Another NYT ‘Sort of’ Retraction on Ukraine

Exclusive: The mainstream U.S. media likes to talk about Ukraine as an “information war,” meaning that the Russians are making stuff up. But the false narratives are actually being hatched more on the U.S. side, as a new New York Times story acknowledges, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The New York Times, which has asserted for weeks that the Russian government is behind the unrest in Ukraine’s east, finally sent some reporters to the region to dig up the proof, but all they found were eastern Ukrainians upset by the coup regime in Kiev that replaced President Viktor Yanukovych.

The Times, which has been an unapologetic promoter of the “pro-democracy” uprising that ousted the democratically elected president through violent extra-constitutional means, has recently been promoting the “theme” that Ukrainians would be happy with their new unelected government if only the Russians weren’t “destabilizing eastern Ukraine.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Times’ editors thought they had the goods two weeks ago with a front-page scoop featuring photographs supposedly proving the presence of Russian special forces troops. According to the Times, the photos “clearly” showed Russian special forces in Russia and then the same soldiers in eastern Ukraine.

However, only two days later, the scoop unraveled when it turned out that a key photo supposedly showing a group of soldiers in Russia who later appeared in eastern Ukraine was actually taken in Ukraine, destroying the premise of the entire story.

So, the Times belatedly dispatched reporters C.J. Chivers and Noah Sneider to Slovyansk in eastern Ukraine to talk with the militants who are opposing the coup regime in Kiev. To their credit, the two reporters actually seem to have recounted what they found, albeit with some of the anti-Russian bias that is now deeply embedded in the Western media narrative.

Noting that Moscow says the Ukrainian militants are not part of the Russian armed forces while “Western officials and the Ukrainian government insist that Russians have led, organized and equipped the fighters,” the reporters write:

“A deeper look at the 12th Company [of the People’s Militia], during more than a week of visiting its checkpoints, interviewing its fighters and observing them in action against a Ukrainian military advance here on Friday, shows that in its case neither portrayal captures the full story.

“The rebels of the 12th Company appear to be Ukrainians but, like many in the region, have deep ties to and affinity for Russia. They are veterans of the Soviet, Ukrainian or Russian Armies, and some have families on the other side of the border. Theirs is a tangled mix of identities and loyalties.

“Further complicating the picture, while the fighters share a passionate distrust of Ukraine’s government and the Western powers that support it, they disagree among themselves about their ultimate goals. They argue about whether Ukraine should redistribute power via greater federalization or whether the region should be annexed by Russia, and they harbor different views about which side might claim Kiev, the capital, and even about where the border of a divided Ukraine might lie.”

Chuckling at Kiev

The Times reporters cited one unit leader named Yuri as chuckling “at the claims by officials in Kiev and the West that his operations had been guided by Russian military intelligence officers. There is no Russian master, he said. ‘We have no Muscovites here,’ he said. ‘I have experience enough.’ That experience, he and his fighters say, includes four years as a Soviet small-unit commander in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the 1980s.

“The 119 fighters he said he leads, who appear to range in age from their 20s to their 50s, all speak of prior service in Soviet or Ukrainian infantry, airborne, special forces or air-defense units.”

The reporters also discovered mostly well-worn and dated weaponry, not the newer and more sophisticated equipment that is available to Russian forces.

“During the fighting on Friday, two of the fighters carried hunting shotguns, and the heaviest visible weapon was a sole rocket-propelled grenade,” Chivers and Sneider wrote. “Much of their stock was identical to the weapons seen in the hands of Ukrainian soldiers and Interior Ministry special forces troops at government positions outside the city. These included 9-millimeter Makarov pistols, Kalashnikov assault rifles and a few Dragunov sniper rifles, RPK light machine guns and portable antitank rockets, including some with production stamps from the 1980s and early 1990s.”

Other Western journalists, who have bothered to report from eastern Ukraine rather than just accept handouts from the U.S. Embassy in Kiev or the State Department in Washington, discovered a similar reality.

