In 2014 the EU and the US supported a ‘revolution’ in Ukraine. They produced a fanciful narrative about Ukrainians yearning to join the EU. The US was a bit off-tune with the “fuck the EU” comment  – they wanted to fix Ukraine themselves – but everyone agreed that the violent overthrow of the elected government of Viktor Yanukovych was a blow for freedom and democracy.
The stand-off in Eastern Ukraine continues.
The militias continue to hold parts of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. Russia continues to play some role in supporting them. Anything from ‘moral support’ in the words of one militia fighter to columns of armour if we believe the claims emanating from Kiev – and often echoed by the US. This observer’s guess is that Russian military intelligence is involved to a small extent and that there is some degree of re-armament. (The conflict has gone on for some time and the militias will need re-supplying; there can, surely, be only so many supplies left in old Soviet arms dumps?).
The position of Russia is that Kiev needs to implement the agreements it signed up to in Minsk. That is to grant local autonomy to Donetsk and Luhansk; an amnesty, local elections and political devolution. Moscow points out that Kiev has yet to start a dialogue with the representatives of the rebellious provinces. But Kiev appears to have no intention of implementing anything that looks like regional autonomy.
The EU and the US (?) are backing Kiev. NATO countries are arming and training Kiev’s forces. The line of the EU and the US is that Russia should stop its support for the militias. The idea presumably is that without Russian support including support by volunteers the militias will not be able to withstand an assault by Kiev, newly trained and armed by NATO countries including Britain. Then Kiev could crush resistance and impose its will on the rebellious territories. No matter to the EU that the population in these areas does not want to join the EU and were not represented in the EU backed Maidan coup. That they – and democracy – would in fact be crushed by a Soviet style use of tanks against civilians is an irony which it seems is lost on the current EU political class.
However, Russia is it seems not willing to permit this scenario. The inability of Kiev to get its house in order and ‘stamp out corruption’ (a EU euphemism for organisation corruption on a proper basis as is done in Western countries) makes it harder for the EU to work with Kiev. Kiev may get desperate and try to create a crisis and force Russia to declare their hand openly and thus blackmail the EU/US into supporting them militarily. But it isn’t 100% certain that the EU would in fact back them if they go down this path. The EU prefers sanctions to try to force Russia to withdraw support. But sanctions aren’t working. No military solution but no win by economic pressure either. Meanwhile in announcing that they will accept documents from the DNR and LPR Russia has sent a message to Kiev and to their masters in the EU; if you don’t resolve this soon you will lose this territory altogether. As the fighting has gone on it is increasingly unlikely that the militias will accept anything less than very substantial autonomy; to the extent that it is unlikely they would accept police or army from Kiev in the regions they control at all.
Neither Kiev’s military solution nor the EU’s economic one look like being able to facilitate the re-taking of the liberated areas. For Ukraine the only way out might be a change of government to one which could carry through the necessary political and constitutional reforms. But such a government seems, at the moment, some way off. As time goes on the areas controlled by the militias will become de facto parts of Russia.
Really; it is so irrational that hate may be the best explanation.
This is one of the Guardian’s propaganda writers, sorry ‘journalists’, writing on Russia and Ukraine.
At least Shaun Walker has taken the trouble to visit Ukraine. (Note that he did so and was able to write his anti-Russia propaganda and then presumably to return to Moscow to write up his article – which can be read by any Russian with an Internet connection. That must be the ‘Kremlin media bubble’ and ‘oppressive media climate’ the Guardian informs us about so often).
The article concerns the recent flare-up of violence along the contact line in Eastern Ukraine.
