First, my apologies

Okay, so I will admit that this isn’t the most original title I could have come up with, but it serves its purpose – which is to register the idea that there is an alternative narrative to the West’s picture of a paranoid and delusional despot launching an unprovoked attack on a perfectly innocent, unthreatening neighbour that had just wanted to peacefully go about its own business. I will also readily admit that this article has precious little to do with climate change and I respect that many of you out there are less than happy when Cliscep goes off topic. However, the reason why I chose to write this article was to draw attention to the extent to which the BBC, with all of its disinformation reporters and its Reality Check Team is, nevertheless, quite capable of totally overlooking a well-documented reality that does not fit with the approved account. I invite the reader to transfer this insight to the climate change debate, in which the same organisation flaunts its reputation as arbiters of the factual whilst often displaying the same lack of journalistic rigour/integrity that I seek to expose below.

Setting the scene

In his Victory Day Parade speech of May 9th, Putin took the opportunity to reiterate his justification for invading Ukraine. It was a speech that invoked images of neo-Nazis and Banderites seeking to gain ascendency in Eastern Europe, of NATO encouraging Ukraine to heighten the nuclear threat, and of preparations for an imminent attack on what Putin holds to be part of the Motherland, i.e. Crimea and the Donbas. Predictably, the BBC was onto this speech immediately with a number of articles, including one of its notorious Reality Checks. I do not intend going through every claim and counter-claim here, but I do think it is important that one particular issue should be drawn to your attention. Of particular interest to me is the following remark made by Paul Kirby of the BBC:

“He also made unfounded allegations against Nato and Ukraine and described the invasion as a pre-emptive rebuff: ‘They were preparing a punishing operation in Donbas to intrude on our historic lands’.”

The BBC are very fond of pointing out the lack of evidence offered by others – they purport to do it all the time when exposing climate change ‘deniers’. Ostensibly, this is just another example of the BBC using their rapier sharp journalism to expose the fake news that they are fighting on a daily basis. But in saying that this is an unfounded allegation, just who is pushing the fake news here?

Founding the allegation

In accusing Putin of making unfounded allegations regarding Western preparations for conflict, the BBC appears to have somehow completely overlooked the fact that NATO has been holding such exercises in the Black Sea, and upon Ukrainian soil, on an annual basis since 1997. The exercises are co-hosted by the United States and Ukraine as part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PFP) initiative and they go under the name Sea Breeze. As the name suggests, they are principally designed to demonstrate how NATO countries, and those other ex-Soviet nations who might now feel threatened by Russia, would co-operate militarily in any future naval conflict. However, the actual scope goes somewhat beyond that, since past exercises have typically involved joint operations between land, sea and air units. In describing them in more detail below, I am entirely indebted to aviation journalist Vladimir Trendafilovski, who has written up detailed accounts covering both the 2020 and 2021 exercises. Firstly, let us go back to what NATO and Ukraine were getting up to back in 2020.

Writing in the November 2020 issue of Air Forces Monthly (‘Officially the world’s number one authority on military aviation’) he describes a relatively muted exercise severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Even so, eight nations took part – Bulgaria, Georgia, Norway, Romania, Spain, Turkey, the Ukraine and the United States – providing in total 2,000 troops, 20 ships and more than 20 aircraft. The land component of the exercise was completely cut out but that still left plenty of scope for the participating nations to demonstrate ‘high levels of interoperability’. Standard tasks such as air defence, anti-submarine warfare and search and rescue featured prominently. Of particular note was an exercise in which US Air Force jets practiced their stand-off offensive capabilities:

“One of the numerous scenarios trained for during this mission included the employment of the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM). This is the second time that USAF aircraft have been training in the use of this weapon over the Black Sea this year – the earlier occasion being the May 29 mission performed by a pair of B-1B Lancers from the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota.”

Muted or not, this sort of exercise hardly exemplifies the true spirit of social distancing and one can easily see how Putin would interpret the practiced delivery of stand-off weaponry as preparation for a ‘punishing operation’. Perhaps the BBC were looking the other way in 2020. How about 2021?

Writing in the October 2021 issue of Combat Aircraft Journal (‘America’s best-selling military and aviation magazine’) Trendafilovski describes a much more extensive exercise that fully explored all three theatres of war: land, air and sea. On this occasion no fewer than 28 nations took part, including the UK and Germany with Eurofighter Typhoons. Altogether, 5,000 servicemen, 30 ships, 40 aircraft, fifty tanks and other weapon systems, and 18 Special Operations and diving teams took part. According to Trendafilovski, ‘All task planning and execution was carried out in accordance with NATO standards’. A wide variety of scenarios were practiced including:

“…a separatist force taking over government institutions and organising a puppet state supported by a rogue nation [mentioning no names]. The multinational task force had to stabilize the region by defeating the separatist forces, re-instating the elected government and organizing the distribution of humanitarian aid.”

A more explicit demonstration of the intention to undertake a ‘punishing operation’ against separatists in the Donbas is difficult to conceive of. To further emphasise the intent, there was the choice of training area:

“The initial phase for the [ground] component was conducted on a new training range called the Oleshky Sands (Oleshkivski Pisky), a semi-dessert area near the Dnieper river, 30km east of Kherson and 50km north-west of the Crimean administrative border.”

