New York Times Disinformation Campaign over Ukraine

Part Two: The Propaganda War over Ukraine

When it comes to recent events in Ukraine, Russia’s “White Book,” unlike the New York Times, does not claim to deliver “all the news that is fit to print.” More modestly, it simply claims to address the “violations of human rights and the rule of law in Ukraine” from November 2013 through March 2014.

Such modesty is in order, because the “White Book” inexcusably fails to mention the 30 November 2013 assault on hundreds of protestors in Kiev by Ukraine’s riot police; an assault that provoked hundreds of thousands of protestors to take to the streets there and, thus, threaten the ability of corrupt President Viktor Yanukovych to remain in power.

According to the New York Times (1 December 2013), the assault created a “new revolutionary urgency” among the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets of Kiev. In fact, such “revolutionary urgency” would return to Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) a few times during the month of December. But it didn’t last.

Nevertheless, the false idea of a “revolution” against Yanukovych’s corrupt, pro-Russia government became a staple in Western mainstream media reporting. At the Times, it was based upon gross incompetence, at best, and malicious dishonesty, at worst. But it served to distort and obscure events, as well as close minds throughout the West.

For example, consider David M. Herszhenhorn’s Times article on December 1 titled, “Thousands Demand Resignation of Ukraine Leader.” While it waxed euphoric about a “new revolutionary urgency,” it failed to say on word about the violence perpetrated by the neo-Nazi group, Right Sector (Pravyi Sektor).

In contrast to the incompetence or dishonesty of Mr. Herszhenhorn, in early January 2014 the highly respected Deputy Director of the Center for Society Research (Kiev), Volodymyr Ishchenko, claimed: “For several hours on December 1, 2013 protesters were violently storming the unarmed police line near the Presidential administration building, until they themselves were finally attacked by the riot police, resulting in the bloodiest street confrontation in the whole history of independent Ukraine, with more than 300 people injured. Despite the popular version blaming the violence on some ‘provocateurs’ numerous investigations show that the overwhelming majority of attackers were the far right and neo-Nazi militants from so called ‘Right-wing sector,’ which unites various nationalist groups participating in Euromaidan.”

Mr. Ishchenko added: “At Euromaidan, particularly, the far-right attacked a left-wing student group attempting to bring social-economic and gender equality issues to the protest. Several days later the far-right mob beat and seriously injured two trade union activists accusing them of being “communists.” Needless to say, the good folks at the Times overlooked these right-wing attacks.

In addition to his incompetence or dishonesty, when failing to report on Right Sector’s role in the attacks on December 1st, Mr. Herszenhorn thoughtlessly followed the lead of the protesters in their failure to ask whether the “new revolutionary urgency” was shared by the rest of the 45 million people living in Ukraine.

Fatefully, it was not – which is why the coup regime in Kiev finds itself committing war crimes by ordering murderous air and artillery attacks on innocent civilians in Slavyansk today. As the Times belatedly reported on December 13, the message for Kiev’s protesters coming from eastern Ukraine was “get back to work” or “get some tanks and drive them off the square.” Moreover, as the Los Angeles Times reported on December 17, weeks of anti-government street protests, didn’t prevent Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s ruling party from winning four of five seats in parliament during a by-election. Finally, in late December even Arseny Yatsenyuk, the leader of the opposition Fatherland party tacitly acknowledged that street protests would not topple Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Nevertheless, in early December the Times‘ David Herszenhorn not only reported about the “revolutionary urgency” of the protesters, but also erroneously predicted that “anger over Russia’s role has made it all but impossible for Mr. Yanukovych to take the alternative offered by the Kremlin.” (In fact, Yanukovych “took” Russia’s offer on December 17.)

Mr. Herszenhorn’s emotionally inspired mistakes were compounded by bias. Thus, he wasn’t troubled by the stun grenades set off by protesters or by Prime Minister Mykola Azarov’s assertion that the unrest “has all the signs of a coup.” But, on December 2, he did trouble himself to make a snide remark about the “blatant ballot fraud that handed Mr. Yanukovych an easy victory” in 2004.

On December 2 the ignorant editors at the Times asserted: President Putin “has to understand the message from Kiev’s streets: that Ukraine will not long be denied association with the European Union.” Presumably ignorant of the violence committed by neo-Nazis and, thus, under the thrall of revolutionary urgency, the editors also ignorantly assumed the “Kiev’s streets” spoke for all of Ukraine.

Kiev’s streets were filled with Russophobes from Western Ukraine, whose heads had exploded when President Yanukovych accepted a short-term economic lifeline from Russia that was vastly superior to the one offered by the EU and the International Monetary Fund. But, under the thrall of “revolutionary urgency” manifested by Russophobes, the editors at the Times made Russia the villain, thereby contributing its biased voice to the incitement of a new cold war.

Thus, the editors averred: “The West’s duty… is to give full support to the Ukrainians who are fighting for everything that an association with Europe represents to them: the commitment to democracy, the rule of law, honest government, human rights and a better future.”

