Friday, 22 May 2015

The Problem with ‘Allegedly’

1.     used to convey that something is claimed to be the case or have taken place, although there is no proof.

I’m sick of the word “allegedly.” In the context of Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, its nine letters just spell out misrepresentation, confusion, and unjustified doubt.

We see “allegedly” used in Western media reports, for instance, in conjunction with Ukraine’s claims that it has detained two Russian soldiers from a military intelligence unit operating in Ukraine.

“We have to use ‘allegedly’, because we don’t have 100% proof,” a Western journalist says, when asked about the use of the word when reporting the story of the capture of the Russian soldiers.

But the problem with “allegedly” in this context is twofold – first, it does not adequately convey the probability of the claim being true, and second, it says nothing of the credibility of the source throwing doubt on the claim.

“Allegedly” is a lazy word, which semantically attributes a 0.5/0.5 probability to any claim to which it is applied. It has the potential to be abused.

To illustrate this in an absurd way, it’s quite true to say “Allegedly, the British royal family are shape-shifting Lizard People.” Some people have actually claimed this.

But note that nothing in this claim tells us anything about the probability of the claim being true, or about the credibility of the person making the claim, or even their identity.

Thankfully, in this case we know from other information available to us (well, most of us), that the claim is highly unlikely to be true, and the person making such a claim is most probably a loonie, whose claims do not need to be taken seriously.

But in the case of Western reporting of events in Ukraine, such as the capture of the two Russian special operations soldiers on May 16, the word “allegedly” is used too freely, seemingly without regard to the probability of the claim of their capture or identity as serving Russian soldiers being true, or to the credibility of the source of the doubt being thrown on the claim – the Kremlin.

In fact, there is a mountain of already-available evidence that the claim that Ukraine has captured two members of a team of Russian special operations soldiers on its soil is true - with a probability more like 0.95/0.05.

True, the individual pieces of evidence that make up this mountain cannot each be proved with 100% certainty to be true, but taking all of the pieces together there is an overwhelming body of circumstantial evidence that Russia is directly participating in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and this renders the “alleged” capture of two of Russia’s commandos on Ukrainian soil very highly likely.

It should be reported as such. Not just "allegedly."

As for the credibility of the source making the counter claim – the Kremlin – it is not adequate merely to report this counter claim without making some reference to the credibility of the source.

It is a matter of record and fact that the Kremlin, more specifically Russian President Vladimir Putin, has lied about Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine (recall Crimea). There is a great deal of evidence that the Kremlin is conducting a covert war in the east of Ukraine, in order to destabilize the country and keep it within Russia’s orbit. So Russian denials of the involvement of their military in the fighting in eastern Ukraine should be reported as scarcely credible.

Thus it is quite wrong at this point to use the word “allegedly” when reporting the recent capture of the Russian soldiers in Ukraine – there is not actually much doubt that these soldiers are indeed serving members of the Russian military, engaged in a Kremlin-orchestrated covert war against Ukraine. Neither should the reader of news reports be left in any doubt about the credibility of the Kremlin’s claims – they are not credible, and have been proved not to be credible many times.

So drop “allegedly.” This lazy word can’t do the work needed to properly inform news readers about what is actually happening in Ukraine. Its flabby semantics are of use only to Kremlin propagandists.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Time to Use the ‘I’ Word

When  NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Philip Breedlove said on Wednesday that the alliance has for the past two days observed large columns of Russian military vehicles crossing the border from Russia into Ukraine, he picked his words carefully.
Read more on UNIAN:

