Thursday, August 21, 2014

Video How Russian State TV Linked Satanists To Ukraine's Leadership

According to a state-run Russian broadcaster, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (right) and parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov are striving to erode the standing of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

What do Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov have in common with members of a satanic religious sect based in central Ukraine?

They are all part of a broad movement to destroy the Russian Orthodox Church, according to Russia's leading state-run broadcaster. 

The August 17 report on Rossia 24 begins with news that a devil-worshipping religious sect has received permission from local authorities to build a church, focusing on footage of a lamb that is apparently about to be slaughtered in a ritual sacrifice.

But to reporter Nikolai Sokolov, the wooly ruminant is only the furriest of the many potential victims of the new pro-European Ukraine, which, he says, "is now an ideal laboratory for [religious] sects." 

And the trouble, he says, starts at the top.

"Where Kyiv Rus was born the Russian Orthodox Church is losing numbers," he says, referring to the medieval Slavic state that laid the Orthodox foundations for modern-day Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. "Many politicians are of different religions. Oleksandr Turchynov, for instance, combines his activities in the parliament with meetings of Baptists. To them he isn't just a parishioner, but a spiritual teacher."

There are an estimated 100 million Baptist community members worldwide, but they make up less than 1 percent of Ukraine's population. 

But Turchynov is not the only non-Orthodox believer in power, says Sokolov. 

Yatsenyuk is something that may be even worse: "a follower of Scientology," the controversial religious group that Russia has refused to recognize. 

Except he's not. Despite popular online rumors that he is either a Scientologist or Jewish, Yatsenyuk identifies himself as a Ukrainian Greek Catholic -- a church that makes up 14 percent of Ukraine's population. 

But perhaps for the purposes of the report it's a difference without a distinction. 

Russian officials and media figures opposed to the government in Kyiv have frequently padded their rhetoric with nationalistic calls to protect ethnic Russians and their Russian Orthodox beliefs, wherever threats may arise.

And some actions by pro-Russian separatists appear to be at least indirectly tied to these religious calls. 

In June, a group of local residents and armed Russian Cossacks in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in March, ransacked a Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

And earlier this summer, four leaders of a Protestant church in Slovyansk -- then controlled by separatists -- were kidnapped from a service and killed some 16 hours later. 

-- Anna Shamanska with contributions from Glenn Kates

Russian 'Humanitarian Aid': What We Know And Don't Know So Far

A screen capture of a Russian convoy of trucks that Moscow says is carrying humanitarian aid for Ukraine sets off from near the Russian capital on August 12.

Glenn Kates

The Kremlin's August 11 announcement that it would be sending "humanitarian aid" to Ukraine has set off a dizzying round of geopolitical telephone.

And as a Russian convoy with 280 trucks rumbled from Moscow toward the border with Ukraine, the flurry of statements had done little to clarify what Ukraine and Russia, along with Western leaders and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), had actually agreed to.

Here's what we know so far:

Agreement On Aid

Following the statement on Russian President Vladimir Putin's website, which claimed that the Russian convoy would be sent in collaboration with the Red Cross, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine had agreed to "all details."

After a phone call with U.S. President Barack Obama, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced on his website that he had indeed agreed to an international humanitarian mission. The operation, which he claimed was his own initiative, was to be led by the Red Cross and would include cooperation from the European Union, Germany, and Russia. (While the statement remains on the website, the wording listing partner countries had disappeared.)

The Red Cross, for its part, said there was "agreement by all sides that the ICRC will be allowed to deliver the aid with due respect for its fundamental working principles of neutrality, impartiality, and independence." It also stipulated that all Russian humanitarian assistance would need to be handed over to the Red Cross itself.

Coordinated Aid?

But as the Russian fleet moved toward Ukraine, it had become apparent that despite the communiques less than 12 hours earlier, there had been little coordination.

The Red Cross told RFE/RL that the aid convoy was not theirs and they did not know what was in it.

"We don't yet know entirely what's in it. We are waiting to clarify some practical details before moving forward with this aid convoy," Ewan Watson, a spokesman for the Red Cross, told RFE/RL. "At the moment it is not an International Red Cross convoy, inasmuch as we haven't had sight of the material, we haven't had certain information regarding the content, and the volume of aid that it contains." He said that the ICRC was not informed by the Russians that it had left until after it departed.

Fears Of A Russian incursion

The statements on aid come against the backdrop of increasing fears over a potential full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. There are as many as 20,000 Russian military personnel on Ukraine's border, and some have speculated that Moscow would use "humanitarian intervention" as a pretext for its incursion.

Shortly before Moscow's August 11 announcement, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said there was "high probability" that Russia would take unilateral military action "under the guise of a humanitarian operation." 

It is with this in mind that Western statements -- including those from the European Union and United States stressed the need for any aid operation to be led by the Red Cross (and not Russia).

Painted White Trucks

The first pictures of Russia's convoy, which appeared in Russian state media early on August 12, did little to allay the fears.

Russian Aid Convoy Sets Off For Ukrainei
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August 12, 2014
A Russian convoy of 280 trucks carrying humanitarian aid left for Ukraine on August 12. Russia said the aid consisted of food, medicine, medical equipment, sleeping bags, and portable power generators. (Reuters)

Heading toward Luhansk from just outside Moscow, Russian authorities said the 280 trucks carrying 2,000 tons of food, medicine, medical equipment, sleeping bags, and power generators would arrive in the embattled eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk by the morning of August 13.

While Russian news agencies reported that the trucks were coming from Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry, Russian bloggers quickly pointed out that the automobiles appeared to be repainted versions of green Russian military trucks.

A video uploaded to YouTube on August 10 appeared to show similar trucks surrounded by Russian soldiers -- some were green, while others appeared to have a fresh coat of white paint. And the "Kyiv Post" reported that some Russian soldiers had apparently posted messages on social media about repainting and stocking trucks with aid.

Where Is The Aid Headed And Who's Taking It There?

Ostensibly, the supplies are headed to territories in the Ukrainian region of Luhansk that since April have been occupied by armed pro-Russian separatists.

Amid heavy fighting between separatists and Kyiv's armed forces -- and with both sides accused of indiscriminate shelling -- the southeastern part of the region, which includes its largest city, Luhansk, has been almost completely cut off.

According to the Red Cross, thousands are without access to water, electricity, or medicine.

But with strong evidence that Russia has provided arms and support to separatists, Kyiv would be unlikely to allow an uncoordinated convoy of Russian trucks to enter the region -- even if the vehicles were carrying only aid. 

