Editor’s Note: Discuss Deena Stryker’s Lunch With Fellini, Dinner With Fidel on August 2nd at the FDL Book Salon.
As the world anxiously awaits the outcome of Ukraine’s overtures to its rebellious Southeastern regions, in its June 23 issue Time magazine presents Petro Poroshenko as “Man in the Middle.” In order to justify that title, it is forced to go through extraordinary contortions between the facts and Washington’s versions thereof.
It starts by asserting that when Poroshenko met Vladimir Putin at the D-Day commemoration in France, he had to ‘control his temper’ because three months earlier Russia had ‘taken over’ Crimea. In reality, Russia accepted the results of a popular referendum in Crimea and welcomed that region back where it had been except for the last sixty years of modern history. The Crimean peninsula has been home to the Russian Black Sea fleet since the late eighteenth century, and is inhabited mainly by ethnic Russians. In a magnanimous gesture toward the land in which he grew up, Khruschev gave it to Ukraine in 1954, but once the Soviet Union was dissolved, that created a potentially awkward situation. Never mind, for Time and the rest of the MSM, the referendum papered over a ‘land grab’, which President Obama declares he will never accept.
Anyway, according to Time, Poroshenko ‘gritted his teeth’ during the tête-a-tête and told Putin he would get Crimea back eventually. But then it becomes clear that what Time reported as fact, was actually second hand information: “Poroshenko recounted his meeting with Putin a few days later during an interview with Time in his office in Kiev. He wouldn’t say how Putin had responded, but insisted the President’s response was of little importance to him. ‘To be honest’, he told Time, ‘I’m not interested in what citizen Putin thinks of my state.’”
Elected following the violent overthrow of his predecessor, Poroshenko refuses to recognize the regularly elected President of one of the most powerful states on earth, and Time simply reports ‘the fact’ of this bizarre behavior without comment. However, in the following paragraph, the magazine which is to the weeklies what the New York Times is to the dailies, admits lamely: “Poroshenko does not in truth have that luxury.” The leaders of the West made it clear during those three days of meetings that he can publicly call Russia an agressor but he has to accept his powerful neighbor as a negotiating partner. All he can do is grudgingly (Time’s word) complain that Ukraine does not have Canada or Sweden for a neighbor….
Now the writer moves from Poroshenko to Putin: “Putin’s Crimean conquest has won [him] adulation at home.” (Conquest? Via a locally organized referendum?) “Signalling that he’d had his fill” (as in a Russian bear eating honey?) “for now, Putin ordered his army away from Ukraine’s border.” Not only does Time fail for the second time to mention the referendum, it again suggests — without actually saying so — that the region was annexed by military force. At the time of the referendum, military personnel from the Sevastopol Naval Base were seen about, however international observers widely confirmed the vote’s authenticity, and only a thoroughly indoctrinated fourth estate that moves seamlessly between outright lies and innuendo could express doubt about it:
“None of this” (this what?) “means Russia will leave Ukraine or any of its other neighbors alone. Pro-Russian militants” (which presumably should not be confused with Russian military), “are still fighting Ukrainian troops in Eastern Ukraine, with new fighters pouring in from across the border.” Notice how Time refers to ‘new fighters,’ not ‘Russian troops.’ And even though the phrase ‘pouring in’ more correctly suggests volunteers, it can also — and more ominously – suggest an unstoppable invasion…. Indeed: “The Crimean peninsula is still, in Russia’s eyes, a legal part of Russia.” (still?) “And Putin still has the permission of his legislature to invade Ukraine whenever he sees fit.”
In a surprising lapse of style, the article continues without identifying the subject as Poroshenko: “It is no longer a question of Ukraine’s security,” he says, insisting that Russia is a threat not only to Ukraine but also to the global balance of power. (Russia: a country whose president he calls mister and whose opinions leave him indifferent…..). Clashing with his usual diplomatic style, Poroshenko’s declaration: “I want you to understand that Ukrainian soldiers are fighting today for peace in the region, peace in Europe and peace in the world” — has to be straight out of Washington’s handbook.
