Finding truth amidst the lies about Russia & the Ukrainian civil war

Summary: Today we look at off-road sources of information about the world (especially wars), used by those who seek more than the polished narrow narratives of the western news media. What do we seek? Are we gathering information, or finding only new sources of propaganda? Answers and advice follow, using examples from the Ukraine Civil War. Post your thoughts in the comments.  {2nd of 2 posts today}

The Truth is Out There

The western news media deliver a richly detailed and polished narrative about our world. The information highway takes those seeking more detail or different perspectives to a vast array of websites offering what seem to be reliable pictures of conflicts in the far corners of the world. Usually described in the first or second person, often with graphics, pictures, or videos as evidence, they give dissidents from the mainstream worldview confidence that theirs is a more accurate worldview. Are they correct?

A frustrating aspect of cyberspace results from our inability to know what’s real. This makes effective propaganda easy to manufacture, and much of the fringe internet overflows with exaggerated, distorted, or fake news created by partisans about distant wars — some by amateurs, some by professionals. Debkafile developed many of the tactics now commonly used: details from the front lines (sometimes real, sometimes bogus) plus confident analysis dramatically presented.

Truth and lies

Americans provide an eager audience, as we are often alienated from our society, suspicious, eager to join teams representing goodness fighting evil, and (above all) credulous. Even if today’s news proves last week’s story to be false, we believe today’s story.

Although it’s difficult to measure, I believe fringe sources were influential on public opinion in our post-9/11 war, since their audience included many people exceptionally outspoken — carrying their misinformation to other websites, letters to the editor and Congress, and discussions in the real world.

Their influence seems greater in conflicts receiving less attention from the news media, such asthose in Eastern Europe, perhaps because of the larger numbers of Americans with roots in that region. Here again we see Americans becoming well-informed on issues about which they intend to do nothing, rooting for “their team” (e.g., Russia or Ukraine) in a fashion little different than for their local football players — or fantasy football team. Since we’re interacting purely with electrons, is it really a different experience than fantasy football?

Today’s example of news from the fringe

At a press conference this week in Donetsk, the Donetsk news agency (DNA) made an important announcement. Since the DNA does not publish in English, we learn about this from websites. Such as this by Jim Dean in the authoritative-looking Near Eastern Outlook

Kiev is still a coup that has not really consolidated its power. The people trust this government less than the former. They know they were sold a bill of goods. Most are powerless but not all, like Kiev’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Major-General Alexander Kolomiets who defected to Donbass this week. He has this to say: …

I find no bios of Kolmiets. He retired or was fired from the Army, then later held the civilian post of Deputy Minister of Defense (or assistant to the Minister; stories vary) — fired (or retired) in 2012. Getting this basic fact wrong is typical of fringe sources. I assume the DNA provided this video (there are several translations out there, differing in small details); although none of the stories mention this important detail.

This is typical of the information available on the fringes. This was posted to YouTube by Tatzhit Mihailovich, who runs a widely cited channel about the Ukraine civil war (websites tend to assume these are his own work, which I doubt), and occasionally writes about it (e.g., “Seeing through the doublethink: Primary evidence on losses of the combatants at Donbass“, undated). His “mission statement” at YouTube does not reflect the solidly pro-Russian nature of his analysis:

“The current conflict in the Ukraine is largely the fault of the Obama government, greedy idiots within Ukraine, as well as short-sighted policies of EU and Russian government. It benefits the US military-industrial complex and extremists within Ukraine, and hurts the common people in Ukraine, Russia, EU, and US.”

Ukraine’s partisans, probably aided by spinsters in its government, quickly fired back with dirt about General Kolomiets.

Information in your hand! © Kmitu, Dreamstime

Making sense of fringe news

How do we use fringe sources of information? Here are some suggestions before you click on that headline…

  1. Why bother reading it? Life is short. What might you gain from it that will affect your life, especially your responsibilities. If it’s a hobby or entertainment, go for it.
  2. Read both sides! If it’s a hobby, you will find more excitement from the writings of your foes, the unscrupulous villains. Gaining a more balanced view is a side benefit.
  3. Don’t believe anything unless experience has taught you to trust the source, or there is sound evidence, or you have a link (citation, quote, etc) to a source you consider reliable (in a practical sense; only Heaven’s newspaper is “reliable”).
  4. If you care about a story, you should care enough to look for verification. It takes time and practice, but requires no skills beyond those of a typical American teen.

The posts on this website are designed to be read according to these rules.


For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Russia, about Ukraine, and especially these…

Some recent books about Russia…

The Man Without A Face
Available at Amazon.
Putin’s Kleptocracy
Available at Amazon.

9 thoughts on “Finding truth amidst the lies about Russia & the Ukrainian civil war”


  2. This subject is deeply polluted with partisan nonsense, maybe even more than climate change.

    I spent a lot of time covering the Russian presentation of this conflict last summer. (disclaimer- I am unashamedly anti-current-Kiev-government on this subject. Sorry if you don’t like that). Anyway the topic turned out to be quite popular, but after a while it gets old. Couterbalancing one side’s propaganda with the other side’s propaganda is a frustrating task. You’re not going to get any closer to finding a verifiable truth, the best you can do is make it obvious that the truth is being distorted for a purpose, and get some valuable practice seeing patterns in how the propaganda is produced.