At least three high-ranking Ukrainian officials, apparently alarmed by the fast-paced developments on the Russian side, have warned that the convoy will not be allowed to pass through Ukraine's borders.

Valeriy Chaliy, Poroshenko's chief of staff, told news media that Ukraine was "not considering" giving the trucks access to Ukrainian territory and a Ukrainian military spokesman said the Red Cross would need a week to determine Luhansk's needs.

Russia, so far, has dismissed those concerns.

A Foreign Ministry statement, which called Ukrainian concerns "puzzling," said the convoy would enter Ukraine at the Belgorod-Kharkiv crossing "under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross." 

Earlier, a spokesperson for Russia's Emergency Ministry had reportedly told BBC that the convoy had no plans to enter Ukraine.

With additional reporting by Luke Johnson

Social-Media Posts Belie Russian Denials About Ukraine Involvement

Glenn Kates

Russia has sought to maintain plausible deniability about its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine's east.

Granted, separatist leaders like Igor Girkin and Igor Bezler are Russian citizens with alleged pasts in Russia's security services, but Moscow says they came to Ukraine on their own accord.

And although some high-powered weapons have been traced back to Russia, the Kremlin has argued -- albeit not particularly convincingly -- that any weapons in separatist hands were taken from the Ukrainian side.

But some Russian military personnel may not have gotten the memo.

Aleksandr Sotkin, a 24-year-old Russian soldier who BuzzFeed first reported had been posting updates apparently from inside Ukraine, is the most recent culprit in the series of what appear to be social-media snafus.

"Night shift..working up a sweat," says this post from June 30, apparently posted inside Ukraine in the town of Krasna Talivka, 3 kilometers from the border with Russia.

According to an Instagram map, Sokin posted two of his photos from within Ukraine:

Internet sleuths were also able to make screen captures of posts apparently belonging to other soldiers before they managed to close their social-media accounts.

Mikhail Chuganov allegedly uploaded photos of military trucks carrying Grad rockets toward Ukraine's border on Vkontakte, Russia's most popular social-networking site. His account has since been deleted.

And in late July, a soldier named Vadim Grigoryev posted photos of launchers and artillery near the border with Ukraine. 

"We battered Ukraine all night," he allegedly wrote:

After deleting his account, Grigoryev appeared on Russia's state-run Rossia-24 TV channel and claimed his profile had been hacked. 

His defense, though, had some holes.

He first told the interviewer he hadn't heard about the controversy until contacted by the TV channel. But later in the interview, Grigoryev said he had called his family members, who then deleted his account. He also claimed his phone was incapable of posting the photos, which he said had been taken over a month ago -- a claim that seems to suggest the photos do indeed exist.

Some Russian State Duma deputies appear to be at least tacitly acknowledging the veracity of the photos.

A Communist Party deputy is reportedly preparing legislation that would ban soldiers from posting photos and videos on social networks that revealed military equipment or positions.

Few Want To Take Responsibility As Civilian Casualties Add Up In Ukraine War

Local residents pass the covered body of an apparent civilian casualty in the village of Stanitsa Luhanskaya, in the eastern industrial province of Luhansk, on July 2.

Glenn Kates

The war in Ukraine's east has had its share of horrific images, but one recently stood out for its poetic cruelty.

A young mother in jeans shorts and a tanktop lay splayed on the grass with her leg obliterated -- dead, she continued to cling to her lifeless infant (Warning: Graphic image).

As international attention focuses on the Malaysia Airlines crash investigation and increased sanctions against Russia -- amid fighting in Gaza and Iraq and other world crises -- Ukrainian and pro-Russian partisans are bitterly blaming each other for scenes like this as the war in Ukraine appears to be growing more violent.

Less than a week after Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report accusing Kyiv of using unguided Grad rockets in civilian areas, videos continue to show them falling in separatist-controlled cities like Horlivka, seemingly arbitrarily.

At least 22 civilians reportedly died in shelling on July 29 alone, as Kyiv appeared to be closing in on separatist positions.

Ukrainian officials, who have denied using Grads in populated areas despite Human Rights Watch's charge that artillery has come from Ukrainian army positions, have claimed the deadly attacks are provocations from Russia-backed separatists hoping to gain public sympathy.

And what people believe often appears to depend on their political positions.

When videos and photos appeared online of the mother and child, said to have been killed in Horlivka, reaction was swift.

InfoResist, a pro-Kyiv site, referring to the separatists, said, "Terrorist Grads kill a young mother with her child in her hands."

"Open your eyes, blind Europe," said a meme posted by a pro-Russian supporter who blamed the Ukrainian army for the deaths. (Warning: Graphic image)

A UN report released on July 28 said more than 1,000 civilians had been killed since the conflict began in earnest in April when armed pro-Russian separatists began occupying cities in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Rights groups, who say separatists also have Grads, have accused them of crimes including torture, kidnapping, and execution. Ukrainian authorities discovered a mass grave with at least eight bodies in Slovyansk, an area that was until recently controlled by separatists.

And there is evidence that Moscow has supplied rebels with increasingly sophisticated weaponry, including the Buk missile launcher that has been blamed for downing the Malaysian airliner with 298 passengers and crew on July 17.

But as Kyiv appears to be gaining ground against the rebels, some supporters appear unwilling to acknowledge the civilian cost of the advance.

Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko stated categorically to reporters on July 29 that "Ukrainian troops do not use artillery and aviation while fighting in cities."

"Ukrainian troops will recapture the city of Donetsk in order to save its infrastructure," Lysenko added. "But the primary goal is to save the lives of people -- peaceful civilians -- who remain there. They are suffering at the moment from being shelled by terrorists."

And an anchor for Hromadske TV, an independent Kyiv-based Internet TV site that bills itself as an "objective and unbiased" information source, cut off an interview with a well-regarded researcher in the Russia office of Human Rights Watch.

The researcher, Tanya Lokshina, had insisted on speaking about civilian casualties but refused to blame Russia outright for the conflict, despite repeated demands from the anchor, Daniil Yanevskyy.

Referring to the interview on Facebook, Yanevskyy asked users to "like" his post if they supported the idea that having a guest on the air who "demeaned the soldiers who have shed blood in eastern Ukraine" was "unacceptable."

It has over 2,500 likes as of this writing.


British Aviation Expert Says Russian MH17 Claims Highly Unlikely

Russian defense officials sit in front of a map of air-defense locations in the area of Donetsk during a briefing by Russian Lieutenant General Andrei Kartopolov and Lieutenant General Igor Makushev in Moscow on July 21 to present Moscow's view of the MH17 downing.

