Yesterday I attended a Ria Novosti Press Conference in the National Press Club in Washington DC. I wanted to hear and see Russian leaders give their version of how the situation in Ukraine came to be. Here is a list of the Russian officials, however only two appeared and I could not see anything in English to tell me who actually appeared:
- Victor Ivanov, Russian Drug Enforcement Administration Chief (TBC)
- Sergei Markov, Director, Institute of Political Studies
- Vladimir Sungorkin, Editor-in-Chief, Komsomolskaya Pravda (Russian largest circulation daily)
- Sergei Zheleznyak, Vice-Speaker of the Duma
Up until now I have read articles from a wide variety of Russian, Ukraine and Western news sources. I viewed countless videos, many from Russian sources. This would be my first experience with actual Russian officials making statements and responding to questions. As a result I have determined there are two parallel story lines for the situation in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Story
A Western timeline starts out with Ukrainian protests against the democratically elected President, Viktor Yanukovych, from the Donetsk Oblast in far Eastern Ukraine, next to Russia. From Wikipedia:
Yanukovych first ran for president in 2004, but the Ukrainian Supreme Court nullified and ordered a re-run of the initial second-round ballot electing him, which was fraught with allegations of fraud and voter intimidation amid widespread citizen protests and occupation of Kiev’s Independence Square in what became known as the Orange Revolution. Yanukovych lost the court-ordered second 2004 presidential run-off election to Viktor Yushchenko.
Yanukovych served as prime minister for a second time from 4 August 2006 to 18 December 2007 under President Yushchenko.
Yanukovych was elected president in 2010, defeating Yulia Tymoshenko. November 2013 saw the beginning of a series of events that led to his ouster as president. Yanukovych rejected a pending EU association agreement, choosing instead to pursue a Russian loan bailout and closer ties with Russia. This led to popular protests and the occupation of Kiev’s Independence Square dubbed “Euromaidan” by young pro-European Union Ukrainians. In January 2014 this developed into deadly clashes in Independence Square and in areas across Ukraine as Ukrainian citizens confronted the Berkut and other special police units. In February 2014, Ukraine appeared to be on the brink of civil war, as violent clashes between protesters and special police forces led to many deaths and injuries.Yanukovych claimed on 21 February 2014 that after lengthy discussions he had reached an agreement with the opposition. However later that day he fled the capital for Kharkiv, travelling next to Crimea and eventually to southern Russia.
After this point the West’ story is one of a Soviet style dictator thrown out of office by a popular uprising, in a revolution of sorts. It is at this point where the Ukrainian government is in the process of holding elections to determine the next leader (May 25th, 2014). According to Ukrainian sources, Russian provacateurs, it is believed aided by Russian Special Forces, are attempting to destabilize Ukraine and incite reasons for the Russian army to invade in order to restore peace and protect ethnic minority Russians. At this point of time Ukraine is more stable than Russia in February 1917.
The Russian Story
This is the unnamed Russian official. If someone can identify him, this will be exceedingly helpful.
The “descended into the Stone Age” quote is very important, this implies there is no government in place, no leadership, no modern processes and everything is in chaos. This, we know, is not true.
The second reason this is important, is that any and all repercussions against ethnic Russians may be blamed on Ukrainian lack of leadership, which would cause an atmosphere of chaos. I am aware of only one attack against ethnic Russians and it was immediately after the Crimea was de facto surrendered to Russia and I blogged about it here.
There are multiple other story lines as a result of the Russian alternate truth and I will continue to share those.
The Rest of the Press Conference
At the start of the question and answer period in press conference , the US News and World Report reporter asked about a shipment of aid sent to Ukraine. Somehow this was lost in translation and the respondent started going off about the US ships in the Black Sea. Everybody in the audience knew there was a problem with the translation and the USN&WR reporter interuppted him and asked the question again. The Russian said “Okay, but I would like to answer the other question first” and proceeded to speak about the ships in the Black Sea. It was an obvious hatchet job meant to embarrass the US for “increasing the tensions”. No mention of Russian forces streaming into Crimea and no mention of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border. By the way, Putin agreed to withdraw some forces from the border, but as of today none have moved. Source, here.
The next respondent said the cutest thing, also totally unbelievable. “We just want to protect the people”. Excuse me, my allergies are kicking up. It sounded like he said *bullsh***.
The next question came from the New York Times, Moscow office and it was about how Ukraine appeared to moving closer to the West, was this the reason for the incursion? The Russian response? “Countries have a right to move in the direction of their choosing. Yanukovych would have signed the agreement…” Pardon me? That was the agreement with Russia which the Ukrainian people disagreed with because it moved them away from the EU, that was the cause of the popular uprising.
The reporter from The Globalist, in Washington DC, asked under which conditions would Russia move towards war, particularly with the US? The word continued stuck out like a sore thumb when the answer was: ‘Continued terrorist attacks, illegal government remaining in place… ‘
A second respondent answered: “disarm illegal military groups”. This struck me especially hard because Ukraine just approved a measure calling for a cessation to illegally armed militants. Also, the so-called Crimean Self-Defense Group was illegal under Ukrainian law, but now that they’re Russian, who knows?
Later in the press conference they were speaking about the Maidan snipers and said “The persons responsible for the sniper attacks are investigating the sniper attacks, “many evidences to that”. I thought this was very powerful because there have been strong allegations that Russian Special Forces snipers or at least Russian trained snipers were mostly responsible for the attacks on hundreds in the Maidan.
For the most part I have never actually witnessed more people talk about nothing for more time, in my life. The Press Conference lasted 90 minutes, including Q&A but I’ll be darned if I heard more than ten words not straight out of the press releases.
It was almost difficult at times to hear what was being shared as news but it was a tremendous relief the speakers could toe the party line so well. I appreciate the Russian perspective and I look forward to hearing more in the future.