“We saw columns of Russian military equipment, primarily Russian tanks, artillery, Russian air defense systems and combat troops, entering into Ukraine," Breedlove told Agence France Presse at the sidelines of a security conference in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Breedlove is a military man, a fine general, who with his comments in the past has shown that he is fully aware of what is going on in eastern Ukraine. But he is also a politician of sorts – you don’t get to his position without being politically savvy. So he was careful not to use the word “invasion.”
In fact, Western politicians, particularly in the United States, have over the past few months been studiously avoiding letting this word slip their lips when commenting on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
“Incursion” was a favorite substitute.
But now it’s time to call things what they really are. Russia used soldiers in unmarked uniforms and unmarked military vehicles in Ukraine in March, when it invaded and then annexed Crimea. Over the past few days even the observers of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe - whose apparently inability to spot Russian T-72B tanks roaring along the roads of Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions has become something of a grim joke in Kyiv over the past few months – even they have reported large columns of unmarked military vehicles moving into the areas of Ukraine seized by Russian-backed militants.
It should be quite clear now to all in the West what is going on – it’s an invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The West, by failing to take a firmer stand against Russian aggression at the start of the Ukrainian crisis in March, has encouraged the aggressor, the bully Russia, to continue its attacks, which now threaten the very existence of the Ukrainian state as we have known it since 1991.
This is not, of course, the conventional type of invasion we’re all familiar with from the history books – a vast army sweeping into territory with overwhelming force, but rather a slow, steady, careful, stealthy takeover of another European state by an aggressive neighbor, using new tactics that combine covert military operations with brazen information manipulation, and a torturing of the meanings of words that would make Orwell shudder.
It should also be clear by now what Russia’s ultimate aims are, even though the West has not been sure how, when or even if, Russian President Vladimir Putin would go about achieving them. Having seized Crimea, Russia desperately needs a land corridor from Mother Russia to support the peninsula, and that corridor can only be the southern and eastern portion of Ukraine. The Russians even went as far as to invent another country, "Novorossiya” to justify their land grab.
Another probable aim of Russia is to dismember Ukraine, absorbing one half, and turning the rest into a supine client. By eliminating a politically independent Ukraine, the Kremlin is also less threatened by rebellious Ukrainians exporting their popular revolution to Russia, threatening its grip on power.
Even if it were the case that the West was not concerned for the fate of Ukraine, and were willing to see it torn in two for the sake of appeasing the Russian bear, it would still only be fair to Ukrainians for the West to acknowledge that “invasion” is the best-fitting word to describe what the country is being subjected to now.
It’s time for the West to use the “i” word.
Read more on UNIAN:

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Birth(day) of a Dictator

Everyone in the country was happy on the day of the Great Leader’s birthday - it had even been suggested that the day be made a national holiday. Songs were composed for him, art featuring him was exhibited (though some intellectuals quietly sniffed at its vulgarity), masses of kitsch souvenirs depicting him were sold, and a huge parade was staged for him. There was no doubt that he was genuinely popular among the people, and state propaganda merely had to amplify their adulation to a crescendo. However, due to his military aggression against neighboring states, he was not now well liked abroad, and no major foreign dignitaries came (or were invited) to attend any events in celebration of his birthday.

Although the above paragraph describes the events of April 20, 1939 – the 50th birthday of the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler - it is also, depressingly and worryingly, an exact fit for the events of October 7, 2014 – the 62nd birthday of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Many lines have been written in recent months about the parallels between the regimes of Hitler and the Russian leader, but the resemblances bear repeating.

Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014 can be compared to the annexation, or Anschluss, of Austria by the Third Reich in March 1938. Both involved near-bloodless military takeovers of a neighboring territory, capped by referendums that produced incredibly high votes in favor of the move.  There are also similarities between Germany’s occupation of the Sudetenland and the creation by Russia of a frozen conflict in border areas of Ukraine – in September of 1938 and in September of 2014 the leaders of the countries that had been threatened by their aggressive neighbors were pressured by the Western powers to reach agreements with their enemies, which by October 1938 and October 2014 had resulted in the effective loss of control of part of their countries’ territories. In both cases, the argument put forward by the aggressor was that since certain citizens of these territories spoke the same language as the aggressor nation, the aggressor had a right to “defend these citizens’ interests.”

For Hitler’s defiant march into the Rhineland and annexation of Austria, we have the Putin’s carving up of Georgia and annexation of Crimea. In both cases, there was a weak response from the democratic counties to the aggressor nations. In the case of Hitler, the weakness and appeasement of the West encouraged more aggression, which ultimately led to the bloodiest war in history. What will be the case with Putin? The signs do not look good.