Glenn Kates

According to a British aviation expert, Russian charges that a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet may have shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 are "fairly incredible."

"Loaded with missiles and bombs, [the Su-25's] maximum altitude is five kilometers," says David Gleave, an aviation and safety researcher at Loughborough University. "We know that MH17 was flying at 10 kilometers high."

At a July 21 press conference --  held amid mounting evidence that MH17 had been shot down by a Buk missile fired by pro-Russian separatists -- members of Russia's general staff claimed that an Su-25 with air-to-air missiles had been detected within three to five kilometers of the doomed plane. 

Gleave, a former accident investigator, says it is conceivable, although extremely unlikely, that the alleged fighter jet could have attempted a maneuver in which it nose-dived and then flipped skyward to shoot the missile from more than three kilometers below the Malaysian airliner.

Moscow had claimed that the Su-25 was flying at the same altitude as Flight 17.

Stranger about the Russian claims, though, is that Ukraine does have Su-27 fighter jets in its arsenal -- a series that would have been capable of flying at altitude with MH17.

"[For the Russians to say] that [the Ukrainians] would use the Frogfoot" -- NATO's term for the Su-25 -- "is a particularly bizarre choice of airplane because it's purposely designed to fly at very low levels and be agile down there," Gleave said.

On July 22, the U.S. government released a satellite photo that it said showed the trajectory of the Buk missile pro-Russian separatists allegedly fired from the ground to shoot down MH17.

Gleave says that pictures he has seen from the crash site -- which show indents on the exterior of the plane -- appear to indicate a strike from a missile.

Video The 'Well-Known Art Gallery' In Prague Being Hailed By Russian State TV

One of the most famous art galleries in Prague?

Viewers of Russian state TV were introduced this week to a revealing photo exhibit being held at "one of the most famous art galleries in Prague."

Organizers are describing the exhibit as an "attempt to overcome the conspiracy of European media silence on what is happening in Ukraine," according to Rossia-24.

But the televised reports, also being aired on Russia's Channel 5, conspicuously leave out the name of the "well-known" Prague art gallery displaying a collection of photos said to have been taken in the aftermath of a fire at Odesa's trade-union building that killed over 40 supporters of pro-Russian separatists.

It is certainly conceivable that one of Prague's more eminent spaces -- the Leica Gallery, New Town Hall, or Prague House, for instance -- would be interested in hosting an exhibit on the horrific May 2 fire, sparked after earlier clashes between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian protesters in which gunfire reportedly killed at least four on the pro-Kyiv side.

But none of them is. Turns out, the display is in an otherwise nondescript fifth-floor hallway in the building housing the Czech communist party, officially called the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia.

During a midday visit by RFE/RL two days after the show's opening, the hall was empty aside from two elderly members of the communist-linked "Czech Borderlands Club" lounging in armchairs lining the walls. 

The exhibit consists of some 20 pixelated photos collected from the Internet, printed on computer paper and glued onto the backs of glass frames. 

Many of the gruesome pictures have appeared widely online.

Monika Horeni, an editor at "Halo noviny," the Czech communist party's news arm and an organizer for the show, says she was asked to display the photos by a Ukrainian who opposes the government in Kyiv. 

Speaking to RFE/RL, the 48-year-old, wearing a "Remember Odesa, Stop Fascism" pin, appeared to parallel Russian state media, which has frequently used misinformation to cast Ukraine's post-Euromaidan leadership as an "illegal junta" influenced by fascism.

"Czech residents don't get objective information from Czech media, unfortunately," Horeni said, speaking Russian. "But we try to show it, because we are convinced that in Ukraine bad things are happening. The current authorities are putschists and many of them didn't come to power democratically. "

Horeni said 20 to 30 people came to the opening in early July, but admitted visitors have since been sparse.

-- Glenn Kates

Video Russian State TV Adds Its Own Twist To RFE/RL Video

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service filmed the disgruntled soldier last week.

Russian state-television is suddenly broadcasting RFE/RL videos -- albeit unattributed. 

On June 19, Rossia 24 broadcast segments of two separate videos shot in eastern Ukraine by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. Contrasting the state broadcaster's angle with the on-the-ground reporting by our reporters provides a useful case study in how a video's context can be shifted to represent one particular point of view. 

Video 1: The Disgruntled Soldier

The first video features a Ukrainian national guardsman who is brutal in his criticism of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. 

"Comrade Poroshenko, please establish order if you're a real president and a man of your word," he said. "All of us are beginning to think that we're being used as cannon fodder."

He went on to complain about a lack of apparent strategy, backup support, and food rations.

Rossia 24 aired these complaints, including a threat to turn around and go to Kyiv, here.  

The channel also claimed, wrongly, that the video was posted on the Internet by members of the Ukrainian National Guard. 

What Rossia 24 omits, however, is the soldier's account of why he is in the east in the first place. 

Referring to armed separatists who have been engaged in fighting with Ukraine's military forces since occupying buildings in April, the soldier appealed to Poroshenko to "bring together qualified, reasonable army professionals who can defeat the [separatist] monster that has emerged here."

He added that "We are defending our country absolutely for free." 
Ukrainian National Guard Soldier: 'We're Used As Cannon Fodder'i
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June 18, 2014
A member of Ukraine's National Guard has complained about a lack of proper military planning as troops fight the separatist insurgency in the country's east. The unidentified soldier, whose voice has been altered for this video, pleaded with the government to provide more professional support for Ukrainian military operations. (RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)

So, Rossia -- a channel that has provided a steady flow of coverage in support of the separatist cause -- is content to air the grievances toward Kyiv of a disgruntled Ukrainian volunteer without also showing how he feels about pro-Russian militiamen. 

Video 2: Slovyansk Shelling

In the aftermath of two Rossia 24 journalists being killed earlier this week when Ukrainian troops attacked a separatist checkpoint in Luhansk, Rossia 24 used another RFE/RL video -- of Ukrainian National Guardsmen shelling in a Slovyansk suburb --  to imply that the deaths may not have been a mistake made in the fog of war. 

"They take aim carefully, choosing their targets," a Rossia 24 reporter said over the footage of the shelling. "Fighters of the National Guard are performing an execution in a suburb of Slovyansk. They brag that they can hit a person from several kilometers away. But after the demise of our colleagues, many said Ukrainian soldiers didn't see who they were firing at."

The Rossia 24 report then used audio from the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service report:

"Is it possible to hit [the target] from such a distance?" the RFE/RL journalist asks.

