False News

I’m guessing that national newspapers have largely given up fact-checking their authors. It’s time consuming and costly, and it’s a competitive business and profit margins are slim. Who needs it? And so, our newspapers happily churn out story after story alleging Russian misinformation while themselves publishing blatant misinformation about the Russian Federation, its leaders, and its policies.

Take Canada’s own beloved National Post, excerpts from which are syndicated in local newspapers across the country, including our capital city’s Ottawa Citizen. The Post likes to publish the works of one Diane Francis, an American-born Canadian journalist whose political leanings can be surmised from the fact that she is said to be a ‘non-resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC.’ No doubt she’s done some great work through the years, to justify her many awards. But when it comes to Russia she has some serious problems getting her facts right.

This is clear from her latest gem, which appeared today with the headline ‘Putin is playing chess with the West – and he’s winning.’ Francis begins:

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been very, very busy lately playing geopolitical chess, as America plays checkers.

Talk about cliché! Putin plays chess while we play checkers – how many times have I heard that one?! But I’m not interested in Francis’s lack of stylistic originality, so much as her tenuous grasp of reality. For this is what she has to say:

As the US election campaign dominated the headlines all summer and fall, millions more people were placed under the boot of Russia in Belarus and Nagorno-Karabakh … [In Belarus] Now Moscow controls its economy, media and police forces … [In Nagorno-Karabakh] Russian troops are nothing more than an occupying force executing a de facto takeover of territory.

Where does Francis get this stuff?? I’m damned if I know. How precisely does Russia now control the Belarusian economy?? Has Moscow bought out the Minsk Tractor Factory, the Belaruskali potash company, Belavia airlines, or anything else? If so, Diane Francis is apparently the only person in the world to know about it.

What about the other claims? Does Moscow now control the Belarusian media? A few weeks ago there was an allegation that after several hundred Belarusian TV workers walked off the job, a similar number of Russians were flown in to replace them. No solid evidence to back the allegation has ever been provided, and it seems somewhat improbable that Russian state TV has that many spare people lying around. As for Moscow controlling the Belarusian police, again that appears to be something entirely in Diane Francis’s imagination. Back in August, Russian president Vladimir Putin said that he could send police to Belarus if they were needed, but nothing ever came of it. The Belarusian police seem to be managing perfectly well on their own (as far as the authorities are concerned) and remain decidedly under the control of their own president, Alexander Lukashenko.

Which leaves us Nagorno-Karabakh. Russian peacekeepers there are ‘an occupying force executing a de facto takeover of territory’, Francis tells us, bringing ‘millions more under the boot of Russia’. I’m kind of wondering whose territory it is that she thinks Russia has taken over – Azerbaijan’s or Armenia’s?? I also wonder how she thinks that 1,960 soldiers, with no civilian administrators, can control a territory the size of Nagorno-Karabakh. The fact that they are there as a means of bringing peace to the region and preventing the inevitable bloodshed which would have resulted if the war had continued, passes Ms Francis by. So too does the fact that both the parties to the conflict – Azerbaijan and Armenia – consent to the Russians’ presence.

If that was all that this article got wrong, it would be bad enough, but sadly it isn’t. For Ms Francis tells us that,

Putin also expanded his presence in Syria, Libya and the Arctic, and will certainly do so in Afghanistan if Trump pulls American troops out.

I have to say that I’m not aware of a recent expansion of the Russian presence in Syria (the Arctic in question is in any case part of Russia – and as for Libya, it depends on whether you count the mercenaries of the Wagner Company). In reality, the Russian military footprint in Syria isn’t notably larger than it has been at any other point in the last five years. As for Russian troops storming into Afghanistan if the Americans leave, all I can say is that nothing is impossible but to say that this will ‘certainly’ happen is bizarre to say the least. One imagines that Russians have little appetite for a second Afghan war. Meanwhile, the Russian government has repeatedly made it clear that it would prefer if the Americans stayed in Afghanistan.

And then finally, Ms Francis comes out with this whopper of a falsehood. telling us that Russia’s ‘takeover’ of Nagorno-Karabakh

is similar to what the Kremlin did in Ukraine in 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea and killed tens of thousands of people.

Whoa, Whoa. Stop for a moment. Russia ‘killed tens of thousands of people’ in Crimea’??? Since when? The last time I looked into this, the death toll in the Russian annexation of Crimea was one person, not tens of thousands. But what’s the difference when there’s propaganda to be spread?