    I have 3 observations to offer on this subject:

    1. the language barrier, from the point of view of the reader —
    For example, if you wanted Kolomiets’s bio, you might do a google search for “Александр Коломиец”. My russian sucks. To spell his name I had to look at the caption in the video, then type it into a special website that gives you a russian keyboard. ( If you did all that, perhaps you’d find this article? seems to discuss the matter. I dunno. Like I said my russian is rusty, and google translate stinks, didn’t read the whole thing, but you get the idea.

    2. the language barrier, from the point of view of the writer —
    Since the vast majority of the participants and immediate spectators of this conflict are Russian speakers, the bulk of the material out there is simply not translated. When stuff makes it into the English language part of the internet, it’s because somebody took special effort to present it to us, which in a highly partisan topic like this is itself a warning sign that the presenter may have ulterior motives. I could actually see this happen in real-time as public-relations / propanganda organizations for both sides sprang up and grew, telling their tales with more sophistication, and cranking them out and even having them translated in a systematic manner.

    3. the type of person who takes the time to write about this stuff… basically I found that the “freshest” and most valuable raw information comes from semi-crazy right-wingers, some of who are just plain unpleasant, to be polite. I tried to explore this idea in this post:

    1. Pete,

      Thanks for this useful info! A few small comments.

      “This subject is deeply polluted with partisan nonsense”

      Always true of wars. It’s a Law of Human Nature.

      “Sorry if you don’t like that”

      Can’t speak for other readers, but I have no dog in that fight. Just want USA kept out of it.

      “Couterbalancing one side’s propaganda with the other side’s propaganda is a frustrating task.”

      I doubt it’s even possible, unless you have deep local knowledge.

    2. I think “unashamedly anti-current-Kiev-government” is an excellent term, one that I think I’m going to borrow. Maidan happened for a reason — Yanukovych was a typically slimy Ukrainian oligarch/politician; Ukrainian history hasn’t been spun on the loom of the CIA or “straight talking” Nuland. Maidan over-reached — rather than accept the very solid win of Yanukovych’s early election concession, they had to demand even more. And now — tragically — Kiev has this crowd that seems more obsessed with reviving 1920’s-vintage feuds than anything else. Maybe they should rename the country “Ruthenia”, again. Why not? Makes at least as much sense as throwing the entire Soviet era down the memory hole, as recent laws attempt to do….

      Anyway, for current events in Ukraine there are two English language sources that outshine anything else I’ve seen:

      The Kyiv Post. For years it’s been something like The Economist, Ukraine edition. It’s geared toward business readers. It is militantly anti-Russian, anti-separatist, pro-Kiev — but it wears its slant on its sleeve so openly that it’s pretty easy to get past that. A good source for daily political and economic news.

      Irrussianality — the blog of a Canadian academic, specializing in Russian and Soviet history. Offers a far more measured and knowledgeable perspective on events in Ukraine and Russia than anything I’ve seen coming out of this hemisphere.

      It’s worth remembering that American media’s very bizarre perspective about Russia didn’t begin with Maidan. I don’t pay attention to the Olympics, but I was very puzzled by the coverage of the Sochi event. Construction contracts tainted by cronyism! Insensitivity to LGBT demands! I didn’t hear any of this when China was the venue. I suspect a few palms were greased for stadium construction when Brazil hosted the World Cup. As the (latest) FIFA scandal reminds us, practically **nothing** is as corrupt as big-money sports — so I simply couldn’t understand all the hand-wringing over Sochi.

  3. @peteybee: I looked up your blog post — I liked it! — and I wonder if you could clarify something. When you talk about your “Type 2. ~20% right wing conspiracy theory type”, do you mean right-wingers in the Russian & Ukrainian worlds, or North American (and some Euro) right-wingers? Because I’ve noticed that a lot of the latter really seem to swoon over Putin. Seems to be some

    As for the Ukrainian & Russian right-wingers, I’m guessing that if you brought together some good old boys from the Azov battalion with some good old boys from the Donetsk People’s Republic, and juiced it up with maybe a tanker truckload of vodka, you’d find that tempermentally and even ideologically the two camps are about nine-tenths identical.

    1. @snake pliskin,

      Thanks! When I wrote that I was trying to categorize mostly english-language alt-media and blogs that I had encountered, which at the time meant ones that were into foreign policy basically, and especially the Ukraine topic. When war started in the Donbas, I did start digging into some of the russian-language stuff, only scratched the surface myself — there’s a lot.

      Looking back I’d maybe change what I said a little. For example, I forgot another common themes of that stereotype is the’re anti-immigrant. And there are all these nuances in the US that I can see, like libertarians for example. But I definitely think there is a lot of symmetry in the nationalist variety of right winger around the world.

      As for North Americans swooning over Putin – that’s interesting, isn’t it? I suppose a lot of people go for the tough-guy autocrat. Also deep down, I think everyone knows you can’t have a good action movie without a good villain – meaning evil, genuinely dangerous, a competent trash-talker, and vain enough to stop what he is doing just to taunt his enemies. I don’t know how much of that is accurate but it’s the image that comes out of the media soup, maybe? I wouldn’t want to live in a country run by anyone like him, btw., but he is the natural foil for some of the more over-assertive tendencies in US foreign policy.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: