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.