"It is possible," the soldier answers. "With good aim, it's possible to hit the target." 
The Rossia 24 version of the video, however, omits the claim by the same soldier -- included in the original RFE/RL video -- that civilians had left the village they were shelling two to three weeks ago.
RFE/RL cannot independently confirm the soldier's claim.  

-- RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service/Glenn Kates

Russian Media Claims About State Spokeswoman Appear To Be Fantasy

Jen Psaki

An article about a U.S. State Department spokeswoman in the official newspaper of the Russian government appears to be completely made up. 

On June 20, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported that Jen Psaki had rejected claims that Ukrainians were fleeing to Russia's southern Rostov region. 

According to the newspaper, AP's diplomatic correspondent, Matthew Lee, then asked her to explain "all the women and children arriving in Russia's regions." 

"It's tourists" who come for Rostov's "beautiful mountains and curative air" she reportedly responded "without hesitation." 

The first problem with the statement? Rostov is generally flat, with no land more than 253 meters above sea level. 

The second problem? The conversation apparently never took place.

Lee denied it on Twitter today.

And there was no similar conversation found in a search of State Department transcripts. 

But the phantom back-and-forth between him and Psaki, which was apparently first reported on a talk show on Russia's state-run First Channel, had already quickly spread in Russian media. A Russian-language Google News search for mentions of Psaki and Rostov on June 20 returned over 120 results. 

"Psaki has once again demonstrated her incompetence," tweeted LifeNews, an outlet believed to have ties to Russia's security services. "She called Ukrainian refugees tourists." 

Psaki has been in the crosshairs of Russian media and supporters of the Kremlin since early May, when, in explaining Washington's refusal to recognize separatist referendum votes in eastern Ukraine, she mentioned carousel voting -- an election rigging method by which voters are bussed around to cast ballots in multiple polling stations.   

Lee, the AP correspondent, followed up by asking her to explain the term and Psaki awkwardly admitted that she was not "familiar with it." 

Shortly after, Dmitry Kiselyov, the head of Russia's propaganda arm, Russia Today, introduced "Psaking," a new word based on the incident. 

"“People say [Psaking] when someone makes a dogmatic statement about something they don’t understand, mixes facts up, and then doesn’t apologize," he said. 

As of writing "Rossiiskaya gazeta" had not yet issued a correction. 

-- Glenn Kates

Watch A Russian News Anchor's Reaction When He Hears A Surprising Opinion

RBK anchor Yury Tamantsev gets an answer he doesn't expect on Russian TV.

RBK is a Russian business news agency not known for the sort of over-the-top, pro-Kremlin coverage of state television channels. It is owned by a group led by Russian billionaire and Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
Still, over the course of a five-minute interview with the chairman of the Independent Association of Ukrainian Miners, the host of an RBK television program seemed to morph from reserved to agitated to angry.
The video below is in Russian, but even if you don't speak the language, the change of tone is obvious.

WATCH: Mykhaylo Volinets interviewed by RBK TV
 The guest, Mykhaylo Volinets, begins by claiming that, over the weekend, "men in masks with automatic weapons" had occupied a Donetsk mine and taken its general director prisoner.
"The majority of the Donetsk miners don't support the actions of [pro-Russian] separatists," he continues. "But many -- especially Russia -- are trying to destabilize the country's east. If it weren't for the actions of Russia to destabilize the situation we could peacefully resolve it. "
The anchor, Yury Tamantsev, now with his arms crossed, takes a long breath. He claims that a week ago he had seen images of miners protesting against the Ukrainian military operation in the region. It's hard to believe, he says, that they had changed their mind. 
"There are different opinions," says Volinets, who goes on to argue that a range of complex measures should be taken to staunch the unrest, including negotiations and an end to violence. Nonetheless, he concludes, it's impossible as long as Russian arms are illegally crossing into Ukraine.
Now Tamantsev is agitated. He answers with a sentence that is marvelous for its unintentional irony.
"Did you see [the arms] yourself?" he asks. "You are just broadcasting the opinion of Ukrainian television now. For what?"
Volinets begins to speak and the host cuts him off.
"You said there are different opinions, but your opinion is also just one out of many, do you agree?"
Volinets again brings up weapons, as the host's rage builds.
"Where did you see them, on Ukrainian TV? Come on, let's talk about what we know is fact," he says, adding that there was no way that the miners have suddenly all turned against the separatists. 
"I don't want to fault you, I'm just going over the facts on the ground," Volinets answers. 

"You're not incriminating me in particular, but an entire country in something you can't concretely prove."
Volinets tries to speak again, but by now the exasperated host has had enough. He ends the discussion.

-- Glenn Kates

How To Project A Fringe Website Onto 'American Media'

"American Media: Obama Supports State Terror In Eastern Ukraine"

As much as it dismisses the West, Russian media sometimes appears obsessed with Western coverage of the issues that affect Russia -- particularly when that coverage even peripherally supports Moscow's message.

When CNN appeared to implicate Kyiv in a blast at the Luhansk administration building last week, Russia's two main state-controlled channels ran stories on the CNN report, as did the state-run RIA Novosti news agency and the Kremlin's international RT network.

In May, when "The Guardian" ran a controversial (and widely debunked) opinion piece by John Pilger that claimed the United States and the West had unleashed "fascist forces" on Ukraine, virtually all major Russian media provided coverage.

But what should Russian media do if the English-language source criticizing the West is neither "The Guardian" or CNN?

What if there's a picture-perfect, hyperbolic, red-meat headline -- in this case, "Obama Backs State Terror Against Eastern Ukraine" -- but the publication running the piece is called the "World Socialist Web Site"?

What if that website is sponsored by the International Committee of the Fourth International, which is apparently a group devoted to implementing the teachings of Leon Trotsky. 

In other words, what should Russian media do when it wants to quote a fringe source but give it mainstream credibility?

Apparently it can follow the example of "Vzglyad," a website founded by Konstantin Rykov, a pro-Kremlin media entrepreneur. It can bury the source, while projecting its opinion on American media in general.

Here is "Vzglyad's" headline: "American Media: Obama Supports State Terror In Eastern Ukraine."

The article never mentions the "World Socialist Web Site," although it does link to "Axis of Logic," another fringe website that republished the original opinion piece.

A tweet by Rykov, with just the headline, has been retweeted 90 times as of this writing:

According to, a company that provides web-traffic data, "Vzglyad" ranks 82nd in visits and page views in Russia. The "World Socialist Web Site" ranks No. 42,430 in the United States.

Correction: This post originally stated that Alexa did not provide a U.S. ranking for the "World Socialist Web Site." In fact, it does, as noted in the comments. 