And yet, after all that anti-Russian rhetoric, the rules of the craft oblige the article’s (anonymous, according to Times tradition) staff writer to confess: “The Ukrainian military did not wait long after Poroshenko’s election before attacking the rebels with a ferocity it had avoided during the presidential race.” (In the misguided hope the Eastern Ukrainians would welcome back Neo-Nazi rulers.) After describing a bloody assault by helicopter gundships and planes as if it were referring to a game, or a film, Time tells us this was “a high risk ‘gamble’:” the rebels’ hope and Ukraine’s fear was that the Russian military would back up the militants. That didn’t happen and Poroshenko believes the assault helped the Kremlin see reason:
“Dozens of coffins are going back to the Russian Federation. What are they dying for?” (Are the Russians so stupid as to sacrifice their youth for us?) Then, in a non-sequitur that channels the West’s now consistent portrayal of Russia as a threat: “If we don’t defend ourselves, no one will.”
There follows a run-down of Poroshenko’s bio, a chocolate manufacturer whose political career was aided by the (Berlusconian) purchase of a television station. By the time of the Orange Revolution he had already served six years as a center left member of parliament, and Channel 5 “became the mouthpiece of the Orange cause.” Poroshenko’s “knack for compromise” made him “a mainstay of Ukrainian politics,” who, as a presidential candidate was able to “straddle mainly different political constituencies.” But Time also wants us to know that he “was not afraid to risk his neck as he campaigned.” An advisor who accompanied him described how Luhansk separatists gave them the chase, “forcing Poroshenko’s car to cut through a field to get to the airport. Harrowing as that experience was, it showed voters that he was serious about negotiating with the eastern regions for the sake of national unity.”
The word “harrowing,” however exaggerated, justifies the new President’s behavior: “On Poroshenko’s orders, the Ukrainian military has assaulted rebel held towns with air-strikes and artillary fire,”….hoping to turn [the ordinary citizens who are its victims] against the rebels whom he has cast as terrorists. In the new President’s words: “The absolute majority of the people who live there are absolute Ukrainians” (whatever that means) “absolutely clean, honest and upstanding.” (Not the Russian scum described by Poroshenko’s long-time ally Yulia TImosheko….)
Admitting that “it is a tough sell for a people who feel they’re under siege,” Time recognizes that many residents could not take part in the election, yet fails to explain that the leaders they had chosen called for them to boycot it. Instead, it quotes Poroshenko: “These were the most transparent, the most free and the most democratic elections in Ukraine’s history,” and the people who renounce (denounce?) its results are most likely “besotted with Russian propaganda.”
In the final part of the article, Time moves from referring to the separatists as rebels, to describing ‘guerrilla warfare,’ ending with a quote from former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul (he of the leaked conversation with Victoria Nuland over who should because Ukraine’s president): “[Poroshenko] claims that Russia has unilaterally redrawn a European border for the first time since World War II.” The crucial word here of course is ‘unilaterally,’ since the borders of the former Yugoslavia were redrawn in the nineties by a ‘coalition of willing’ Western powers, none of whom considered the action to be illegal.
According to Time, the Western capitals hope the truce between Russia and Ukraine (the word ‘truce’ suggesting active military engagement between two parties, which has not occurred), “will be a kind of diplomatic bridgehead, preventing Russia from challenging any more of Europe’s borders.” (What’s a ‘diplomatic bridgehead?’ I think they mean a buffer zone, similar to the one Israel wants to establish between itself and an eventual Palestinian state.) Never mind that Ukraine is not part of Europe, Time’s conclusion is obviously veiled advice from Washington: “It may pain him, but that leaves Poroshenko with no choice but to continue his presidency the same way he started it — by talking to the enemy.”
Alas, as of this writing, for what I believe is the third time, instead of negotiating with the people of Eastern Ukraine, Poroshenko continues to pound them from the air, as his infantry, loathe to kill fellow citizens, melts away. (And his proposal, by the way, does call for a buffer zone… ) The press has correctly reported that the Donbass is the industrial heartland of Ukraine. However, as miners sign up en masse to the citizens’ army, here’s something Time staff writers probably don’t know: in all areas formerly under Soviet control, the dangers faced by miners are recognized in higher pay and early retirement. Will the chocolate king know better than to mess with those guys?