: Atlantic Council: How the international media enables Russian aggression in Ukraine

13:17 Aug. 5, 2016

Atlantic Council: How the international media enables Russian aggression in Ukraine

A pro-Russian rebel stands next to a tank near their position at the frontline in a village not far from Luhasnk, eastern Ukraine, March 12, 2015 (AP photo)

Avoiding common sense conclusions and choice to remain neutral have provided an invaluable service to the Kremlin

If anyone had attempted to report on "German-backed forces" in Nazi-occupied France or "pro-Soviet forces" during the Prague Spring, they would have been dismissed as either hopelessly misinformed or deeply disingenuous. While local collaborators and convenient euphemisms were plentiful in both instances, there was never any doubt as to who was really in control. This common sense approach seems to have been lost in Ukraine, where the international media has played a key role in creating the ambiguity that has allowed Russia's hybrid war to succeed.

Why has the media been so cautious about Russia's role in the conflict? It is not due to a lack of evidence. Proof of Russian involvement has been overwhelming since the early days of the fighting in eastern Ukraine. Almost all of the initial leaders of the breakaway republics were Russian citizens. International journalists themselves have witnessed convoys full of Russian weapons crossing the border and interviewed Russian officers in the conflict zone, while even pro-Kremlin reporters in Ukraine have slipped up by broadcasting footage of equipment only available to the Russian military. 

Online sleuths have produced convincing evidence of cross-border Russian artillery attacks on Ukrainian positions, while the social media selfies of Russian soldiers have exposed their deployment in Ukraine. There have been instances of entire groups of Russian troops captured deep inside the Ukrainian combat zone, which the Kremlin has dealt with by disowning some and claiming others simply "got lost."

The MH17 incident is worthy of a whole chapter of its own: sophisticated anti-aircraft systems are not deployed across international borders and into conflict zones in isolation.

Then there is the whole subject of the Russian "volunteers" and "vacationers," a motley crew of Russian military personnel operating alongside army veterans, mercenaries, far-right fanatics, and criminal dregs. Figureheads for these fighters have repeatedly put their overall number at fifty thousand—a staggering figure when one recalls how early insurgency poster boy Ihor "Strelkov" Girkin admitted at the height of the fighting in May 2014 that he had struggled to recruit one thousand Donbas residents.

What emerges is a picture of a manufactured insurgency inspired by Kremlin operatives, armed by the Russian military, manned predominantly by Russian fighters, and led from Moscow. Nevertheless, most international news outlets continue to hedge their bets. Many report on "pro-Russian forces," despite the redundancy of such terms when discussing Russian nationals. Heavyweights like the BBC and Canada's CBC acknowledge the Russian factor while still referring to a "Ukrainian Civil War."

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