The Propaganda War over Ukraine

The New York Times vs. Russia’s “White Book": Part One

Daily examination of the online headlines and news links found on the Kyiv Post allows any disinterested observer to conclude that it is a propaganda bullhorn for the provisional government; the one installed after the duly elected President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in a violent anti-Russian coup. Thus, it was hardly a surprise when, on May 6, the propaganda bullhorn published an article of opinion by Oleh Tiahnybok that was riddled with rubbish.

Mr. Tiahnybok is the leader of Svoboda, a right-wing party that captured 38 seats and 10 percent of the vote in the last parliamentary elections and played a significant role in the violent overthrow of President Yanukovych. Now, this fascist is running for president.

“Fascist?” Yes, until 2004, Svoboda was called the Social Nationalist Party of Ukraine and employed neo-Nazi and SS symbols. Even after it changed its name and symbols, Mr. Tiahnybok continued to rail against the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia running Ukraine” and praise the Ukrainian Insurgency Army (UPA) in World War II for fighting “against the Moscali [Muskovites], Germans, Zhydy [Jews] and other scum, who wanted to take away our Ukrainian state.”1 In his article, Mr. Tiahnybok shamelessly sings the praises of the Ukrainian Insurgency Army.

But he also tells inarticulate lies. Consider his assertion that, “The Russian worldview is shaped by the myth that identifies Ukraine as a Russian cradle.” To believe Mr. Tiahnybok, one would need to deny that the first “Russian” state was established in Kiev in the 9th century and was known as “Kievan Rus’.” Yet, every student of Russia’s history – or at least those who are not liars or fervent Ukrainian nationalists — knows better. Moreover, Ukraine didn’t even exist in the 9th century.

Mr. Tiahnybok also lies when he alleges that President Yanukovych “effectively became a marionette of Putin’s special forces.” Actually, the corrupt Mr. Yanukovych attempted to pit Russia against the European Union (EU) in order to obtain the best deal for Ukraine and himself.

The EU insisted on open markets, the rule of law and economic transparency (which would have threatened the ill-gotten wealth of corrupt Yanukovych and his equally corrupt oligarchs), as well as the release of Yanukovych’s hated political enemy, infamous “vorovka” (thief) Yulia Timoshenko. In return, Ukraine could expect a “radiant” future of law, economic efficiency, prosperity and, most significantly, liberty beyond the reach of Russian control. That radiant future was enough to dupe a majority of the youths living in Western Ukraine, especially the anti-Russian fascists and neo-Nazis living in Lviv, the capital of “Banderastan,” and political stronghold of Mr. Tiahnybok’s Svoboda party.

Unfortunately, the IMF conditioned any loan it might make to Ukraine on an agreement by Yanukovych to inflict a painful austerity program on Ukraine’s citizens, especially on those many Russians living in the east and south. Thus the very terms of the EU-IMF proposal promised to fracture an already fragile Ukraine along a Ukrainian/Russian fault line.

President Putin made no such demands on Yanukovych’s corrupt regime. He simply promised to raise the price of fuel and close Russia’s borders to Ukrainian products. In a word, he threatened to wreck Ukraine’s already precarious economy. (Presumably, there were unannounced Russian carrots to go with the sticks, because on 17 December 2013, Russia agreed to invest $15 billion in Ukraine’s government debt and reduce by about a third the price that Naftogaz, Ukraine’s national energy company, pays for Russian gas. Putin’s offer was a genuine lifeline.)

In the end, the prospect of immediate sanctions or immediate aid from Russia proved to be more compelling to the Yanukovych government than the immediate shocks and vague “radiant future” offered by the EU and the International Monetary Fund.

On the same day when Mr. Tiahnybok’s rubbish was posted, the Kyiv Post also featured an article by Clemens Wergin, the foreign editor of Die Welt. It was titled, “Why Germans Love Russia.”

Mr. Wergin could not understand why such “august figures” as former Chancellors Gerhard Schroder and Helmut Schmidt believed that “NATO and the European Union were the real aggressors [in Ukraine], because they dared to expand into territory that belonged to Moscow’s legitimate sphere of interest.” He also lamented the strong probability that “part of the German public agrees.”

