Mr. Bershidsky is a weasel. I say that because his childish (as usual) actions, such as his refusal to corroborate his accusations, leave me no other choice. Here I am, hoping for a worthy arch-enemy, and that arch-enemy turns out to be a coward, a weasel, a blowhard and a yellow journalist, although calling Bershidsky that is an insult to yellow journalists everywhere. Who am I supposed to compete with now, Maxim Eristavi?
I was banned on Facebook FIVE TIMES (this is for maximum emphasis), so I couldn’t confront Mr. Bershidsky directly (he banned me on Twitter, AGAIN, which is very mature of him, I’m sure), but fellow colleague Kirill Mikhailov (@Mortis_Banned) did, and here’s the result. It’s all in Russian, which experienced Russia- and Ukraine-watchers shouldn’t have a problem with, but I’ll sum it up for you.
- claims a thorough investigation into supposed ‘Poroshenko troll factory’ wouldn’t be interesting for anyone (except, maybe, the ‘Poroshenko troll factory Witnesses’ group you and your colleagues belong to, right, Mr. Bershidsky?);
- the ‘Poroshenko trolls’ in question are apparently anonymous and appear under fake usernames, which is just like Olgino (clearly Mr. Bershidsky never heard of this thing called the Internet, where people use usernames, and not their names, all the time);
- neither he nor his editors at Bloomberg are interested in Ukrainian readers, his op-eds being aimed primarily at Western readers (which suddenly makes the ‘campaign to discredit Ukraine in the West’ argument porokhobots are so fond of sound more credible that it previously did);
- Ambassador Pyatt apparently mentioned these ‘Poroshenko trolls’ back in February (which, as it turned out, Ambassador Pyatt didn’t, he merely cautioned against them, although that didn’t really help);
- Ambassador Pyatt was also apparently unaware that ‘Poroshenko trolls’ exist already (but of course Mr. Bershidsky refuses to prove that, see item 1);
- users with fake usernames who criticize Mr. Bershidsky and other journalists = trolls (see item 2).
Now, this blog got its start because I wanted to fight against the misinformation which is, sadly, all too frequent when it comes to Ukraine, especially where Western journalists and observers are concerned. I was foolish, of course: I wanted my voice to be heard and my questions answered, but for my sins I got spineless wusses instead of journalists and a blog mostly read by Ukrainians (with Americans as close seconds). These are the two reasons The Ukraine Today was mostly on hiatus until recently, with barely one post a month.
Why I’m saying this now is that the truth is there’s no campaign to discredit Ukraine in the Western media. There are, however, Western journalists who either ascribe to a simplistic view of Ukraine, get their information about Ukraine from suspicious sources (usually Ukrainian journalists, who aren’t paragons of virtue by any measure), or are just plain incompetent. In Mr. Bershidsky’s case, it is probably all three. Now, I’m sure these journalists are free to exercise their right to free speech; but that does not mean other people – for example, Ukrainians such as me who read their articles and feel offended by them – aren’t free to exercise that same right to question or criticize these journalists. The latter is usually more widespread, and the criticism isn’t terribly constructive, but it’s the principle of the thing. Instead, however, Mr. Bershidsky and his colleagues do their utmost to quash any discontent, and label everyone with a dissenting opinion a ‘Poroshenko troll’. Just the kind of bravery any professional journalist should exhibit, no doubt.
Case in point is one Oleg Sukhov, ex-Moscow Times journalist who, not five hours after my previous post, published an opinion piece titled Poroshenko’s troll army borrows Kremlin techniques, just like that, on KyivPost’s website. KyivPost’s editors aren’t terribly loyal to the current administration: in fact, they pleaded Western governments to stop foreign aid (but continue giving them grant money) not that long ago, and their boss, Mohammad Zahoor, was implicated in the Panama Papers along with ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko and Pavlo Lazarenko (currently serving time in US prison), but KyivPost somehow failed to report on that.
Personally, as a Ukrainian, I’m ashamed KyivPost brands itself ‘The Global Voice of Ukraine‘, yet simultaneously advocates hanging Ukrainians out to dry by cutting monetary aid. They’re the reason many Ukraine-watchers bought into the ‘unanimously pro-European, reform-minded, corruption-hating Ukrainians’ fallacy, much like they did with the ‘deeply divided Ukraine’ fallacy ten years ago. An article like Sukhov’s piece isn’t too surprising under these circumstances – and it doesn’t pull any punches. Which is precisely why I’m going to call tovarisch Sukhov out on his bullshit.
Instead of providing moral and legal justifications for Poroshenko’s offshore company, his proponents have focused their energy into attacking the investigative journalists.
Gnap and Babinets have been criticized for making the story too emotional by saying that Poroshenko created the company when hundreds of Ukrainian troops were massacred by the Russian army in the city of Ilovaisk in Donetsk Oblast in August 2014.
Nobody has been able to claim, however, that they got any of the facts wrong.
Rothschild Trust had since came out to state conclusively that Hromadske’s journalists did, in fact, get all the facts wrong: there is a blind trust agreement about the Roshen sale. Nowhere does Ilovaysk figure into it, which is how Hromadske botched their investigation: if they focused on the legal aspects of the matter nobody would have said a word, and Sukhov’s claims would have been more valid.
Yet diverting attention from Poroshenko’s arguably unethical and likely illegal behavior to the quality and ethics of journalism is a much bigger manipulation.
The most striking thing is the effectiveness of Poroshenko’s propaganda. All of a sudden, thousands of people who had never given a damn about journalistic standards in their lives simultaneously started caring about them so much that some of them called for lynching and ostracizing the Hromadske journalists on very flimsy grounds.
