Posts Tagged ‘freedom of speech’

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Ukrainian PGO to sue over a tweet

January 7, 2016

Somewhat bizarrely, considering the amount of less than complimentary domestic social media commentary over the current Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Viktor Shokin, the PGO’s office seems to have taken an extreme dislike to a tweet by Hannah Thoburn, who when asked how to more efficiently tackle corruption in Ukraine, tweeted:

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Thoughts it has to be said that have been publicly aired, and written, by numerous Ukrainian MPs (127 of which have/had signed a motion to dismiss him from the post).

That tweet seems to have incensed the PGO and PGO’s Office.  For whatever reason however, the PGO’s office has decided to go after Ms Thoburn.

“I want all officially announce that we are preparing for international courts. The charges and the statement of Hannah Thoburn really angers us. We consider it unreasonable and unfounded. To accuse someone without proof is not allowed to anybody. Even renowned experts” – Assistant Attorney General Vladislav Kutsenko

However, nowhere in that tweet does Ms Thoburn call the Prosecutor General corrupt.  She states his removal will speed the anti-corruption effort.  Of what does she accuse the Prosecutor General?  Where is her accusation of his personal direct (or even indirect) involvement of corruption – or anything else – in her tweet?   It is simply not there.

To be blunt, the US Embassy in Kyiv have stated publicly many times, that the Prosecutor General’s Office obstructs the reform effort – and the Prosecutor General is responsible for the results of the institution he presides over.

“That obstacle is the failure of the institution of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine to successfully fight internal corruption. Rather than supporting Ukraine’s reforms and working to root out corruption, corrupt actors within the Prosecutor General’s office are making things worse by openly and aggressively undermining reform” – US Ambassador Pyatt, 25th September 2015.

Ergo, a call to remove the current Prosecutor General from office does not necessarily infer directly or indirectly that he is corrupt – it simply states that his removal would possibly (depending upon replacement) make reform and thus the anti-corruption effort swifter in achieving results both internally of the PGO’s office and more generally.  Again, let us be blunt, there is hardly a long list of headline PGO anti-corruption prosecutions – let alone successful convictions

 

 

pgo

To state the removal of the current PGO from office will (probably) assist in fighting corruption is not the same thing as saying the current PGO is corrupt – and no international court will take the view that it does.

Mr Kutsenko then continues that in suing Ms Thoburn “And believe me, we require as compensation for a very significant amount of money, which Shokin will then send to volunteers and the support of the Ukrainian army“.

Your author will take the very unusual step of offering Mr Kutsenko and the Ukrainian PGO;s office some free advice – do not make that international court a London court – or any court in the UK.  Having spent 16 years dealing with UK Crown Courts, the Crown Prosecution Service et al, if the sole basis of the claim against Ms Thoburn is the content of that tweet, all that will occur is that the PGOs Office will run up substantial costs in a case it will not win – and will also end up paying the court costs of Ms Thoburn too.  Loser pays all.

That the Ukrainian PGO’s office believes that an international court will take the view that the words used in her tweet will result in a successful outcome for the PGO is simply mind boggling – although if that tweet is deemed as sufficient evidence for a successful prosecution, (let alone likely to result in a successful conviction), then it goes quite some way to explaining why there are so few successful  prosecutions in Ukraine that would stand up to due process and scrutiny in any international or European court.

Further, in a democracy, public figures are subject to public scrutiny and public comment – particularly when it comes to their abilities and actions, or  inabilities and inactions in the office that they hold.  It is called public accountability.  And comment is called free speech.

There is simply nothing in Ms Thoburn’s tweet that is libelous nor defamatory regarding the PGO when it comes to accusations of his direct (or indirect) corruption or criminality.  It is hard to believe a learned judge in any European or international court of any standing could or would see it that way.

It’s even harder to believe that the PGO’s office believes it has anything of a case that stands a snowball’s chance in hell of it winning in such a court.  To pursue the matter will do neither the image of Mr Shokin, the PGO’s office, nor the image of Ukraine much good in the international courts, nor the international media.  It certainly won’t do anything to prevent public commentary either – expert or otherwise.