Landing operations were also practiced:

“Supported by Mi-8MT ‘132 Red’ and a pair of Su-25s, the tactical group made an amphibious landing in Izmail on the Danube River. It’s vehicles and men arrived aboard two Navy Landing ships, Yuri Olifirenko (L401, Polnocny-C class) and Svatove (L434, Ondatra class), augmented by additional troops deployed by the Mi-8 using a FRIES. After successful deployment, the group seized the town’s port and other important facilities.”

Appropriately enough, Special Operations Forces (SOF) were employed:

“The SOF teams using CV-22Bs [the USAF’s Osprey troop carrier] took part in various episodes at the Zmiyinvy and Pervomayskiy Islands but details of these were classified.”

The use of electronic warfare (EW) systems during the ground component phase were brought into play, bringing the events ‘as close as possible to reality’.

An unintended introduction of further realism resulted from the fact that Russia sought to disrupt the exercise as much as possible by simultaneously holding its own exercise in the Black Sea. As a result, a number of simulated aerial attacks from friendly forces were augmented by the real thing. The buzzing of HMS Defender was well-reported at the time but less well-known was the treatment received by the Dutch HNLMS Evertsen, which was continually harassed by armed Su-24M bombers and Su-30SM fighters from the 43 oshap of ChF RF at Saki air base. Even more concerning, during these ‘attacks’ the Evertsen had its electronic countermeasures jammed. As a result of such skirmishes, exercise Sea Breeze 2021 came as close as any other to breaking out into the real thing.

Why this matters

Just how the practice of amphibious landings and the insertion of special forces cannot be seen by the BBC as evidence of NATO’s offensive potential beggars belief. Either the BBC were simply unaware of these exercises, and had been so since 1997, or they have chosen to deliberately overlook them. In past dealings with BBC disinformation reporters there have been times when I have found it difficult to discern between rank incompetence and a lack of journalistic integrity, and this case is no different. The BBC are not alone in this regard, of course – I cannot recall seeing any mention of Sea Breeze in any of the mainstream media and the only reason I know about it is because my hobby leads me to read publications such as Airforces Monthly and Combat Aircraft Journal. The difference, however, is that the BBC sets itself up as a trusted source that specialises in unbiased reporting. They are the ones who have fact-checkers whose opinions appear to stand as the final statement on a subject. It is that cloak of apparent respectability that makes their disinformation and selective take on reality particularly damaging. As I said above, if they can be so cavalier when fact-checking Putin’s allegations of war preparation, one has to wonder just what they have been getting up to on other matters, such as global warming.


  1. John, as a long-time critic of the BBC’s selective reporting and lack of objectivity, I am not surprised by what you have discovered here, and am grateful to you for your efforts.

    It is understandable that Putin and many in Russia feel threatened by NATO, and it is disappointing that this aspect of the current tragedy has been buried by the western MSM. It’s all about perspective – for instance, the Cuban missile crisis of almost 60 years ago is very understandable from the US perspective at the time. Putin probably sees things in Ukraine in much the same way.

    On the other hand, apart from the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the USA did not invade Cuba. What Putin has done and continues to do in Ukraine is unjustified and unjustifiable and beyond the pale, however real or understandable his concerns. And of course, from the point of view of Russia’s concerns re NATO on or near its borders, he’s just made things a lot worse for Russia, with Sweden and Finland possibly about to apply to join, and I wouldn’t even be surprised to see an application made by Georgia looked on a bit more favourably by NATO.

    Given that western nations regularly interfere (by use of military force) in the affairs of nations whose regimes they don’t like, much of the posturing from the west is highly hypocritical. It doesn’t make Putin’s behaviour right or justifiable, however, and I know that you aren’t arguing that it is. I do think it’s important to make it clear that understanding Putin’s paranoia is not the same as condoning it or doing anything other than condemning his behaviour.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Speaking of Putin, and apologies that it’s actually off topic:

    “Putin has not wrecked Glasgow Climate Pact – John Kerry”

    “US climate envoy John Kerry says the war in Ukraine has not wrecked the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed last year.

    Russia’s invasion has “presented a challenge” in the battle against global warming but could be overcome, he said.”

    Well, that’s a worry off my mind, and those Ukrainians must be so relieved.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article, thanks.
    One challenge is that Ukraine had received strong guarantees about protection from Russia. The obvious agenda, corruption on all sides, seems to be the first casualty.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. that BBC “Ukraine War: Putin’s Victory Day speech fact-checked –
    Is a poor/cr*p article/propaganda piece by the “Reality Check team”

    the 1st fact checked is –
    “President Putin has repeatedly said Ukraine plans to acquire nuclear weapons as a justification for Russia’s invasion, although there’s no evidence this is the case.”

    below this, they then quote –
    “Last year, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, suggested if Ukraine couldn’t join Nato, it might have to reconsider its nuclear-free status.

