By Patrick Lawrence / Original to ScheerPost
Under Every Bed
It has been quite a week for the regime in Kiev. On Sunday Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suspended the head of his domestic intelligence service, Ivan Bakanov, and the Justice Ministry’s chief prosecutor, Iryna Venediktova. The Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s legislature, ratified these suspensions Monday. These two officials are now fired. They both failed, it seems, to root out what the regime is calling treasonous collaborations with Russians.
This is an important development, a push-to-shove moment warranting a careful read. Oh, stop, you are not going to get a careful, contextual read out of The New York Times or any of the other major dailies. The Times is calling this a symptom of “Russian infiltration.” Horse droppings. Infiltration has nothing to do with what appears to be a national crisis. It is a question of what Ukraine is and who Ukrainians are.
Let us go back to where the American media do not care to tread.
The U.S.–cultivated coup of Feb. 21, 2014, was, as a matter of record, the work of a very small minority of Ukraine’s 44 million people—tens of thousands at most. This event instantly alienated the eastern provinces (Donetsk and Luhansk, together the Donbas) where ties with Russia—historical, cultural, linguistic, religious, familial—are long and strong. When they declared themselves independent of the new regime in response to the undemocratic coup that put it in power, Kiev began an eight-year campaign of shelling the cities and towns of the Donbas.
This campaign is mentioned very elliptically, and rarely, in Western media. It resulted in roughly 14,000 civilian fatalities, by the count of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, more than 80 percent of which were on the Donbas side. There were many reports at this time of Ukrainian soldiers refusing to fire artillery on their compatriots.
I would call the divide between western and eastern Ukraine a fault line, but it did not have to be a fault. It stood to be a fine thing, indeed, if managed properly. This is what the two Minsk accords, signed September 2014 and February 2015, attempted. They were to transform Ukraine into a federated state, although “federal” was a slightly taboo term at the time. The Donbas would enjoy the autonomy it asked for after the coup, its enduring ties with Russia would be recognized, and Ukraine would remain a unified state. It would also enjoy a functioning, inclusive democracy.
But the west-east divide was not managed properly. Among Kiev’s first legislative acts was to remove Russian—spoken by 40 percent of the population—as a national language. Minsk I and Minsk II, long story short, failed when Kiev refused to implement—with Europe’s silent approval—even the most easily achieved of its provisions. The Ukrainian military’s shelling of the east continued without abatement—this while NATO trained 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers a year.
Now we can think about this business of treason and collaboration with clearer minds.
As I read this week’s news reports, I thought back to last August, when one Konstanin Pavlov, the 48-year-old mayor of a small industrial city called Krivoy Rog, was assassinated while sitting on his verandah one evening. Pavlov was a member of a party called Opposition Platform—For Life, whose leader, Viktor Medvedchuk, had recently been arrested. Pavlov’s sin was that of Medvedchuk and their party: They supported improved ties with Russia.
There was no war with Russia at the time of Medvedchuk’s arrest or Pavlov’s assassination, it is worth noting. Medvedchuk was nonetheless charged with treason and Pavlov was nonetheless dead. Starting to get the picture?
Last summer, alert readers will recall, was an eventful season in and around Ukraine. Reports circulated that Ukraine was planning a major offensive—and this would have to be very major—to retake all of the Donbas as well as Crimea. A short time later, as if to confirm these reports, Russia began amassing troops along its southwestern border with Ukraine.
The Times likes to praise American intelligence for its precise call as to when the Russian intervention would begin. This is a game played with mirrors. What indications are available to us suggest persuasively the Ukrainian offensive was to begin in late February; the U.S. knew this because it was directing the endeavor, and the Russians, those dumb, no-neck Russians, understood the moment to move had come.
To be noted: Minsk II legally expired on February 21, eight years to the day after the coup, three days before Russian forces moved.
Zelensky has gone Draconian since the start of hostilities on Feb. 24. The regime has shut down all media it considers “pro–Russian,” censored 100,000 social media accounts it says spread misinformation—and we know all about the disinformation of “misinformation”—and banned no fewer than nine opposition parties, among them Opposition Platform.
In the spring, a small-town administrator in charge of local sports programs, another local bureaucrat who favored a settlement with Russia, was assassinated. Last month the southeastern city of Nikolaev banned the Russian language at all public gatherings. Events such as these give an impression of the prevailing atmosphere.