Even the editorial board of the Washington Post cautioned against such reckless “full support.” On December 3, the editorial board observed, “If Mr. Yanukovych is forced from power by street marches or other extra-constitutional means, Ukraine will be vulnerable to the endless turmoil that has afflicted other nations that removed elected leaders, including Thailand and Egypt. Europe’s insistence on democratic standards will look hollow, and Mr. Putin, who regards both the Orange Revolution and the current protests as a Western plot, will likely escalate his meddling.”

Continuing its theme of revolutionary urgency, on December 3, the Times published a news article under the title, “Ukraine Protests Persist as Bid to Oust Government Fails.” It reported that protesters were setting up barricades with razor wire and icing streets to impede assaults by police. It also reported chants by protestors who shouted “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to her heroes!” Out of ignorance or dishonestly, the reporters, Mr. Herszenhorn and Andrew Kramer, failed to mention that those were the chants of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) created in 1929, which incorporated the Union of Ukrainian Fascists.

According to these reporters, leaders of the “protest movement” were “a loose coalition of the three main political opposition parties, civic organizations and student groups.” And according to these reporters, writing on December 8, “support for Mr. Yanukovych and the government among his usual allies did appear to be weakening.”

Yet, even at this early date, the Times characterization of the “protest movement” was inaccurate, if only because the bulk of the protesters came and went, while a core of armed militants stayed.

Precisely because the Times was enthralled by the prospect of an anti-Russian, right-side-of-history revolution, it took until mid-December before the so-called paper of record made any attempt to identify these armed militants. Worse, it failed to characterize, let alone highlight, any behavior by protesters as crimes – even after the Shevchenko district court in Kiev ruled to prohibit the blocking of government buildings and the obstruction of government activity.

In contrast to the incompetent or dishonest on-the-spot reporting by the Times, the “White Book,” gathered evidence months after the events and found that “among the participants of the Euromaidan” were “large and permanent groups of militants, numbering several thousand people, who organized the attacks…”

These groups had “military and official body armor…helmets, shields, knee and elbow pads, masks, respirators, [and] gas masks.” They had fire arms and cold arms, radio communication equipment and stun grenades. They dismantled stones, to be thrown at police, from bridges and pavements. And they manufactured Molotov cocktails and other explosive devices. (White Book, p. 37)

Unfortunately, the “White Book” fails to specify precisely when such weapons were used. I suspect that the most deadly weapons were not introduced until mid-January 2014.

These groups were “constantly present,” unlike most of the protesters, and were most active in initiating violence. According to the “White Book,” on December 1 some “protesters” attempted “to break through the Interior Ministry troops and police officer cordon on Bankovaya street in Kiev,” in order to assault the Presidential Administration of Ukraine. (Imagine an attempt to assault our White House.)

In addition, “supporters of Pravyi Sektor entrenched themselves on the fifth floor of the House of Trade Unions. Party activists in AUU Svoboda actually took control of the Kiev City State Administration building.” (p. 9-10)

The see-no-evil Times did not even mention Right Sector (Pravyi Sektor) until 1 February 2014 and paid no serious attention to the group until 16 February. Imagine that! The Times was self-righteously pontificating about events at Maidan – from late November to mid-February — without having a clue about Right Sector violence. In fact, the incompetent or dishonest Times would not take the threat posed by Right Sector seriously, until it began to menace the very provisional government (the coup regime) that it had just brought to power.

As early as 3 December 2013, John Allen Gay (writing in The National Interest) complained that “Western coverage of the protests has ignored or downplayed the role of the crypto-fascist All-Ukrainian Union party, ‘Svoboda.’” “Svoboda’s leaders have associated themselves with the protest’s most radical action, the occupation and barricading of the Kyiv City Hall.” On December 8, a group of extremists, led by Svoboda, demolished the Lenin statue on Shevchenko Boulevard.

Yet, it wasn’t until 16 December 2013, when the Times finally got around to Svoboda. In an article titled “Unease as an Opposition Party Stands Out in Ukraine’s Protest,” Andrew E. Kramer noted that Svoboda “traces its roots to the Ukrainian partisan army of World War II, which was loosely allied with Nazi Germany.” Until 2004 it was known as the Social-Nationalist Party – a word flip away from the National socialism of the Nazis — and that same year its leader, Oleg Tyagnibok, was expelled by the Ukrainian Parliament, due to his speech that extolled “World War II-era partisans bravely fighting Germans, Russians, Jews and ‘other scum.’”

Mr. Kramer noted that “unabashed neo-Nazis still populate its ranks” and that its black and red banner, which was viewed to be a racist symbol and thus banned at soccer matches by FIFA, is ubiquitous at Independence Square.

Having been bussed into Kiev for weeks, “the activists make up much of the street muscle on the square.” “As the protests have unfolded, the party’s role has grown.”

Although Svoboda took full control of City Hall in mid-December, Mr. Kramer reported that “Western diplomats say they respect Mr. Tyagnibok for keeping control of the unruly nationalist wing on the streets.” Indeed, minimizing the role played by right-wing violence fit neatly with the theme that a popular (and thus legitimate) revolution was occurring at Maidan, not an ugly coup spearheaded by nasty people. The theme of popular revolution allowed Western writers, pundits and politicians to overlook who, precisely, was throwing those Molotov cocktails at police and buildings.