Lastly, when Mr Shokin is replaced (and he will be one day) and if the PGO’s office becomes more effective, and has far less and infrequent internal institutional corruption issues under his replacement – would not then Ms Thoburn be proven to be correct in her analysis – is that not what expert comment is meant to be?

For the sake of all concerned it would be far better that this matter be quietly dropped.  Somehow it is doubtful that Ms Thoburn is in the least bit concerned about having her day in an international court over this matter.

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Kyiv Pride 2015

June 7, 2015

A short entry today relating to the Kyiv Pride 2015 march that took place yesterday.

That it took place obviously matters.  For those that are gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans-gendered it clearly has a particular meaning – for those that are not, the meaning is just as significant, if not directly related to the cause.

What matters to all in Ukraine is that it took place and that “The State”, although imperfectly, allowed people their right of assembly and freedom of expression to hold a march within the confines of the law, and the police actually made efforts to protect them in exercising those rights.  Indeed, officers were injured trying to insure those rights were executed.

In years past, the police would have stood idly by whilst serious injury and perhaps worse was handed out by those violently opposed to the exercising of such rights over this particular cause.

“The State”, and in particular the police, will hopefully learn lessons from events yesterday with regards to what went wrong – and what went right.

Democracy however does not distinguish between the rights of assembly and freedom of expression for LGBT, women rights, children rights, or those with ginger hair – whatever – just as long as they abide by the law whilst exercising those rights.  Neither does a democracy accept the actions of those that act outside of the law when trying to suppress the rights of others.

Thus the Kyiv Pride march was a test of “The State” as much as it was the determination of the LGBT community.  It was also a test of society.  That despite the vitriol expressed in social media, so few turned up with intent to act outside the law and attack the march, is perhaps a sign that regardless of any personal like or dislike for the cause, the majority have found some respect for the rule of law.

The majority have some very real near term benefits to gather from the actions of “The State” yesterday in protecting (if not perfectly) those that took part.  Visa-free with the European Union has within its requirements, the respect, tolerance and protection of “The State” for minorities as a benchmark.  That Kyiv Pride 2015 took place, “The State” allowed it to take place, policed it, and actively attempted to protect those that took part, will be noted by the EU and the EC monitors who make progress reports/recommendations.

Just how many Ukrainians are aware that the possibility of their Visa-free with the EU could have been adversely effected had the march been prohibited or the police failed to attempt to protect those marching is hard to know.  The Ukrainian political elite are not particularly good at conveying to the public what “technicalities” are still to be dealt with other than stating “all political hurdles have been overcome, only technicalities remain“.

Whatever the case, a minority group exercised its rights within the law.  Those that tried to prevent by actions outside the law failed.  Although not perfectly, “The State” tried to protect the minority in exercising their rights.  Where “The State”, or perhaps more accurately the local Kyiv government has to face criticism, is the spineless attempts to dissuade the marchers because it is “not the right time“.

Not the right time” is an excuse for political expediency and generally being politically spineless rather than insuring the rights of Ukrainians enshrined within the law are upheld.  If the police have some public order lessons to learn, hopefully Kyiv City Hall (and others) will have learned a lesson too.  The application of rule of law cannot be selectively applied, lest it be rule by law.

It would have been a big error of judgement not to allow Kyiv Pride to occur, despite the issues on the day.

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A (perceived) Ministry of Truth?

December 3, 2014

Today, in all probability – or certainly in the immediate future – we may see one of the biggest errors of judgement by the newly elected leadership of Ukraine since its temporary appointment and then subsequent election – and there have been more than a few errors thus far.

A new “Ministry of Information Policy” seems destined to be born – the reason/excuse for which, is to apparently to confront Kremlin propaganda – be it disinformation, misinformation, agitprop etc.   What it infers, however, is forthcoming governmental manipulation, management and control of thus far freely accessed information.

Even war with the Kremlin is no excuse for what is a proposed ministry that will undoubtedly be misused when under the control of somebody loyal to one or another oligarch/politician.  The same oligarchs/politicians that own most Ukrainian media between them.