For instance, on April 17, Washington Post correspondent Anthony Faiola reported from Donetsk that many of the eastern Ukrainians whom he interviewed said the unrest in their region was driven by fear over “economic hardship” and the IMF austerity plan that will make their lives even harder.

“At a most dangerous and delicate time, just as it battles Moscow for hearts and minds across the east, the pro-Western government is set to initiate a shock therapy of economic measures to meet the demands of an emergency bailout from the International Monetary Fund,” Faiola reported.

But this on-the-ground reality of legitimate and understandable concerns among the eastern Ukrainians has been missing from the U.S. propaganda barrage, which has overwhelmed the mainstream press as thoroughly as a similar P.R. campaign did during the run-up to the Iraq War, if not more so. Official Washington’s “group think” now is all about blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Ukraine crisis.

One of the more preposterous theories that I have heard from Washington punditry and officialdom is that Putin arranged the Ukraine chaos as part of a scheme to reclaim land lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Though this notion of Putin as the aggressor plotting to reassert Russian imperialism has become something of a “conventional wisdom,” it is fully unsupported by the facts.

To believe that Putin instigated the Ukraine crisis, you would have to believe that he organized the Maidan protests, that he built up the neo-Nazi militias that spearheaded the Feb. 22 coup, and that he intentionally overthrew his ally, Yanukovych, whom Putin seemed to be trying to save. Though this conspiracy theory is ludicrous, it is now widespread in Official Washington.

Caught Off-Guard

The reality was that Putin was caught off-guard by the events in Ukraine, in part, because he was preoccupied with the Sochi Winter Olympics and the threat that the games would be marred by a major terrorist attack. He spent a great deal of time in Sochi personally overseeing the security.

Meanwhile, the Maidan uprising was unfolding in Kiev, cheered on by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and partly financed by American entities, such as the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy, whose longtime president Carl Gershman deemed Ukraine “the biggest prize” in a Washington Post op-ed published in late September, months before the current crisis erupted.

Though many of the protesters from western Ukraine had legitimate grievances over the pervasive corruption in Ukrainian politics and the inordinate power of a handful of wealthy oligarchs, the final violent coup was carried out by well-trained neo-Nazi militias organized in 100-man brigades, known as “the hundreds.”

After the Feb. 22 putsch when Yanukovych and many of his officials were forced to flee for their lives, Putin began reacting to this deteriorating situation on Russia’s border. What he was doing was “crisis management,” not implementing some Machiavellian scheme that had long been contemplated.

But the demonization of Putin in the Western media has been so total that anyone who dares question the most extreme interpretations of his behavior is denounced as a “Putin apologist.” Indeed, any attempt to present a nuanced narrative of what has happened in Ukraine is dismissed as somehow promoting Russian imperialism or spreading Russian propaganda.

This oppressive “group think” has, in turn, made formulating any rational policy toward Russia and Ukraine politically impossible in Official Washington.

In this context of asking who’s the real propagandist, it’s worth looking back on another New York Times front-page story from mid-April by David M. Herszenhorn, who accused the Russian government of engaging in a propaganda war.

In the article entitled “Russia Is Quick To Bend Truth About Ukraine,” Herszenhorn mocked Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev for making a Facebook posting that “was bleak and full of dread,” including noting that “blood has been spilled in Ukraine again” and adding that “the threat of civil war looms.”

The Times article continued, “He [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.”

This argumentative “news” story spilled from the front page to the top half of an inside page, but Herszenhorn never managed to mention that there was nothing false in what Medvedev wrote. Indeed, as the bloodshed has grown worse and a civil war has become more apparent, you might say Medvedev was tragically prescient.

It was also the much-maligned Russian press that first reported the secret visit of CIA Director John Brennan to Kiev. Though the White House later confirmed that report, Herszenhorn cited Medvedev’s reference to it in the context of “misinformation” and “conspiracy theories.” Nowhere in the long article did the Times inform its readers that, yes, the CIA director did make a secret visit to Ukraine.