And now the purge. Apart from Bakanov and Venediktova, Zelensky fired the deputy chief of domestic intel, Bakanov’s No. 2, along with the heads of five regional offices. This is a lot of blood to spill. Safe to say, there does appear to be an extremely rampant problem with Ukrainians who, one way or another, entertain sympathies for Russia, favor negotiations to end the war, or have deep attachments to Russia of the kind earlier suggested.
Those just sacked are accused of not doing enough to find and fire the symps in their organizations. Now we are talking about treasonous Ukrainians in the many thousands. Kiev has already opened nearly 700 investigations against police officers, intelligence operatives, and others. “Russian sympathizers”—The Times’s phrase—are accused of sharing intelligence, reporting potential targets to Russian forces, and sabotaging Ukrainian operations. There are priests—Russian Orthodox priests—giving succor to Russian officers in areas under Russian control.
But, take it from The Times, “Ukrainian society as a whole has rallied to the country’s defense.” I always love these flimsy statements The Times breezily sends our way as if they are beyond dispute. Ukrainian society as a whole, to be perfectly clear, is plainly and profoundly divided in its support for the war and, indeed, the Kiev regime. I have suggested sufficient history such that this cannot be a matter of much dispute.
I do not know what kind of things Ukrainian spooks and ordinary citizens get up to when their sympathies do not lie with the Kiev regime and the NATO–sponsored war it now conducts. And I am not taking The Times’s word for this because The Times gets all its information from the fanatically Russophobic regime—the very height of journalistic delinquency.
However extensive these activities, I will say, they cannot be understood separately from the social and historical context I have pencil-sketched. I begin to suspect the treason and collaboration bit may be cover: So far as I can make out, we are watching what has become a police state extinguish all dissent.
“Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the national security of the state, and the connections detected between the employees of the security forces of Ukraine and the special services of Russia,” the apparently freaked-out Zelensky said Monday, “pose very serious questions to the relevant leadership.”
Big Volod is absolutely right on this point. There are indeed serious questions at issue, but there is no chance whatsoever that the relevant leadership will pose the right ones, given there seem to be Russian-symps under a great many Ukrainian beds.
This mess is the sour fruit of many years of reckless miscalculation, of ignoring the sentiments, preferences, and the very consciousness of half or more of the country.
Disloyalty x 3
When are Joe Biden and Antony Blinken going to cut out the pretense of support for a free press and freedom of expression? If I am not mistaken, the secretary of state was in London last May 3, celebrating World Press Freedom Day with his insipid Tweets while Julian Assange sat in a cell at Belmarsh Prison a matter of miles away.
Joe Biden has just aced our inane top diplomat. This guy spent so many years selling his constituents snake oil he seems to think what he got away with in downstate Delaware will do perfectly well now that the whole world is watching. As a friend remarked the other day, “The problem in America is the dumbs outnumber the smarts.” I give Americans more credit than this, but it is certainly true of the regime now running Washington.
Biden’s tour of the Middle East brought him to two nations that have recently murdered American journalists. In Israel he seems to have had nothing to say about the fatal shooting of Shireen Abu Akleh, the distinguished Al Jazeera correspondent and an American citizen, who was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier in May. Abu Akleh did not have a constituency in America of sufficient size and voice such that Biden was required to make any display of concern. Passively offensive and bad enough.
In Jeddah, Biden’s handling of the more infamous Saudi murder of Jamal Khashoggi four years ago was actively offensive. Khashoggi had a column at The Washington Post and thus a name. This large, unresolved question was reduced to whether Biden would bring it up with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, who was responsible for the Khashoggi murder according to a CIA assessment.
Will he mention it? Will he say anything? I was not on the edge of my seat.
“I raised it at the top of the meeting, making clear what I thought at the time and what I think of it now,” saith the man from Scranton. “I was straightforward and direct in discussing it. I made my view crystal clear. I said very straightforwardly for an American president to be silent on an issue of human rights is inconsistent with who we are and who I am. I always stand up for our values.”
Wow. Biden certainly gave MBS what for, as my father used to say.
Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, given that a senior Saudi official present at the Biden–MBS encounter told Reuters afterward Biden said nothing of the kind. But do you see what the White House has done with this story? The Biden regime has reduced the murder of an American journalist to what the president may or may not have said during a state visit to the monarchy responsible for the deed.
You cannot possibly miss the point here. Whatever he said, it had nothing to do with what he or anyone else in Washington will do in response to Khashoggi’s death and gruesome dismemberment. That comes to not a damn thing.
