In Time of Sharp Tensions, Islamist Extremism Continues to Unite Russia and the United States

Alexei Arbatov
Eurasia Outlook | July 15, 2014

The events in Ukraine and around it quite understandably attract everyone’s attention. It is the most serious crisis of our times, whose outcome will shape the future of European and global security and may allow for the relice of the Cold War to be buried once and for all.

The crisis dwarfed the problems of Afghanistan and the entire Southeast Asian region in the aftermath of the U.S.-led International Coalition troop withdrawal. The Islamist offensive in Iraq, which was liberated and democratized by the American Coalition of the Willing, also gets scant public recognition. Meanwhile, these problems call for serious reflection and cannot be dealt with at a later date—after the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis.

These issues vividly demonstrate that Russia and the West share vital mutual interests, since they share a common enemy—militant radical Islam. It is bent on destroying the 21st century European civilization, which Russia, all caveats notwithstanding, is undeniably part of, despite all the criticism from abroad and metaphysical babble about its “special path” and “unique spiritual values” from inside the country.

The Iraqi events foreshadow what may be in store for Afghanistan; they threaten to transform a huge swath of land from the Maghreb to Hindu Kush into a cesspool of violence, endless political turmoil, terrorism, national and religious extremism, as well as drugs, arms and illegal migrants.

While I do not claim the mantle of an expert on this issue, I would venture to say that many specialists that are presently discussing every little aspect fail to see the forest through the trees.

First of all, they underestimate the moral and political consequences of Afghan Islamists’ effective victory and future revanche. Their triumph will bring about an unprecedented rise of political Islam around the world: after its victory over the Soviet nuclear superpower in 1989, radical Islam scored another victory—this time over NATO, the most powerful military and political alliance in history and even over the UN, which sanctioned the counterterrorist operation in 2001.

Besides, all the major political differences between Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s military campaigns aside, these two wars and occupation regimes have demonstrated how strong and dangerous of an adversary militant Islamism is. It should not be underestimated. Paradoxically, this adversary has a number of advantages over the strongest armies of the most advanced modern powers. It is not accidental that these powers—USSR, Russia, Israel, the United States, and NATO—have lost such wars or, at least, failed to secure a decisive and ultimate victory.

First of all, most Islamists are fanatical; they are not afraid of death, while regular troops do not at all wish to die while carrying out their military or peace-keeping missions far away from home. Second, mujahidin have accumulated an enormous experience of combat operations; in Afghanistan, in particular, people have been living in a state of permanent war for a few generations now. Regular troops do not have as much combat experience, to say nothing of the army conscripts. Even the career soldiers have more limited experience.

Third, Islamists have access to a virtually infinite well of manpower. Their numbers are constrained only by logistical considerations. A regular army clearly does not have an unlimited number of troops at its disposal. Fourth, the extremists are not concerned about their own or civilian casualties. Moreover, it is often their tactic to inflict the maximum damage and civilian casualties. A regular army, on the other hand, cannot afford to ignore its losses. Besides, the collateral damage that comes with civilian casualties appearing live on TV screens is a serious moral and political issue which undermines support for such operations.

Fifth, militants can engage in endless fighting, but a regular army cannot do that, as the current Afghan experience bears out. The cases of Iraq and Afghanistan in the 1980’s testify to the same effect. Sixth, Islamists rely on an unending stream of financial support, while a regular army does not have this luxury—the governments that sponsor it have other obligations, making supporting an overseas contingent a heated political issue.

Seventh, the extremists are perfectly equipped for the combat operations that they engage in. They have an opportunity to choose the time and place of engagement. In contrast, a regular army is generally burdened by an enormous amount of standard weapons and equipment, as well as complex logistic support structures that are not used in the counterterrorist operations. Eighth, unlike regular foreign troops, guerrilla fighters, as a rule, know the local terrain better and are able to seek refuge with the locals (who know that the foreign troops will leave and the mujahedin are there to stay); besides, their movement is unconstrained by states’ borders.

The list can be continued, but it is abundantly clear that the Coalition troop withdrawal will become a turning point in global history and politics, which is not sufficiently appreciated in Washington, Brussels, Beijing, New York, Geneva, and other influential world capitals. However serious the current disputes on the issue of Ukraine may be, the great powers, their alliances and international organizations should start preparing for the problems that lie ahead in other parts of the world and cooperate in solving them.

Finally, some in Russia believe that the Taliban’s revanche will not affect our country. They think that we can reach an understanding with the “moderate” factions of the Taliban, ensuring that their leaders focus on Afghanistan’s internal problems without sticking their nose in the Central Asian region to their north. I am certain that this is just an act of self-delusion. Whatever the Taliban promises now in order to hasten the Coalition troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and split the great powers, it is not going to stop at its revanche. After all, it has no vision for the country’s peaceful existence, nor any practical skills in organizing people’s daily lives. It can hold on to power only by way of expanding its ideology. This can be accomplished through the Taliban fighters’ incursions to the north and south of the Afghan borders or their support of their brothers in arms in the neighboring countries and the terrorist cells across the globe. Riding the victory tide, they will exact revenge on everyone who contributed to their 2001 defeat.

The Taliban will remember Russia’s vote in favor of the UN resolution on the use of force in Afghanistan. Subsequently, Russia has played an enormous role in facilitating the military phase of this operation, as well as in organizing and supplying weapons to the Tajik and Uzbek-run Northern Alliance. In addition, Russia was involved in organizing the Afghan transit, which was indispensable to conducting this operation. On can safely say Russia, which did not commit its troops to the operation, played a greater role in it than any other allies whose troops were deployed on the ground.

Given the extent of this involvement, Russia should take initiative in working on political, military, and economic plans in a variety of international formats in order to ensure that the consequences of the Coalition troop withdrawal from Afghanistan do not catch the international community by surprise, as has often been the case.


Russia accuses US of ‘geopolitical frenzy’ over Malaysia Airlines plane crash

Moscow says Washington is jumping to conclusions over Flight MH17 as it announces retaliatory sanctions
Tom Parfitt, Moscow correspondent
Telegraph | 19 Jul 2014

Russia has accused the United States of acting “like a bad surgeon who cuts deeper, and then sews things up sloppily so that it hurts for longer” over the Malaysia Airlines plane crash.

Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said Washington had got caught up in a “geopolitical frenzy” and was deeply misguided in its perception of events in Ukraine.

The comments came as Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, urged Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, in a phone call to use his influence on pro-Russian separatists to reach a ceasefire with Ukrainian forces.

