John Ridgway’s recent article on false flags may seem to take us some way of the climate track, but there are common factors at work in both the fog of war and the Foggy Science. The obvious one is the technological progress that enables anyone to run up a fake video or a fake graph and distribute it to anyone who’s interested. Present atrocities and future catastrophes tend to be judged by the same rules of audience interest rather than truth, and there are so many fun tech ways of arousing interest nowadays.
The growing complexity of our world shouldn’t lead us to conclude that it is necessarily becoming more difficult to separate the true from the false. I shall illustrate this with an analysis of three events in Ukraine in the past few days, but the conclusions I draw are equally applicable to other catastrophic events, like walruses falling off cliffs or polar bears floating on melting ice floes. The same kinds of talent are at work, appealing to the same kinds of prejudices and psychological weaknesses.
The first thing to observe is that the immediate reaction, the first impression, may hold important information that will tend to get lost in the following tsunami of reactions. To take an example from a totally different context: even with the meagre media resources available in the seventies, it was perfectly obvious to everyone at the time that the Bloody Sunday event in Derry in 1972 was a massacre and not a firefight. No-one was shocked when the next day the Irish Nationalist MP Bernadette Devlin physically attacked the Home Secretary in the House of Commons. What else was she suppose to do? Yet it took decades to establish the truth officially.
A second general observation: in matters of importance, the key facts are often pushed to the periphery, and media attention becomes focussed on the trivialities. This may be deliberate of course, an attempt to hide the truth, but I suggest it’s a psychological trait that affects all coverage of important events. If you look at rolling coverage of the war in Ukraine, for example in the Guardian or on the BBC website, it’s astonishing how few of the items actually deal with the war itself. Of course, much is censored, or unknown; journalists aren’t always present at key events in the most dangerous locations; it’s easier to film refugees and soldiers rescuing kittens than to record the actual fighting. But nothing can explain the fact that less than 5% of items in the rolling coverage I’ve read deals with the war itself. The dearth of maps in the Guardian’s coverage of the war in Ukraine matches the dearth of graphs in their coverage of climate change.
I’ll apply this simple observation to three events in the Ukraine. First:
1) the bombing of the Mariupol theatre:
It was announced on BBC’s rolling news coverage at 17:50, Wednesday 16th March by their correspondent in Lviv, on the other side of the country as follows:
Serhiy Orlov, Mariupol’s deputy mayor, tells the BBC that Russian bombing hit the city’s drama theatre where civilians were being sheltered. He estimates that between 1,000 and 1,200 people were there. The number of casualties is still unknown.
Subsequent reports at 18:22 and 20:27 showed two photographs, and now, about 14 hours later, these are still the only photos I can find of the bombing. They show the smouldering ruins of a building standing in a park in the evening. There is no-one around, not a vehicle or a firefighter, not even people watching. Lyse Doucet the BBC’s chief international correspondent, reported from Kyiv at 19:40 that the Russians had denied responsibility, and that “…again we’re left with who caused what, who is to blame.” And she quotes city officials as saying that continuing bombardment was making it impossible for rescue workers to reach the theatre.
The latter point is clearly false. The photos show a shattered building standing alone in a park, the only débris being that from the explosion. (A wider angle view of the same scene on the Guardian’s site this morning shows absolutely no damage to surrounding trees, lawn, or fencing, and an empty stretch of road in better nick than anything round where I live.) There are no surrounding buildings that could fall on emergency workers. Even if the official emergency services were unavailable, we know from images of thousands of similar tragedies that people will come out and tear at the rubble with their bare hands. It’s 0830 GMT now, and the BBC’s main headline is: “Images show bombed Mariupol Theatre where civilians were hiding,” but all they show is the 19 second video from which the photos were extracted yesterday evening. It’s been daylight in the Ukraine now for several hours, but there are no photos, and no reports of rescue activities at the scene where over a thousand people are reported to be trapped in basements under a partly demolished building.