Methinks that Ms Francis is probably confusing the takeover of Crimea with the war in Donbass, but even if you accept that explanation for her curious statement, it is still far from the truth. So far about 13,000 people have been killed in Donbass. That’s bad, but it’s not ‘tens of thousands’. Ukrainian military deaths amount to 4,500. Rebel military deaths are somewhere in the same region, though possibly a bit higher. Of the 13,000 dead, it’s also reckoned that maybe around 3,500 are civilians, the vast mass of whom were on the rebel side of the frontline and so the victims of Ukrainian, not rebel or Russian, shelling. In other words, most of those killed in the war have been killed by the Ukrainian army. ‘Russia’ is not free of guilt, but ‘killed tens of thousands of people’ it most certainly has not.

Nor is Russia responsible, as Ms Francis claims late in her article, for the fact that ‘This fall, Ukraine’s anticorruption efforts came to a sudden halt’. Francis claims that this was ‘due to attacks by Russian-backed media outlets, politicians and oligarchs, as well as Russian-influenced judges.’ That would be Ukraine’s Constitutional Court. Where is the evidence that its judges are in the pay of the Kremlin?? Once again, I’m damned if I know. Ms Francis certainly isn’t telling.

Discussing such falsehoods before, I’ve noted that even though it’s one article it’s still worth pointing out its errors. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people read this junk. They take its claims as truth. But they’re not; they’re false, pure and simple. Publishing this stuff, without any effort to check its facts, is highly irresponsible, fanning fears and hatreds, and contributing to a worsening of international relations. Although it almost certainly won’t, the National Post, and other outlets like it, should consider this long and hard.

‘In recent weeks, Russia has stepped up its military and propaganda campaign around the world,’ Ms Francis tells us, warning also of the dangers of ‘Russian disinformation campaigns’. It strikes me that if she’s after propaganda and disinformation, she should start by looking a little closer to home.

38 thoughts on “False News”

  1. I had read enough about Ms. Francis during my 35 year stay in BC to not take this woman and her writings too seriously.
    But then I am not of any conservative political leanings and the “Atlantic Council” is nothing but an anti Russian, anti Chinese, anti South American socialist (or even pretend) Governments tool of American policies that has strong influences on EU politics.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. PS – the Atlantic Council policies can be summed up easily: Any Nation that attempts to further or defend its own interests is an enemy when those interest impinge on or are in conflict with the interests of the US empire.
    “Multilateralism” is a swearword that obviously should be banned because it just obfuscates the injustices of any Nation having interests that are not supportive of US power projection and the economic interests of US financial and industrial companies.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. With the election of Biden, we are returning to the Obama years when the of the media was full of stories like the one described above

    This is just the latest episode in the demonisation of Russia and Putin.

    For the past four years Trump has filled the media space, even America’s traditional allies were focussed more on Trump

    Now It will be back to business as usual with Russia and President Putin returning to the stage as the enemy to focus on.

    They have got to sell those wars to the public.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Obama in retrospect wasn’t so bad. He called out Jeffrey Goldberg, when noting that the claim of Syrian government use of chemical weapons wasn’t a slam dunk. Obama also articulated why the US shouldn’t arm the Kiev regime.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What you lambasting so thorougly are just small potaties, Professor. Did you ses this insanity?

    US Messaging to Russian Citizens: Time to Step It Up?



    “As it readies its policy toward Russia, the incoming Joseph Biden administration will need to decide whether to let Vladimir Putin’s government be its sole interlocutor in Russia, or if it will regularly go beyond the Kremlin to communicate directly to the Russian population…

    Of course, two US government-financed broadcasting networks—Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America—have been speaking to Russian citizens for decades. They have never shied away from talking about internal conditions in Russia or the costs of its foreign adventures. Under the law, however, the broadcasters enjoy editorial independence. They cannot be harnessed to convey specific messages or told to turn up or reduce the heat on an adversary. If the new administration wants to communicate to Russians in a way that is precisely calibrated with its policy goals, it will need to develop its own messaging tools and doctrine.