Also on Saturday, Moscow announced it was adding 12 Americans to its visa stop-list in retaliation at US sanctions imposed on Russia last week over the Ukraine crisis.

Barack Obama, the US president, said on Friday that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a surface-to-air missile operated from “a separatist location in Eastern Ukraine”. The US says “technical assistance” from Russia could not be ruled out.

But Mr Ryabkov said Moscow was not involved in any way in the missile strike.

“Without waiting to establish the facts of the matter or for at least initial agreements about an investigation, which we have spoken in favour of, the US administration is de facto trying to place all blame for what happened on the irregulars and the Russian side,” he said.

Dmitry Rogozin, a Russian deputy prime minister, echoed the criticism, saying: “The White House even before the investigation of the Boeing catastrophe clearly established who’s guilty. Earlier on the White House established the same way that Saddam had WMD [weapons of mass destruction].”

Mr Ryabkov said Washington’s position was no surprise because it had already “stirred up internal political tension in Ukraine, provoking an anti-constitutional seizure of power, and supported anti-Russian politicians”.

He added: “In its geopolitical frenzy and its attempt to use methods of socio-political engineering everywhere, the United States is acting like a bad surgeon: cut deeper at first, and then stitch up sloppily so that it will hurt for a long time.”

The Russian foreign ministry said it had added 12 Americans linked to the Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib scandals to its visa stop-list, including Rear Admiral Richard Butler and Gladys Kessler, a judge. Any new US sanctions would be matched by Russian restrictions, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s deputy defence minister, said Kiev needed to answer why it had not completely closed its airspace over the conflict zone.

Fighting between Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian rebels continued in eastern Ukraine on Saturday. Separatist authorities in Luhansk said 16 civilians had died in shelling in the last 24 hours.



Malaysia and Ukraine
Dmitri Trenin
Eurasia Outlook | July 18, 2014

The downing of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 plane on Thursday over Eastern Ukraine catapults the crisis there onto the global plane. Nationals of several countries, more than half of them Dutch, are among the victims. The UN Security Council will meet in New York. An international investigation has been called for. The story dominates television news all over the world.

Given the realities of continued fighting on the ground, and the very high political stakes involved, the investigation will not prove easy. Yet, even before it has started in earnest, accusations have been made. The most widely discussed scenario in the global media is the downing of the plane by the Donetsk insurgents.

The story gaining the most traction boils down to this: after the Kiev government had moved massively against the separatists, and drove them out of their stronghold in Slavyansk, Russia stepped up cross-border supplies of heavy armaments to the insurgents, in an effort to restore the balance. This has since resulted in the downing of several Ukrainian military aircraft. The Malaysian Boeing, the conclusion is, was shot by the rebels, and by mistake.

Publicly, President Poroshenko has already blamed the Russia-supported separatists, and President Putin has put the blame on the Ukrainian government’s resumption of the military operation in the east of the country. Actually, these statements may be less contradictory than they appear, but this is small comfort. Whatever the final result of the investigation, Russia is likely to face a major political and media campaign reminiscent of the 1983 shooting of the Korean Air Lines off Sakhalin island, which ushered in the most dangerous period of the Cold War after the Cuban missile crisis.

The coming UNSC debate is likely to be emotional, and acrimonious. The US Congress may press President Obama to ramp up the sanctions which he had only announced less than 24 hours before the MH17 tragedy. The daylight between the United States and the EU approaches to anti-Russian sanctions may narrow. Russia’s outreach to Asia beyond China may be compromised. This will put Moscow in a difficult spot, and prompt a reaction on its part.

The only sensible step now would be to stop the fighting in Ukraine immediately and begin a political process, under the OSCE auspices and led by the Contact Group. The tragic and sudden loss of so many innocent lives should put a final point to the armed conflict. Or it may put the international conflict over Ukraine on a much higher and more dangerous level. The choice is still to be made, but the time is running out fast.



‘Putin is a pariah – he must now be treated as such’
After the terrible loss of MH17, Europe must now stand firm against Putin
John Kampfner
Telegraph | 19 Jul 2014

For the past two decades, many around the world have been in denial. Russia was changing, they insisted. And so it has. It has embraced money, private jets and super yachts. For a fleeting few years in the early 1990s it toyed with democracy, only to conclude that this course was synonymous with chaos. Out of this new experiment of bling with brutishness came Vladimir Putin.

Six months into the crisis in Ukraine, the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner marks a defining moment in the West’s approach to Russia. Or at least it should.

Putin is a pariah. He must now be treated as such.

The terrible loss of MH17, with passengers from a dozen nations on board, was tragedy enough. The stories of Dutch families obliterated, scientific experts on their way to a conference in Australia, and Newcastle football fans making the extraordinary journey to New Zealand were heart-rending. Initially, as the facts remained a little unclear, the Russian President could, just could, have salvaged what remained of his international credibility in his response to the crash. He could have expressed his horror at the military escalation in eastern Ukraine, vowing that the perpetrators of the crime would be brought to justice. Then, in time, he might have called for a conference on the future of Russians in Ukraine and ensured that they secured greater autonomy. He would have been able to trade on some goodwill, alongside the power that comes with Russia’s dominance of energy supplies to Europe. Machiavelli would have approved.

Instead he reverted to thuggish type. As state television produced its now familiar diet of propaganda, the president insisted that the Ukrainians only had themselves to blame. Meanwhile, rebel leaders in the crash site area threatened journalists and investigators who tried to piece together the facts. The idea, from the very start of the Ukrainian insurgency, that the balaclava-clad forces in Crimea and the east of the country were a spontaneous reflection of local sentiment was laughable. They have been armed and coordinated from on high, from the Kremlin. Now the order has gone out to eliminate the incriminating evidence. This will be difficult, but Putin’s hope is to muddy the trail just enough that it will allow some European politicians to argue that further sanctions and other repercussions be toned down.

For sure, Putin did not want developments to unfold in the way they have done. The rebels had, shortly before the Malaysian airliner was downed, just boasted about their prowess in picking Ukrainian military planes from the sky. They ended up picking the wrong target. Their minders in Moscow will be furious with them, knowing that the events of the past 48 hours will set back the rebels’ cause.

In recent weeks, as the Ukrainian authorities had regained a few footholds in the East, the attention of the international media had moved elsewhere. Now it has refocused on the region. Movements of Russian military kit will be more closely monitored. Putin cannot afford another mistake. In the short-term at least, the rebels and their masters will have to watch their step.

