Ukraine’s Disinformation Battle: Little Green Men, Hamsters and the Fog of War

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Pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine

Fighting is flaring in the Eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, after government troops assaulted separatist rebels who’d taken over the city’s airport. Here’s our musing over a confusing situation reeking of disinformation and propaganda, ripe for the manipulating.

There has always been a gap in how media on both sides of the former Iron Curtain have reported world events, and it’s growing as the crisis in Ukraine escalates. It has become increasingly difficult to obtain reliable information from any side—west, east, or further east—about what is going on in Eastern Ukraine. We don’t even know who is fighting whom.

Now both sides and their respective media are accusing each other of using mercenaries to commit atrocities, Americans in the Russian version and Chechens in the American one. Ukrainian media have now reported the involvement of the feared Ukrainian ultranationalist Right Sector militants in battles in East Ukraine, something that Russia has claimed for a long time. That’s another ostensible threat to Russian-speaking Ukrainians that Moscow can use to bolster its justification for invading Crimea in the first place.

Capture

As we’ve shown before, there’s nothing like disinformation to start a war or spur one forward. That’s the risk now in Eastern Ukraine.

In March, when Crimea voted for independence under the watchful eye of the Russian military, Russian media reported that most Ukrainian forces in the peninsula had switched allegiance to the pro-Russian side, while most Western media focused on those who wouldn’t surrender.

Russian media trumpeted the unconstitutional nature of the revolutionary authorities in Kiev, while Western media focused on the unconstitutional nature of “people’s” mayors, parliaments and election commissions in Crimea and later in Eastern Ukraine. Both accounts were factually correct but the biases were on full display.

“Little Green Men” vs “Liberal Hamsters”

A month later, however, much of the coverage of Ukraine had already devolved into a media spectacle of “little green men” vs. “liberal hamsters.” A journalist for the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda complained at a televised Q & A session with Vladimir Putin that “a heterogeneous mesh of liberal hamsters” is trying to insult Russian soldiers by calling them “little green men.”

Russia’s propaganda machine has frequently tripped over itself—for example, by whitewashing the fact that Russian forces were involved in Crimea, only to be contradicted later by Putin. But Western media have also been guilty of gross lapses of responsibility.

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There was the awkward case when somebody—we still don’t know who—distributed fliers outside an East Ukrainian synagogue in the name of the newly-formed separatist authorities, urging Jews to pay a fee and register themselves and their properties or lose their citizenship.

Most of the mainstream Western media—with some notable exceptions—jumped on the story immediately, goaded by US Secretary of State John Kerry and the US embassy in Ukraine. Subsequently, however, the man whose signature was supposedly on the document condemned it and claimed it was a fake, the Ukrainian Jewish authorities distanced themselves from the story and the whole thing unraveled as a dubious “provocation.”

U.S. State Department Accused of Photo Hoax

Then there was the case when the New York Times and other leading Western media were forced to half-heartedly knock down a report about a series of photos which allegedly showed the same Russian special forces soldiers in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine in 2014. These pictures supposedly proved that Russia was lying about not interfering militarily in its neighbor’s turmoil—until it turned out that one of the key pictures was a hoax and many of the others were questionable, to say the least.

New York Times graphic showing alleged Russian soldiers

New York Times graphic showing alleged Russian soldiers

The New York Times pointed a finger at the U.S. Department of State, which had supplied the photographs, and the State Department turned up the lame excuse that they had given the Times a “draft version” of their briefing packet. Oops. Not to mention that when the Times’ reporters started looking more carefully on the ground, they found little trace of any actual Russians.

Some Western media outlets have acknowledged the mistakes and misbehavior of their governments in Ukraine. And Russian media have acknowledged the Kremlin’s dark interference in its neighbor. Yet, the fog of war continues to thicken over brutal violence in OdessaMariupol, Donetsk and elsewhere.

Who is Shooting at Whom?

While Russia has started to pull its army from the Ukrainian border, new factions have sprung up in Eastern Ukraine, and in some of the bloodiest battles to date it has become increasingly difficult to tell who is fighting on what side and who is shooting at whom.

While powerful propaganda machines fill the public space with smoke and mirrors, one of the few facts that can be positively established in Eastern Ukraine is that the body count is steadily growing: a testament of just how easy it is for self-interested foreign powers to start, either intentionally or recklessly, a civil war in the heart of Europe.

THUMBNAIL: Pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk

MAP: New Russia

GRAPHIC: Russian Soldiers or Not?

