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Donetsk airport swap canard

Like most wars in the modern era, the Ukrainian civil war is a war between propaganda machines, too. I think that one of the sides of this conflict is more excited about the fabrication of misintepretations and downright lies and I don't need to tell you which side I mean.

The story about the "swap negotiations" involving the Donetsk airport is a rather incredible example of the propaganda war that sometimes reaches ludicrous proportions. Around 10 a.m. Czech Summer Time, some Ukrainian media would report that the pro-Kiev de iure governor of the Donetsk Region Mr Serhij Taruta informed everyone that his side and the representatives of Novorussia would negotiate about an exchange.

The Kiev forces would vacate the Donetsk airport, one of the last islands they were capable of holding but they were gradually losing, while they would acquire "huge territories" near Donetsk currently controlled by Novorussia. Novoazovsk was sadly not among the places Kiev was supposed to win, we were told.

Twitter and the Ukrainian media were full of this report and it looked rather credible at some point. See e.g. and (see also where this information was spread – these are two rare Ukrainian pages that haven't been erased as of now, when I am writing these sentences.

This information wasn't copied in any Western media but it was reproduced in a majority of the Czech media. See e.g. iDNES and Czech Radio. The Czech journalists were apparently assuming that if some reports appear "directly" in the Ukrainian media, they are trustworthy.

Some hours were needed for the substance behind this information to get unmasked a little bit. Of course, we later learned that Taruta denied the information. No negotiation was taking place, the Ukrainian media took some of his claims out of their context. They have misunderstood me, Taruta said. Two more hours later, the defense minister in Kiev said that this governor wasn't authorized to speak about anything.

If we return back a little bit, around the noon the AP would tell us that Ukraine rebels close in on strategic Donetsk airport; at least 3 killed in shelling. Some pro-Kiev officials would praise their soldiers who are so brave and successful while the leaders of the Novorussian militias would calmly inform that they control about 90% of the airport and they expect to take over the rest at most within a few days.

The latter claim is supported by the fact that the airport is currently being shot at from positions out of Donetsk where the pro-Kiev forces are located, suggesting that they must consider the airport to be mostly an enemy's facility. So it's rather likely that Kiev is losing (or has lost) the airport and instead of the "huge territory", they will get nothing.

It seems pretty clear to me that the canard that was copied all over the Ukrainian media wasn't just some "misunderstanding". It was a deliberate mystification spread by the pro-Kiev forces whose goal was to prepare the fans of the Kiev side for the loss and to gradually get used to the new situation. For a while, these people may say that they may receive some huge territories in exchange. Maybe they will benefit. It may be great. Maybe, it won't be that horrible. Maybe, the catastrophe is not inevitable and imminent, and so on.

Many regimes are inventing lots of propaganda but exactly this kind of propaganda constantly claiming that "our troops are superior and cannot be beaten" (see a recent video about the exemplary heroism of the Kiev troops at the airport) was really characteristic for the Third Reich. When Germany started to lose battles on the Eastern front sometime in the middle of the war, the German overlords found the truth inconvenient and e.g. lots of Czechs were executed just for spreading news what was actually happening on the front lines. The reality is that the pro-Kiev army is in the state of mess and it can be defeated pretty much by anyone and at any time. This insight isn't that damning. What the folks in Ukraine should be much more worried about is the fact that the same thing is happening to their economy, democracy, and the rule of law. They should care about Naftogaz (top Ukr. gas company) failed to pay bonds today – which normally means bankruptcy.

Interestingly, I think that e.g. Igor Strelkov had the opposite bias before he was fired as the Novorussian defense minister. He would often say that the situation of his troops was hopeless. This battle reenactor (quite a hobby!) is a very interesting personality but it really seems to me that the successes of the Novorussian troops began right after this guy was removed from his office. Incidentally, he and/or some of his colleagues were replaced by ethnic Ukrainian leaders.

It's pretty surprising that both sides appear to be calling the current situation "a ceasefire". I wouldn't be satisfied with a similar "ceasefire". But it's still better than a maximally hot war. The absence of effective enforcement of the law implies that quantities such as "ceasefire Yes/No" are turning into continuous variables. As the Kiev forces continue to lose, Novorussia is thinking about adding (parts of?) the Kharkov region where the recent liquidation of a statue of Lenin led to some confrontation.

(Incidentally, this excessive defense of Lenin reminds me that most of those "pro-Russians" and me have very little in common ideologically. I suspect that they will be badly disappointed if they unite with Russia and find out that it is no longer a country of Lenin. I still think that they have the right not to be controlled by the rulers with the opposite extremist bias. I wouldn't want to be affected by political pressures that exist in Kiev these days and I am sure that those who like Lenin must have much stronger feelings of the same kind.)