-- Glenn Kates

Video Despite Denials, All Evidence For Deadly Explosion Points To Kyiv

Firefighters arrive at the state administration building after the explosion in Luhansk on June 2.

On June 2 an explosion ripped through the Luhansk state administration building.

Before anyone knew what had happened, graphic video from the scene began to appear online. A dazed woman with her legs blown off and seemingly near death stared blankly into a camera amid rubble and lifeless bodies.

Just as soon, rumors began to spread about what had taken place.

As is happening more and more frequently, both the pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian sides were quick to latch onto stories that fit comfortably into their narrative of events on the ground.

Separatist supporters reported almost immediately that the attack came from a Ukrainian fighter jet.

From Ukrainian officials, the denials were swift. "The most likely cause of the explosion was careless and inept handling of small arms and explosives," Oleksandr Dmytrashevskyy, a Ukrainian military spokesman, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

Andriy Senchenko, deputy chief of staff for acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, declared that a heat-seeking missile fired by pro-Russian separatists had mistakenly targeted an air-conditioning unit on the fourth floor of the administration building.

Video from the scene showed a blown-out fourth-floor window with billowing smoke:
Luhansk Explosion Leaves Casualties, Damagei
June 02, 2014
Video from the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk shows men trying to move a body amid scattered debris outside the damaged regional administration building after an explosion there. The administration building is under the control of the leaders of the separatist self-proclaimed "Luhansk People's Republic." The footage was provided to Reuters by ANNA News.

Pro-Ukrainian supporters were quick to run with the story:

Despite the Ukrainian denials, the evidence from observers and journalists on the ground overwhelmingly points to a strike from a Ukrainian aircraft.

A June 3 report from the special monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said: 
"Based on the SMM's limited observation these strikes were the result of non-guided rockets shot from an aircraft. The number of casualties is unknown."

The OSCE did not immediately reply to a request for further information.

A CNN investigation found "clear evidence" that the detonations came from the air:
"But a CNN investigation in Luhansk has found clear evidence that whatever detonations hit the building and the adjoining park came from the air. The tops of trees were splintered, and a series of small craters -- about a dozen -- had been blasted in a straight line, starting in the park and reaching the walls of the building, blowing out many of its windows and spraying the area with jagged shrapnel. That's what appears to have killed most of the victims and injured 20 more.

"The pattern of the craters clearly indicated some sort of strafing, according to a munitions expert at the scene with CNN. Their size suggested 30-millimeter ordnance, he said, which is standard equipment on the Su-25, a ground-attack fighter, and the Su-27 -- both combat aircraft operated by Ukraine."

Anna Nemtsova, a reporter for the "Daily Beast," tweeted this from the scene on June 3:

In a dispatch from the scene, Nemtsova also reported seeing 21 craters.

The Ukrainian military -- which has been in a pitched battle for two days against separatists who launched an attack on a border outpost in the region -- has used fighter jets to support its mission in Luhansk.

But it still has not claimed responsibility for the attack on the state administration building, where reports say eight unarmed civilians died.

And the dissembling has become a useful propaganda tool for the Russian side, while apparently hardening public opinion in Luhansk.

A photo making the rounds on Twitter, along with horrific images from the scene, shows the second World Trade Center building being hit on 9/11. The caption says, "air conditioner explosion."

Alex Luhn, a "Guardian" reporter, posted this image of Ukraine's president-elect, who met with U.S. President Obama on June 4 and is due to be sworn in on June 7:

And on a nationally televised Russian talk show hosted by Arkady Mamontov -- a well-known host who has provided a steady stream of sensationalist propaganda about  Ukraine -- commentators said the actions proved the separatists were the last defense against "fascism and American aggression."

All this raises a more troubling question for Kyiv. As it ramps up its offensive against pro-Russian separatists, there are likely to be more civilian casualties -- particularly as air power plays a greater role. If it accepts this, is it also prepared to talk honestly about the consequences of war?

-- Glenn Kates

LifeNews Blames Right Sector, Conscripts For Luhansk Border Fighting

Pro-Russia militants fire from a residential building at Ukrainian border guards defending the Federal Border Headquarters in Luhansk on June 2.

Early morning on June 2, armed insurgents attacked a border-guard checkpoint in the Luhansk region of southeastern Ukraine.
According to an unconfirmed account by Ukraine's border-guard service, as many as 400 rebels participated in the operation.
Rebel fighters said Ukrainian servicemen had rejected an offer for safe passage if they agreed to abandon their posts.
Here is video of the attack, provided by the Ukrainian Border Guard Service:
With even rebel fighters admitting an attempt to seize the border-guard outpost, it seems clear that an incursion was initiated by insurgents.
But here's how LifeNews -- an Internet video service said to have ties to Russia's security services and criticized as a Kremlin mouthpiece -- frames the battle:
"The [Ukrainian] National Guard has opened fire on a southern region of a city in Luhansk," says an anchor for the news portal. "They are using not just small arms but also artillery."
She then brings in Aleksei Repin, a correspondent who is reporting from an apartment block apparently located near the fighting.
"When did the [Ukrainian] special forces begin their attack and what's happening now?" the anchor asks.
Amid the sound of gunfire, Repin explains: "Two-hundred meters from here is the military garrison of the Ukrainian border guards. There are 200 fighters -- including contractors, conscripts, and national guardsmen. We also have information that Right Sector is there as well."
Right Sector, an ultranationalist Ukrainian group, has become the go-to bogeyman for Russian authorities, who have accused Ukraine of promoting "fascism."
Claims of the group's omnipresence have become more difficult since its presidential candidate, Dmytro Yarosh, received just 1 percent of the vote on May 25.
Repin goes on to say that the ragtag Ukrainian group opened fire on the village at 4 a.m., using small arms, sniper weapons, and grenade launchers.
The camera then pans to people who appear to be local residents. The correspondent reports that they are running to work.
For the non-LifeNews version of what is happening in Luhansk, follow us here.
-- Glenn Kates

Video Russian TV Airs Old Footage In Fresh Ukraine Atrocity Claim

What appears to be the same footage was used in a report about a counterterrorist operation in the North Caucasus 18 months ago, and a killing in Ukraine recently.

Both the image and the implication were disturbing: a splayed corpse in an open field that Russian state television suggested was that of a civilian killed by Kyiv's forces to intimidate pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donetsk region.

But the footage of the corpse featured in a May 16 newscast by state-owned broadcaster Rossia-1 appears to be identical to video material aired 18 months earlier in a report on an antiterrorist operation in Russia's restive North Caucasus region.