Putin has no end game in Ukraine. He knows what he doesn’t want – a functioning, Western leaning, democratic state. He hated the idea that in May Ukraine conducted presidential elections, which contained clear choices and produced an undisputed outcome – at least in areas he couldn’t reach. His only purpose is to destabilise, as he has done in other former republics of the Soviet Union, whose demise he has publicly lamented. Nor does he have a grand plan for Russia, apart from restoring its “dignity”, after the “humiliations” of the 1990s.

Some of his resentments are justified. Russia was taken for granted in the early 2000s. The post-9/11 logistical support it provided for America’s war in Afghanistan, and its agreement not to hinder the war in Iraq were banked, with nothing given back in return. Putin could be forgiven for becoming wary of the West. Indeed, with power shifting to Asia and with emerging countries looking for points of reference beyond the United States, he could have developed a more subtle foreign policy that might have posed an interesting challenge. Instead he fell into a mind-set that was part Soviet era and part Latin American dictator of the 1970s.

His land grab in Crimea was hugely popular back home; his poll ratings reached an all-time high. Although it squealed, the West did not particularly object to the snatching back of a peninsula that had traditionally belonged to Russia and was ostentatiously handed over to Ukraine by a drunken Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 – at a time when demarcations between Soviet states were largely irrelevant anyway.

The crisis in eastern Ukraine is different. It will further damage Russia’s flat-lining economy and is costing lives. Families in the region are being torn asunder as they are forced to make choices about allegiances. Yet, miserabilist that he is, Putin will not call off the dogs of war, because that will look weak.

Back in Moscow, in the sushi bars and the five-star hotels, business goes on as usual. Russia has the veneer of a modern state. The wealthy are driven from plush office to suburban dacha in their tinted-windowed Mercedes, not quite impervious to events in Ukraine, but confident that it won’t affect them.

With each month, the United States has shown greater determination. Europe is divided. Some leaders want tougher action; others, mindful of their dependency on Russian gas, continue to hold back. President Obama is contemplating a further set of sanctions against named individuals and companies deemed to be close to Putin. For all the denials, the earlier rounds have hurt – a little.

The British government’s denunciation of Russian foreign policy and supine embrace of its money is hypocritical and self-defeating. Apart from one or two individuals who have stood up to the Kremlin – and usually ended up in jail – Russia’s billionaires have been his de facto ambassadors, providing glamour to Russia’s international image. They know which side of the fence they are on.

In September 1983 when the Soviets shot down a Korean passenger jet that had strayed into their air space, the Cold War was at its height and Russia was a closed country. Politically and militarily, the Kremlin may not have moved on, but economically the world is very different. Russia’s wealth is tied up in Western banks. Its companies are listed on global stock exchanges. Its oligarchs own prestigious properties in London, Courchevel and the Cote d’Azur. The country that helped them become rich is led by one of the most sinister politicians of the modern age.

This is both Putin’s strength and his weak spot. And this is where the West needs to act.

John Kampfner was the Telegraph’s Moscow bureau chief 1991-94. His latest book, The Rich, is published in October

Russia supplied missile launchers to separatists, U.S. official says

Michael Birnbaum and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post | July 19, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine — The United States has confirmed that Russia supplied sophisticated missile launchers to separatists in eastern Ukraine and that attempts were made to move them back across the Russian border after the Thursday shoot-down of a Malaysian jet liner, a U.S. official said Saturday.

“We do believe they were trying to move back into Russia at least three Buk [missile launch] systems,” the official said. U.S. intelligence was “starting to get indications . . . a little more than a week ago” that the Russian launchers had been moved into Ukraine, said the official.

The official’s comments, made on condition of anonymity to speak about intelligence matters, came as a top Ukrainian counterintelligence official said his service has conclusive proof that Russia supplied the missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over territory controlled by the separatists.

Aviation investigators from around the world were converging on Kiev on Saturday hoping to begin their work, but it remained unclear when they would gain full access to a mammoth site deep in rebel-held territory in the eastern part of the country. Ukrainian officials warned that the chance for an impartial inquiry was quickly slipping away as bodies were moved and at least some plane remnants were loaded onto trucks.

International observers were allowed only brief access to the site on Saturday and were restricted in their movements by the heavily armed rebels, some of whom appeared drunk, witnesses said.

“Their key task is to destroy possible evidence,” said Andriy Parubiy, head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council. “It will be hard to conduct a full investigation with some of the objects being taken away, but we will do our best.”

Ukraine and Western officials have said that Russia is providing support and equipment to the rebels.

The Kremlin has denied that it has sent weapons to the rebels, and it has continued to take a strong line against the West even after the plane crash, issuing sanctions Saturday against 13 Americans in retaliation for U.S. sanctions that were announced the day before Thursday’s attack on the plane.

Ukrainian officials said that at least 38 of the 192 bodies that have been discovered had been removed from the scene and taken to the nearby rebel-held city of Donetsk.

Temperatures have been in the 80s and the bodies have been rapidly decomposing, witnesses said.

Konstantin Batozsky, an adviser to Serhiy Taruta, governor of the Donetsk region, said these actions by the rebels were meant to undermine an independent investigation and to “make all the procedures illegitimate.”

Vitaly Nayda, counterintelligence chief of Ukraine’s security service, offered photographs and said Ukraine has evidence of the movement of three Buk M-1 antiaircraft missile systems from rebel-held territory into Russian territory early Friday, less than 12 hours after the plane was downed. Ukrainian officials have said that a missile from a Buk M-1 launcher was used to shoot down the aircraft.

Two of the antiaircraft systems were spotted entering Russia from Ukraine at 2 a.m. Friday, he said. One had its full complement of four missiles, but the other was missing a missile, he said. Two hours later, he said, a convoy of three vehicles that included one of the launchers and a control truck crossed into Russia.

The U.S. official said they could not confirm the exact time cited by the Ukrainians.

Nayda said that Ukrainian military services had not left any operational Buk M-1 launchers in territory where the rebels could have seized them when they took over bases and territory in eastern Ukraine this year. He suggested they must have come from Russia and said Ukraine has evidence that at least one launcher system was on its territory Monday.

The rebels have denied possessing the launchers, although social media files linked to a rebel leader, Igor Girkin, appeared to boast of having the systems. The claims were deleted this week after the plane was shot down.

A top rebel leader said Saturday that his side was not tampering with the evidence, even as rebels on the scene appeared to be loading at least some parts of the plane onto trucks. The leader said he was eager for international investigators to come as soon as possible.

“Currently in this area there are no active hostilities,” Alexander Borodai told reporters in Donetsk. “But the situation may deteriorate at any time.”

Fighting raged elsewhere in the region Saturday, especially in Luhansk near the Russian border, where 16 civilians were killed, according to the city council’s Web site.