    “Either we are part of an alliance such as Nato… or we have the only option – to arm by ourselves, and maybe think about nuclear status again.”

    the rest was just as bad!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mark Hodgson says:

    “On the other hand, apart from the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the USA did not invade Cuba.”

    No, but what the US did do, was install nuclear-armed missiles in Turkey and Italy which were aimed at threatening the USSR. The Cuban missiles were a tit-for-tat, but the crisis did get the European missiles withdrawn a start made on proliferation discussions.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Trying to put myself in Putin’s shoes for a moment, I don’t believe that he felt at all threatened by these NATO exercises. NATO often has exercises where the unnamed enemy country may well be Russia, but this has been going on since the year dot. Every time such an exercise occurs, the Russians complain bitterly about what a provocation it is, but it’s obvious that they don’t believe that. Then they fly Bears towards our airspace for the lols.

    Finland and Sweden take part in NATO exercises and have done since whenever, but Putin did not feel the need to invade Finland. The difference between the non-NATO Baltic nations and Ukraine is obvious – their recent history. Not too long ago Ukraine was aligned with Russia – then we had a little revolution, and things seemed to be picking up in Ukraine. Then we had an almost-revolution in Belarus, and Putin saw which way the wind was blowing. If Ukraine leaned west and succeeded, and if Belarus leaned west and succeeded, then his position would be all the weaker – those protests might finally get out of control after all. So much better to prop up Lukashenko and later to install a Russian-leaning puppet in Kyiv.

    That the predicted sweeping victory did not materialise is a different matter.

    [I’m not 100% certain of this theory, but am floating it up to see if anyone can shoot it down.]

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Jit,

    I think there is a useful distinction to be made here between the interpretation of evidence and denial of evidence. The point of my article was to show that the BBC were in denial by failing to even acknowledge the existence of the West’s annual war games in the Black Sea and on Ukrainian soil. Whether Putin would have been disingenuous by including them in his calculation of the risk of an imminent ‘punishing operation’ is a matter for conjecture, but I think that the assumption that he cannot be taken at face value on this point is a dangerous one. It is the same assumption that nearly precipitated WWIII back in 1983 when Andropov’s reactions to Operation ABLE ARCHER were wrongly dismissed as rhetoric. The Soviets sincerely believed the West to be capable of instigating WWIII believing it could be won. It was my suspicion that Putin would think like Andropov that led me to warn that he might launch a pre-emptive strike (ref ‘The Games that People Play’). Now he is claiming that this is exactly what he did (and it is telling that he himself used war games as a cover for the military preparations). Putin is a liar and so who can say really what is going on in his head? However, I believe the safest strategy from here onwards would be to take him exactly at his word.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thanks for this excellent post John – excellent not least for its focus, its limitations even. The whole situation is exceedingly complex. I won’t try to put down my far-from-focused reactions.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. John as you might expect I disagree both with respect to the partial justifications you seem to be offering to Putin’s actions in Ukraine and for the BBC’s reporting of the underlying causes of the conflict.

    So the BBC has not reported upon Sea Breeze and it’s like. So the BBC is woefully ignorant of its importance, or is deliberately hiding its importance from us, leading to us not fully understanding Putin’s predicament. But you would have to lay the same blame on virtually every other news organisation for, to my knowledge, none has raised this issue. You have admitted that you only know about Sea Breeze because of your specialist interest.

    You seem to be arguing that Ukraine’s conducting military exercises with NATO countries on its own territory constitutes some form of deliberate provocation. If so, what did the joint exercises between Russia and Belarus represent? (Actually we don’t need to ask this, we already know).

    What exactly should Ukraine have done post 2014 after major parts of its territory were seized and conflict in its eastern parts was encouraged by Russia or conducted by Russians posing as separatists? And this was done by a nation that guaranteed Ukraine’s independence when it surrendered its nuclear weapons.

    Every major military nation tests the preparedness of its rivals. Russia periodically sends long-range bombers into NATO air space, or submarines into European waters. Look at the actions of China. Even India’s navy has flexed its muscles. This does not constitute an excuse for invasion. And the reasons offered by Russia for invading Ukraine are so patently false.


  10. Alan,

    I thank you for your response since I hope it may give me the opportunity to clear up one or two possible misconceptions.

    >”I disagree both with respect to the partial justifications you seem to be offering to Putin’s actions in Ukraine and for the BBC’s reporting of the underlying causes of the conflict.”

    But actually I have not sought to justify Putin’s actions. How can they be justified? All I have sought to do is challenge the BBC when they say there is no foundation to the specific allegation he made that the West was preparing for a ‘punishing operation’. Whether or not Putin’s observations are a justification for his reaction is one question; the suggestion that he could not even have made such an observation because there was nothing of that nature to observe, is quite another. Claiming that he speaks without foundation simply plays into the hands of the ‘irrational tyrant’ narrative. I happen to think that he is a perfectly rational tyrant, it’s just a rationale that some of the Western media seem determined to misunderstand.

    >”So the BBC has not reported upon Sea Breeze and it’s like….”