In its report on fighting between Ukrainian federal forces and militias backing the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic near the city of Slovyansk, Rossia-1 set up the footage of the corpse by saying that "every day peaceful civilians continue to die."

The body is then shown lying on the ground next to a handgun as the voiceover explains that the Ukrainian National Guard killed a man whom the armed separatists did not recognize as their own. The weapon was left at the scene to "send a message that an enemy was killed," Rossia-1 explained.
The report, however, shows what appears to be the exact same footage that its sister channel, Rossia-24, used in a November 18, 2012, report about a counterterrorist operation in Russia's North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. 

Five militants were killed in that operation, Rossia-24 reported at the time.

In addition to showing what seems to be the same corpse, both the May 16 report from Ukraine and the 2012 report on the Kabardino-Balkaria operation include apparently identical footage of four armed, uniformed men surveying a grassy, fog-swept field.

The same raw footage was posted on YouTube the same day as the 2012 report on the counterterrorist operation, with Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee cited as the source.
In the May 16 report, Rossia-1 also interviewed a masked separatist holding an assault rifle who alleged that Ukrainian commanders operating in the area had executed their own soldiers who refused to obey "antipopular" orders.

Ukrainian and Western officials have accused the Russian media of engaging in naked propaganda to promote the Kremlin's message that the government in Kyiv is illegitimate and is backing "fascists" bent on persecuting ethnic Russians and Ukrainians who oppose its authority.

Last month, a nationally televised documentary in Russia suggested the Ukrainian government was building an internment camp for those "who speak out" against Ukrainian ultranationalists and for people whom "the current authorities in Kyiv call separatists."

Construction of the facility shown in the documentary, however, was begun in 2012 under then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in late February following mass protests in Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities.

The building is part of an EU-funded project to temporarily house illegal migrants.

-- Carl Schreck

'Guardian' Op-Ed Quotes Cryptic Odesa 'Doctor' Seen As Hoax

A screen grab from the Facebook page of "Igor Rozovskiy"

A prominent British journalist’s op-ed for "The Guardian" has cited claims of a looming anti-Semitic crackdown in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa that were made on a Facebook page widely believed to be a hoax.

In his commentary piece published on the British newspaper's website, journalist John Pilger quotes an unidentified "doctor" describing the deadly May 2 violence in Odesa that resulted in the deaths of dozens of pro-Russian activists in a fire at the city’s trade-union building.

"‘I was stopped by pro-Ukrainian Nazi radicals. One of them pushed me away rudely, promising that soon me and other Jews of Odessa are going to meet the same fate. What occurred yesterday didn't even take place during the fascist occupation in my town in world war two. I wonder, why the whole world is keeping silent,’" Pilger quotes the doctor as saying in the op-ed published on May 13.

The quote is almost identical to assertions made on the Facebook page of a user purporting to be a 39-year-old doctor from Odesa named Igor Rozovskiy. The claims surged through Russian social-media sites, appearing to buttress ominous Russian warnings of a takeover by fascists in Ukraine.
The Facebook post purportedly from Rozovskiy
The Facebook post purportedly from Rozovskiy

English, German, and Bulgarian translations of the purported doctor’s testimony were distributed widely via social media as well.

Less than a day after the Facebook post emerged, however, Internet users raised red flags about the veracity of the claims and the doctor’s identity.

The Facebook page used a photograph of Ruslan Semenov, a dentist based in Ust-Dzheguta, a town in Russia's Karachai-Cherkessia Republic, more than 1,200 kilometers away. Moreover, the page has since been removed.

Jewish leaders in Ukraine have rejected Russian claims of a rise in anti-Semitism in the country since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February and fled to Russia.

Leading representatives of Ukraine’s Jewish community took out a full-page advertisement in "The New York Times" in March, stating that even the most marginal nationalistic groups in Ukraine "do not dare show anti-Semitism or other xenophobic behavior."

Pilger’s op-ed was the most-viewed article on "The Guardian,'" website over the past 24 hours, according to the newspaper on May 14, and it garnered more than 11,000 Facebook shares and 2,000 tweets.

Neither "The Guardian" nor Pilger responded immediately to emails seeking comment.

-- Luke Johnson

Reports Of Plans To Evacuate Odesa’s Jewish Community Appear To Miss Mark

Jewish men attend morning prayers at a synagogue in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine.

Odesa’s Chabad House -- one of two functioning synagogues in a city that is home to an estimated 12,000 Jews -- is about a 10-minute walk from the trade union building where a fire killed more than 40 people on May 2, most of them pro-Russian protesters.
That Friday, as about 100 people were attending Shabbat prayer services, reports said the smoke could be smelled from the synagogue.
Jewish community leaders expressed alarm. Press accounts of that alarm were shocking.
“Buses and armed guards: Odessa Jews ready for mass evacuation,” screamed the headline on the website of RT, Russia’s English-language propaganda arm. “Odesa again anticipating a Jewish pogrom,” wrote the UralPress website.
The reports derived from a May 5 article in “The Jerusalem Post” addressing concerns among Odesa’s Jews. The paper reported that Rabbi Avraham Wolf, who runs Odesa’s Chabad House and is also the city’s chief rabbi, had prepared a fleet of 70 buses after the May 2 event to evacuate the Jewish community.
But in follow-up reports the community denied the plan and a spokesperson for the Russian Jewish Congress said they had been exaggerated in Russian media.
On a visit to the synagogue a week after the trade-union-building fire, an RFE/RL reporter saw no buses outside and did not have to pass through any security to enter the building. There was one visible guard, who sat behind a desk in the building’s foyer. He did not question the reporter.
Wolf was not in Odesa and was unavailable during RFE/RL’s visit, but Berl Kapulkin, who acts as Chabad House’s press spokesman, said the rabbi’s comments were misinterpreted.
Kapulkin said that given the uncertainty about the political situation in the country, there are contingency plans to protect vulnerable communities -- including a Jewish orphanage -- in a worst-case scenario for the city. But nothing has happened that makes him think doing so will ever be necessary.
“As citizens of Ukraine, the Jewish community felt tension and indeed depression after the tragedy,” said Kapulkin. “Specifically as Jews, we don’t feel a new threat.”
But Kapulkin said some outlets have “peddled” a narrative that attempts to put Jews on one side or another in the battle between those who support pro-Russian separatists and those who support Kyiv.
Russia, which has refused to recognize the new authoritiesin Kyiv who came to power when former President Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine, has relentlessly accused the government of supporting “fascists” and “anti-Semites.”
And in Donetsk, where armed separatists backed by Russia now control much of the region, a mysterious pamphlet was distributed outside a synagogue that demanded that Jews pay the separatist authorities a registration fee or face deportation. This was widely seen as a provocation organized by an opposing political force.
Real or not, the constant attention may be having an effect on some in the Jewish community. According to the Jewish Agency, the 762 Jews who emigrated to Israel from Ukraine in the first quarter of 2014 represent more than double the figure for 2013.
-- Glenn Kates

Odesa Doctor Or Random Dentist? Claims Of Atrocities, Anti-Semitism Face Scrutiny

A screen grab of the Facebook profile picture of "Igor Rozovskiy," who claims to be a 39-year-old doctor from Odesa.