The attack on the plane and the subsequent treatment of the crime scene appear to be hardening European attitudes against Russia.

Most of the 298 victims were Dutch citizens, and the chaos Saturday drew a harsh condemnation from Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who said he had told Russian President Vladmir Putin “that the opportunity is fading to quickly show the world that he is serious about wanting to help.” The Netherlands had previously been cautious about criticizing Russia, a major trading partner.

Rutte also lashed out at the rebels, saying he was “shocked by the images of completely disrespectful behavior” at the crash site. “This is outright disgusting,” he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Putin on Saturday, asking him to “use his influence on the separatists” to arrange a cease-fire to allow investigators to pursue their work, a step the Kremlin said it supported.

Liow Tiong Lai, Malaysia’s minister of transportation, said his government is “deeply concerned the crash site not been properly secured and the integrity of the site has been compromised.” Blocking access to the site “cannot be tolerated,” he said.

Boeing 777, which killed 192 Dutch citizens, 44 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, 10 Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos, one Canadian and one person from New Zealand. One passenger held dual Dutch-U.S. citizenship.

In an op-ed column in the Sunday Times, British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The growing weight of evidence points to a clear conclusion: that flight MH17 was blown out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile fired from a rebel-held area. If this is the case then we must be clear what it means: this is a direct result of Russia destabilising a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias and training and arming them.”

Cameron then called on Europe’s leaders to take action, saying that “for too long there has been a reluctance on the part of too many European countries to face up to the implications of what is happening in eastern Ukraine.”

The pro-Russian separatists had said Friday that they would allow the victims’ bodies to be transported out of rebel-held territory because they did not have enough refrigerated facilities for all of them. But Ukrainian officials said Saturday that they were still trying to negotiate safe passage for teams of investigators and international observers.

A spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said a team of 24 international observers had seen people moving bodies and putting them in body bags. The team was sharply restricted in what it could do and see, he said.

Rebels “have what they describe as experts, so-called experts here,” OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said. “They’ve brought body bags and they’re moving the bodies to the side of the road, as far as we can tell.”

“We don’t know who they are,” Bociurkiw said of the people moving the bodies. “We are unarmed civilians, so we’re not in a position to argue heavily with people with heavy arms.”

Karen DeYoung in Washington; Ferry Biedermann in Amsterdam; Annie Gowen in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Karoun Demirjian in Moscow contributed to this report.



Why Putin Let MH17 Get Shot Down
Russia has been escalating its war in Ukraine for weeks. The urgency to win turned to recklessness.
James Miller
The Daily Beast | 07.18.14

President Putin has been recklessly escalating the crisis in eastern Ukraine since he was embarrassed and outmaneuvered by the Ukrainian president three weeks ago. Allowing a passenger jet to be shot down is the act of an increasingly desperate man.

The Kremlin ordered tanks, heavy weapons and Russian fighters to pour over the border stoking up the crisis until tragedy struck. We should have seen it coming; on Wednesday morning the front page of Foreign Policy magazine had a headline that should have sent shockwaves through the geopolitical landscape: Russia Is Firing Missiles At Ukraine.

The story followed several Russian citizens posting videos to social media which they said show GRAD rockets being fired from Russian territory toward Ukraine. By triangulating the different camera angles, my team at The Interpreter proved that the unguided rockets were indeed being fired into Ukraine from Russia. Thursday morning, there were reports that a group of Ukrainian soldiers had been hit by the rocket fire and were actually receiving medical treatment on the other side of the border, ironically enough in the same town from which the rockets had been launched in the first place.

This should have been huge news. How could things in Ukraine have deteriorated to the point where Putin was now engaged in such a reckless act of aggression? Of course, it was huge news… but for only a few hours. Quickly this headline was buried under the news that another Malaysian airlines flight was missing, and evidence is steadily growing that either Russian-backed separatists or Russia itself may have fired the missile that brought it down.

While much of the media is trying to figure out who shot this aircraft down, with what weapon and where it was obtained, it might be more instructive to focus instead on the ‘whys’ of this incident.

Why would Putin want to shoot down a commercial airliner? And if it was an accident, why would Putin allow the separatists to have a weapon this powerful without having full control over how it was used?

The answer to that question reveals that the situation in Ukraine, and in Moscow, is much, much worse than many had feared.

The first thing we have to understand is that the Kremlin spent a lot of time and money to bring down, either deliberately or accidentally, Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. The prime suspect is a Buk surface-to-air missile system. This is not a shoulder-fired weapon easily smuggled across the border, a point-and-shoot heat-seeking weapon that could be used with little training by anyone who got their hands on it. This is an advanced and battle-proven series of highly sophisticated vehicles which coordinate to track targets with radar and fire missiles so advanced that they were designed to knock smart bombs and cruise missiles out of the sky. Whoever launched this weapon was highly trained and extremely well-equipped.

How, then, could such an advanced weapons system mistake a civilian airliner for a Ukrainian military aircraft? The short answer is that while the Buk system is able to work in isolation, it was never meant to. These types of advanced anti-aircraft systems would typically be used as part of a whole-military response to a threat, utilizing a nation-wide radar system, airborne radar systems, and a coordinated command and control structure that would identify targets and call the shots.

The firing of GRAD rockets and the shooting down of a civilian airplane are part of a pattern, a last-ditch desperate attempt to salvage a win in eastern Ukraine at any cost. In the last several weeks, Russia has pumped dozens of tanks, self-powered howitzers, armored vehicles and militants across the border to the Russian-backed insurgents.

Almost three weeks ago Ukraine’s government and the separatists had entered into at least a tentative ceasefire, and Russia believed the separatists could diplomatically outmaneuver Kiev. But Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, did not extend the ceasefire, as even his European allies thought he would. Instead he launched a sudden strike on the separatists, retaking a series of key rebel strongholds.

Putin was the one who had been outmaneuvered, and the effort to covertly support the separatists in eastern Ukraine was falling apart. Now the veil has fallen. Russia is almost overtly supplying the separatists with military support. But Putin’s urgency in Ukraine has turned to recklessness, and Thursday’s events are the recklessness of Putin epitomized.

Why the urgency? Putin had been seeing surging popular support at home despite the flat-lined economy, the loss of a major ally in Ukraine’s ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, and the problematic Winter Olympics that popularized the Twitter hashtag #SochiProblems. The reason was the perception that Putin had won a decisive victory by annexing Crimea and standing up to the West.

But in recent weeks Moscow’s thinkers and pundits have written that they believe Putin’s support could collapse. A failure to achieve further victory in Ukraine has led analysts to predict that Putin’s support could drop significantly, and Russia’s leading pollsters already see evidence that these predictions could be right.