And do you see what the press has done? American media are 100 percent complicit in putting this dodge across. This seems to be the end of the Khashoggi case. Biden said something, so all finished up justly—assuming Biden said anything, we now must add.
In this case, The Times had the good grace to point out that, if you will excuse my French, Biden is a serial bullshitter in such matters, with a long record behind him of false accounts of his bravery and integrity before others.
I saw a variant of the Khashoggi routine coming in the case of Abu Akleh. As soon as the Palestinians decided, after much resistance and in my view unwisely, to turn over the fatal bullet for inspection by Israeli scientists, you just knew the game was up—or was just getting going.
“The bullet that killed Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian–American journalist shot in the occupied West Bank in May, was most likely fired from Israeli military lines but was too damaged to say for sure, the State Department said on Monday.”
That lead is the work of Patrick Kingsley and Lara Jakes, who report for The Times from Jerusalem and Washington respectively, and let these bylines be noted. Apart from reporting what the State Department had to say with no mention of its bias in all things to do with Israel—and I do not care how routinely this occurs, it remains wrong—they went on to report: “U.S. officials ‘found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an I.D.F.–led military operation.’”
Just a sec. Will one of you please tell me how under the sun the State Department could possibly judge intention on the basis of the condition of a bullet—and a bullet, I will wager big, that was not too damaged to establish culpability? But note the trick in the wording Kingsley and Jakes thought nothing of reproducing. The State Department “found no reason to believe Abu Akleh’s murder was intentional” because they couldn’t possibly have found any such reason. This is what it was like to read Pravda from all I understand of life in the Soviet Union.
One grows heartily tired of the waffle-waffle routine at The Times, previously deployed during those dreadful Israeli attacks on Palestinians as they ethnic-cleansed neighborhoods in Jerusalem last year. Well, it may have been this way, but it is awfully hard to say, there’s another side to the story, it isn’t what it looks like, and so on infinitely. You take your places in a long tradition, Mr. Kingsley and Ms. Jakes. I understand. You wouldn’t last at The Times if you didn’t.
I count the media’s betrayals of their own more offensive than the Biden regime’s day-in, day-out nonsense on the press freedom question. And I cannot but consider these two cases in the context of Julian Assange’s case. You have read next to nothing about the WikiLeaks founder’s fight against extradition since he was imprisoned at Belmarsh three years ago. This, the most egregious of betrayals, is simply too shameful for words, although it deserves as many as we can summon.
To fill you in briefly and with reference to the excellent work of Tareq Haddad, a friend in London following the case with exemplary diligence, Home Secretary Priti Patel approved of Assange’s extradition on June 17 after long-running court proceedings. Assange’s lawyers have since filed papers requesting leave to appeal the ruling on 16 counts. High among these is that the British government has broken the terms of the U.S.–U.K extradition treaty, which stipulates that political cases cannot fall under it.
Leave to appeal means Assange’s defense team has asked to bring its 16 objections to court. High Court judges will now determine if each objection has enough merit to be heard in an appeals proceeding.
You have read or heard nothing but nothing of this momentous case in corporate media. I still cannot quite register this sin of omission for its magnitude. Tareq’s latest piece on this is here. He is worth following for all those interested in the Assange case.
By my best surmise, Her Majesty’s government will rule on this case in whatever way and when the Biden regime prefers. As to the when of the case, I speculate—all I’ve got—that Biden’s people are waiting until they can order Assange brought to the U.S. for trial without risking a domestic uproar. They do not seem to have much to worry about given how extensively Assange has been demonized—and lately erased from public discourse—but may there be such an uproar when Assange is finally put on a plane.
Khashoggi, Abu Akleh, the egregious case of Assange: Three instances of profound disloyalty to colleagues and, at the horizon, the profession. I am reminded of the case long ago of George Polk, a CBS correspondent covering Greece during the civil war in the late–1940s, which became the Truman administration’s first Cold War crusade. Polk was assassinated in 1948, just as he was about to expose the Greek foreign minister for embezzling a large whack of the funds the Truman administration had sent to support the fascist monarchy.
Faithful to the Truman–Acheson whitewash, the American press covered up responsibility for the assassination until years later when the coast was very clear. They instead created the Polk Award for outstanding broadcast journalism, which is conferred annually. I have always attached a weird irony to the Polk.
It is always good to know the history, so your expectations remain within the bounds of the plausible.
Patrick Lawrence writes a weekly media criticism column that appears every Thursday on ScheerPost.