    There is nothing in your second paragraph that I had not already made clear in my piece and my subsequent comments. The BBC is certainly not alone in failing to report upon Sea Breeze, but it is they who have chosen to fact check Putin, apparently without the necessary background understanding that would enable them to perform such a task. If they were just offering an opinion piece, I wouldn’t be making such a big deal of it.

    >”You seem to be arguing that Ukraine’s conducting military exercises with NATO countries on its own territory constitutes some form of deliberate provocation.”

    I certainly am not. But I am pointing out that you can’t perform such exercises without raising the concerns of your neighbours. As Jit has argued, one might reasonably expect that such concerns would be moderated by a sense of proportion. But before jumping to such a conclusion one needs to take into account the other leader’s background, espoused thinking and any historical perspectives. These are the factors that cause me to be unsurprised by Putin’s invasion. Appalled, but unsurprised.

    >”What exactly should Ukraine have done post 2014 after major parts of its territory were seized and conflict in its eastern parts was encouraged by Russia or conducted by Russians posing as separatists?”

    Remember that Sea Breeze started in 1997, some seventeen years before the events you describe. Nevertheless, to answer your question: After 2014 they should have done whatever they could to regain their territory without precipitating an even worse onslaught.

    >”Every major military nation tests the preparedness of its rivals.”

    Indeed, and every nation should understand the risks involved.

    >”And the reasons offered by Russia for invading Ukraine are so patently false.”

    But I also think that the reasons given are patently the reasons they have. Some have a foundation but none has a sufficient foundation to justify invasion.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. John delighted to be of assistance. The only point I would fully dispute would be the ease with which the BBC might be able to learn about those joint military exercises. I think that by now they must be aware of Sea Breeze, they could be criticised for not bringing them to our attention.

    The more I think about your thesis, the more I am coming to the view that there must be a more rational explanation that explains Putin’s actions. Perhaps your explanation that he has inherited his fears from his original mentor has merit.


  12. A thank you from me to all who have commented – great to see a thoughtful and civil discussion around an interesting thesis.


  13. just to echo what John has said above.
    I’m not making any excuses for the War Putin started, no way he is in the right.

    but… we have to look at the bigger picture to try to understand why this has happened & stop it escalating.

    the civil war in the Donbas has been ongoing since 2014, why have I heard nothing about it?


  14. Dougie,

    I presume you heard plenty about the Donbas when the conflict first kicked off because it was, of course, all over the news. But you are quite right, it didn’t take that long before the novelty wore off. It’s difficult to say to what extent the level of conflict in more recent years has determined the level of coverage. If you believe Putin, genocide has been unfolding whilst we have been otherwise preoccupied. Fat chance of that, however.

    As for looking at the bigger picture, that wasn’t actually something I was trying to do with this article. As Richard says, it is all very complex. I was simply trying to make the point that fact checkers would do better if they were to respect the facts. This is particularly important when it influences how we think about someone whose next move is likely to be so important to the world’s future.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. But presumably Putin would have analysed and considered the wider picture when he finally decided to invade Ukraine. He would perhaps have been misled by intelligence reports that the Ukrainian government was weak, the population pro-Russian and the country ripe for plucking. A lightning strike at the capital and an easy overthrow of the government and an irritant would be gone. More than that, Sweden and Finland would take note and retreat even further into their neutrality. No more talk of them joining NATO. Ukraine safely stowed away, Georgia (or what is left of it) put back into its bottle. Transnistria beckons.
    For the lack of a good intelligence report the war was prolonged, for the lack of a quick victory, the threat was lost, …

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Alan,

    That is a very important point. An all-powerful but paranoid leader can only receive intelligence reports that confirm his suspicions. I suggest that a similar mechanism perverts the reporting of the climate threat. Few journalists are in a position to go off message with impunity.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Alan: “He would perhaps have been misled by intelligence reports…”

    I’m sure he was. But not in the way you suggest. The numerical imbalance of military forces is a fact that needs explaining here. I don’t think Putin is a blithering idiot, in other words, though I agree with John that “an all-powerful … leader can only receive intelligence reports that confirm his suspicions.” Note I missed out the paranoid there too. I’m not sure Putin is that either. It’s possible to be ruthless without being paranoid, though Stalin didn’t manage it.

    Here’s another fact that I came across yesterday for the first time that it would be lovely to have an explanation for: Russian Oligarchs Who Died Mysteriously This Year Have Two Things in Common. At least seven of them. Is it an important fact? Would a Russian actuary be impressed? Newsweek is actually quite good in giving supporting facts that suggest it hasn’t been Putin bumping them off. I give this as one of loads of examples. Facts and their interpretation. Difficult.


