Ukraine Crisis: The Fog of Propaganda

To the editor of The New York Times:

The lead article in the web edition of today’s The New York Times begins:

The Facebook post on Tuesday morning by Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia was bleak and full of dread. “Blood has been spilled in Ukraine again,” wrote Mr. Medvedev, once favored in the West for playing good cop to the hard-boiled president, Vladimir V. Putin. “The threat of civil war looms.”

Medvedev pleaded with Ukrainians to decide their own future “without usurpers, nationalists and bandits, without tanks or armored vehicles — and without secret visits by the C.I.A. director.”

And so began another day of bluster and hyperbole, of the misinformation, exaggerations, conspiracy theories, overheated rhetoric and, occasionally, outright lies about the political crisis in Ukraine that have emanated from the highest echelons of the Kremlin and reverberated on state-controlled Russian television, hour after hour, day after day, week after week.…

What is striking is how much bluster, hyperbole, misinformation, exaggerations, conspiracy theories, overheated rhetoric and outright lies have come not only from Moscow but from Kiev, Washington, London and other capitals. Hour-by-hour the ancient Greek proverb -- “In war, truth is the first casualty” -- is being amply demonstrated on all sides.

How ironic it is that the overthrow of the elected Yanukovych government by demonstrators in Kiev -- an event welcomed and supported by Washington and its allies -- has inspired similar demonstrations and the occupation of government buildings in the largely Russian-speaking cities of eastern Ukraine, but in these more recent cases the demonstrations are condemned by Washington and its allies. What was admirable when it was done in Kiev is seen as outrageous in other Ukrainian cities.

In the US press, the fact that the CIA has been quietly meddling in the affairs of Ukraine is regarded as a detail of minor significance, even though the CIA has many times in the past played a decisive role in arranging regime change. White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed that CIA Director John Brennan visited Kiev over the weekend and met with principal Ukrainian officials -- with a straight face he said that it was absurd to imply that US officials meeting with their counterparts Kiev was anything other than routine. It would be laughable if the consequences of enmity were not so disastrous. It is bizarre for the US to accuse Russia of interfering when the US itself is sowing discord, unrest and violence in so many countries.

The Yanukovych government was corrupt, as was the government that preceded it. That many Ukrainians are fed up with such leadership is understandable. It’s similarly understandable that the Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minority is outraged and, after being treated for years as second-class citizens with limited rights to use their own language, that many of them might prefer either a high degree of regional autonomy or being part of Russia. Only free elections, not only at the national level but oblast-by-oblast, can demonstrate the will of the people. Meanwhile the Ukrainians have a right to sort out their own affairs without interference. Regardless of the outcome in Ukraine, the US and NATO should stand back.

The press can play its part. Propaganda, whether from the US, Russia or the EU, only thickens the fog and makes war, whether civil or between nations, more likely.

-- Jim Forest
International Secretary, The Orthodox Peace Fellowship

16 April 2014

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