Given the momentum, I think that the rulers in Kiev should do everything they can to offer the two or three regions to Novorussia and negotiate conditions that guarantee that it stops there. If Ukraine in the new, orange sense had lost just Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions, I would still interpret it as an unbelievable victory for the coup supporters who were really fighting against political forces that had a majority of Ukraine on their side according to the latest parliamentary elections. But I suspect that this rational thinking doesn't exist in Kiev – they want to conquer every corner of Ukraine (if not beyond) and many more people on both sides (and people who don't belong to either side) will have to pay for this thirst with their lives.

"Hunter", as pure an American as you can get (and even a former GOP believer and now self-described Obama and Democrats' fan) is fighting for the independence of Novorussia. He is not homesick but is bothered by the shortage of hamburgers in People's Republic of Donetsk. I am familiar with exactly the same feeling from People's Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts. ;-)

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snail feedback (14) :

reader Mickey said...

Just personal testimony but the significance of the Ukraine War to my own life, is that this was the first time that I did not trust or believe the "West" from the very start. I don't know anything about Ukraine or the East Europe. But that nothingness now amounts to more commonality than what is left of my social/racial/cultural heirloom.

reader Uncle Al said...

The universal joy of killing each other has given meaning to millions of lives, especially those of rebellious (economically disenfranchised) young. The singular national goal must be opening many many tattoo parlors to memorialize the struggle.

reader Mickey said...

Don't worry, your weary cynicism will vanish miraculously when you turn your mind to the home land and people. Oh the beauty. Oh the Right to Continuity and Identity.

reader Curious George said...

"they were gradually losing the Donetsk airport" - during an agreed armistice. Clearly, the anti-airport propaganda machine has more guns.

reader Luboš Motl said...

As I wrote as well, the truce is clearly mostly a joke. It is being violated by both sides approximately equally. It just happens that the Kiev side continues to lose by these violations, but at a slower rate than before the truce because everything is slowed down by the truce.

reader Oleg said...

Indeed, this can hardly be called a ceasefire. The (somewhat inhibited) military action continues on both sides, while the Kiev army does what it does best - killing civilians. Today they fired the 'Smerch' missiles into the residential areas (graphic):

As to the propaganda war, the defence minister of Ukraine Geletey said that Russia __nuked__ the Lugansk airport:

It does not get any better than that )))

reader Luboš Motl said...

The nuclear attack claims were indeed hilarious. Are you sure that those guys in Ukraine really said it?

reader Oleg said...

The statement is "Ukrainian media reports said that Defence Minister Geletei had made this statement upon return from talks in Poland." In particular, the pro-Kiev journalist Roman Bochkala posted this claim on his Facebook page after an interview with Geletey. Other Ukrainian officials immediately distanced themselves from this business for obvious reasons...

reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks. What I mean then is: Didn't just Bochkala make it up, or wasn't he paid by someone e.g. in Russia to make it up?

reader Oleg said...

I do not think so. If you look at his profile, he's fanatically anti-Russian. Earlier, he's posted on his Facebook page a "proof" that Russia fired missiles into the Ukrainian terrirory:

Another Bochkala's story was that a Russain armed vehicle
operated by paratroopers from Pskov was captured in Ukaine :

So, I'd say it all adds up. It's just this time he's taken it a notch too far. Not that it bothered the Ukrainian media...

The story was not refuted by Geletey himself. Instead, he's now saying that "nuclear weapons may have been used and it's up to the experts to decide whether they have been or not".

reader Luboš Motl said...

It's rather surreal, Oleg. Well, time to learn to work with Geiger-Muller counters and learn about the concept of mushroom clouds to be somewhat more certain next time. ;-)

reader Nancy said...

Does not seem to be the case. I asked my my friends in Kiev. They never heard of such claims made on Ukrainian TV or anywhere else - despite the fact that Geletey is on their TV all the time and makes all kind of insane claims.

That link apparently mixes some bogus info with accurate technical characteristics of that monstrous (indeed nuclear capable!) mortar. Curiously, "Geletey" is misspelled in the headline but is correct afterwords in the text. Overall, that link does not seem to age very well: turned completely sour in less than 3 weeks.

reader Oleg said...

Sorry, "my friends haven't heard it" agrument is not very convincing to say the least. See
(where Geletey is trying to downplay his claims).

reader Nancy said...

Dear Oleg, thanks for the info. I hope you understand that I was not trying to convince anyone ;-) and it was not even an argument ;-)