Obviously it never occurred to tovarisch Sukhov that people may start giving a damn about journalistic standards because they’re sick of journalists lacking in said standards. For all the grant money the West funnels into Ukrainian media the media themselves failed to improve in that regard. I’m not sure as to ‘thousands’ claim, though: most I’ve seen on Twitter were a few dozen vocal porokhobots. Sukhov also resorts to whataboutism, as if the ‘manipulation’ – drawing attention to journalistic standards – somehow excuses Hromadske’s own ‘manipulations’, to the degree that the investigation focused more on Ilovaysk than on the Panama Papers.
Maybe Hromadske shouldn’t have been advertising it as BREAKING NEWS THE CHOCOLATE DICTATOR’S SECRETS EXPOSED!!! in all-caps and then go full damage control after their viewers expressed dissatisfaction with their investigation. I don’t know, really, but it clearly doesn’t occur to tovarisch Sukhov, again.
Earlier this month Poroshenko accused the New York Times of waging a “hybrid war” against Ukraine after the newspaper published an op-ed about the country’s pervasive corruption.
Only he did not: Tikhon Dzyadko, another Russian expat journalist, posted an incomplete quote of Poroshenko’s on his Twitter and was then (Russian) called out on it. Poroshenko’s press office later published his clarification on the matter, which Sukhov chose to ignore.
Bohdan Miroshnikov, a pro-Poroshenko blogger, wrote on Facebook on April 6 that a Dutch referendum on an association deal between Ukraine and the European Union had been lost by Ukraine due to the efforts of “anti-corruption scum who sell their homeland” in a reference to the Hromadske journalists and anti-corruption activists.
He completed his post by urging the nation to unite behind the president.
Miroshnikov’s overtones are almost identical to those of both paid and sincere Putinist trolls who demonize Russia’s opposition and extol their beloved Fuehrer.
Miroshnikov (who DOES NOT hide himself under a false username, despite being displaced from his native Horlivka) is entitled to his opinions: it may be surprising but not all people who claim to stand behind their government are paid trolls, even (surprise!) in Russia. Tovarisch Sukhov may not want to admit that, but many Russians do support President Putin and his policies, and do it sincerely, for one reason or another. Of course, they may be misguided, but they’re entitled to their opinion. Just because Olgino exists doesn’t mean every Russian who supports Putin is a paid troll, however uncomfortable that might be.
The same is true for Ukrainians and one Bohdan Miroshnikov, whom Sukhov chose for some unfathomable reason, unlike the porokhobot warchiefs Bohdan Karpenko or Kamenyar (Ihor Ronovych). Gee, I wonder why! I’m speaking in Miroshnikov’s defence right now because while he’s been outspoken, he is routinely harassed on Twitter by a group of infantile users with anti-Poroshenko opinions, including abuse, threats and revealing personal info. These users apparently do not care that this may put Miroshnikov’s relatives, still in DNR-occupied Horlivka, in jeopardy; and now Sukhov paints him like some sort of internet troll mastermind.
Speaking of which…
Though Poroshenko’s fans have dominated the agenda online, the offline situation seems to be different, with the president’s approval ratings plummeting to all-time lows.
How familiar are you with Twitter, tovarisch Sukhov? Because I can certify that Ukrainian Twitter community is overwhelmingly anti-Poroshenko, and so is Facebook. People who voice their support for the government get called ‘porokhobots’, same as you just did, get harassed, belittled and threatened. Of course, the Internet always brings out the extreme in opinions: but here’s you blatantly twisting the facts. There’s, at best, a few dozen pro-Poroshenko bloggers, but many more are anti-Poroshenko, for one reason or another. To prove their superiority they routinely engage in childish behavior, claiming opinion pieces such as yours as their justification. Then they use that justification to harass dissenting users such as Bohdan Miroshnikov, whom you so unfairly mentioned. I assume you approve of this behavior, tovarisch Sukhov. Am I correct?
On the other side are reformers and revolutionaries who were behind the 2013-2014 EuroMaidan Revolution and are trying to bring its ideals to life. They have a highly critical and cautious attitude towards any government and seek to control its every step. These people seek a true, fundamental revolution that will transform Ukraine from a third-world flawed democracy into a genuinely European nation with the rule of law and free markets.
You know, I’m at a loss of words here, because I spoke about these issues on more than a few occasions. Since nothing I’m going to say is going to convince tovarisch Sukhov otherwise, what’s the point?
However, it’s a clear example of overly simplistic thinking. Just as Ukrainians are fond of idolizing role models, just to discard them when they don’t meet their expectations, so, it seems, do the many ostensibly professional journalists. They’ve fashioned an idealized image of the ‘reformers and revolutionaries’ for themselves, forgetting that these same reformers were none the better before Euromaidan – which mostly had nothing to do with them. We have praise heaped onto ‘independent journalists’ who take money from oligarchs, ‘corruption fighters’ who had no qualms working for the corrupt establishment, and loudmouthed populists with little to prove. We have destructive criticism praised, when constructive criticism is shunned. We have calls for a ‘fundamental revolution’ two years after the revolution ended, not understanding that there is time for revolution, but there is time for evolution, too. And a country barely back on its feet cannot allow itself the luxury of having another revolution.
I’m sure revolutions are fun, tovarisch Sukhov, and that you would thrive in whatever Ukraine that comes afterwards. Only I’m not certain there’ll even be a Ukraine.
But I’m going too far, am I?
Sukhov’s article pushes all the buttons Ukraine-watchers want, for all the wrong reasons. What it doesn’t do, however, is get any of the facts right.
Or prove them, for that matter.
P.S. Oleg Sukhov defends himself (in Russian) and gets called out, again.
I bet he really doesn’t understand why.
P.P.S. I’m not a believer in a strong, authoritarian government. In fact, we had a ‘strong, authoritarian’ government a short while ago and look how much good it did us.
A presidential republic, on the other hand…