Perhaps even worse, the slippery slope from a “Ministry of Information Policy” to a far more Orwellian “Ministry of Truth” is simply something all too tempting for those who remain at the pinnacle of Ukrainian political and business life – and containing the new Ministry of Information Policy to the issue of the Kremlin’s war may become a loose concept.  (Smart money would have Yuri Stets, godparent to one of President Poroshenko’s children, as front-runner to lead this potential abomination of an entity.)

Questions of loyalty to whom, of eventual mission creep, and necessity for such a ministry at all, need be asked.  The red flags of democracy are surely raised by the prospect of a Ministry of Information Policy that can easily morph into a Ministry of Truth”.  It is nothing short of a disaster for the nation should this monstrosity be given life by the State.

Minstry

To create such a governmental ministry will not only be expensive, but is likely to be perceived as Ukraine being dragged into the Kremlin paradigm of government controlled/censored media  – a place where Ukraine would be well advised not to go.  The issue of dealing with Kremlin lies, disinformation, misinformation and agitprop has already been the subject of an entry.  A “Ministry of Information Policy” is simply not necessary – or desirable – in confronting this specter.

Refuting and rebutting wearisome nonsense emanating from the Kremlin machinery is not difficult the vast majority of the time.  The troublesome aspect to its media strategy is the underlying attempt to undermine faith in all media regardless of source, not just that choreographed by the Kremlin.  Ukraine need ask itself, if by creating what will undoubtedly be perceived as an odious and truth manipulating governmental ministry, does it help or hinder that Kremlin strategy?  Regardless of the intentions behind it being good or bad, the perception it gives is simply counterproductive – as the tweets below in Russian make clear:

There is then a matter of legal issues that any such Ministry would have to successfully navigate.

Firstly, there seems to be enough legislative instruments already in existence to deal with Kremlin media shenanigans.  It is a matter of the National Council of Television and Radio, or in the case of criminal incidents, the SBU, of actually employing the legal instruments they already have at their disposal.  If these State bodies are ineffective, employ the poorly crafted lustration law to replace the relevant executives – who will all undoubtedly fail any strenuous lustration test – until effective leaders are found.

Secondly, Article 25 of the Law on Information, and Article 15 of the Law of Ukraine, (State support of mass media and social protection of journalists), would seem to be at odds with a central Ministry of Information Policy.  Regardless, unfettered journalistic access to the war need remain.

Moreover, where does any perceived control and distribution of media relating to the events in The Donbas – and possibly beyond as mission creep sets in – leave Ukraine with regard to its national, regional and international obligations with respect to treaties, charters and other agreements to which it need adhere to with integrity in order to sustain international support?

Democracy requires a free press – whether Ukraine be at war with The Kremlin or not.  A Ministry of Information Policy simply infers an Orwellian Ministry of Truth, and thus produces the perception of anything other than a free media – and perceptions count, both domestically and internationally.

Indeed, whilst President Poroshenko seems dead-set on a foreigner heading up the National Anti-Corruption Bureau in an effort to bolster its perceived independence from government and neutrality, perhaps the same determination would be well targeted in placing a foreigner at the head of the National Council of Television and Radio – for exactly the same reasons.  One is no less important than the other to democracy.

MoT

A Ministry of Information Policy is a particularly poorly thought out and regressive concept – just as any perceived Ministry of Truth would be.  Sadly, however, it seems Ukraine is set upon this counterproductive course – a course fraught with danger to its own fragile, and still feckless, democracy.

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Why tell big lies when you can tell enormous lies instead?

November 8, 2014

A few days ago, an entry was posted lamenting the standard of Kremlin agitprop/disinformation/misinformation etc., and the chronically weak levels to which white, grey and black propaganda that is now discharged from the bowels of the Kremlin propaganda machine have reached.  A nostalgic entry – wistful for the bygone days when the Kremlin actually wanted those exposed to its propaganda to believe it, and/or struggle (for various reasons) to disprove it.  A good deal of time and effort was spent teasing out the truths and half-truths sometimes therein.

The following day, the Legatium Institute released the below on YouTube, highlighting some major points of a day long discussion:

All rather timely by way of raising the same issue.

US Ambassador Geoff Pyatt (fortunately for Ukraine a career diplomat who knows his stuff, and not a US fund-raiser for a presidential campaign awarded an ambassadorship as a “thank you”) made the following point – rightly:

Indeed.  There is no better way to puncture a lie than with the truth.