Donetsk Airport, a key military objective of the militants, has been under attack by them practically every day since the “ceasefire” was supposed to come into force on September 5. The militants have made only token efforts, in a few less militarily important areas of the front, to pull back their artillery by the 15 kilometers demanded by the Minsk agreement. In other areas they have instead moved forward and taken new ground. They have expended copious quantities of ammunition, men and resources on their attacks on Ukrainian forces at Donetsk Airport and other hot spots. It can reasonably be assumed that bullets, shells, grenades, antitank guns, artillery pieces, APCs and T-72 tanks do not grow on trees in the Donbas – the militants are obviously being supplied from across Ukraine’s border with Russia, which is still open. It is inconceivable that the Russian government has also lost control of its side of the border, so the resupplying of the militants can only be being achieved with Moscow’s approval and continuous support. Yet there is no outcry about this from the West, no call for the new round of fierce, stinging sanctions that these actions of the Kremlin have surely earned for Russia. Instead, there is talk in Washington of easing the present, flaccid sanctions, if Putin will but observe the clauses of the Minsk Agreement - even though he has conspicuously failed to do so thus far. The issue of Crimea is now all but forgotten.

Meanwhile, in Russia, as in Germany in the late thirties, the leader is building up his armies, trying to recapture the military might and glory of former times. Nationalist passions are being stoked in the population, and the Kremlin’s own, self-imposed sanctions are engendering a siege mentality in Russian society. Enemies from inside and outside the state are being created – national traitors and Ukrainian “fascists.” Religious bigotries dressed up as “conservative values” are encouraged, as is the myth of Russian cultural exceptionalism. Where Hitler had the Jews as his principal enemies, Putin has “Eurogays” and other degenerate Westerners with their depraved lifestyles (although Jews are also commonly thought by Russia’s credulous public to be the ones behind Western imperialistic conspiracies intended to undermine Mother Russia.) A continuous stream of hatred and lies blares from the monophonic loudspeakers of the Russian state propaganda media, which produce no themes or variations other than those arranged by the Kremlin. The raucous, brash, gaudy, crass current events in Russia sound and look horribly familiar.

It looks like a dictatorship is being born. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A New Kind Of War

There’s a story, possibly apocryphal, about the different approaches taken by the Americans and the Russians to a simple problem. At the height of the Cold War, during the space race, the Americans were having problems using their pens for checklists in zero-G spaceflights – the ink wasn’t flowing correctly to the nib. A committee at NASA was formed, a design for a new type of pen agreed, a project started, a contractor to produce the pen selected, and millions of dollars spent all along the way.

The Russians decided to use pencils.

This straightforward difference in mentality and approach has now been extended by the Russians to their techniques of warfare. While the United States has spent trillions developing the best tanks, aircraft, smart bombs, missiles, ships and submarines, Russia, with some cunning and relatively cheap tactical tweaks, has all but rendered the West’s advantage in conventional warfare redundant, as its annexation of Crimea and land grab in eastern Ukraine has demonstrated. It must be admitted that the West, and more specifically and worryingly NATO, has been found to be impotent in the face of Russian military aggression.

None of the four components of the new Russian style of war, dubbed Hybrid Warfare, are innovations in themselves. These components - the military, the political, the economic, and the informational - have long been present in the field of conflict. What is new is the way in which the Russians have seamlessly blended them into a tactical doctrine that guides their actions. They have also enhanced the informational component in ways that could not even have been conceived before the advent of the Internet.

The political component is the one we are most familiar with from the Cold War. Stony faces at the Security Council. Political pressure being exerted on allies and foes. Both sides are long practiced in the arts of superpower diplomacy, and neither has any particular advantage in this area. Observers of UN meetings have already noted the return of a chilly Cold War atmosphere at UN headquarters since the Ukrainian crisis erupted. But with the fall of the Soviet Union, a lot of the governments of the West, wrongly assuming that the threat from Russia was history, let their Russian desks get dusty, and neglected the science of Kremlinology. As a result, the West has realized with a jolt that it cannot fathom what Vladimir Putin is up to. We don’t understand the Russians anymore. We stopped thinking of them as enemies, but it seems they never did so of us.

The long shadow of the bomb hangs over the military component. No side will risk all-out war for fear of any conflict escalating into a nuclear exchange. The West, as noted, retains its advantage in conventional weapons and technology. But Russia has used subterfuge, and covert operations by special forces, to achieve a spectacular military success in the virtually bloodless takeover of a prized chunk of Ukrainian territory – Crimea. By escalating its confrontation with the West step by step, the Kremlin never puts its foes in a position in which a conventional military response would be feasible or appropriate. The Russians have also demonstrated the ability to use a wide range of tactics, and adapt them to the situation as it evolves. We probably won’t see the Little Green Men of Crimea again – they would probably be shot on sight if they turned up, for example, in eastern Estonia (or at least one hopes so), but Russia no doubt has many other tricks up its sleeve. The use of a massive “aid convoy” to provide a logistical support resource for the Russian military in eastern Ukraine was another such trick. There was impotent outrage when the first convoy barged into Ukraine on August 22, in flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, but sanctions threats and dire warnings by the United States that it would see the convoy’s unauthorized crossing into Ukraine as an “invasion” proved to be nothing but hot air and bluster. Now Russia is readying a fourth convoy. We’ve got to the point that Russia can send hundreds of trucks into Ukraine, unchecked, unsupervised, carrying only the Russians know what, without a whimper of complaint from the West.

