Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ukraine Unspun

Introducing #UkraineUnspun

"The first casualty, when war comes, is the truth," U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson is reported to have said as America entered into World War I. 

In Ukraine and in Russia the information war is already in full swing. Since protesters ousted former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in late February and parliament voted in an interim government in Kyiv, Russia has fought hard to delegitimize the new authorities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the overthrow a coup and Russian media has relentlessly hammered home the notion that those now in power are nationalists and "fascists."

Russian media and officials also say the ethnic Russian minority, which makes up roughly 17 percent of Ukraine's population, is under threat. And Moscow has used this claim as a basis for sending troops into the country (although it denies their presence).

This blog will attempt to unravel the daily spin coming from all sides. First, let's briefly address some of the major claims that have already been propagated and discussed ad nauseam.

Q: Are there Russian troops in Crimea?
A: Yes

Putin says the 15,000 gun-wielding men wearing uniforms without insignia are homegrown self-defense forces who bought their outfits at local shops. They aren't. Journalists have photographed columns of Russian military trucks with Russian platesAlso, at least one soldier has inadvertently admitted to being Russian.

Q: Are violent  "nationalist thugs" now in power and roaming Kyiv streets?
A: No, but…

Russian media and political leaders have wildly exaggerated claims of far-right extremists controlling events in Kyiv. And reports from the ground say things are generally peaceful in Ukraine's capital.

That said, Right Sector, the far-right collective of nationalist militants to which Moscow has directed much of its scorn, was instrumental in the street fighting that eventually led to Yanukovych's overthrow. And the nationalist Svoboda party, whose leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, has made anti-Semitic statements in the past, has some positions in the new government.

But Right Sector has no Cabinet positions. And Svoboda's leaders have toned down their rhetoric since winning seats in parliament two years ago.

The leaders of the new government are also mainstream politicians and relatively well-known entities. Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is something of a Euro-technocrat and leader of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party. Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov is also a leading member of Batkivshchyna whose political career has been closely intertwined with Tymoshenko's.

Q: Are Russian-speaking citizens under attack?
A: No

Putin has said any intervention in Ukraine would be to protect the ethnic Russian minority.

There have been isolated reports, largely by Russian media, of attacks on Russian protesters and one claim of censorship of Russian journalists. This blog will investigate these claims in a follow-up post but thus far there is no evidence of any real or coordinated attack on Russian-speakers.

The new Ukrainian parliament did pass a law that would annul the right of regions to recognize Russian as an official language, but this was vetoed by interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov.

Finally, if you see something you'd like unspun, or disagree with this blog's unspinning of events, let us know on Twitter using the hashtag #UkraineUnspun. Also, feel free to comment at

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Chip from: Shirley
March 11, 2014 18:04
Iraq War Led to Ukraine Crisis
I trust President Obama (with no doubts) to handle this crisis in Ukraine as best as it can be handled. I trust and admire him as much as the great FDR. That said it is a horrible situation that he has been handed and I fear the dye was cast when the W administration occupied Iraq...I admit to being a 'worry-wart', but here is what worries me now.

Briefly, as the Iraq War unfolded, I was puzzled as to why Russia and China didn't condemn it far more strongly than they did. Why did they never unite to demand UN sanctions against the US for such a clearly criminal act of naked aggression. But then it came to me. Russia and China liked the idea of the US invading and occupying Iraq for two reasons. Firstly, they knew it would cost us militarily and financially, but worst of all for the US, the Iraq war cost us the hard earned credibility and global sympathy which came our way after the 9-11 tragedy. Secondly and most importantly our unlawful invasion of Iraq gave Russia and China the 'moral blank check' they wanted for their own planned future land grabs.

After the United Nations condemned, but never took action against the US to stop the Iraq war the precedent is now set for NATO to vote only for weak and tepid sanctions (if any) against Russia, even if they take over all of the Ukraine. And the Genie is out of the Bottle now, a move by North Korea into South Korea will become far more likely and China is just waiting their turn to make a land grab of their own, perhaps into Taiwan and or some of Japan's Islands.

As I said then, the Iraq war could lead to WWIII.
In Response

by: peter from: ottawa
March 12, 2014 10:55
Democratic countries invade countries to remove dictators. Dictators invade countries to install dictators. Its as simple as that. With 65 dollar oil around the corner, Putin the Evil, his days are numbered and the planet will be a lot safer. As for you Chip keep dumping your worthless rubles but keep some for your outhouse it brightens up the place.

by: Tom M from: Orlando Florida
March 11, 2014 18:53
Interesting that you missed the Russians in the Maidan in support of Ukraine. Hmmm!

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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