  18. Richard,

    I stand corrected. I am just falling in line with the sloppy habit of using ‘paranoid’ when I really mean ‘profoundly suspicious’. His actual state of mental health is anyone’s guess, although I still have my unfounded suspicions.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Another ten seconds of arduous investigative journalism (i.e. googling) has enabled me to discover that Ukraine had invited over 60 nations to attend this year’s Sea Breeze exercise. It says so on the “Ukrainian multimedia platform for broadcasting”:

    Of course, Putin has put an end to all of that. Also, having access to Google, he would have been aware of the following multi-national military operations planned for the Ukraine this year:

    • Joint Efforts 2022 – 12,500 troops will take part
    • Rapid Trident 2022 – 8,500 troops
    • Cossack Mace 2022 – 5,500 troops
    • Light Avalanche 2022 – up to 1,300 troops
    • Silver Saber 2022 – three stages, up to 5,500 participants
    • Riverine 2022 Ukrainian-Romanian exercises – up to 400 troops
    • Maple Arch 2022 – up to 3,700 participants
    • Viking 2022 – up to 200 troops

    I wonder, does the BBC have access to Google?

    Just asking.


  20. I do wonder about the aphorism indicating that powerful leaders can only accept information that confirms their already formed views. The few that I have known (in business) were exactly the opposite. They challenged and debated issues. They scorned those trying to pander to them. I would have thought that anyone bringing deliberately false, but intended to be acceptable, information would get short shrift from the likes of Putin, especially as he came from the same school. How could you survive if you gave deliberately inaccurate information? When this came to light, your chances of remaining in post, or even of survival would be vanishingly small. Would you risk it?

    I believe military leaders playing war games are sometimes set impossible tasks and false information in order that their resilience be judged. Just think how some of our political masters are judged [no names, no pack drill]. Do you believe they might be fed only information they might wish to hear?

    Liked by 1 person

  21. John: It’s clearly a matter of degree. “Riverine 2022 Ukrainian-Romanian exercises – up to 400 troops.” The BBC not mentioning that ‘known fact’ seems fine to me. But not mentioning Sea Breeze? On that I agree with the original post.

    Alan: Strongly agree in the case of good business leaders, because if you do suppress all bad news you soon go out of business. What about Churchill? He learned from the Dardanelles disaster that he must never again ignore the counsel of military leaders reporting to him – much though it sometimes irked him to be constrained in this way. One thing that made him such an effective leader in WW2, according to Andrew Roberts.

    Putin? Not sure. I know far less than the MSM and BBC do. Or purport to know.


  22. Richard,

    >”The BBC not mentioning that ‘known fact’ seems fine to me.”

    Quite so. I mention Riverine only for completeness’ sake.


    Our views regarding the ‘aphorism’ are bound to be affected by our experiences. I am pleased to see that yours have been favourable; mine have been very much the opposite. For example, I remember vividly being picked up at Heathrow Airport by a senior manager to be taken to a progress meeting with his own boss at the London head office. Throughout the car journey I was very keen to warn my ‘chauffer’ just how bad my report to head office was going to be. The project was in dire straits and I provided all of the gory details to a manager who remained completely silent throughout. It wasn’t until we reached the doors to the head office that he turned to me and said, “Now, when you get in there, I don’t expect you will be wanting to repeat anything you’ve just said to me, will you?” That was my introduction to how things worked. I could bore you with countless other anecdotes along the same lines. The bottom line is that I now find the aphorism all too easy to accept.

    I could also add that the last time a former head of the KGB asked for evidence to support his suspicions, he got them confirmed in spades. I refer to Andropov and Project RYAN. I think it highly plausible that history will have repeated itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. John am interested to learn how you survived your muzzling.

    I worked for two North American oil companies, both of which became absorbed into BP. One, Amoco had an enlightened policy whereby if you did the work, you got to present and sell it all the way up to head office in Chicago in front of the biggest mucki-mucks if necessary. Enlightened because anyone showing promise became almost immediately visible. If you had done good work you were recognised for it. The other company was Sohio and it couldn’t have been more different. Work done was presented at higher level meetings by your line manager and, if it went higher still by his manager. This no matter if your manager understood your work or not. I still greatly resent one instance where my manager just didn’t understand my results and he presented them under my name but with a completely different interpretation. Later I heard about this from an equivalent geologist from another company who couldn’t understand “my” interpretation”. Needless to say I was very pleased to leave Sohio for academia, especially when we were forced to move from the Bay Area of California for the “delights” of Dallas.

    I suppose all companies vary, as do Line-Managers. University departments also are very different. UEA was a rather good place to work for, Toronto not so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Alan,

    In a sense, I didn’t survive. Everyone else on the project resigned or transfered themselves out. I had been the most junior member of the team and had only recently joined the company. I was left alone holding the baby and all subsequent requests for assistance were refused. The result was a catastrophic project outturn for which I was subsequently blamed. This all happened a long time ago. I can laugh about it now.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Good stuff on past experience of the open-minded and the blockers. I’ve run into both but I think mostly I’ve been very lucky.

    Going back to John’s original, because of that strange piece in Newsweek I ended up at Tablet Magazine to read about the new difficulties since February for, and the compromises made before that by, Russian Jewish oligarchs. (And as a Spurs fan my feelings about the challenges now faced by Roman Abramovich are deeply ambivalent.) The Fate of Putin’s Jewish Oligarchs from 23rd March is a really interesting and, I think, balanced piece. But that wasn’t even the point!

    Tablet Magazine has been focusing on the concepts of ‘disinformation’ and ‘fact-checking’:

    Invasion of the Fact-Checkers
    The Blue Stack Strikes Back
    Disinfo v. Democracy

    And just this week:

    The Certainty Trap

    Haven’t read them all but the last looks most interesting.