But, if incompetence or dishonesty explains why the Times failed to highlight these particular “bad guys,” what explains the similarly egregious failure by Russia’s reporters? Let’s be clear: What the “White Book” reported after the fact was not what the Russian press was reporting on the spot.

The Russian press took its cue from President Putin. For example, on December 4, Russia Direct quoted Mr. Putin’s assertion that “the anti-government protests in Ukraine were organized and planned by the West as an attempt to overthrow the country’s legitimate government.”

Given this focus, the Russian media made much of the stunning hypocrisy of U.S. Senator John McCain, who joined the opposition on the Maidan and asserted: “We … want to make it clear to Russia and Vladimir Putin that interference in the affairs of Ukraine is not acceptable to the United States.” His very presence, like that of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, constituted the very interference he was decrying.

Only on December 17, one day after the Times published its article about Svoboda, did Vicky Pelaez of Moscow News follow suit. Accusing the U.S. and the European Union of plotting to prevent the resurgence of Russia as a superpower, Ms. Pelaez noted, “All this explains why the U.S. and the EU do not call into question the participation of Neo-Nazi parties in the Independence Square rallies. One of the most seasoned and vociferous of these organizations is the Svoboda (Freedom) party, linked with France’s National Front.”

She noted that “Svoboda-affiliated activists were behind the recent toppling of a statue of Lenin — an act imitating the style of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of al-Qaeda operators in Iraq, Libya and Syria. The party’s leader, Oleg Tyagnibog, then urged his compatriots to ‘struggle against Moscow’s Jewish mafia.’”

The very issue of the protesters on the Maidan subsided during much of the rest of December, due to the agreement reached between Putin and Yanukovych that was announced on 17 December 2013. Thus, so did concern about violent right-wing extremists among the protesters.

As Gilbert Doctorow wrote in the Moscow Times on December 20, “Putin clearly did his realist calculations with great care and may have landed a master stroke with the $15 billion bailout package plus gas discounts. If Russia ‘bought’ Ukraine, as the protesters on Kiev’s Maidan would have us believe, then he did so with a bid that takes your breath away. Russia is putting up nearly the entire sum that Ukraine needs to ensure it meets its debt repayments and other convertible currency obligations for the coming year.”

He also observed that “Putin has shown Senator John McCain, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland and other Western politicians who posed for the cameras among protesters last week to be empty-handed blusterers.”

However, Sergey Glazyev was not so sure. Writing in the National Interest on December 30, He asserted: “Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s visit to Kiev was a pivotal moment. Accompanied by calls in Congress to impose sanctions against many Ukrainian officials and businessmen disloyal to Washington, she had confidential meetings with the most influential of them, threatening that they would be put on a list of sanctioned persons barred from entry into the United States and other NATO member-states and have their accounts and property seized. The blackmail of the most influential Ukrainians was attended by the publicized distribution of food to ‘suffering’ supporters of Euro-integration and accusations against Russia for tough pressure on Ukraine.”

The Times was especially flummoxed by the deal. It published successive articles on December 18 and 19 that placed the deal in the context of yet another victory for Putin over the United States “that have served to re-establish Russia as a counterweight to Western dominance in world affairs.” On December 23 a Times article acknowledged that the deal “took the wind out of the sails of the protest.” It also reported that the strategy of the ever-present core group of protesters was to force Yanukovych “to make a mistake so blatant that Ukrainians again take to the streets to protest.”

By the end of December, the Russian press was preoccupied with Putin’s pardon of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and two attacks by suicide bombers in Volgograd. In late December, the press also reported that “Putin has ruled out the possibility of Russia moving troops into Ukraine’s autonomous Crimea region.” Then it reported that Putin “signed a law that would make spreading separatist views a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in jail.”

In late December the New York Times published an opinion piece that ran counter to its month-long theme of right-side-of history revolutionary protests at Maidan. Titled “Kiev Isn’t Ready for Europe,” Samuel Charap and Keith A. Darden asserted: “Listening to recent commentary from Western officials, you would think that a new nation has been born on the Maidan in Kiev, that Ukrainians are united in their desire to divorce themselves from Russia and return to the fold of Europe, and that it is only their current leaders bolstered and bullied by their patrons in the Kremlin who stand in the way of a ‘Europe whole and free.’ This all makes for a nice sound bite, but it bears little relationship to reality.”

In fact, “an early December poll showed that the number of Ukrainians favoring closer ties with Russia was equal to the number favoring closer ties with Europe.”

That inconvenient fact, however, would not prevent the cold warriors in the U.S., Europe and at the Times from throwing the “Ukrainians favoring closer ties with Russia” under the bus, in order to shamelessly deny the reality of a violent coup – which overthrew a democratically elected government – and extol it as an ineluctable right-side-of-history revolution.

  • Read Part One. Part Three of the Propaganda War over Ukraine will examine events there in January 2014.
  • 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: Read other articles by Walter C., or visit Walter C.'s website.