Perhaps, the Chivers-Sneider story about the backgrounds of the fighters in the People’s Militia of eastern Ukraine what looks like another New York Times’ “sort of” retraction of its earlier claims will give some pause to the U.S. propaganda stampede into another unnecessary war. [For more details, see’s “Ukraine, Though the US ‘Looking Glass.’”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

19 comments for “Another NYT ‘Sort of’ Retraction on Ukraine

  1. May 6, 2014 at 14:48

    The current events in Ukraine demonstrate once again the criminal character of the US government, which is gaining attributes of Nazi and Soviet means of behavior. The Goebels style of proppaganda aimed at smearing anybody who disagrees with them even to a small degree can be truly assessed in their portrayal of the events in Ukraine and their smearing of Putin. I used to have a very suspicious attitude towards Putin, viewing him as a KGB bureaucrat whois setting up a corporatist systemin Russia. Now, having witnessed the vitriol thrown at him by our valiant media, I am beginning to develop a considerable amount of respect for him. The way our prostitute media hacks have played down the bloody murder of Russians by Nazi thugs, and the way they have portrayed the bloodless annexation of Crimea as an “agressive,” “imperialist” move, makes me want to support anybody that our media hacks smear. The American propaganda against Russia reminds very much the old-time Soviet propaganda against the United States. This time, the Lenins, Stalins, Khrushchevs and Brezhnevs are Clinton, Bush, Obama, Kerry, McCain, Hirrary and all of the other lunatics in our government. Would God grant that we become freed of our warmongering cutthroats, just like he Russians became freed in 1991.

  2. John Ellis
    May 6, 2014 at 10:04

    Which begs the question, as mainstream America is the most wealthy voting majority the world has ever known, will reality enlightenment bring an attitude adjustment?

  3. John Ellis
    May 6, 2014 at 09:50

    I agree.

  4. alex147
    May 6, 2014 at 08:42

    Nice analytical article which makes the things clear.

  5. Vadim Rigin
    May 6, 2014 at 08:15

    War with Russia is a thermonuclear war – very much, very unnecessary war.

  6. May 6, 2014 at 06:47

    Superb. This is the best analysis of western propaganda media so far in this utterly chaotic Ukraine mess. I only wish I could encapsulate like this, the madness that has overcome the American people.

  7. UkrToday
    May 5, 2014 at 21:03

    Thank you.

    Putin/Russia’s position has been grossly maligned. Much of what is reported in the western media and by the POTUS advisers is designed to paint a picture that would justify NATO encroachment into Ukraine.

    Putin to date has resisted calls to intervene as was the case in Crimea. (A move that has been filly justified by the circumstances that have followed). Putin only need to hold back as long as he can for the truth to eventually be exposed. Given enough rope Ukraine will see what is really going on.

    what is transpiring in Eastern Ukraine is Government right Sector forces are attacking Ukrainian Citizens. They are the aggressors that have traveled to the region. To date the pro Russian local forces area acting in defense. Much of the recent attacks have come following visits to Ukraine by the head of the CIA.

    Ukraine is financially bankrupt yet someone is paying the costs of the recent formation of the “Nationalist Army.”, new uniform and ammunition.

    Reports are that a helicopter that was shot down was manned by US operatives on the ground. It is US forces that are providing the game plan not Russian forces.

  8. Bob
    May 5, 2014 at 11:10

    How the thugs killed Odessa inhabitants in the Trade Unions House – the details of bloody scenario

  9. John Doe
    May 5, 2014 at 08:39

    Please have the following materials translated and checked out. There are horrific war crimes being committed in Ukraine at the commission of the new government. Western media is disregarding all cries for help as Russian propaganda.

