My Russia-Ukraine war essays published on my website and reposted on many alternative news portals in Europe and the United States express personal observations of the author. They are “primary sources” and are not represented as academic works. Hence, no footnotes and only very rare critiques of what others are writing or saying. Their added value to the reader comes from the fact that the author is watching with equal concentration both what is being reported in mainstream Western media and what is being reported on Russian print and electronic media produced for the domestic Russian audience. What I see daily might be best described as parallel worlds or parabolic mirror images, meaning freakish distortions of similar events occurring on this or that side of the line of demarcation in Ukraine.
I offer here several examples from the past few days.
On the morning of 13 March, all Western news agencies reported on the devastating Russian attack on facilities at two locations west of the Ukrainian city of Lviv and in close proximity to the Polish border. We were told that 35 people died and many more were hospitalized with serious injuries.
Who were these people? It appears to me that Western media said not a word. “People” could mean civilians or soldiers or something still different. What was the sense of the attack? Major Western media noted that this attack seemed to follow the warning a day earlier from Major General Igor Konashenkov of the Russian military command that flows of armaments into Ukraine would henceforth be considered ‘legitimate targets’ by the Russian forces.
Meanwhile, Russian media reported that one of the bases was a training facility used by NATO in its work with the Ukrainian military and also used to receive Western ‘mercenaries’ arriving in Ukraine. The other facility was used as a logistical center to receive and pass along incoming military equipment and supplies from the West. Konashenkov later said that the whereabouts of all inbound Western volunteer fighters was known and they would be shown no mercy. Russian sources also gave a much higher number of deaths, namely 100 more. We are left to conclude that the fatalities were such fighters and possibly their NATO handlers.
The U.S. response to this event de facto was an urgent warning coming from the White House that Russia was about to implement a chemical weapons attack in Ukraine. The Ukrainian response came yesterday when a powerful (Tochka-U) * missile packed with a hundred ‘cartridges’ of explosives was fired at the city center of Donetsk. The missile was partly destroyed by Donetsk air defenses, but one cartridge landed in a downtown street where it instantly killed 20 civilians including children and pensioners waiting outside an ATM to withdraw funds; dozens more were injured. Had all 100 cartridges exploded over Donetsk as had been planned from Kiev, the fatalities would have been 100 times greater. The Russians denounced this missile firing as a war crime.
Since approval for such a missile strike could only have come from the highest levels of the professional Ukrainian army, not by or from the irregular militias, Russia is now reevaluating how it should deal with the Ukrainian forces, in the sense of no longer distinguishing between regulars and militias and “neutralizing” both with equal measure of devastation.
Did you read or see anything about this missile attack on Donetsk yesterday in your daily newspaper or television news? I believe not.
Let us take a look at one other set of recent linked events, action and reaction, that captured the news headlines on both sides mainly with one hand clapping. I have in mind the alleged Russian artillery attack on a maternity and children’s hospital in Mariupol on 9 March. At least 17 people were said to be injured and headlines in the West spoke of ‘global horror, outrage.’ In particular, there were videos provided by Ukrainian sources showing a wounded heavily pregnant woman who was yesterday reported to have died.
The official Russian response to these allegations of a war crime were total denial and counter-accusation that the entire incident was a ‘false flag’ operation stage directed by Kiev authorities. They said the hospital in question had been taken over by nationalist militiamen and the patients were sent elsewhere so that the facility could be used as a military center. The ‘wounded’ pregnant woman was an actress and all pictures of her were fake. We do not know if her reported death has any substance to it.
The mirror image attack occurred two days ago when the Ukrainian army and irregulars evacuated the Donbas town of Volnovakhi, which they had occupied for the past eight years, destroying all civilian infrastructure and much residential housing as they departed. As part of the devastation, their tanks fired on a functioning hospital filled with patients. Fortunately no one was killed, though video coverage on Russian state television showed a gaping blackened hole a couple of meters wide on the third floor and extensive damage elsewhere to the building. Have you read about this atrocity in your morning newspaper in New York or London? Of course, not.
Finally, yesterday afternoon Russian news agencies reported on and Russian television later showed video coverage of the evacuation of hundreds of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol, where some 400,000 residents have been held hostage by the neo-Nazi Azov battalion and by regular Ukrainian army units that have moved their weaponry into residential buildings and infrastructure and have not allowed anyone to avail themselves of the escape corridors to the East opened by Russian forces encircling the city. The same reportage spoke of 450 tons of humanitarian aid, mainly foodstuffs, which were delivered to the city by a Russian convoy. All of this was made possible by the Russians’ precision missile attack on most, but not all of the artillery placements held by the Ukrainian nationalist forces. Russian press briefings are silent about how their soldiers entered Mariupol, where they are and what resistance they still have to overcome on the ground. Did you hear about any of this yesterday on your news sources?
Today’s Western newspapers and television are carrying uncritically the story put out by Zelensky’s office that several hundred civilians left Mariupol and humanitarian aid arrived thanks to his Ukrainian forces! One look at the map makes clear that this is a bare-faced lie. The whole issue of stalled evacuation of civilians from Mariupol was about the direction they should take, East to Russia or West to Ukraine. Opening corridors to the West would have meant breaking the siege which the Russians imposed precisely to crush the radical forces within the city. The Russians had indeed not allowed this.
Let us be perfectly frank: the Russians have lost the Information War over their ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine in Western media, meaning especially in the United States and Europe. The situation globally is, of course, more nuanced, with nearly half of humanity, meaning India and China, on the sidelines or predisposed to side with Russia.
Let us remember that the Russians never did well in the Information War in the West. They lacked the skills, and the ‘market’ was virtually closed to them by tight U.S. government control over all major media and patriotic self-censorship in editorial and production offices. The shutdown of RT and Sputnik has been an insignificant factor working against dissemination of the Russian narrative.
Let us also be clear-eyed: the loss of the Information War in the lands of their enemies changes absolutely nothing for Russia. They never were liked. The ongoing war, and the greater threat of its escalation to a more generalized Third World War that quickly becomes nuclear has put into the equation an element of fear, which may sway some minds in the West towards greater realism. Or perhaps it won’t. But all of this changes nothing as regards the outcome if the Russians can complete their mission in the coming weeks and not face growing domestic discontent that compels them to change their negotiating terms at the end. If completed quickly, the Russian military operation will be decided by two things only: Blut und Eisen, or ‘blood and iron,’ as Bismarck would have observed.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022
*The Tochka-U is known in NATO parlance as the SS-21. Their deployment by the USSR within the Warsaw Pact in the late 1970s-early 1980s led the United States to threaten introduction of its Pershings in Europe and ended in the conclusion of the INF Treaty. The missile is nuclear capable and has a range of up to 180 km. This was the missile which Vladimir Putin mentioned in his remarks denouncing the Ukrainian nuclear program discovered at the Zaporozhye atomic stations.
For visuals of the destruciton in Donetsk city from the missile strike, see https://ria.ru/20220314/donetsk-1778051454.html