It was a disturbing detail of the deadly violence that unfolded in Odesa on May 2: A local doctor claimed Ukrainian nationalists prevented him from saving a man's life and warned that the city's Jews would soon be dead also.
But less than 24 hours after it began circulating widely on Facebook, this testimony appeared to be unraveling as a potential hoax.
The claims were made on the Facebook page of a user purporting to be a 39-year-old doctor in Odesa named Igor Rozovskiy on May 3, the same day that the account was created.
"As a doctor I hurried to assist those who could still be saved, but I was stopped by militants who would not let me approach a wounded man," the user wrote. "One of them shoved me aggressively and vowed that soon I and other Jews in Odesa awaited the same fate. ...Nothing like this happened in my city even under fascist occupation."
A screen grab of "Igor Rozovskiy's" Facebook post, in which he claims Ukrainian nationalists prevented him from saving a man's life. (Click to enlarge)
A screen grab of "Igor Rozovskiy's" Facebook post, in which he claims Ukrainian nationalists prevented him from saving a man's life. (Click to enlarge)

The testimony jibes with claims by Russia and its supporters in Ukraine that pro-Kyiv forces are teeming with fascists and anti-Semites, allegations that Ukrainian authorities and Western officials say are false.
The Russian-language post had gathered more than 5,000 shares on Facebook one day after it appeared, and it also circulated widely on Russia's main social-networking site, Vkontakte.
Skepticism about the claims emerged quickly as well, however, and bloggers who began scratching at the surface of the Facebook post say it appears to be part of a coordinated disinformation campaign.
The photograph on the Facebook page appears to be that of Ruslan Semenov, a dentist based in Ust-Dzheguta, a town in the Karachai-Cherkessia Republic in Russia's restive North Caucasus region. 
It was not immediately clear why, if the Facebook page is legitimate, the author might have used Semenov's photograph.
"Unfortunately, Russia, which for the third straight month is engaging in open warfare against Ukraine, works professionally in this sphere," blogger Maksim Savanevskyy wrote on the website of the "Ukrainskaya Pravda" newspaper.
Savanevskyy noted that after the Russian-language post began gathering critical mass online, identical translations began circulating in English, German, and Bulgarian. 
The government in Kyiv and its allies in the West have accused Russia of engaging in a propaganda campaign aimed at ratcheting up tensions and frightening the population in eastern Ukraine about potential repressions by fascists.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, issued a May 4 statement accusing Western countries of an "information blockade" about the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine. 
Last month, Russian state-owned broadcaster Rossia 1 interviewed a man they claimed was a pro-Russian protester assaulted by "radical" pro-Kyiv supporters. The same man, meanwhile, told another Russian network, state-friendly NTV, that he was a German mercenary financing unrest in Ukraine.
After the man's competing tales came under scrutiny, NTV claimed that the man actually suffered from schizophrenia and that the network had "inadvertently become hostage to a grand hoax."
-- Carl Schreck

How Russian Media Turned Construction Site Into 'Concentration Camp'

The TV package, shown nationally in Russia on April 27, followed a Russian Foreign Ministry statement expressing "extreme anxiety" over the construction of buildings "reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps."

Viewed with the sound off, it appears on video to be a tour of a typical construction site in eastern Ukraine.

But unmuted, the report by Russian TV host Arkady Mamontov becomes more ominous. As eerie music overlays the din of power drills, the camera zooms in on a tube protruding from a piece of brick wall and then quickly cuts to what appears to be a small shower room.

For Mamontov, the implication is obvious -- these are concentration camps being built for pro-Russian supporters "who speak out against Right Sector and the people who the powers in Kyiv call separatists."

"The camera will show everything," he says.
The package, shown nationally in Russia on April 27, followed a Russian Foreign Ministry statement expressing "extreme anxiety" over the construction of buildings "reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps."

The truth: The building has been under construction since 2012, when Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-leaning president who fled Kyiv for Russia in late February, was still in power. It is one of two buildings being constructed as part of an EU-funded project to temporarily house illegal migrants.

"In accordance with Ukrainian legislation, the places are entirely for the placement of foreigners and stateless people to be placed until orders for their expulsion are completed," Serhiy Hunko, press spokesman for Ukraine's state migration service, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. "Under no circumstances can Ukrainians be placed there."

Moscow has relentlessly invoked the threat of 1940s-era Nazism to both invoke fears of the new authorities in Kyiv, which it refuses to recognize as legitimate, and to reach into the well of Russian patriotism that springs from the Soviet Union's World War II victory.

While the far-right Svoboda party does hold some government posts, there has been little evidence of widespread ultranationalism. Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of Right Sector, an ultranationalist group mentioned by Mamontov and continuously cited by Moscow as a threat to Russian speakers, is polling at less than 2 percent in his quixotic presidential run.

A second reporter working with Mamontov on his story dismisses the explanation that the EU would build a holding center for migrants. "What interest would the EU have in building deportation facilities?" she asks.

She does not bother to ask why the EU would be interested in investing in new concentration camps.

-- Glenn Kates and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Russian Media Coverage Of The Donetsk Attack On Pro-Ukraine Protesters

Clashes in Donetsk.

This is what we know happened in Donetsk on April 28: About 2,000 demonstrators gathered in the center of the eastern city for a march in support of a united Ukraine. 

They were attacked by some 100 men wielding various accoutrements -- including metal rods, baseball bats, and truncheons. 

How do we know this is what happened? Our reporters were there:
Pro-Russia Militants Attack Ukrainian Unity March In Donetski
|| 0:00:00
April 29, 2014
Violence broke out in Donetsk on April 28 after pro-Russia militants attacked a Ukrainian unity march. (RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)

But you don't have to take our word for it. 