The line promoted is the one offered by Kiev – Russia started it. There is the usual completely unevidenced claim by Kiev of convoys of Russian vehicles and supplies moving into Donbass. The area occupied by the militias (as always misleadingly named ‘Russia-backed separatists by Mr Walker – an attempt to mask over the actual aspirations of people in that area of Ukraine) is tiny. Just a fraction of the provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk are occupied by the militias. If every claim by Kiev of convoys of Russian armour and vehicles moving into Donbass was true you would hardly be able to move in this region without bumping into a Russian armoured vehicle or fuel tanker. Maybe some of it is true; but it would be good to see some evidence. Talking of evidence – the OSCE monitoring mission has been showing for some time that Kiev has been moving heavy weapons around in violation of the ceasefire. At least – both sides have.  This alone destroys the “it is Russian aggression” narrative.
At the present stage it is (if for one moment we think about the situation rationally – as Russia is certainly doing) extremely unlikely that Russia would have provoked the current flare-up. The new President in the White House has at least spoken conciliatory words. The Russians would have everything to gain by waiting to see if Trump will exercise some leverage on Kiev to support a settlement in the region (i.e. to oblige Kiev to implement Minsk 2). A much more likely explanation is that the current round of fighting was provoked by Kiev in an attempt to draw Russia into the conflict and thus force Trump to take their side. This theory is partly confirmed by an admission by one Ukrainian soldier in Walker’s report – who admits that Kiev has been taking territory. This theory was also supported by an accidental admission recently by a Ukrainian government minister about advancing ‘one meter at a time’.  This latter admission was widely reported on Russian state media and not so widely reported in the West. (But this must be because Russian state media only presents ‘fake news’?). In reality it seems that – if we look at the evidence and consider the probable explanations – this theory is the most plausible. There is no rational reason for Russia to initiate anything at the present time. To his small credit Walker does at least mention the comments by a Ukrainian soldier – but in the main his article repeats the narrative officially put out by Kiev. Does it not occur to Walker that Kiev may just be spinning a story to achieve a certain end? Apparently not.
The article then is par for the course. It supports an irrational narrative. The (rational) Russian viewpoint is striking by its absence. The aspirations of the actual people who live in Donbass and who don’t want to be part of a European Ukraine are vanished out of the picture.
It’s all pretty shameless.
Journalists have a substantial responsibility to write the truth. Or, least to do their level best to do so.
In a nominal democracy where public opinion influences (even slightly) public policy people who are in a position to form public opinion have a particularly strong responsibility to write the truth.
Unfortunately many journalists in the West, much of the time, either due to laziness or due to deliberately malign intent write propaganda. They produce the narrative that power wants to see produced. They don’t dig behind the given narrative of power to get at the truth. They, precisely, neglect their true function.
This is an example from the Guardian. It is a report on the recent renewed fighting in Eastern Ukraine. It is a typical piece of Western media propaganda of the kind that floods the press day in day out. It is reasonably well-written. Where it quotes checkable facts (as in “someone said such and such”) the facts check out. At the same time it gives a one-sided version of events. Naturally, the version preferred by Western power mechanisms. It does this by a) missing out the context, b) using loaded language to generate the narrative, c) selective reporting of facts and d) in place of reportage much of the article is add-on narrative and interpretation.
The background to the article is that fighting has broken out again between the forces of the (self-proclaimed) DPR and LPR and Kiev in Ukraine. The narrative preferred by the West on Ukraine is that Russia is to blame for everything. This has to be the narrative because it absolves the West from its responsibility in forcing the conflict in Ukraine and is the only way that the West will “win”, that is secure the whole pie of Ukraine into the EU and NATO. That the vast majority of people in the Eastern provinces of Ukraine do not want to join the EU or NATO  – and thus were wholly unrepresented by the February 2014 coup in Kiev – is simply air-brushed out of reality. That is, the wishes and feelings of millions of Ukrainians don’t count. They are the wrong wishes from the perspective of Western liberals and so Western liberals have no qualms ignoring them.
