Exclusive: The mainstream U.S. news media continues to spew out a steady flow of anti-Russian propaganda over the Ukraine crisis, but the prominent German newsmagazine Der Spiegel has begun to temper its belligerent tone, finally reflecting the more nuanced reality, reports Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
Last summer, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel was swept up in the Western hysteria over Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Ukraine crisis, even running a bellicose cover demanding “Stop Putin Now” and blaming him for the 298 deaths in the July 17 crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine.
“Vladimir Putin has shown his true face. Once seen as a statesman, the Russian president has exposed himself as a pariah of the international community. The MH17 dead are also his; he is partially responsible for the shooting down of the flight,” a Der Spiegel editorial declared on July 28. “Nobody in the West continues to harbor serious doubts that the plane was shot down with a Buk surface-to-air missile system — one that was almost certainly provided to the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine by Russia.”
Actually, by then, a number of people in the West, including U.S. intelligence analysts, were doubting the blame-Putin narrative because they could find no evidence that the Russians had supplied the ethnic Russian rebels with a sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system that could bring down a commercial plane flying at 33,000 feet.
At the time, I was being told by a source briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts that the emerging scenario pointed more toward an extremist group associated with the Ukrainian government although not under the control of Kiev’s senior leadership. But the major media in the U.S. and Europe refused to rethink the early “conventional wisdom.”
However, in October, Der Spiegel quietly reversed itself regarding Moscow supposedly supplying the Buk missiles, reporting that the German foreign intelligence agency, the BND, had concluded that Russia did not supply the battery suspected of bringing down the plane, saying the plane was shot down by a Ukrainian military missile captured by the rebels from a Ukrainian military base (although I was later told by a European official that the BND’s conclusion was less definitive than Der Spiegel reported).
Creating a Crisis
In another reversal of sorts, this leading German-language newsmagazine has acknowledged that the European Union and German leaders were guilty of miscalculations that contributed to the Ukraine crisis, particularly by under-appreciating the enormous financial costs to Ukraine if it broke its historic ties to Russia in favor of a new association with the EU.
In November 2013, Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych learned from experts at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine that the total cost to the country’s economy from severing its business connections to Russia would be around $160 billion, 50 times the $3 billion figure that the EU had estimated, Der Spiegel reported. The figure stunned Yanukovych, who pleaded for financial help that the EU couldn’t provide, the magazine said.
Western loans would have to come from the International Monetary Fund, which was demanding painful “reforms” of Ukraine’s economy, structural changes that would make the hard lives of average Ukrainians even harder, including raising the price of natural gas by 40 percent and devaluing Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, by 25 percent.
With Putin offering a more generous aid package of $15 billion, Yanukovych backed out of the EU agreement but told the EU’s Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Nov. 28, 2013, that he was willing to continue negotiating.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded with “a sentence dripping with disapproval and cool sarcasm aimed directly at the Ukrainian president. ‘I feel like I’m at a wedding where the groom has suddenly issued new, last minute stipulations,” according to Der Spiegel’s chronology of the crisis.
That was when the U.S. neocons stepped up their strategy of using the popular disappointment in western Ukraine over the failed EU agreement to topple Yanukovych, the constitutionally elected president.
Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, a prominent neocon holdover who advised Vice President Dick Cheney, passed out cookies to anti-Yanukovych demonstrators at the Maidan Square in Kiev and reminded Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion in their “European aspirations.”
Meanwhile, neocon Sen. John McCain joined Ukrainian rightists onstage at the Maidan urging on the protests, and the U.S.-funded, neocon-led National Endowment for Democracy deployed scores of its Ukrainian political/media operatives in support of the disruptions. Even earlier, NED President Carl Gershman, a leading neocon, had identified Ukraine as “the biggest prize” and an important step toward toppling Putin in Russia. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons’ Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit.”]
By early February, Nuland was telling U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt “fuck the EU” and discussing how to “glue this thing” as she handpicked who the new leaders of Ukraine would be; “Yats is the guy,” she said about Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
As violent disorders at the Maidan spun out of control, the State Department and U.S. news media blamed Yanukovych, setting the stage for his removal. On Feb. 22, a putsch, spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias from the Maidan protests, forced Yanukovych and his officials to flee for their lives.