  26. Richard,

    I would be more than happy if this thread were to turn into a critique of the very concept of fact-checking. With that in mind I started reading ‘Invasion of the Fact-checkers’ with some interest. In the introduction:

    “Fueled by a panic over misinformation, the fact-checking industry is shifting the media’s primary obligation away from pursuing the truth and toward upholding vague notions of public safety, which it gets to define. In the course of this transformation, journalists are being turned into rent-a-cops whose job is to enforce an official consensus that is treated as a civic good by those who benefit from—and pay for—its protection.”

    I’m loving it already.


  27. Richard – thanks for an interesting read, re ‘Invasion of the Fact-checkers’
    to add to John above,

    1st interesting quote –
    “As journalism collapses, it opens up a space for successor practices grouped under the banner of countering disinformation. In 2014, there were 44 fact-checking organizations in the United States, according to the Duke University Reporters’ Lab census. As of the June 2021 census, there were 341 “active fact-checking projects,” 51 more than in the previous year.”

    and the last bit –
    “If Facebook creates entirely new, immensely powerful, and utterly private fact-checking partnerships with ostensibly public-spirited news organizations, it becomes virtually impossible to know in whose interests and according to which dynamics our public communication systems are operating.”

    ok, that’s the US, but rings true to me for the UK lately.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. I’m with Jit. NATO is just a cover for what Putin wants to do anyway.

    He didn’t have any justification involving NATO for invading Georgia. He didn’t in Moldova either.

    If NATO had not co-operated with Ukraine in the last decade, then the result would have also been an invasion. But a successful one.

    Putin is a thug and bully. His behaviour to his own countrymen is appalling. Suggesting that NATO is the real reason he is appalling to other countries is taking the p*ss.


  29. Chester: Your four paragraphs are for me both simplistic and wrong-headed. Let’s just go for this sentence:

    He didn’t have any justification involving NATO for invading Georgia.

    The notorious Putin-supporting newspaper, the Guardian, reported this in April 2008:

    George Bush this morning said he “strongly supported” Ukraine’s attempt to join Nato, and warned he would not allow Russia to veto its membership bid.

    Speaking in Kiev after a meeting with Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yushchenko, the US president said both post-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia should be allowed to join the alliance – despite vehement objections from Russia.

    In remarks likely to infuriate the Kremlin, Bush said Ukraine should be invited during this week’s Nato summit in Bucharest to join Nato’s membership action programme, a prelude to full membership.

    The war between Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia happened in August 2008. Nato expansion was very much in the picture, as it had been from the 1990s, but especially because of Bush’s 2008 stance. To say that this is only a convenient excuse is for me laughable.

    However, it’s also important to say that John’s point in this post was much narrower. Should the BBC have mentioned Sea Breeze as it ‘fact-checked’ Putin’s recent speech? I say yes. Even if I believed every word you’ve written I’d say the same.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Chester,

    I too am with Jit, inasmuch as Putin is a thug who has openly expressed a desire to reverse the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, this desire also has to be seen in the context of NATO’s designs for Europe, as encapsulated in its Partnership for Peace initiative. In this respect, saying I did it because of NATO, or I did it because I am an expansionist, are tantamount to the same thing. However, this is the broader debate that I am seeking to avoid. This is really an article about the concept of the fact-checker and how getting one’s facts right doesn’t seem to be a vital part of that function. As Richard suggests, even if Putin seeks to express the situation only from his point of view, that is no reason for the BBC Reality Check Team to be so selective when it comes to acknowledging the realities. I urge you to read the link Richard provided regarding ‘Invasion of the Fact-Checkers’. It was an eye-opener for me since I had not quite appreciated the scale and breadth of the problem.

    Liked by 3 people

  31. Richard:

    “However, it’s also important to say that John’s point in this post was much narrower. Should the BBC have mentioned Sea Breeze as it ‘fact-checked’ Putin’s recent speech? I say yes. Even if I believed every word you’ve written I’d say the same.”

    Denizens of Cliscep have been assiduously cataloguing the misinformation the BBC uses in its reporting of the climate issue for as long as I have been a member. However, some members appear to take the BBC at face value when reporting other contentious issues. I don’t understand this at all. If a media company takes the establishment line on one issue, isn’t it just as likely to be just as complisant on others?

    Leopards don’t change their spots.


  32. Bill,

    I agree to a certain extent. Once an organisation has demonstrated a disregard for journalistic rigour on an important issue, that is bound to impact its credibility in general. However, paradoxically, it’s particularly when they claim to be fact or reality checking that one should be most on one’s guard. The term ‘fact check’ is supposed to indicate reliable judgement founded upon expertise but, in reality, it is a euphemism that is used to inveigel the authorised view. It’s actually quite Orwellian. The organisation remains capable of telling the truth but mostly when the issue is of less importance to those who are sponsoring the fact checking.

