks of their “linguistic identity” in spite of the fact that most Russians are unable to understand even basic Ukrainian (whereas the opposite is not true), and they often express undue hatred and hostility to that language.
The real fun starts when Marcus uses his vast background knowledge in Ukrainian history to creatively interpret Putin’s statement.
“So, President Putin did not say there are Russian regular forces in eastern Ukraine. What he said is that: “Yes, there are Russian personnel, Russian officials acting there in the interest of the local population of Donetsk and Lugansk,” because these people have been suffering tremendously because of the Ukrainian government’s dreadful murderous policy towards them in terms of cutting electricity, cutting gas, shelling them, bombing them either with artillery or aircraft. So, it is only natural that Russia would not stand by idly and would do something in eastern Ukraine and quite rightly, so,” he said.”
No, Marcus, Putin wasn’t saying that. Oh sure, he accused the Ukrainian forces of all manner of atrocities in their “punitive operation,” but he also insisted from the beginning that he was doing absolutely nothing about it. Marcus is just being creative.
Still, I was concerned about Mr. Papadopolous’ credentials to speak on Ukraine, as he is obviously more qualified than all those unnamed journalists who didn’t know that Kyiv is not a chicken dish. I wrote him an email asking him to detail his experience in Ukraine and Russia prior to 2014. It was sent on the 19th and I’ve yet to receive an answer.
The Noodleremover did a little digging and found that Mr. Papdopolous has a soft spot in his heart for Cyprus, and is quite logically opposed to the Turkish occupation in the form of the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. I was in Cyprus last month and I too find the division of that island to be a crime. But wait a second! I’m just getting one point of view here! I need to question more! After all, if you know anything about the history of Cyprus, we all know that the Turkish invasion was in response to a coup in Greece that installed a right-wing junta, which in turn overthrew the democratically-elected government of Cyprus in an attempt to unite the island with Greece. In the fighting that ensued, the Greek Cypriot fighting organization EOKA-B engaged in a murderous policy of their own. So how about it, Mr. Papadopolous? Is it good for Ukraine but not good for Greece? At least in the latter case, the coup and the right-wing junta were real.
This tactic is getting to be commonplace with RT and their fellow travelers. Talk about unnamed “Western journalists” who supposedly know nothing about Ukraine or Russia, and the audience will assume that the person speaking on a Russian network must actually know something. Perhaps these talking heads are aware that readers often don’t know much about the journalists in the bylines, that is to say they often have no idea whether they are reading the work of a seasoned Russia correspondent who is fluent in Russian and who spent years in that country.
Another irony of this tactic is that oftentimes the people making these accusations are, like the two featured here, Western journalists with little to no background knowledge of Russia. Hence they are as wide open to Russian propaganda narratives as idealistic, newcomer journalists could be toward Ukraine and Maidan. In both cases, they are vulnerable to propaganda narratives simply because they have no frame of reference. It’s as true of pro-Kremlin journalists who showed up in Russia in the last couple years as it is of pro-Ukrainian folks who never heard of Stepan Bandera until 2013-2014.
In any case, the tactic is extremely dishonest, and it’s rich when people appear on RT and accuse others of not having proper background knowledge in the subject. We’re talking about a network that showers guests with titles like “political analyst” all the time, and a media machine that is happy to label a guy with a website as a “Western political scientist.” Furthermore, there is little trivia knowledge of Ukraine or Ukrainian history that can somehow make Putin’s words mean something completely different. Even his “admission” contained a lie, as he specifically denied the presence of Russian instructors and advisers in addition to all other Russian involvement save for “humanitarian aid” convoys.
I’m willing to make one concession, however. This is by no mean the worst example of using this tactic. If you’re up for it, get ready to cringe:
Yeah, Steve, “do your homework” by going to Russia and regurgitating whatever their state media has to say. Now there’s a real journalist. I bet he’s got shit tons of glitter gel pens, confetti flowers, gemstones, and sequins.