Social media accounts favourable to Russia are reporting that Russian authorities published information two days previously warned that this would happen: that the theatre had been used by the Azov Battalion as a headquarters, with civilians held hostage as human shields, and that they had since moved out, and intended to blow the theatre up and accuse the Russians of the atrocity. Before John’s article this might have been taken as near-as-dammit incontrovertible proof of a false flag operation. Alas, we now know better.
It’s still possible that Ukrainian forces committed the atrocity. (Blowing up civilians wouldn’t be such a big deal for the openly Nazi Azov Battalion, given that most of the population is Russian speaking.) It’s also possible, following John, that the Russians deliberately announced beforehand their intention to massacre a large number of largely pro-Russian civilians, knowing that they would be condemned as barbarians by the entire world (except for a tiny number of naïve useful idiots like me who can’t help asking questions) as a cunning ruse to make us believe that they didn’t do it. We can’t know which version is true. What interests me is that, if there really are hundreds of civilians under the rubble, then this is by far the worst atrocity of the war so far, and no-one is screaming out for information. No-one is contacting the hundreds of thousands of people still in Mariupol begging for photos of the aftermath of the disaster. Although it’s the main headline in all the world’s media, no-one actually seems to care.
2) The Mariupol Hospital attack.
This occurred on 9th March, and already has its own Wikipaedia page
which is well worth reading. It refers to video footage, but the reference it gives to an article from Al-Jazeera
provides only a tiny extract of the original video (at approx 0’24” to 0’40”.) A second reference
shows a larger extract. (1’46”)
No doubt the whole film still exists somewhere on the internet.
It shows the outside of a two and three-storey building, lining three sides of a large square. In the square is a large crater and the wreckage of about six cars and I think some playground apparatus. There are about a hundred windows, all blown inward by the blast, and the corner of one of the buildings has been hit by an explosion. There follows film of the destruction inside, on an upper floor, with windows and doors torn off, and beds and furniture thrown around and spattered with blood. There is also a scene of rescue services administering aid outside, a woman having her head bandaged, a pregnant woman on a stretcher, a child being calmed by a soldier. There is one ambulance at the main entrance, about thirty people all told, and no activity visible at the other entrances.
There is a detailed analysis of this film on Twitter by Elena Evdokimova @elenaevdokimov7 which I recommend.The following points are taken largely from her analysis, with some of my own, and some probably picked up from other tweeters.
1) The official count of seventeen injured and four killed (two of whom died subsequently in another hospital) seems astonishingly low, given the hundred windows blown in. The official explanation is that the patients were all transferred to the basement. In which case, what explains the blood splattered upper rooms?
2) In a corridor is briefly seen a bucket containing a dark liquid, unspilled, despite the surrounding mayhem.
3) In a ward is a bloodstained mattress, with no sheet. On the mattress, in the middle of the bloodstain, is a heap of broken glass. What possible order of events could lead to that?
4) The oddest part of the video is not reproduced by either al Jazeera or the Telegraph. As far as I can see (though I haven’t checked all the references) it is not referred to in the Wikipaedia article, and I can’t find it with a quick google search. It shows a group of people (20 or so) emerging from the main hospital entrance, passing the single ambulance, and assembling before the camera. A pregnant woman passes on a stretcher; people stand around doing nothing, including two apparently wearing white medical blouses; someone seems to be heating something on a fire. This must be the only group of people anywhere in the world ever in which nobody is using a mobile phone. Perhaps they have nothing to say.
5) In a rush of images, the same young soldier is seen comforting a woman with a baby, talking to a child, and putting an unlikely looking bandage on the head of a woman who shows no sign of bleeding.
6) One of the pregnant women was later identified as Mariana Vishegirskaya, a fashion model or blogger/influencer (who was indeed pregnant. She’d previously blogged about it.) It was claimed that she had appeared as a victim in another attack. On a photo of her two days after the attack reproduced by CNN the cuts on her face had completely healed.