However, as Mark Twain is attributed as stating “A lie can be half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes” – and in the age of the Internet, a lie has now fully circumvented the globe in a second.

Yet another top ex-diplomat left a comment under the entry lamenting the current Kremlin propaganda – the ever-wise and erudite Charles Crawford:

“The explicit dishonesty and stupidity of such propaganda are designed to show that Russia under current management just does not care about weary ‘Western’ distinctions between Truth and Lies. They send a mighty message: Russia will do whatever it takes to win, where winning is defined as what the GRU/Kremlin say it is today.

In other words, why worry about Big Lies? Go for Absolutely Enormous Lies instead. Why not, after all?

And, if Russia succeeds in stealing land allegedly ‘lost’ when the USSR dissolves, perhaps that’s all the ‘lasting impact’ the GRU/Kremlin care about”

A very insightful point.

The entry linked above, a repine for the quality Kremlin propaganda from yesteryear relates to a time when the Kremlin cared about/wanted to be believed – or at least sow sufficient doubt upon any retort that may have come.  Now, such is the scale of truly abysmal  propaganda  spewing forth, it is quite clear that the Kremlin no longer cares if its propaganda is believed, pondered, briefly entertained, dismissed, or simply lampooned.

That such a strategy of bombarding the information sphere with easily rebuffed nonsense has a potential for diminishing returns when it comes to those who believe what is being offered up is clear – indeed, the Kremlin is far beyond the point of being judged by its word – it is now only actions that many will judge it by.

Nonetheless, no matter how preposterous the lie, no matter whether the lie is “big” or “absolutely enormous”, Ukraine and its allies must still wearily put the shoes on the truth and send it running off around the world, chasing down the lie as Ambassador Pyatt pointedly states.

However, as ex-Ambassador Crawford alludes to in his comment here at the blog,  whilst “the west” is busy playing whack-a-mole with Kremlin lies, realities on the ground are perhaps, to the exclusion of all else, all that really matters for The Kremlin – truth, reputation, and international trust be damned.

(And yes it is rather awesome to have Messers Crawford and Pyatt amongst the readers of this blog.  Quality – not quantity you see!)

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Ukraine Today (UT) TV – English language

August 25, 2014

Today, the 23rd anniversary of the independence of Ukraine, sees the launch of the English language TV station “Ukraine Today“, a station owned by the oligarch Igor Kolomoyski, owner of several other TV channels in Ukraine.

ukr today

The station will also be broadcast in other languages very soon apparently, with German and French being the next priorities.

The channel has been created to mitigate the distinctly skewed Russia Today (RT) outlook that is relentlessly broadcast to the world.  Fair enough.  However, that being the case, in its efforts to do so it may well end up so alien to facts and the truth it will become just as risible as RT is.

The inherent problem will be one of comparison and perceived competition – particularly given the awful decision regarding the name of the new media outlet in such a similar manner to its Russian nemesis.

Ukraine Today will be far better served reporting the news (rather than Op-Eds/commentary) – accurately – warts and all.  After all Utopia does not exist anywhere on the planet, so there would be nothing gained, and much lost, by pretending Ukraine comes close.

Hopefully it won’t enter a downward spiral of competition of distinctly fictional content with RT, but that is a distinct possibility.  Time will tell.

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Does being lame duck mean lame legislation? RADA Ukraine

August 14, 2014

As seems clear, and as was predicted months ago, the current RADA is likely to be officially dissolved in full compliance with The Constitution of Ukraine, on (or about) 24th – 26th August (11 – 13 days from now), in order to meet political time tables to allow for new RADA elections to take place on the same date as the scheduled local elections – 26th October.

As such, whilst the current RADA is as yet not officially a lame duck, it is certainly a lame duck in waiting – and knows that it is such.

It would be fair to say that many current RADA MPs are unlikely to return following the 26th October polling.  Those who are not returned will lose their immunity and thus ability to act with absolute impunity.  Understandably many of those that will be rightfully sacrificed at the alter of public opinion are less than willing to play an active and productive role for the remainder of their terms.