    Media Reports out of Odessa, Ukraine show a death count of 40 from the fire and smoke inhalation. Locals are gathering evidence that this was a well planned execution of over 100 pro federalization protestors by nationalists with the aid of the local police. Evidence shows that protestors were shot, raped, inside the building and then burned to hide the evidence. People that jumped and survived were killed on the ground. There are supposedly over a hundred bodies still in the basement of the site and surrounding buildings, with gun shot wounds and blunt force traumas. Obse is nowhere to be found.

    • Dmitri Zalevsky
      May 6, 2014 at 03:34

      Thank you John. For what you are not blind and deaf not to truth. Ukraine is now back in the Middle Ages. With a witch-hunt, public mass executions, lawlessness, medieval hatred and cruelty. I live in Russia and was horrified to watch our brothers who turned Ukrainians. Citizens of America, PLEASE! Help us all! All is not lost.

  10. Paul G.
    May 5, 2014 at 03:44

    Classic propaganda technique, start off with the intended message, “big bad Ruskies interfering again” on the front page. Then do some real journalism showing the counter and more accurate narrative after the original message starts to smell. Of course this ends up buried in the middle of the days immense tome. Journalism 101 most people never get beyond the front page and its continuations, then head for something less upsetting like sports or entertainment.

  11. May 5, 2014 at 00:25

    The Ukrainian power is dictatorship. The EU and US speaks about democracy, and advances the dictatorial power

    • I'm from Russia
      May 5, 2014 at 02:59

      Обращаюсь к жителям США, гоните ваше правительство, ваш государственный долг просто огромен, ваша страна живет в кредит, вы навязываете всем войну, если бы не мирные жители мы бы уже давно пустили к вам свои ядерные боеголовки к вашему президенту в барак

      • Veronika
        May 6, 2014 at 01:44

        I just would like to translate the topic of “I’m from Russia”. Here it is:
        Dear Americans,
        Overthrow your bloody government. Your national debt is out of mind, your country is a bankrupt living on credit. Wherever you come, wars imposed. Stop your politicians anyhow unless someone brings nuclear warheads to you.

        Now what happens in SE Ukraine in real facts: my fellows live in Kramatorsk. They are tired of this propaganda about Russian groups of agents training them to fight “interim” Ukrainian army. There is no one there unfortunately as they say. They fear about their kids and believe that Russian army could help them if they were here. Particularly after violence in Odessa. Ukrainian media lies they insist.

  12. May 4, 2014 at 23:02

    Keep writing. I was surprised to see this news site. It is depressing to see American groupthink in news media, because a lot of independent analytical methods originated and supported in modern times in USA. . American news papers following newspapers in colonial and communist countries, where truth derived as the master or govt says. consortoumnews doing good work.

  13. зуь
    May 4, 2014 at 16:54


  14. Luther Bliss
    May 4, 2014 at 16:42

    The NYT became a subservient branch of neo-conservative aggression during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and nothing has changed.

    I wish a shaming by a man of your experience would change their propagandist approach – but since their stenography of the lies about Iraq they have become a company without any intellectual or moral decency.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

    • Kapten Yuri, Ph.D., writer
      May 6, 2014 at 04:33

      Original highest HUMAN VALUES stand apart from USA dirty war crimes in Iraque, Livia, Afganistan, Ukrania, and especially from “democratic” bombing in Yugoslavia! I regard Barac Obamba as Hitler, i.e. as a war criminal, who has to be prosecuted by International Tribunal Court. Helping Ukranian neo-nazi monsters he is also responsible for their bloody crimes. Or may be burning alive 46 young citizens in Odessa is the most democratic solution of world problems? You, bloody degenerates in GEYrope and USA, have to honor Russians! Russians have saved you from Hitler in World War 2, and now USA is the main murderer, responsible for democratic bombing in Kosovo (Yugoslavia), for helping Chechnya, Ukrania, for civil wars all over the world!!!!
      As to my opinion Obama has to be burned alive due to Molotov cocktail – as these 46 victims: even medievel inquisitors should not imagine such cruel deed!!!!

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