Since sanctions have had little effect on the economy but have dinged Putin’s support among his elites, he feels he needs the overwhelming support of the masses. Putin needs his war, and he needs to win, and without flooding eastern Ukraine with serious firepower and driving up civilian casualties it’s not clear if Putin can salvage a win at this point without openly invading, and doing so may carry significant costs that undercut the gains.

And Putin has actually helped create the engine of popular uproar that both empowers him and hangs like a Sword of Damocles over his head. In recent months, editorially-independent but state-owned news agencies have been turned into Kremlin-run propaganda machines, efforts have been undertaken to censor the Internet, and even independently-owned media companies have seen their editors thrown out and replaced with the Kremlin’s people.

The Russian media landscape is now a nearly unified voice of disinformation and hate, spreading the narrative that the world is locked in a great battle between East and West, a battle which will be lost unless Putin is allowed to win it. With every passing week Putin becomes more like the totalitarian dictators who helped divide the world along these lines just a few generations ago, and he is now a victim of his own mechanisms.

And there is no sign that this cycle will be broken any time soon. If Putin thinks his efforts to regain the upper hand in eastern Ukraine have gone too far, he’s certainly not reflecting that in his rhetorical answer to this tragedy. Instead, Putin blamed Ukraine for the downing of the aircraft, saying, “This tragedy would not have happened if there had been peace on that land, or in any case if military operations in southeastern Ukraine had not been renewed,” in televised comments.

“Without doubt the government of the territory on which it happened bears responsibility for this frightening tragedy,” he said, adding that he had urged the Russian authorities to do everything possible to help with the investigation into the incident.

“We will do everything that we can so that an objective pictured of what happened can be achieved,” Putin said.

“This is a completely unacceptable thing.”

But providing an objective picture is not what the Kremlin and its media apparatus is known for. Instead, the Russian media are already conducting a disinformation campaign about the facts, while the Western world lines up to (justifiably) blame Russia for this mess. While the unified rejection of Russia’s actions are absolutely necessary, and while stronger sanctions need to be inflicted on Russia to change the economic calculus of such reckless hostility, such actions will only serve as evidence to the Kremlin’s pundits and the people who listen to them that this is all just one giant conspiracy to isolate and weaken Russia.

The cycle will continue. Putin’s recklessness in eastern Ukraine will only grow. Many more lives, often of civilians stuck in the crossfire, will be lost. In the warped cycle of disinformation and power that Putin has created, this senseless violence makes perfect sense, and hundreds or even thousands of civilian casualties are just collateral damage.

Russia’s Missiles Stung the World Long Before MH17

The Buk that brought down MH17 is the high-tech equivalent of the ubiquitous AK-47. Its predecessor sparked an international crisis and almost started World War III.
Clive Irving
The Daily Beast | 07.20.14

The Russian Buk missile now established as the weapon that brought down Malaysia Flight 17 is the progeny of a Russian missile technology that has long challenged U.S. military might, particularly in the form of one system that in its durability and longevity proved to be the high-tech equivalent of the legendary low-tech AK-47 automatic rifle.

This weapon’s first kill was devastating to U.S. assumptions of its own military superiority at the peak of the Cold War.

On May 1, 1960, a U-2 spy plane operated by the CIA took off from an airbase in Peshawar, Pakistan. The existence of the U-2 was a secret. It had an unusual appearance created by its long, slender wings. These wings gave it the ability to fly at heights beyond 70,000 feet to the edge of the stratosphere, way above any other airplanes.

A small fleet of U-2s was deployed at several secret bases close to the borders of the Soviet Union. They were equipped with high-resolution cameras. In the era before spy satellites, the U-2s served as America’s crucial eyes from above. Their mission was to photograph critical Soviet military sites – airbases, missile launching sites, naval bases, large troop movements.

The U-2 that left Pakistan that day was piloted by a former Air Force captain, Francis Gary Powers. His target was Sverdlovsk in the Ukraine. As he reached operational altitude Powers felt invulnerable in his U-2, flying at a height well beyond the range of Soviet anti-aircraft artillery and at a height where the thin air made it impossible for fighter jets to intercept him.

But it was a false sense of security. Russian radar had spotted the U-2. Orders were given to use a new weapon, an S-75 Dvina surface-to-air missile, or SAM. Eight missiles were launched, and the first found its target. Powers had no chance to evade it, and bailed out as his U-2 spun down to earth.

The exposure of the U-2 spy missions created an international crisis. The Soviets paraded Powers as a prisoner. The U.S. was wrong-footed diplomatically and militarily humbled. The shock of finding that the U-2 was no longer invulnerable came only three years after Russia launched the first Earth-orbiting satellite, Sputnik, and just a year before they sent the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin.

Soviet SAMs were to become one of the most formidable and feared adversaries in wars cold and hot. Indeed, the S-75 Dvina was soon to claim another U-2 at a moment when the U.S. and the Soviet Union veered closer to the brink of nuclear war than at any time before or since.

On October 15, 1962, CIA analysts studied photographs of Cuba taken by several U-2 missions sent over the island after reports of a rapidly growing Soviet military presence. The pictures were alarming. They revealed that the Soviets were establishing launching sites for nuclear missiles that could reach major U.S. cities. That discovery triggered what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

On October 27, a U-2 took off from McCoy Air Force base in Orlando, Florida. The pilot was USAF Major Rudolf Anderson. Other U-2 overflights of Cuba had been canceled after intelligence reports suggested that they would be intercepted, but Anderson’s went ahead because more hard information was urgently needed on the sites and state of readiness of the Soviet missiles.

Soon after Anderson crossed the Cuban coast his U-2 was detected by Soviet radar. There was confusion among Soviet commanders. They realized that their missile positions would be exposed, but also understood the profound implications of shooting down a U.S. airplane in the heat of the moment.

The senior Soviet commander could not be found and it was impossible to contact Moscow in the critical moments while the U-2 was within range. The decision to take out the U-2 was made alone by the deputy commander of the Soviet forces on the island.

An S-75 Dvina was fired and hit Anderson’s U-2 at high altitude; shrapnel from the explosion penetrated Anderson’s pressurized flying suit and it decompressed. He died rapidly from hypoxia.

The loss of Anderson enraged U.S. commanders. President Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, were holding off hawkish politicians and generals while trying to negotiate with Russia’s volatile leader, Nikita Khrushchev. In the end, Khrushchev backed down and, by a hair’s breadth, they avoided a nuclear war.