Then there is the economic component. Russia has actually been using economic warfare on Ukraine for a number of years, but now the NATO countries of the European Union are in the Kremlin's sights, and are at a clear disadvantage. The EU imports around 30% of its natural gas from Russia (half of that coming through the Ukrainian gas transit system.) Germany and Italy consume about half of these Russian gas exports. The implications of Russia’s controlling the supply of such an amount of the raw energy supplies of large Western democracies are obvious, and will not be dwelt upon here. The economic sanctions threatened and imposed by the EU and the United States in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine have so far had no effect in influencing Russia’s actions. Indeed, the issue of the annexation of Crimea, which saw Russia wreck the post-war international order in a matter of days, now seems to have slipped off the agenda completely. Now that Russia appears to have succeeded in setting up a frozen conflict in the east of Ukraine, and the fighting appears to be winding down, at least slightly, the EU is even considering reviewing its package of sanctions against Russia! It appears that Russia correctly guessed that the EU was too weak, divided, and self-interested to impose and maintain for the time required the kind of economic sanctions that would make the Kremlin back down. Meanwhile, Russia has imposed sanctions on the EU that have a direct impact on Russia’s own population – restrictions on imports of EU goods and foods. The message is clear: “We can take the pain of your sanctions, and we don’t mind hurting our own population – we’ll just tell them it’s all the West’s fault, that they’re our enemies, and they’ll rally around us.” The West’s sanctions could work, but they’d have to be a lot tougher, long-lasting and also be of the kind that would also inflict damage to Western countries’ own economies. The West has no stomach for such sanctions, and Russia knows it.

Lastly, the informational component: Here Russia has been at its most deviously brilliant. By using its tight control over the Russian media, the Kremlin has been able to shape the narrative underlying the whole Ukraine crisis by creating an interlocking series of myths that not only win the hearts and minds of the Russian public, but also appeal to left- (and right-) leaning elements in the West and elsewhere around the world who have a visceral dislike of the United States and its foreign policy. The main myths are that it was the EU and the West that started the Ukraine crisis (while it was actually a popular revolution sparked by Russia’s own meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs); that Kyiv was taken over by a fascist junta; that Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine were under some sort of threat and required protection; and that the fighting in Ukraine is a purely internal conflict (although it was actually fomented by Russia). Russian officials and journalists are prepared to utter, without a blush, the most blatant lies in order to support these myths, in a way that simply flummoxes the Western media (who are also baffled over how to report the obvious but infuriatingly difficult to prove involvement of Russian troops, tanks and artillery in the fighting in the east of Ukraine.)
The information component also includes the innovative use of hacking (Estonia has suffered Russian attacks on its modern e-government, and there is circumstantial evidence that Russia may have tried to interfere in Ukraine’s May 25 presidential election by infiltrating the central election commission’s servers.) Moreover, as Western newspapers like the UK Guardian have found, Russia is able to call on an army of Internet trolls to disrupt, confuse, and mold public discourse in the West in matters pertaining to Ukraine, spreading misinformation in support of Russia’s myth narrative. We can be quite sure that Russia has even more capabilities to attack the West via the Internet, such as clogging up the banking system, attacking utilities operating systems, and stealing valuable data. It is not known yet whether the West has any way of countering such attacks, or responding in kind. But the Russians are clearly taking no chances: President Putin recently held a meeting on ways to cut the Russian part of the Internet off from the rest of the Web.

All of these components have been used together, in an integrated fashion, to support one another. As special ops forces moved in to seize buildings in eastern Ukraine, Russia threatened to cut off gas supplies to the country (which it did in May), its diplomats in the UN lied shamelessly about Russia’s involvement in the conflict, and Russian media and Internet trolls howled and snorted if it was suggested that Russia might be behind the so-called rebellion in the Donbas, all the while spreading misinformation about Ukraine and the Ukrainian government to the Russian and Western public alike.