Others, who will survive, continue to churn out truly dreadfully crafted legislation.  There is nothing unusual in that, for the feckless bunch have consistently churned out truly awful legislation, despite having a choice of 28 European nations with similar legislation to copy – or at least plagiarise – with a few Ukraine-centric nuances and tweaks.

One would be forgiven for wondering just how difficult that apparently is – despite more than a few plagerised dissertations behind the academic awards held by some of these legislators.

Yesterday at the RADA, a dismal example of a lame duck (in waiting) legislature combined with the usually atrocious crafting of legislation, came to pass.

Bills on electoral reform – not necessarily well timed so close to an election albeit understandable – and a law on lustration failed to get adopted – That lustration laws were not adopted is unsurprising when many soon to be ejected from the RADA by public vote are likely to be subjected to any lustration law.  Turkeys and Christmas and all that.

Three or four laws did pass – with acceptable, or below par crafting naturally.

However, perhaps the most odious and clearly draconian law of the day was adopted at its first reading.  A law specifically designed to censor the media.  Perhaps well meaning during this time of war and obscene porpaganda, but entirely wrong nonetheless.  It prompted this immediate response from OSCE:

“I call on the members of the Verkhovna Rada to drop the provisions of the law endangering media freedom and pluralism and going against OSCE commitments on free expression and free media.

“I fully understand the national security concerns expressed by the Government of Ukraine in relation to the ongoing conflict, but this should not justify a disproportionate restriction on freedom of expression and freedom of the media.  The measures included in the draft law represent a clear violation of international standards and thus directly curtail the free flow of information and ideas – the concept that lies at the heart of free expression and free media. The draft law effectively reverses much of Ukraine’s progress in media freedom.

All citizens must have the right to access all available information, irrespective of its source, without interference from the authorities and regardless of geographical or political boundaries, so that universally recognised human rights and democratic processes can be reaffirmed and strengthened.” – OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović

Quite rightly too – the law is absolutely awful as currently written and desperately needs to be rethought or rewritten to keep Ukraine within the international obligations under numerous Charters and Treaties it is a ratified signatory of.

If a genuine and consolidated democracy is where the current leadership and political class have finally decided to take Ukraine, then that – in part – requires adhering to the international obligations it has undertaken with integrity (even when they are not politically expedient to uphold).

The Ukrainian political class need to put an end to rule by law and act within the rule of law, even in the circumstances Ukraine currently finds itself.  Basic freedoms and democracy are not something that can be shelved and replaced by Soviet-esque diktats in difficult times – especially so in difficult times – if they are to ever become the consolidated spine of the nation.

A lame duck RADA does not need to produce lame legislation – particularly when that legislation is crafted by MPs that are likely to survive the culling at the ballot box in October.

Fortunately, whilst there be a war on in the east keeping the attention of many, plenty of domestic and international good governance/democratic eyes remain focused on the activities of the RADA and the legislation it produces.

Perhaps, following on from yesterday’s entry, there is some scope within, to produce a programme that would teach the feckless political legislators how to craft robust, clearly defined and unambiguous laws, that hold fundamental justice, State integrity, fairness and proportionality at their core.

It could be named “Legislate in haste – repent at leisure” – as now the RADA is faced with the choice of passing this law at the second reading and forcing the President to veto it, dropping it altogether, or significantly rewriting it in way that that it could and should have been written in the first place.

Significant European and international support for Ukraine will be lost should this law make it all the way onto the statute books.

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The dark arts and useful idiots

April 23, 2014

I have written before – elsewhere – about my very first foreign jaunt for Her Majesty in what was then the Federal Republic of Germany.  It was a very long time ago.  The Berlin Wall was still standing robustly, and the Iron Curtain cast a very dark shadow across the European continent.

Within days of landing at RAF Gütersloh and making my way across country to where I was to work I was required to then turn around again and attend a seminar in Rheindahlen, then HQ Northern Army Group (NORTHAG), HQ British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), home of Second Allied Tactical Airforce (2ATAF) and RAF Germany (RAFG) – and other more interesting entities with far less imposing titles.

It was like a small town populated by British, American, Canadian, German and Belgian military and civilians.