A Nasty Civil War
Nuland’s “guy” Yatsenyuk became the new prime minister and pushed through both the IMF “reforms” and the EU association agreement. But the price was high, with Ukraine descending into a brutal civil war with ethnic Russians of eastern and southern Ukraine resisting the imposition of the new order in Kiev.
The voters of Crimea overwhelmingly passed a secession referendum and rejoined Russia with the help of Russian troops stationed in Crimea at the naval base at Sebastopol. Two areas of eastern Ukraine also voted to secede but were not accepted by Moscow, though it provided military and non-lethal assistance when the Kiev regime launched an “anti-terrorism operation” that incorporated some of the neo-Nazi storm troopers into “volunteer militias.”
The Ukrainian civil war not only has claimed thousands of lives but revived the specter of a new Cold War. The U.S. State Department pressed the EU to join in economic sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea, a plan that Merkel and the EU adopted after the July 17 shoot-down of MH17, which was hastily blamed on Putin.
Tit-for-tat economic sanctions also pushed the EU toward its third recession since the 2008 financial crisis. They also have contributed to economic pain in Russia. But the worst victims are the Ukrainians who are facing a cold winter with scant supplies of fuel, little money and widespread joblessness.
“In one of the most important questions facing European foreign policy, Germany had failed,” Der Spiegel admitted in its review of how the crisis evolved from the botched negotiations a year ago. The magazine cited a speech last December by the new Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, saying: “We should ask ourselves … whether we have overlooked the fact that it is too much for this country to have to choose between Europe and Russia.”
Der Spiegel also quoted a key figure in the Ukraine talks, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan FÃ¼le, as conceding that the EU confronted Ukraine with an impossible choice. “We were actually telling Ukraine : ‘You know guys, sorry for your geographic location, but you cannot go east and you cannot go west,'” FÃ¼le said.
“More than anything, though, the Europeans underestimated Moscow and its determination to prevent a clear bond between Ukraine and the West,” Der Spiegel wrote. “They either failed to take Russian concerns and Ukrainian warnings seriously or they ignored them altogether because they didn’t fit into their own worldview.”
This more tempered assessment by Der Spiegel though a marked improvement from the hysteria of last summer still falls far short of the highest standards of journalistic objectivity. But it suggests that perhaps a more rational attitude toward the Ukraine crisis is finally taking hold in Europe.
U.S. Media Hysteria
That does not appear to be the case in the United States where major news outlets, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, continue to be little more than propaganda megaphones for the hawks in the State Department and the ever-influential neoconservatives.
For instance, on Wednesday, the Post’s neocon editors published a lead editorial aimed at both Putin and President Barack Obama with what you might call neocon trash-talking. In the Post’s print edition, the sneering headline was “The ‘invincible’ Mr. Putin. With no new pressure from the West, the Kremlin acts as if it has nothing to fear.” The online title was even more direct: “Prove to Mr. Putin that he is not ‘invincible.’”
The editorial continued the year-long campaign to demonize Putin and agitate Obama into taking more aggressive action toward destabilizing Russia.
The Post, which has become the neocon flagship publication, was following the neocon strategy of destroying what had been constructive behind-the-scenes cooperation between Putin and Obama on issues such as reaching a political settlement in Syria and achieving a nuclear accord with Iran.
If that Putin-Obama relationship were not obliterated, it carried grave dangers for the overriding neocon strategy of “regime change” across the Middle East, to eliminate nations and movements regarded as threats to Israel.
But the biggest risk to the neocons from Putin and Obama working together would be the possibility that the two leaders could join forces to pressure Israel into a peace agreement with the Palestinians, rather than continue Israel’s inexorable seizure of Palestinian land.
In demanding that Obama ratchet up the confrontation with Putin, the Post’s editors wrote that the current anti-Russian sanctions are “not enough, apparently to deter Mr. Putin from sending more troops to Ukraine, tightening his hold on Abkhazia or declaring himself ‘invincible.”
By the way, what Putin actually said was: “When a Russian feels he is right, he is invincible.” However, by twisting the rather innocuous observation, the Post’s editors could present Putin as delusional while simultaneously baiting Obama into escalating the personal feud between the two leaders, all the better to poison future hopes of cooperation on conflict resolution.
Yet, while the major U.S. media has become one continuous conveyor belt of anti-Russian propaganda, Der Spiegel finally seems to have slowed down the assembly-line manufacturing of lies and exaggerations by offering its readers a bit of honesty about how this crisis began.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). 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.