This is a new kind of war. It is aggressive and offensive (in both the main meanings of the word). New methods will have to be devised to defend against it, or the Russian advance into territories it once ruled in an empire will not stop in eastern Ukraine.

Monday, 8 September 2014

How Russia Defeated Western Journalism

Do you think that the government in Ukraine was overthrown in a violent, Western-backed putsch, and the new government in Kyiv is dominated by far-right radicals? Do you suspect that the downing of MH17 was orchestrated by a Kyiv "junta" to garner support for military intervention in Ukraine by the West? Do You think that there has been no armed intervention by the Kremlin in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, with tanks and mercenaries and regular units of the Russian army, and that the war is a purely domestic Ukrainian affair? Do you think that the volunteer battalions fighting on the behalf of the Kyiv government are, to a man, neo-Nazi fascists, hell-bent on subjugating the people of eastern Ukraine, and forcing them to speak Ukrainian rather than Russian?

Then you've been hoodwinked by Kremlin propaganda.

Don't feel too ashamed though: you've been misled by the most sophisticated propaganda machine that the world has ever seen - one that attacks, undermines and emasculates a key source of information that you may rely on: the Western media. As a small part of that media, I'm partly to blame for your being misled, so I owe it to you to explain as best I can how this happened.

The Kremlin propagandists have achieved this propaganda coup in three ways:

1. Undermining the credibility of Western journalism, or the journalism practiced in democracies. In Russia, and other autocratic regimes, the media serve the purposes of the state. There is no conception of the media as a "Fourth Estate" that is in effect as separate and equal part of government, performing an overseeing role that protects democracy. Why should the media perform such a role when there is no democracy to protect? Instead, in authoritarian states, the media are an arm of government, a propganda appendage, who pass only the government-approved message. By extension, it is assumed, wrongly, by the people who live under autocratic regimes, that the Western media serve exactly the same role. The reporting of Western journalists is thus undermined, with journalists being equated to agents of their governments, and thought of as nothing better than propagandists or spies. This wooly thinking even infects the well-meaning but naive liberal left in the West, who (rightly) distrust their own governments, but (wrongly) won't believe their own media. Meanwhile, the "journalists" of an authoritarian state like Russia can be found in places like Ukraine advancing the goals of their state through their "reporting."

2.  Understanding and expoliting the "Golden Rules" of journalism. The Kremlin propagandists know very well that Western journalists value their integrity, and that none of them wants to compromise it. None of them wants to make an error that will dent their reputation, and thus their career. The Kremlin propagandists know that Western journalists are risk-averse when it comes to reporting - they know that while each one of them is desperate to get the story FIRST, it must also be CORRECT. Mistakes will haunt you long after the story has broken and the brief glory of the breaking story has faded. This risk-aversion can be expolited by simply tearing off the shoulder patch of a Russian soldier. Western journalists can no longer report "Russian soldiers are in the process of annexing Crimea." They can't identify the soldiers for sure - they can't risk being wrong, even though it's completely obvious, even to themselves, who these soldiers are. Ditto unmarked Russian T-72 tanks in Ukraine. They can't report what they know personally to be the truth.

3. Setting up "alternative media" that pretend to be paragons of Western media values. The Russian Kremlin propaganda channel RT (formerly Russia Today) has been set up to promote the Russian government's propaganda in a way soothingly familiar to a Western audience. It employs young, pretty, cash-hungry journalists from Western countries, who are almost entirely lacking in a sense of journalistic ethics, to mouth the word of the Kremlin in a way that sounds acceptable to a Western audience. When presented with a channel like RT, a Westerner might assume that this is a bona fide news organization, that follows the rules of Western journalism, when in fact it is a propaganda machine that will not hesitate to promulgate the most absurd and outrageous lies in the interests of its masters, and will only retract them, in an insincere face-saving exercise, if it steps so far beyond the bounds of the credible that it cannot even convince its own fact-challenged staff that it was reporting accurately.