Mr. Wergin duly noted the blatant hypocrisy of those Germans “who relied on international law to attack the American invasion of Iraq,” but who are now “excusing Russia’s need to infringe on the sovereignty of other nations.” But, he failed to add, as any fair-minded person would, that Germany took no serious action against America, when the United States perpetrated the most serious war crime of the 21st century, but did issue sanctions against Russia for its far less deadly intervention in Ukraine. Hypocrisy, Mr. Wergin, cuts both ways.

Mr. Wergin also was quick to blame Russia-sponsored propaganda for the pro-Moscow sentiment in Germany. But, he failed to acknowledge the probability that some of the pro-Moscow sentiment is gratitude, based upon the knowledge that Mikhail Gorbachev facilitated the peaceful unification of Germany under NATO.

In addition, some of Germany’s current pro-Moscow sentiment probably springs from guilt. In 1990, Western leaders – including Germany’s Hans-Dietrich Genscher — promised Soviet leaders that, if they permitted the peaceful unification of Germany under NATO, NATO would not expand eastward beyond Germany. President Clinton broke that promise and Germany did nothing to stop him.

Mr. Wergin doesn’t mention that promise at all. Yet, it is the key to what has happened in Ukraine.

Significantly, Mr. Wergin’s article didn’t originate in the anti-Russia/ pro-provisional government Kyiv Post, but in the anti-Russia/pro-provisional government New York Times.

Robert Parry has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of the anti-Russia bias that pervades the reporting of events in Ukraine by the New York Times. He writes: “The Times’ prejudice over the Ukraine crisis has reached new levels of extreme as the ‘newspaper of record’ routinely carries water for the neocons and other hawks who still dominate the U.S. State Department. Everything that the Times writes about Ukraine is so polluted with propaganda that it requires a very strong filter, along with additives from more independent news sources, to get anything approaching an accurate understanding of events.”

After conducting an extensive investigation of the Times’ reporting on events in Ukraine, I have reached the same conclusion. The Times has become an irresponsible propaganda bullhorn. What follows is some of the evidence that substantiates my conclusion.

Let’s begin by considering how the Times distorted the events in the aftermath of Mr. Yanukovych’s decision not to sign the association agreement with the EU.

On 22 November 2013, the day after the Ukrainian government’s announcement, the Times reported that Ukraine’s prime minister, Mykola Azarov, blamed the harsh terms demanded by the International Monetary Fund for Ukraine’s turn against the EU agreements. But the paper also reported that sources in Lithuania were claiming that, in talks with the President of Lithuania, Mr. Yanukovych described the pressure exerted by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The suggestion that one or the other was the cause, rather than both, was repeated in another article by the Times on 24 November 2013.

However, reporting by the Times took on a seemingly decisive anti-Russia slant when a 26 November article dropped any mention of the IMF and instead reported: “They [the protesters] exploded in anger last week when their leaders, buckling under pressure from Moscow, said they would walk away” from the EU deal.

The reporter then took off his reporter’s cap, in order to editorialize: “At stake here is not just the fate of a free-trade pact but whether the hardball tactics of Russia, willing to use every bit of economic muscle –including trade threats and a stranglehold on energy supplies – to exert blunt force in negotiations, will prevail over the national aspirations of millions of people.”

No mention was made of the previously reported problems posed by the IMF. Neither did the reporter cum editor express any concern for the millions of citizens in south and eastern Ukraine who opposed the goals of the protesters in Kiev. And neither did he wonder whether any carrots accompanied Putin’s “blunt force.” In a word, this so-called objective reporter became an anti-Yanukovych, anti-Russia and anti-Eastern Ukraine propagandist for the protesters in Kiev.

Two days later the editorial board of the Times would follow suit. In a hysterical opinion titled: “Ukraine Backs Down,” the board railed against the “Kremlin’s strong-arm tactics against Ukraine,” suggested the Mr. Putin was “an unreconstructed cold warrior,” and warned that Putin’s victory in the tug of war against Ukraine would cost Russia its chance “to find its place in the democratic and civilized world.”