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9 responses to “Ukraine’s Disinformation Battle: Little Green Men, Hamsters and the Fog of War”

  1. iren says:

    Fritsd, actually it was a joke and native speaking people understood it immediately, while western community and especially our ukrainian brothers are trying to catch TV1 on a stupid russian propaganda…. russians are relaxed and laugh on this situation.

    • fritsd says:

      Thank you. I was really quite worried about that kind of “only needs to be true for a week” propaganda.

  2. GEvans2 says:

    Some links to add to your body of knowledge:

    Interesting interview of Alexander Borodai, the Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic
    http://vineyardsaker.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/interesting-interview-of-alexander.html

    Kiev Launches Genocide Campaign Against Donbass – Western Media and Governments and Human Rights Organizations Silent
    http://thenewsdoctors.com/kiev-launches-genocide-campaign-against-donbass-western-media-and-governments-and-human-rights-oranizations-silent/

    Polish Death Squads and CIA in Ukraine
    ” One of the potential shale gas fields for which development rights were given to Burisma Holdings is the Yuzivska shale field. Besides Slavyansk and part of neighboring Kramatorsk, with apopulation of 160,000 people, the tract given to Shell includes the cities of Krasny Luch and Svyatogorsk in the Donetsk region, as well as Balakeya and Izyum in the neighboring Kharkov region.And the shale gas extraction contract is written such that the Ukrainian government is obligated to forcibly take property away from its lawful owners if Shell states that it plans to drill on those lands.The vicinity of Slavyansk has been selected as the location for the drilling of the first gas wells…”
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/polish-death-squads-fighting-in-ukraine-cia-covert-operation/5384210

    The Chocolate King and Other Fairy Stories
    ” This past weekend, while the Ukrainian military was using helicopter gun ships to bomb trucks carrying wounded civilians to hospitals in Donetsk, billionaire oligarch Petro Poroshenkom won the sham presidential elections in Ukraine.Accordingto Denis Pushilin, chairman of the Donetsk People’s Republic Supreme Council, over 100 people were killed in attacks which coincided with the putsch-installed Kiev regime’s national elections. The result of these “elections” was predictable.”
    http://www.veteranstoday.com/2014/05/27/the-chocolate-king-and-other-fairy-tales/

    Some Facts About Ukraine You May Not Know.
    “Crimea has been part of Russia since the 1700’s under Catherine the
    Great. The majority of the people in Crimea are Russian speaking and
    associate themselves historically with Russia. In 1954 Crimea was
    annexed to Ukraine at a time when both regions were part of the Soviet
    Union. In 2014 the people of Crimea held a referendum with 90% turnout
    and voted to rejoin Russia. Russia did not “annex” Crimea,
    “invade”Crimea or “take over “Crimea. Crimea chose to become part of
    Russia again after 60 years in a referendum that was properly monitored
    and in accordance with International law. ” ”

    http://www.news24.com/MyNews24/Some-Facts-About-Ukraine-You-May-Not-Know-20140526

  3. fritsd says:

    Fasci-nating. I’ve got a question for you: can you find out if it’s true (should be verifyable) that Russian TV 1 showed a graph that the fascists of Jarosh had won the Ukraine presidential election, instead of Poroshenko? Poroshenko did win, right?

  4. nate says:

    I don’t care what Russia is doing. not that they are without sin, but bottom line, the US is obviously trying to take over yet another sovereign nation on Russia’s doorstep. that’s all that really matters.

  5. Kent J Smith says:

    Here’s a couple links that might interest you. I am on the same mission.

    http://un1.tv/search/odessa
    No mention of Trades Union fire.

    http://maidantranslations.com/
    Publishing that “terrorists” were shelling the cities.

    The new “president” owns “channel 5”, a broadcast network.

    PM, Dep. PM, Media, Police and Military cabinet positions held by Right wing radicals. Ex Orange Revolution members.

  6. Kris says:

    For instance, here is an article by Robert Parry yesterday:
    NYT’s One-Sided Ukraine Narrative
    http://consortiumnews.com/2014/05/26/nyts-one-sided-ukraine-narrative/

  7. Kris says:

    I am glad to see you covering this issue, but I hope you will actually try to pierce through the propaganda and see who is actually killing whom. There is no dispute that the majority of those killed are separatists. Also, by far the most brutal acts against civilians have been carried out by the Kiev government. The atrocities in Odessa were the most photographed war crime in recent history, and there is evidence pointing to there being cooperation between police forces and the supposed separatists who attacked the pro-Kiev crowd. Also, why were Ultras, who are known to be used as thugs by the oligarchs, bussed in en masse? There are many questions that could, but are not, being asked.