From the Global Post: 

From "The Telegraph":

A short video report from ITV News:
It's usually not this simple. On April 27, when pro-Kyiv football ultras clashed with pro-Russian separatists there was clearly violence emanating from both sides. In the case of yesterday's events in Donetsk, however, the evidence of a largely one-sided attack appears to be overwhelming. 

But Russian media has an altogether different story. 

From ITAR-TASS, a state-run news agency:
"On April 28, masked men shouting nationalist slogans attacked a [pro-Russian] anti-fascist rally. Several dozen radical [pro-Kyiv] activists began throwing stones at the [pro-Russian] procession. They also reportedly had grenades. Rebuffed, the attackers fled." 

In linking to the report, Tikhon Dzyadko, a host for the liberal Russian Dozhd TV channel, said ITAR-TASS had gone from "continuing to lie" to "plain fantasizing." 

Russian TV blamed pro-Kyiv football hooligans for attacking "pro-federalization" protesters.

The website took the story a step further, claiming the pro-Kyiv protesters -- linked in the report to a Nazi SS "glorification" group -- tried to carry out a "real cleaning" of the streats of Donetsk.  
"The [pro-Kyiv] radicals started to attack people, including passersby, beating them with bats," a report on the site said.  

Meanwhile, Graham Phillips, a freelancer for RT, the Russian government's English-language outlet, said Western journalists were being overly simplistic in their descriptions of events. 

Although he granted that the pro-Russia side was "just militant today," he said the pro-Kyiv demonstrators had a "peaceful and militant side." And he appeared to blame the "militants" on the Ukrainian side for purposely marching the demonstrators into a pro-Russian attack. 

An RT report relied almost exclusively on Phillips' curated tweets -- excluding the one about the militant nature of the Russian side and another about hundreds of peaceful Ukrainians -- and on quotes from the press spokesperson of the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk, who told RT 1,000 "neo-Nazi thugs" had attacked peaceful pro-Russian protesters.  

-- Glenn Kates, with reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

RT Claims 'Substantiated' In Four Tweets And A Video

A screen grab from Russia's RT TV station

The Russian government-run RT TV channel claims on its website that it "provides an alternative perspective on major global events, and acquaints international audience (sic) with the Russian viewpoint."

But the "Russian viewpoint" it provides has been harshly criticized by Western journalists -- and yesterday by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry -- as nothing short of Russian propaganda.

Using language seemingly derived directly from Moscow, the channel refers to officials in Kyiv as "coup-appointed" and armed activists who have taken journalists as hostages in eastern and southern Ukraine as peaceful "pro-federalization" protesters.

After Kerry's comments calling the channel a "propaganda bullhorn," Buzzfeed reported that Margarita Simonyan, RT's editor in chief, promised to seek "an official response from the U.S. Department of State substantiating Mr. Kerry's claims."

A quick look at some posts on Twitter over the past week from RT-linked accounts might make such a substantiation effort rather easy. 

Here are just a few: 

"Ukraine, R.I.P," Simonyan tweeted on April 24. 

The photo below was originally taken by the channel's British contract freelancer Graham Phillips, who claimed the picture showed two snipers. He calls the government in Kyiv a "junta," but in his tweets he has said Ukrainian soldiers he has encountered are "polite" and "nice." RT, reposting his photo, used a different tone. "The Ukrainian army uses snipers against residents of the country's southeast," the channel tweeted.

After an interview with Sergei Lavrov, in which the Russian foreign minister hinted that Moscow would consider invading Ukraine, TV host Sophie Shevardnadze posted this photo:

Check out the caption used during the interview:

Here's what is said to be a spontaneous encounter during one of Phillips' stand-ups. The man on the left has also appeared recently on the Russian language LifeNews channel (at the 45-second mark), which is widely reported to have ties to Russia's security services.
The BBC's Daniel Sandford, who is also reporting from Slovyansk, questioned the veracity of the video, saying it "looks fake." Phillips said the comment was "deeply hurtful." We cannot verify either claim.

-- Glenn Kates

The Online Debate Over A Mysterious Russian 'Medal'

Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, walk outside a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol.

That the Russian Defense Ministry would present a medal to compatriots for "the return of Crimea" to Russia would not normally turn heads. 

It is pictures of what is allegedly written on the back that have caused alarm. 

Photos that originally appeared on the Facebook page of Volodimir Prosin, a historian and journalist from the Luhansk region of Ukraine, show what he claims is the backside of the medal. "For the Return of Crimea: February 20, 2014 - March 18, 2014," it says.  

The end date makes sense -- on March 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty annexing the territory. On February 20, however, ousted President Viktor Yanukovych was still in power, Russian troops were still relegated to their Black Sea fleets. And in Kyiv, on that date, over 60 antigovernment protesters were killed by snipers believed to be under the control of Yanukovych. 

Putin has said the decision to support a referendum on Crimea took place only after a secret poll conducted after new authorities -- who he claims present a threat to Russian speakers -- took over in Kyiv on February 22. 

We do not normally report on Internet rumors and we cannot confirm the photos, but the circumstances surrounding the medals drew our interest. 

According to Rustem Adagamov, a well-known Russian blogger and photographer, pictures of a March 25 medal ceremony in Crimea, along with the frontside of the awards, were posted to the Russian Defense Ministry website, but then taken down on the same day.  

And "Russian Ribbon," a ribbon-manufacturing company, claimed in a celebratory note, along with photos on its website, that it had been commissioned to "rush" and order the trimming to accompany the medals.  

Evgeniy Levkovich, a journalist for the Russian-language edition of "Rolling Stone," claimed on Facebook that after a conversation with "Russian Ribbon's" general director he had determined that the February 20-dated medal was "not a fake." 

Levkovich said the director, Vera Yolkina, told him that an order for the medals had come directly from the Defense Ministry. 

In a conversation with RFE/RL though, Yolkina acknowledged that her company had agreed to manufacture the ribbons for the Defense Ministry, but said they had never actually seen the metal pieces that would accompany them.

"Only on the Internet did we see them," she said. 

An official at Russia's Defense Ministry, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, denied altogether that such a medal existed. 

"There has never been a liberation of Crimea," he said. "There was a referendum and the people decided." 

-- Glenn Kates, Crimea Unit of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

About #UkraineUnspun

The information war is in full swing in the tense standoff between Ukraine and Russia. In an attempt to present a clearer picture, #UkraineUnspun will unravel information coming from Russian and Ukrainian media, politicians and activists. Written by Glenn Kates and contributors from RFE/RL.

Follow the hashtag #UkraineUnspun on Twitter and let us know what we should be covering -- or to weigh in on any of our stories. Or write us at

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