Turning to the article. There is the usual use of loaded terms. The local militias are described as “Russia-backed separatists”. This neatly eliminates any need to pay attention to the democratic reality. People in the East of Ukraine do not want to join the EU and NATO. The political party of the deposed President Viktor Yanukovych was most strongly supported in the East.  When Yanukovych was chased out of office by a Western-backed mob burning policemen (or, of course, “peaceful protestors singing hymns”) the people in the East were in democratic terms disenfranchised. Russia may indeed be “backing” the militias. But to describe the militias as “Russia-backed”, and thus to frame them in terms of their link to Russia, is to mask and hide the legitimate and rational aspirations of the people in this region. The fact is the militia leaders in Donbas have signed up to a political agreement (Minsk 2) which envisages autonomy but not independence. It is therefore factually wrong to describe them as “separatists”. “Russian-backed separatists” as a term specifically serves to mask the legitimate aspirations of people in the East of Ukraine and thus to mask the anti-democratic nature of the Western power-grab in Ukraine.
In this case the US State Department has not blamed Russia for the current uptick in violence.
The article naturally manages to find a source which supports the narrative:
The state department statement was markedly different in tone to comments from the US mission to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is staffed by career diplomats and may be out of step with the new mood in Washington.
“Russia and the separatists initiated the violence in Avdiivka,” said the US chargé d’affaires to the OSCE, Kate Byrnes. “We call on Russia to stop the violence, honour the ceasefire, withdraw heavy weapons and end attempts to seize new territory beyond the line of contact.”
A look at the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine report for 30/1/17 seems to show multiple violations by both sides to the conflict.  Both sides are moving heavy weapons around in violation of the Minsk agreements. Both sides appear to be shelling the other side. The State Department’s version, in a refreshing departure from the “blame Russia” narrative, is closer to the actual OSCE reports. This may not last for long, however.
The Guardian journalist gives the last word to an outgoing official from the last administration:
Diplomats who served during the Obama administration have cautioned against making deals with Russia. “For almost three years the United States has worked closely with our European partners to support a peaceful resolution to the conflict through full implementation of the Minsk agreements, including by using sanctions to encourage Putin to comply,” said Dan Baer, formerly the US ambassador to the OSCE. “This should continue to be US policy going forward; anything else would be irresponsible.”
The destabilisation of Ukraine by the US and EU – who did everything possible to manipulate the shift of Ukraine away from Russia and to the West including the completely shameless signing of the political part of the EU Association agreement with a regime which came to power in a violent coup – is not mentioned in this narrative. The lack of concrete steps by the new regime in Kiev towards implementing the Minsk agreements including a refusal to talk to the other side is also absent from this absurd narrative. But it’s the one that Western liberals mean to stick to if they possibly can.
Another major lacuna on the part of the Western media and Guardian journalists like Shaun Walker, who wrote the article discussed here, is the economic blockade  conducted by the regime in Kiev against its own citizens in the areas under control by the DPR and LPR. The blockade is notable for its refusal to pay pensions to elderly residents of these areas. One can scarcely imagine the horror and outrage that we would see in the Western media were Russia to be implementing such a blockade on a region within Russia. Yet this blockade is scarcely mentioned in the Western media.
One final irony. The Guardian is constantly telling its readers about the lack of media freedom in Russia. But we can note that this propagandist and anti-Russian article was written by a journalist who is based in Moscow and who is, presumably able to carry on his work without being harassed by the FSB. And the same article can be read by anyone in Russia with an Internet connection. (The Guardian is not blocked in Russia).
These reports are very difficult to interpret. They often simply describe that an explosion was heard at a certain location, without saying who fired the weapon. This is probably due to a desire to avoid being seen to be pointing fingers. Nonetheless this report (for 30/1/17) clearly records ceasefire violations by both sides in terms of moving around heavy weaponry. In addition, in the detailed annex to the report, a large number of explosions are recorded. In many cases the explosion is listed as “undetermined”. However many are identified as either “impact” or “outgoing”. From this information we can see that both sides are exchanging fire.