7) The pregnant woman on a stretcher was later reported to have been transferred to another hospital, where her baby was stillborn and she died. The report said that in the confusion of events it was not possible to ascertain her identity, but that her husband and father came and claimed her body for burial. This is another “glass shards on the bloodstained mattress” moment. How do two unknown men turn up at an unnamed hospital to claim the body of an anonymous woman? Try and imagine the interaction with the hospital staff. I can’t.
None of this is conclusive evidence of a false flag event. But the short video, which was widely reproduced at the time, just a week ago, was vaunted everywhere as the definitive evidence of a war crime. It’s a shame I can’t find it now, even on the official Wikipaedia page, because it has to be seen to be believed. Or not.
3) The attack on the Yavirov military base
Here there is no question of a false flag attack. There is no doubt that on the night of March 12th Russian planes launched cruise missiles on the base in the West of Ukraine, totally destroying at least one building, and causing between 35 (according to the Ukrainians) and 180 (according to the Russians) deaths. There’s a Wikipaedia article on this too, though they call it Yavoriv, not Yavirov. (Gosh, I’d hate to play Scrabble with a Ukrainian.)
According to Wiki, the 150 square mile base is a Ukrainian and Russian training facility, and also “home to the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security within the framework of the Ukraine – NATO Partnership for Peace Program.” What an admirable example of international harmony that turned out to be.
It is known to be a training centre for foreign volunteers in the current war. Ukrainian officials claim there were no foreigners among the dead, though the Mirror and the Independent both report the deaths of at least three British ex-special forces. These were described as not being volunteers, but possibly instructors. There are numerous interviews on social media with recruits who escaped the bombing (I’ve seen interviews with Americans, Germans, and a Brazilian.) They all insist that at least a hundred foreigners died, and they all mention there being many British citizens on the base.
Next morning there was an interview on Sky news with the junior foreign minister Mr Cleverly awkwardly avoiding the question of the presence of British citizens among the dead.
Early reports of the attack on the Guardian’s rolling coverage mentioned the presence of their top foreign correspondent Luke Harding in Yavoriv, and there’s even a photo of the explosion attributed to Luke. The main article in the Guardian the following day is signed “Luke Harding in Yavoriv” plus two other Guardian reporters in nearby Lviv (or Lvov.) But the only eyewitness account comes not from Luke but from an emergency worker who hurried to the scene. No doubt Luke, along with everyone else, was asleep, and was woken by the blasts. It’s odd, though, to be present at one of the most significant events in the war so far, and not utter a peep about your experience.
The article continues:
The Yavoriv facility hit by Russia on Sunday has previously hosted foreign military trainers from the UK, US and other countries, but it was not clear whether any were at the base. […] There has been speculation too that the area has been used to receive incoming weapons shipments for Ukraine’s military and in the training of the large numbers of foreign volunteers flocking to the country.
“It was not clear ..” “..speculation”… Maybe Luke should have asked someone who was there? Oh, he was. Or was he? The same 13th of March he tweets: “two rockets hit at 5.45am according to eywitnesses..” and on the same day: “Leaving Ukraine for a short break after two months…”
What kind of journalist, present at a momentous tragic event with possibly 200 dead, some of whom are almost certainly British, about which the authorities are clearly lying as part of a massive cover up, packs his bags and comes home?
The answer is to be found on Harding’s Wikipaedia page: the kind of journalist who falsely accused Paul Manafort and Julian Assange of having met at the Ecuadorean Embassy, with unforeseeable effects on the freedom and even the survival of these two (very different) victims of political persecution.
And this is where I came in, fifteen or more years ago, expressing my nagging doubts about the reliability of Guardian journalists’ accounts when it came to such momentous questions as the decline in polar sea ice, or the reliability of weighing dead fossil molluscs in order to prove the existence of a Sixth Great Extinction.
Gosh, you should have seen the hail of heavy artillery fire that I got on Comment is Free for daring to doubt the word of experts. It was like being in a war zone. I was lucky to survive.