Absurd though it seems, these are the reasons I cannot tell you on the radio tonight some things that I know personally to be true: There never was a rebellion in Ukraine: it was fomented by Russian intelligence operatives - most people in eastern Ukraine never supported the separatists. The reason the Ukrainian army has suffered reverses in the last two weeks is because Russia sent in massive quantities of men and materiel to stop the "rebels" from losing. MH17 was almost certainly shot down by a BUK anti-aircraft missile, operated by Russians. And the "ceasefire" is almost certainly a ruse to wrong foot the West and the Ukrainian government into lowering its guard ahead of further Russian intervention in Ukraine, and then further afield.

I can't tell you all that because the Kremlin propagandists will assault my every claim with obfuscation, confusion and denial, and their account will be broadcast in the Western media, who "seek the other side of the story," and give it equal airtime, as if this other side of the story is not the outright lies and propaganda that it actually is.

That is why Russian propaganda has defeated Western journalism. Now: what are we going to do about it?

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Return of the Little Green Men

One of the problems of Western journalism, which Russia uses to its great advantage, is its apparent inability to identify a spade as a spade unless it is witnessed by three independent sources.

Even after the capture of 10 Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil on Monday, the BBC on Wednesday night, in its flagship World Service Newshour program, was referring to the troops who crossed the Russian border and took control of the town of Novoazovsk on Wednesday as "pro-Russian rebels."

Even if they were "rebels", the reports failed to note that this well-armed force would have had to cross Russian territory, with the connivance of the Russian authorities, to have opened up a new front outside of the small, and until recently shrinking, patch of ground that the anti-Ukrainian fighters previously held. It is implausible to conclude that Russia did not support this escalation of the conflict. So why was this not reported?

Well, in Crimea, as Russia discovered (or actually understood quite well beforehand), the Western press was loath to draw conclusions from second-hand and circumstantial evidence, probably for fear of making an error. President Vladimir Putin and his generals used this fact to effect a brazen takeover of the territory of another state. They have used the same tactics of subterfuge and covert action to foment a "rebellion" in the east of Ukraine. And they are using it again now to spread the war in Ukraine.

We saw this excessive journalistic caution again on August 17, when journalists from the UK newspapers the Guardian and the Telegraph, Shaun Walker and Roland Oliphant, witnessed a column of Russian APCs furtively violating the Ukrainian border at dusk. Even then, they could not conclude the obvious – that that these were Russian reinforcements off to prop up the teetering "rebel" defense in Luhansk and Donetsk – not having seen this for themselves.

Why is this such a problem? Remember the MH17 atrocity, when there was also a great deal of circumstantial evidence, but no direct eyewitness reports, that the anti-Ukrainian forces shot down a civil airliner? There was nevertheless a huge public outcry at this awful news of the horrible deaths of nearly 300 people, including 80 children, and this outcry undoubtedly caused the Western governments whose citizens had been killed to take a firmer stand against Russia, introducing stricter sanctions. Western governments, being democracies, have to have an eye on public opinion, as their positions depend on it. Public opinion, in turn, is molded by the media. The media thus have a great responsibility to provide correct information to the public, as this will indirectly have an effect on government policies in a democracy.

But the BBC, in continuing to refer to the troops who invaded Novoazovks as "pro-Russian rebels" is not providing correct information to the public in the UK, (and given the wide reach of the World Service, the public in many other countries), about the true state of affairs in Ukraine. The troops who invaded Novoazovk are Russian regular soldiers, and there is a great deal of evidence that this is so.

First, the troops, according to several eyewitness reports, are dressed in unmarked Russian-issue military uniforms. They carry Russian-issue weapons. They are masked and wearing goggles, as in Crimea. They refuse to speak to reporters (for fear of people hearing their "Russian" Russian accents). They are supplied with Russian military field rations – which they swap with the locals for more palatable fare.

Next, these troops are equipped with T-72B tanks with reactive armor – these tanks are not in the Ukrainian arsenal: they could not have been stolen from Ukrainian arms depots, they could only have come directly from the Russian military.

Moreover, some of these troops have already been captured, and videos of their interrogations are available on YouTube. The BBC employs several native speakers of Russian as journalists. It is quite possible for them to identify these men as Russian by their speech. Even Russia has admitted that they are Russian troops, but claimed they strayed a dozen miles into Ukraine "by accident." But is it really plausible that some of Russia's finest troops are incapable of reading a map correctly? Why is the media not asking such questions on behalf of the public?

Instead, we simply get interviews with Russian officials – proven liars –
presented as "the other side of the story" as if what they had to say had the slightest credibility after what happened in Crimea.