Anyway, the purpose of my visit was to be reminded once again – and warned once more – of the “dark arts” of The Stasi and KGB.  Once again those present were reminded of the responsibilities of the positions they held.  We were all PV’d (positively vetted) due to the information we were likely to create, receive, read and control.  Remember at all times you are subject to the Official Secrets Act you have signed etc., etc.  “Be alert” the watchword of the era.

We, it was said repeatedly, would be very likely the choice targets for the opposition intelligence community.

The weight of the responsibilities we were to bear, and the results of failing to bear them with integrity, spelled out in no uncertain terms – repeatedly – over the 2 day seminar.

The methods of subterfuge, espionage, infiltration, coercion etc., laid as bare as could be.  Whatever human weaknesses you may have – keep them under control if not eradicate them.  Failure to do so would result in your blackmail by KGB (or somewhat less likely Stasi) personnel.

Blimey!

All of this of course before mobile telephones, fax machines and computers became the tools of the modern age.  In those days multiple copies of anything were done either with carbon paper between sheets of paper on a typewriter, or typed onto a “skin” and rattled off on an ink smeared drum duplicator.

I won’t bore you with the palava of actually accessing anything secret (or above) – suffice to say it was necessarily time consuming and the fact you had merely sniffed a document classified accordingly was heavily documented.

Fortunately, having been too stupid to attended Cambridge University – which holds the record for producing the most Soviet spies I believe – I was not approached in university, and neither whilst working in the Federal Republic of Germany by the opposition.

Certainly not Ian Flemming and only hardly John Le Carre either as far as I was concerned – unless you can get excited about what was predominantly a desk job.  Interesting yes – adrenaline pumping it wasn’t.

(I can also state that handling informants is not particularly adrenaline pumping either – something I had to do when returning to home soil and changing desks 25 years ago – there goes another myth.)

Anyway, returning to the issue of the then KGB dark arts  and their undoubted continued use and tactical expansion by the FSB and GRU today, I must state I find it entirely bewildering that so much of the western media still seems to be in denial over what is occurring in eastern Ukraine (and the continuing infiltration throughout the rest of the nation for that matter) and the activities of the Russian intelligence and special forces there.

Sat atop of the Kremlin is a man who was a KGB counter intelligence officer.  Whether the western media choose to believe the incidents occurring in eastern Ukraine are genuinely spontaneous local action – or as is the case, Kremlin shenanigans at their root, one simple question should be asked –  With such incidents occurring just over the Russian border, which Russian president (ex-KGB or otherwise) would not have deployed intelligence personnel there, no matter how these incidents came to manifest themselves?

It is willful ignorance to think an ex-KGB Lieutenant Colonel would not have intelligence operatives and special forces in eastern Ukraine.  It is also gross naivety in the current circumstances to think that those intelligence personnel will not be engineering the situation on the ground to the best possible advantage of The Kremlin.  It has vested interests in Ukrainian outcomes.

I suppose when The Kremlin unveils long term and/or financially rewarding deals in India, China, Malaysia and North Korea in a few weeks time during Mr Putin’s Asia-Pacific tour, the mainstream western media will report it as just that, business deals – and not the strategic Asia-Pacific pivot that it actually is, with the purpose of further weakening European influence over The Kremlin whilst expanding Kremlin  influence in Asia.

Forget the proposed US Asian pivot – The Russian pivot will have occurred by the end of the year in tangible form!

Thus with such predictable shortsighted western mainstream media reporting, and by failing now to unambiguously state that there are Kremlin run intelligence services meddling on Ukrainian soil, the media become nothing more than useful idiots in The Kremlin scheme.  It simply assists the Kremlin narrative of plausible deniability – even when such deniablity is implausible.

There is no “apparently” or “supposedly” or “inferred” or “claimed” or “asserted” presence relating Russian intelligence and special forces in Ukraine – They are there and those agencies would be failing in their roles not to be there – even if they weren’t charged with creating instability by The Kremlin, as they obviously are.

Ukraine is home to the last (relatively) free Russian speaking mainstream media on the planet.  It is perhaps time that the western media show some solidarity and clearly articulate when a spade is a spade – or more precisely when the dark arts of the FSB and GRU are indeed the dark arts of the FSB and GRU in Ukraine.

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