    Liked by 2 people

  33. Sorry, I meant to say ‘the issue is of less importance’. This is corrected now.


  34. …and issues of lesser importance are, of course, the ones that tend not to ‘need’ fact checking.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Bill without mentioning my name I feel your criticism regarding my support for the BBC. Usually this arises because the BBC commonly supports those that are concerned about climate change. Naturally as a confirmed, died in the wool sceptic I cannot support this wholesale bias, but I can try to understand it. It is tough to take, but almost all scientists and scientific organisations support the idea that human activities are causing global warming, many are of the view that an increased frequency of extreme weather events are also caused by us. So what is an organisation like the BBC to do? We voluble sceptics are the tiniest of minorities. No matter how much we may believe our views to be correct, we cannot expect a national broadcaster to cater for our minority opinions.

    Furthermore, even, if very occasionally, the BBC did present a more sceptical viewpoint it would get punished for doing so. Remember the problems and criticisms Channel 4 got when it broadcast a one-hour sceptical programme. Today even the slightest hint of non-adherence to climate change dogma is treated as rank heresy.

    Then there is the matter that the BBC is held to a considerably higher standard than other broadcasters. In the past when I have pointed out that ITV, Channels 4 and 5, Sky and other news organisations are not chastised for not covering news items (commonly favourable to a sceptic view) that the BBC has omitted. [The latest has been mention of the Sea Breeze exercises in Ukraine].

    Commonly then whomever I am “discussing” this matter with, retreats by reminding me that we pay for the BBC so we should expect better. Firstly I fail to see the logic of this argument, and secondly it is wrong. You pay, not for a BBC licence (although commonly it is called that) it is a licence to watch or record television (any television, not just the BBC). Neither does the BBC receive it directly, it goes into government coffers and then the government pays the BBC for services ( and not just for television).

    It is true that the BBC collects the tax and so in the public’s mind the two are irretrievably linked. But this is a sneaky device of the government to avoid being directly linked with yet another tax.

    Why do I support the BBC? The main reason is that I spent 10 years of my life in North America where the main product was abysmal. Anything reasonable was interrupted by incessant advertisements that broke up the continuity of programmes. The best parts were commonly BBC imports or produced by public broadcasting (almost BBC clones). I cannot fully express to you just how much I welcomed turning on my new British television upon my return to GB.

    I read with great sadness this week that Mark no longer watches television. I will admit commonly days go by with little but dross, but I usually find an hour each evening that rewards viewing, and which Mark must miss. Last night there was the last episode of a series “The Art that Made Us” which selected items from different centuries that reflect or sometimes instigated changes. Not just pictures, but architecture, poetry, and literature. For me, an absolute philistine, it was fabulous. I believe the BBC absolutely excels in these types of programmes that it sells worldwide. And Mark, I feel sure you would have greatly enjoyed it. Sorry you missed it and countless other excellent programmes.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. It’s not unexpected that this thread hasn’t remained as narrow in focus – razor sharp indeed – as John’s original.

    As things get wider (and I’m partly to blame) they get much more difficult. I think it’s very useful that Alan’s brought us back to the BBC and climate, following (but not following) Bill. The thing is, this isn’t just about the BBC, it’s about the truly pernicious new rigmarole or mythology of fact-checking. (I could use other noun phrases, like totalitarian nightmare.)

    I have now finished Tablet Magazine’s Invasion of the Fact-Checkers myself. Very good, very comprehensive and very hard to get one’s head around. At least if you’re me.

    Back to Putin, he claims that the conflict has two aims: the de-nazification and de-militarisation of Ukraine. The second has to do with Nato and its training bases, plus exercises like Sea Breeze. The western media has mocked the de-nazification goal as ridiculous. I think they’re wrong there too, whether dressed up as ‘fact-checking’ or not. But I’ll say something about that on Geoff’s earlier Ukraine thread. Then add a link in here.


  37. Alan, thank you for your concern regarding my life without TV, but so far (almost 6 months later) I can honestly say I don’t miss it at all. Some things are just a habit, I guess, and when you break the habit, you find that you don’t miss them. I used to eat quite a lot of cheese, but I gave it up as part of a health drive, to try to reduce my visceral fat levels. It worked, and to my pleasant surprise I found that I wasn’t missing cheese. It’s a bit like that with TV – I used to watch quite a lot of it, and I thought I would miss it when I stopped, but I find that I don’t – and I suspect my mental health has improved quite a lot, too!

    I have a backlog of close to 200 books waiting to be read, and I doubt if I’ll crack that, but I’ve made a determined start. And now that the long, light evenings are here, I don’t want to be in front of a TV screen (I know that I’m currently sat in front of a laptop screen, but the much-plugged heatwave still hasn’t reached us – today has been cold, grey and windy, and I’m content being at home this evening).

    I will readily accept that the BBC does make a number of fine programmes, but not so many as used to be the case, and there is a lot less wheat among increasing amounts of chaff. And I always watched the good stuff, such as it was, with bated breath, wondering where and when they would insert a reference to the climate crisis.