While it conceded that “Europe could only offer medium- to long-term advantages,” it failed to mention Ukraine’s objections to the terms offered by the IMF as well as the millions in the east who objected to the protests in Kiev.

But it was the editorial board’s cheap shot about Russia finding its place in the “civilized world” that proved that “Ukraine Backs Down” was little more than propaganda motivated by personal pique. Fearing that Russia, indeed, had “won the tug of war over Ukraine,” somebody’s head exploded. One might even consider it to be the Times opening salvo from its propaganda bullhorn about events in Ukraine.

Anyone who questions Russia’s place in the “civilized world” is either ignorant or malicious. Consider, for example, Russian literature and classical music in the second half of the 19th century. Genius in those areas probably contributed more to the civilization of the world than anything the U.S. has contributed in these areas in its entire history. Columbia has its Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but I’m still waiting for a Tolstoy, Dostoevsky or Tchaikovsky to emerge in the United States.

Finally, it is instructive to contrast the 30 November 2013 reporting by the same biased New York Times reporter with information supplied recently in a “White Book” prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Although both “sources” should be viewed with skepticism, the “White Book,” contains much uncorroborated information about the events in Ukraine that has not been reported by the mainstream news media in the U.S.— certainly not by the New York Times.

On November 30, the biased reporter at the Times wrote about the violent dispersal by riot police of several hundred protesters, noting that it provoked “thousands more” to take to the streets. Yet, notwithstanding a 29 November opinion piece in the Times by Oleh Kotsyuba , who warned that “Representatives of various rightist parties – including Svoboda, whose nationalist, xenophobic, anti-intellectual and homophobic messages have frustrated European-minded Ukrainians in the past – were embedded in the protest early on,” the reporter’s bias in favor of the protesters rendered him completely oblivious to the significance of their chants.

“Glory to Ukraine! Glory to her heroes!” which he reported, was once the battle cry of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). According to Stephen D. Shenfield, the OUN was a fascist organization that, during World War II, killed somewhere between 13,000 and 35,000 Jews in an effort to rid Western Ukraine of non-Ukrainians.

Why is the chant significant? Because, information found in the “White Book” indicates that during November 26-27, “Activists from several right-wing groups, including the Stepan Bandera All-Ukrainian Organization Trizub (Trident) movement, the Socio-National Assembly/Patriot of Ukraine (SNA/PU), the Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA) party, the Bilyi Molot (White Hammer) group, as well as football fans, organized the informal Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector) association at Euromaidan”(at Independence Square).

The “White Book” also alleges that, on November 30th, “Right-wing activists, primarily associated with Pravyi Sektor, organized training on tactics for violent confrontation with law enforcement officials.” This training led to the “formation of the so-called Samoobrana maidana,” or Maidan Self-Defense groups.

(Imagine the outrage, were Americans to learn that similar training was going on in the United States.)

Yet, neither the chants by the protesters, the formation of Pravyi Sektor, nor the training of self-defense units caught the attention of the intrepid reporter for the Times, who already had sorted out the good guys from the bad.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to contrast the reporting on Ukraine by the New York Times with the information contained in the “White Book” – using other sources, when required. Already, however, I wonder whether the failure of the New York Times to say one word about Pravyi Sektor — from late November 2013 to early February 2014 — was merely an accident. If, as some observers suspect, Pravyi Sektor was instrumental in transforming a peaceful protest into a violent coup, then the reasons for the apparent indifference to Pravyi Sektor by the Times require the utmost scrutiny.2

  1. See Keith Darden and Lucan Way, Washington Post, 12 Feb. 2014. []
  2. In the interest of full disclosure: On 30 April 2014, I was interviewed by RT Espanol. Two TV broadcasts about my article, “Dear NATO: Are You Lying about Russia or Simply Incompetent?” appear here and here. Secretary of State, John Kerry has called RT a “propaganda bullhorn”. []

Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including Dissident Voice, The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA). He can be reached at: waltuhler@aol.com. Read other articles by Walter C., or visit Walter C.'s website.