Five years later, another S-75 Dvina was fired at an airplane flown by a man who is at this moment a vocal and unforgiving critic of Vladimir Putin: John McCain.

In 1967, McCain was one of a squadron of Navy pilots flying A-4 Skyhawk light bombers from the deck of a small aircraft carrier called the Oriskany off the coast of Vietnam. On October 26 they were assigned to attack a power plant supplying the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

These attacks were extremely dangerous. The North Vietnamese had formidable anti-aircraft defenses that combined artillery with mobile batteries of the S-75s supplied to the Vietcong by Russia. Experienced pilots had learned to develop a technique to evade the S-75s when an alarm in their cockpit warned of an imminent strike. It involved a violent maneuver in which their jets dived away from a missile’s path in the last seconds.

In his memoir, Faith of My Fathers, McCain describes how the alarm sounded as he was on his bombing run: “I was just about to release my bombs when the tone sounded, and had I started jinking [the evasive maneuver] would never have had the time nor, probably, the nerve to go back in once I had lost the SAM. So, at about 3,500 feet, I released my bombs, then pulled back the stick to begin a steep climb to a safer altitude. In the instant before my plane reacted, a SAM blew my right wing off. I was killed.”

McCain bailed out but was seriously injured. He spent more than five years in the execrable prison called, with exquisite irony, the Hanoi Hilton before being released and flown home.

By then the S-75 had earned a reputation similar to that of the ubiquitous AK-47 automatic rifle, designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov. It was robust, easy to move around, relatively simple to operate, and deadly in its accuracy.

The S-75 went on being the SAM of choice, deployed in all the eastern bloc countries under Soviet rule until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. It was  the bulwark of communist Vietnam’s air defenses after the endof the U.S. war in Vietnam. The Russians also supplied it to both Egypt and Syria, and a version of it was produced by the Chinese. 

In the movie of Tom Wolfe’s definitive tale of astronaut hubris, The Right Stuff, there’s a repeated motif of a spectral promethean figure representing the Soviet ascendancy in rocketry – the astronauts know they are expected to be spurred on by this fearful vision and that they must eventually whack him and all his works.

This was a mindset inspired by the Kennedy administration who, pressing for the money to go to the moon, alleged there was a “missile gap” between the USSR and the U.S. The missiles being counted were intercontinental, with nuclear warheads, not SAMs, and the “gap” did not exist – the U.S. actually had a substantial superiority in both the number and capacity of its ICBMS.

How things have changed. This is the 45th anniversary of the Apollo moon landings, a feat of rocketry that the Russians have never matched. Yet today’s NASA is a client of Russian technology. With the end of the Space Shuttle program, all missions carrying astronauts to the International Space Station depend on the Russian Soyuz capsule – another long-serving, dependable, and very basic machine. (Each Shuttle launch cost about $1.5 billion. A Soyuz launch is reckoned to cost about $45 million.) And the huge Atlas V rockets used by NASA and the U.S. military to launch larger satellites into space today are powered by a Russian rocket engine, the RD-180.

In critical ways, Russia remains technologically adept, but by its current behavior Russia is also revealed as morally destitute. The use of the Buk missile against a commercial airliner, whether by Russian surrogates or actually under Russian direction, is so repugnant that it has led to international condemnation. That makes the fact that Putin is in a position to decide the future of our own rocket launches and our ability to send astronauts into space highly embarrassing.

The Ukraine Crisis and the Resumption of Great-Power Rivalry

Dmitri Trenin
Carnegie Moscow Center | July 9, 2014


Russia has stepped forward in Ukraine to protect its vital interests—which the West saw as aggression by a revisionist power. The ensuing conflict will last long and have an impact far beyond Europe.

Great-Power Competition Is Back

  • The Ukraine crisis has ushered in a period of U.S.-Russian rivalry, even confrontation, reminiscent of the nineteenth-century Great Game, a fight for supremacy between the Russian and British Empires. The competition is asymmetrical and highly unequal.
  • This conflict is being waged mainly in the political, economic, and information spheres, but it has military overtones as well. It differs from the Cold War in that human contact, trade, and information flows are not completely shut off, and there is a modicum of cooperation.
  • Russia is focused on post-Soviet integration in Eurasia, while the United States has initiated a series of measures to restore a “holding line” against Russia in Europe.
  • The U.S. approach toward Russia reflects traditional concerns, even phobias, and is not based on an adequate understanding of the country, in part because Russia has ceased to be a focus of U.S. foreign policy.
  • The international system is becoming more balanced, and Washington needs to prepare for this by developing policies that account for the interests of major players, including Russia.

Global Implications

  • Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia will be the battleground in the U.S.-Russian fight for influence. A number of other countries and territories, including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Russian North Caucasus and Crimea, and the Baltic states, may also be affected by this competition.
  • In Central Europe, Poland, which has been most directly involved with the crisis over Ukraine, has toughened its attitudes toward Russia.
  • Western Europe’s relations with Russia have changed significantly since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis. The period of cooperation and mutual understanding ushered in by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s agreement to Germany’s reunification is over.

·         Faced with an increasingly hostile West, Russia is visibly turning East. In particular, China and Russia have become closer, signing a historic gas deal, conducting joint naval exercises, and increasing trade.

  • Russia’s hardball policies in Ukraine and its defiance of the United States have won it increased credibility in the Middle East.

Full text:



Address of the President on the occasion of the crash of Malaysia Airlines aircraft

Press office of President
President of Ukraine | 18.07.2014

Today the war has overspilled from the territory of Ukraine.

Over the past months Ukraine was overwhelmed by the events caused by the aggressors and militaries in the East of the country. But the tragedy which took place in the Ukrainian skies today is horrendous.     

Today terrorists killed three hundred people with one shot. Among them innocent children, people of many countries of the world.

Terrorists shot down a civilian Malaysian airlines aircraft, which was on route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur at the altitude of 10 thousand meters.

I and all Ukrainians grieve for the hundreds of innocent passengers who sadly have become victims of an aggression against us.

We offer our compassion to the relatives of those passengers and crew who will not see their loved ones again. For weeks we have shed tears over our own dead. We have tears left for the innocent victims of this crime.  

Today Ukraine mourns with you.

The State Security Service of Ukraine has intercepted a conversation in which one of the leaders of the mercenaries boasted about bringing down the plane in his reporting to his Russian supervisor, colonel of the General Intelligence Unit of Russia’s Armed Forces. Other terrorists have also boasted about their success.

In the past couple of days it is the third tragic incident, following two Ukrainian military planes which were shot down.