    Liked by 2 people

  38. Mark my sadness over your giving up watching live television is only that you miss out by not watching the best programmes that occur occasionally. Those programmes are a part of our culture and, unless a neighbour records them for you to watch later you miss out. But tonight, for example there are the slimmest of pickings – I don’t watch football and have little interest in hearing Europe’s (and Australia’s) best efforts to wreak my ear-drums at an annual “song” contest.

    I note that although you spurn TV you still avail yourself of the free bits of BBC – the radio stations, and the on-line BBC News. They, and the BBC listening network, all come from the same funding package.


  39. Alan, yes I still avail myself of the free bits of the BBC. Why not? I don’t make the rules but I do comply with them.

    Not having a TV licence means that I can’t watch any live TV at all; it doesn’t deny me access to BBC TV alone. I don’t mind, since I find the other channels to be no better than those offered up by the BBC.

    Since the rules prevent me watching any live TV at all without a licence, I don’t have any problems with, or feel any guilt about, listening to BBC radio and accessing its website. Mind you, I listen to less and less radio these days, as the quality of this also steadily deteriorates.


  40. Mark. You’re getting older, with memories. Everything is worse than it used to be. Look at science.

    Liked by 1 person

  41. For those who have a regard for original source material, here is Putin’s speech in full, as translated into English by the Kremlin:

    Of particular note, as far as my article is concerned, is that the words quoted by the BBC’s Paul Kirby, i.e. “They were preparing a punishing operation in Donbas to intrude on our historic lands”, do not actually appear in the speech. Maybe he got the quote from a mate he met in the pub. What Putin actually says about forces threatening the Donbas and Crimea is:

    “If we look at the sequence of events and the incoming reports, the showdown between Russia and these forces cannot be avoided. It is only a matter of time. They are getting ready and waiting for the right moment.”

    This has to be read in the context of his earlier recounting of Hitler’s invasion of Russia in WWII and how unprepared they were. That, he says, will not be allowed to happen again.

    Liked by 2 people

  42. John, I’m shocked. Paul Kirby has told you the facts and you are believing the Kremlin.

    In other news, Vladimir Putin is a wonderfully forgiving boss who doesn’t mind being misrepresented by his official translators.

    Or something.

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Richard,

    I suppose Kirby’s Russian could be better than the Kremlin’s Engish.

    No, I think I’ll stick to the pub mate theory.

    Liked by 1 person

  44. I wasn’t aware until last week that Maajid Nawaz has strong feelings about what has gone on in Ukraine over the last 20 years (at least) including the line the West has taken:

    We Backed Nazis. Putin Got That Bit Right

    That headline written (with a whole lot else) in February about the Western-backed coup of 2014.

    How did I spot that? Because Nawaz disagreed on Twitter with Elon Musk:

    What a good example of open debate on that medium. Then there’s the terrible ongoing scandal of organ harvesting and foetuses stolen for stem cell production:

    I don’t agree with every word Nawaz writes. One reason I bring it up here is that the BBC has tried to bring in ‘fact-checking’ since February into the reality or otherwise of Nazi or neo-Nazi influence in Ukraine. But this is far too complex an area for what is normally highly simplistic support for the establishment view.

    Dominic Cummings wrote something very similar to Nawaz on Wednesday night about Putin getting the Nazi influence within Ukraine right. Another person trusting Putin about a matter of great importance.

    Well, judging him to be more truthful, or realistic, about this particular area. As well he might, given the history of WW2, as John rightly highlights from his speech.

    Don’t be spoon-fed by BBC or any other fact-checkers. We know that with climate. With Ukraine we need to achieve balance. And that is very, very hard. (Much harder in May 2022, for us, than the broad outlines of climate alarmism. I’ll have more to say on this on Geoff’s old thread on atrocities and false flags.)


  45. Richard,

    I’ve more to say on this but it will have to wait until tomorrow.


  46. Richard,

    Yesterday I started reading “Putin’s People”, by Catherine Belton. In the prologue she describes a private conversation between two of the individuals who were responsible for putting Putin in power. Well, I say ‘private’ but we all got to know about it because they were being bugged by the Kremlin. The general theme was rueful regret for what they had done. At one point, the first man, Sergei Pugachev (dubbed ‘Putin’s Banker’), says to the other:

    “Many of the decisions he makes are based upon his convictions of how the world is run. The subject of patriotism – he believes this sincerely. When he says the collapse of the Soviet Union was a tragedy, he believes this sincerely…He just has such values. What he does, he does sincerely. He sincerely makes mistakes’.

    That is where I am coming from. Because Putin is inherently deceitful, we all assume that he is being disingenuous about his motives. However, that is where his duplicity ends, and we shouldn’t overthink it. Everything he said about his beliefs and motives in his Victory Day speech can be taken at face value, and if we don’t do so, then we are destined to misjudge the man. When he invaded Ukraine he made a sincere mistake based upon ‘his convictions of how the world is run’.

    Liked by 1 person

  47. As a good example of overthinking things, there is this:

    “An oncologist has claimed that there are multiple signs the Russian President Vladimir Putin is dealing with cancer-related cognitive impairment which may explain why he is waging war in Ukraine.”

    That Putin is ill is very plausible. That he invaded Ukraine in a moment of confusion is less so.

    Liked by 1 person

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