There is no doubt that the Little Green Men are back, and have now invaded mainland Ukraine. As before, the Western governments will probably try to ignore this, for fear of getting involved in "a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing," to quote the wretched appeaser Neville Chamberlain.

It is the duty of the media not to allow them to do this, to correctly report the real situation in Ukraine to the Western public, so that the public will in turn bring pressure to bear on their governments to make the correct response. The West's cautious approach to Putin has failed. It failed to stop him after his annexation of Crimea, and its continued use as a policy will fail to stop the destruction of the current Ukrainian state, which is most probably one of Putin's aims. The West's calls for Russia to "de-escalate or else" have proved useless, because Putin has continued to escalate and the West has never come up with a meaningful "else." Putin will escalate and escalate. He will not stop until he achieves his aims or is actively prevented from doing so.

It's time for the media to call the situation what it is – a direct invasion of Ukraine by Russia – and for the West to take action to stop Putin.

Otherwise, Western journalists could soon be reporting the arrival of the Little Green Men in Moldova, or Estonia, or Latvia, or Lithuania.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Russia's 'aid convoy' trucks: Trojan Horses, or Trojan Mules?

Courtney Weaver of the Financial Times, who has been traveling with the Russian "aid convoy," has been taking a look inside the Russian trucks said to be carrying aid to the Donbas. Unsurprisingly, many of the ones she looked at were mostly empty. See her pictures at

Why unsurprisingly? Because the amount of aid Russia said it was sending (about 2,000 tonnes) did not tally with the amount of tonnage the nearly 300 trucks of the convoy were capable of hauling. Even accounting for backup trucks in case of breakdowns, less than 100 trucks would have been needed to carry the declared tonnage (at 25 tonnes per truck, only 80 trucks required.)

Russian convoy drivers told Weaver the trucks were lightly loaded in case there were breakdowns, and loads had to be repacked from a broken down vehicle into another one in the convoy, but as far as we know all the trucks made it from Moscow to Rostov region without problems, so this seems excessive and unlikely. For comparison, Ukraine's aid convoy of 75 trucks carried to the Donbas 800 tonnes (just over 10.6 tonnes per truck), in a convoy of much lighter trucks than the heavy 10-wheeler Kamaz trucks sent by the Russians.

Why then, do the Russians need all that extra space?

As far as I can see, there are two most likely reasons for Russia sending this amount of trucks to the Donbas area – an optimistic one, and a pessimistic one.

The optimistic one is that the Russians intend to carry out of the Donbas a great deal more than they hope to bring in – a load of weapons, supplies and fighters - in a covert withdrawal of Russia's proxy army from Ukraine. This would be a face-saving withdrawal for the Kremlin, allowing the Russians to claim that their troops were never in eastern Ukraine, and the war was a purely Ukrainian internal conflict. Russia, in that case, would not have suffered a military defeat at the hands of Ukraine.

The pessimistic one is that Russia is deploying a large supply facility to the war region, which will be used to support a large-scale military intervention in eastern Ukraine, perhaps as part of its long-feared "peacekeeping" intervention, or even an all-out open invasion of the east and south of Ukraine. The deceptive nature of the deployment of such a logistics vehicle group would fit in well with the new Russian military tactics of Hybrid War, which seamlessly blends the use of stealth, deception and disinformation when preparing for and implementing an attack on another country. Further support for this scenario is the fact that the Russians are still sending armor into Ukraine to support their proxy army in Luhansk and Donetsk – as eye-witnessed by the Western media for the first time on the evening of August 14. It does not appear that the Russians are scaling down their military operation in eastern Ukraine – rather the opposite seems to be the case.

The Russian military's Hybrid War tactics are at least as revolutionary as the Wehrmacht's Blitzkrieg from the Second World War, but thankfully each time such tactics are employed they become less effective, as ways are thought up to counter them. (Germany's Blitzkrieg only really worked properly once, during the Fall of France in 1940.) We are all now on the look out for Little Green Men, and hopefully becoming more immune to the Kremlin's lies.

Nevertheless, we should still be wary: the fact that the Russian "aid convoy" presents us with puzzles could well be an indicator that it is indeed a Trojan Horse - not all that it seems – although it might be more accurately described as a Trojan packhorse. Ukraine should be very leery of allowing such a potentially dangerous dual-use "aid" convoy onto its territory.

Better to be on the safe side, and keep it out.