I have just spoken with President Barack Obama, with Prime Ministers of the Netherlands and Malaysia as countries whose large numbers of citizens lost their lives in this tragedy.

I have ordered the government of Ukraine to create an investigation commission. It will join efforts with the experts of the International Civil Aviation Organization and representatives from the Netherlands, Malaysia and the United States.

Every possible search and rescue will be made. We will do everything possible for the objective international investigation. It is very unfortunate that the terrorists have already declared their desire to hide the evidence and transport the aircraft’s black boxes to Moscow.

Today’s tragedy proves again that terrorism is not a local, but a global issue. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is not only our problem, but a threat to the European and global security. Addressing this threat requires a unified global response.

By today it is evident that militaries in the East of Ukraine cannot go on alone. Russia more and more often militarily intervenes against Ukraine. Our territory is being fired on from across the border. Our planes are being shot down. Russia supplies military personnel and state of the art weapons. The hybrid war is showing all signs of an external aggression.

In the past couple of weeks, thanks to the courage and heroism of our soldiers, the territory, controlled by the terrorists, bandits and Russian mercenaries has decreased by more than half.

Each and every citizen of Ukraine is fighting for our independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Today, the whole world had seen the real face of the aggressor.

Shooting down a civilian aircraft is an act of international terrorism, targeted against the entire world.

This is a wake-up call for the whole world.

We expect for an adequate response from the international community.


MH17 Crash: A Turning Point in the Ukraine Crisis?
Alex Ward
New Atlanticist | July 18, 2014

The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17 has heightened international concern about the Ukraine-Russia conflict, tragically demonstrating the broader impact and consequences of the ongoing war.

How will this disaster impact US-Russian relations going forward? Furthermore, should the West sharpen its military and economic tools to curtail Russian aggression against Ukraine?

To answer these questions, Atlantic Council experts joined members and journalists on a call to discuss the implications of the alleged missile strike that left 298 people dead.

Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, USA (Ret.), nonresident senior fellow with the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security and former director of the Missile Defense Agency, explained that anyone successfully firing a Buk missile needed significant training and skills – and had to be in the right place to hit an intended target.

Adrian Karatnycky, a nonresident senior fellow in the Transatlantic Relations Program and former director of Freedom House, reported that his sources have been saying for a while that Russians have been moving missiles and launchers into the region.

Putin’s reasoning for doing this is one of two options: either he wants a permanent zone of instability in eastern Ukraine, or he "wants to force deep concessions in negotiations" with Western power. John Herbst, director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center and former ambassador to Ukraine, claimed that the "feckless Western policies" have emboldened Russian actions that led to the downing of MH17. He specifically referred to how Western leaders failed to follow through on their early June ultimatum to Putin to cease interference in Ukraine. He said that President Obama laid down solid sanctions on Wednesday – but that should have happened two weeks ago; he also said Europe’s actions were "better than nothing."

He continued that "To simply let this happen does not auger well for the peace of Europe. A clear line needs to be drawn now… Time for Western Europeans to wake up."

For a while now, he said, Russian have been giving "scores" of weapons to pro-separatist rebels, including T-64 tanks.

When asked whether the US military should provide lethal aid to the Ukraine military, Herbst said he thought the US should be providing lethal assistance such as anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry. At the same time, Herbst called on the US administration to craft sanctions that are as painful as possible for Russia, but not for Europe.

Putin, continued Herbst, has been "tactically shrewd" throughout the entire campaign. Only by having a strong Western response can make Russia, "a revisionist power," think twice before trying to achieve more objectives. In sum, Herbst believes "a new Russia" requires "a new Russia policy."

Karatnycky noted that he found that some in Russia’s business community and the more pragmatic members of Putin’s circle want a resolution. He called on Putin to use this tragedy to walk back the aggressive actions in Ukraine – and he called on the West to make it clear to Putin that his current moves were unacceptable and would result in significant harm to Russia’s business interests. The discussion, moderated by Barry Pavel, Council vice president and director of the Scowcroft Center, also covered subjects such as how the lack of a Western response might embolden China, whether or not tougher sanctions should be put in place, and what the immediate US response should be.


Writing the truth in the People’s Republic of Donetsk

Some journalists in Donetsk are brave enough to tell the truth about what is going on there. But there are consequences…
Aleksey Matsuka
openDemocracy | 18 July 2014

The clampdown on journalists in the Donetsk oblast [region] dates back to the beginning of the so-called ‘Russian spring.’ On 1 March this year, 7,000 people came out on to the city’s Lenin Square carrying Russian flags, and the flag of an unknown organisation called the ‘Donetsk Republic.’ Most journalists reported this as a normal demonstration expressing the will of the people. Independently-minded journalists, however, wrote that the rally had been organised with additional support from towns whose mayors were part of former President Yanukovych’s circle. This became the dividing line between the ordinary journalists and their independent colleagues.

When Viktor Yanukovych fled, he left his people behind in the Donetsk oblast – mayors of cities to the regional administration – all ensconced at various levels of the power vertical. Some of them subsequently publicly renounced any links with ‘The Family,’ others lay low, and yet others followed Yanukovych into exile. One of these was the former chairman of the Donetsk Regional Council, Andrei Fedoruk, whose current whereabouts are still unknown. The media overwhelmingly disregarded these facts, preferring to concentrate solely on what could be seen from the outside, both more convenient and simpler – not only for the editors, but for the journalists themselves.

Follow the money

Most of the local media ignored the themes of corruption, and did not touch material we listed on our website highlighting discrepancies between the officials’ lifestyles and their incomes.

The mayor of Makeyevka, for instance, one Aleksandr Maltsev, worked all his life in the public sector, but was able to buy himself an expensive detached house with a garden and a swimming pool. Immediately after his appointment to the post of governor, Andriy Shishatsky bought his son a detached house in the centre of Donetsk. One of his deputies – a civil servant – regularly went to work in a watch worth $150,000.

Our information was ignored for a very simple reason: the journalists were hostages to their editors-in-chief; the editors depend on the local government; as do their owners. That is why journalists in the Donetsk region have traditionally been regarded as servants by the authorities. When Viktor Yanukovych and his team came to power, we came under even greater pressure. In recent years the only independent sources of news from Donbas have been ‘Donbas News’ (where I am editor-in-chief) and the website ‘Ostrov‘ [Island]. For a region with a population of five million, that is not much!

