A civil war is occurring in Eastern Ukraine, with Washington backing the Kiev government, and with Russia accused of sending heavy weapons to rebels based in Donetsk. According to New York Times reporters Sabrina Tavernise and Noah Sneider, reporting from Donetsk, 800 civilians have been killed in fighting since mid-April. They reported, “Much of the fighting takes the form of low-tech airstrikes and artillery fired at a distance from aging weaponry, tactics that can inflict significant harm on civilians.” According to these reporters, “Most people interviewed at attack sites accused the Ukrainian forces.”
Two New York Times pieces, from July 26 and July 29, reported that the Ukrainian conflict and the superpower conflict over Ukraine are escalating, with new U.S.-European sanctions against Russia; U.S. claims that Russian heavy arms are going to the rebels; U.S. consideration of deepening its military commitment to the Kiev government by providing it with targeting data; and now U.S. claims that Russia has broken a 1987 ban on mid-range land-launched cruise missiles.
How can we understand this growing conflict in and around Ukraine? Which, if any, media can we trust? What is the background?
Socialist Party statements in February and March pointed to the right of Ukraine to independence both from the West (NATO, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Union) and from Russia. Ukraine had been part of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union, and historically Ukraine has been subordinated to Russian interests. In February, armed clashes in Kiev, the capital, brought pro-Western forces to power, in a cabinet that includes some fascists of the Svoboda Party and linked to the Right Sector gangs.
A rebellion in Eastern Ukraine broke out, led by militias identifying themselves with Russia. The Donetsk People’s Republic organized a referendum on self-determination for the Eastern part of Ukraine in May. A week earlier, three dozen persons were killed in a fire in Odessa, Ukraine, attributed to fascist Right Sector fighters. Since the outbreak of rebellion, the Kiev government has waged war by air and by artillery on the rebels, whom the government calls “terrorists.” Like the Tel Aviv government, the Kiev government calls its military opponents “terrorists” while apparently targeting civilians.
Well-documented reports have indicated that among the anti-Kiev rebel leaders are ultra-rightists who have ties to Russian and European racist ultra-right forces. The Russian political and industrial/financial establishments are reducing space for free expression and are promoting a “Eurasian bloc” strategy that includes elements of ethnic and anti-gay bigotry. Ukrainian rebel leaders have used the same language.
The Socialist has set goals of presenting a variety of opinions on current events, presenting the principles and program of the Socialist Party as applied to these events, and above all carefully scrutinizing verifying factual claims in our coverage. By using pro-U.S. news sources such as the NY Times for certain stories, for example, we can obtain facts that challenge Washington’s policies while avoiding bias or false information that we might obtain from pro-Russian sources for those stories.
The crash of a Malaysian airliner July 17, within the rebel territory in Ukraine, has presented all media with special challenges. Was it shot down? Who shot it down? Who is responsible for the deaths of 298 passengers? The Ukrainian government immediately pointed to Russia, distributing photos of alleged Russian missile launchers and what it called intercepts of communications between Russian officials and rebel commanders that pointed to rebels as the forces that downed the airliner. Russian sources have pointed to the Kiev government as the culprit in the tragedy.
The crash occurred on the same day as the start of the Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. Television coverage gave highest priority to the alleged Kiev intercepts and to speculation about the crash, downplaying the U.S.-funded attack on the Palestinians. The MSNBC journalist, Rachel Maddow, called out the media emphasis on murky sources, pointing out that publicly documented facts were more relevant to the story.
We of The Socialist don’t know yet who downed the airliner, why it was scheduled by Ukrainian air officials to fly over a combat zone, or who is disrupting the investigation of the crash or why. (Ukrainian forces have launched an offensive in the area of the crash site that has brought a halt to inspection of the site.)
We do see a clash involving Russian oligarchies, Ukrainian oligarchies, and giant monopoly corporations in the U.S. and Europe that all have an interest in securing Ukrainian resources and low-wage, high-skill, labor for themselves. We do see a steady expansion of NATO toward the borders of Russia. We do see a strong need for an independent, skeptical media that prioritizes the concerns of working people.