Independent journalism in Donbas is a dangerous profession: persons unknown tried to burn my flat down, and the editor of ‘Ostrov’, Sergei Garmash, had his car set alight. In 2013, after we began investigating the activities of the Donetsk public utility company ‘Donbas Water,’ where Governor Shishatsky had appointed one of his friends as manager, unknown people tried to barge their way into our office. Subsequently, my car too was burned, but that was already after the beginning of the so-called ‘Russian spring;’ and the arsonists were in all probability not the local authorities – they had been tightening the screws on us for the last five years – but their ‘children,’ the armed separatists.

I say ‘children’ because our investigations, which were made possible by the help we received from the International Renaissance Foundation, showed us that the local authorities had been preparing for the ‘Russian spring’ for a long time. Civil servants handed over property for no money to the separatist organisations; they even gave them cash bonuses. In the local press, today’s separatists are heroes, whereas the Euromaidan campaigners were portrayed as ‘agents of the West’, ‘enemies of the people,’ and ne’er-do-wells.

Media in the Donetsk People’s Republic

In January 2014, local TV channels in the DNR (Donetsk People’s Republic) ran various identical pieces, immediately after the news programmes, with the message that Euromaidan was ‘preventing Ukraine from developing.’ Running alongside these paid items, the local authorities, which controlled most of the print journalism in the region, warned viewers that Ukrainian nationalists were preparing to descend on Donetsk. They did not actually come – instead we got the Russian neo-Nazis, representing radical movements; they took on managerial roles in the organisation of the so-called ‘Russian spring’ in the regional centre, Donetsk. They made no secret of their neo-Nazi sympathies; and issued calls for pogroms in the media.

Our agency had to change addresses twice, but armed separatists still managed to find us at home. In the middle of April, my car was set alight when it was parked right outside the entrance to my apartment block; a few days later, shots were fired at the windows of Sergei Garmash’s home. A few days after that, the separatists came to visit the company which runs the commercial site, where there is a news department. They issued an ultimatum – only news favourable to the DNR should be published. The editor-in-chief and the management all left Donetsk.

In the small towns of the region, the separatists set fire to editorial offices (in Konstantinovka and Torez); kidnapped journalists (Aleksandr Bilinsky in Gorlovka, Nikolai Ryabchenko in Mariupol, and others); and installed their agents as editors.

The Donetsk Regional TV station was occupied in May. The first thing the separatists did was to prevent members of staff getting in to their offices. But of the 250 staff, only 15 agreed to work for the DNR. Now Donetsk Regional TV frequently broadcasts the Russian channel ‘Rossiya 24,’ while those15 members of staff make a programme called ‘People of the republic,’ which runs interviews with representatives of the militants several times a week.

The offices of the two biggest privately owned TV channels ‘Donbas’ and ‘Union’ are now closed. The ‘First Municipal Channel’ has also stopped carrying news. ‘Donbas’ broadcasts from Kyiv and Dnipropetrovsk, cities which are controlled by the Ukrainian army. ‘Union’ broadcasts short news bulletins, but the separatists have seized the servers and uploaded their own video clips.

The separatists also put in an appearance at the editorial offices of the biggest and oldest papers in the region – ‘Donbas’ and ‘Evening Donetsk.’ They took the editors-in-chief from their offices for a ‘precautionary chat,’ after which the decision was taken not to publish either of the papers. Now subscribers receive a gardening supplement instead of ‘Donbas’. Part of the editorial staff of ‘Evening Donetsk’ went over to the DNR, but shareholder and oligarch Rinat Akhmetov decided to put a stop to publication.

Information vacuum

Now the newspaper kiosks of Donetsk, Makeyevka and other towns seized by the armed separatists have no Ukrainian or local papers or journals; just entertainment. Cable channels do not run Ukrainian channels (except entertainment). In ‘liberated’ Slovyansk, the local administration has put up a large screen where it transmits Ukrainian TV – there is no electricity or water in most of the city districts, so the locals come to the central square to find out what is going on.

The information vacuum is a good thing for the armed separatists because only the ‘right’ news gets disseminated, such as the information that in Slovyansk the local ‘nationalist population’ and the National Guard had ‘executed’ a little girl; or that in now-liberated Kramatorsk, the ‘Right Sector’ party is forcing people to speak Ukrainian.

Back in January 2014, the local authorities in Donetsk were already putting out phoney news items: Yanukovych was still president, and the local elite, who were totally behind him, were doing all they could to ensure that the population did not come out in support of Euromaidan. This led the secretary of the Donetsk City Council, one of the local Party of Regions ideologues Sergei Bogachov, to spread rumours to the effect that right-wing ‘Right Sector’ militants were on their way to Donetsk to orchestrate actions against peaceful Russian-speaking citizens in Donetsk. Actually, no one from ‘Right Sector’ ever showed up, but radicals from Russia did. Bogachov himself left on 13 July 2014 for Berdyansk on the sea in the Zaprozhye oblast, which is completely controlled by the Ukrainian army; and the locals there have no fear of ‘Right Sector’.

Only one side of the story

The local press published the officials’ lies without checking the facts, with no second opinion and no investigation, though all the rules of journalism would dictate that after Bogachov’s statement, calls should have been put through to ‘Right Sector’ to establish whether they really had got busloads of activists ready to descend on Donetsk. But none of the editors were at all interested in fact checking, just as they were unprepared to take on any opinion that differed even slightly from the official line of the local political elite.

Throughout January, ‘Union’ TV put out a programme called ‘Face to Face’, which usually involved a presenter in a studio with two guests. Journalistic standards, and a wish to make the programme more interesting to the viewers, would have meant that editors invited speakers with differing opinions. But ‘Union’ obviously had other ideas – not to inform, but to promote, because the guests in the studio in practically every broadcast were representing one and the same party, or they had very similar views. There was never anyone from Euromaidan, or indeed anyone with an opinion that was not in line with the Party of Regions.

So local journalists turned into canvassers, purveyors of the views of the local government – exactly the same role as has been imposed on Russian journalists. The paradox is that the armed separatists did actually come to see the editors of ‘Union’ recently (summer 2014), demanding that there should be no talk of Ukraine. Now the ‘Union’ journalists are experiencing exactly the same pressure as the ‘Donbas News’ and ‘Island’ journalists have been, during the past few years.


Social and political life has changed so much that perhaps local journalism will too. After all, attacks on editorial offices, and the disappearance of editors-in-chief have resulted in the Donetsk journalists being more united. Will the quality of their journalism and their levels of independence increase too? It probably will, because conflicts such as this provide a reason for the professional community to reflect on our common mission, and the mission of each one of us. A threat from an external enemy, the possibility that journalism as we know it will disappear altogether mean that we journalists have to answer honestly the question as to whether we ourselves are in any way to blame for what is going on today in the Donbas.