    [The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG),[1] is an independent agency of the United States government which operates various state-run media outlets.[2] It describes its mission, “vital to US national interests”, to “inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy”[3] and in accordance with the “broad foreign policy objectives of the United States”.[4] USAGM supervises Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio y Televisión Martí, Radio Free Asia, and Alhurra.[5]]


    “Many US officials and analysts are wary of anything that looks like a US government “propaganda offensive” to Russia. They ask what such messages would even look like. If they bore the brands of US government agencies, they say, Russians would view them with contempt. If they were unattributed — not revealing where they came from — their source would likely be exposed anyhow. Then the US would be accused of descending to the same level as Russian covert information operators. (The nature of the August text messages suggested they came from US authorities, but they were not signed.)

    Others, however, believe stepped-up communication to Russians is not only reasonable but essential. Dmitri Teperik of Estonia’s International Center for Defense and Security calls for a “ruthless projection of truth” to Putin’s people (Icds.ee, June 8, 2020). Such an effort might even add stability to the US-Russian relationship by establishing a balance of information power. Especially with a new administration that is highly aware of Russian operations, the United States cannot indefinitely tolerate Russia assaulting the US information space with impunity. Unless Washington develops a concept and capability for response, US frustration over Russian provocations could boil over into an overreaction that could escalate beyond the information realm.”


    “If the goal is more incremental change in Russia, increased communication from the United States and its allies could play a role. A growing number of Russians already see the West as a potential friend or partner, and are unenthusiastic about seizing other countries’ territory (Levada, May 6, 2019 and February 28, 2020; Thechicagocouncil.org, April 3, 2019). “I wonder how many Russians, as opposed to what the Kremlin wants, want to actually be a normal European country in the international community,” asks Pomerantsev. “Can we start […] a broader dialogue with the Russian population about how they see Russia’s role in the world? Is it the same as the role the Kremlin has given them, which is these rogue pariahs?” (see Jamestown.org, October 23, 2020). US messaging might also be designed to aid and amplify Russia’s own liberal-minded independent journalists, social influencers and civil society. They have been courageous advocates for basic freedoms at home and constructive policies abroad.

    Since much of Putin’s legitimacy rests on his being a bulwark against the West, US messaging should seek to improve Russians’ view of the United States. The goal would not be to whitewash the US’s failings, but to recognize its successes and demonstrate that few Americans have any interest in invading or humiliating Russia. The most effective communications will probably not consist of quoting US officials. More convincing voices might be those of US celebrities known in Russia, and recent Russian emigrants who have forged rewarding lives in the United States. However, Biden himself should consider an early address to the Russian people. It can be on YouTube if Putin will not grant him the appearances on Russian television that the Soviet Union allowed Ronald Reagan in 1986 and Margaret Thatcher in 1987 (Margaretthatcher.org, March 31, 1987; Reaganlibrary.gov, January 1, 1986). Such a speech would demonstrate to Russians that Biden sees them not just as disciples of their president, but as a people with their own dignity and agency”


    “Many of the tactics above can be implemented by a wide variety of actors. A growing number of non-governmental pro-democracy groups have appeared in recent years that have broad experience with social network campaigns and websites. Several are located in former Soviet-bloc countries, meaning they can work easily in Russian. Small amounts of US support could encourage them to engage Russian citizens, each group using themes it develops on its own.

    Policy papers often imagine the United States “working closely with allies” on information strategies against Russia. Such cooperation may well founder on those governments’ reluctance to stand up to the Kremlin—for reasons of domestic politics, fear of Russian retaliation or an aversion to “doing propaganda.” Non-governmental activists have fewer such concerns. They also tend to be more creative and nimble than government departments.”

    – Thomas Kent, a former president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, teaches about disinformation and Russian affairs at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute.


    Liked by 1 person

      1. “America’s surrender to nefarious strongmen like Vladimir Putin”…Sheesh, that sounds so sexy.
        Did Vlad penetrate or was satisfied wit some foreplay?

        The author is right of course – until the Azeri partially successful attempt to reclaim the territories they had lost nothing much happened.
        Sometimes issues have to be forced to be resolved.

        “The agreement allows Russia to consolidate its power in the near abroad, the former territories of the Soviet Union. ”

        What is he talking about? Support in Belarus? The return of Crimea to which after the dissolution of the USSR the Ukraine had no right to keep as it was a present to a member of the USSR which obviously Ukraine seized to be in the 90’s? Just the drunkard Yeltsin – or was it Gorby? – never clued in they should take it back at the time.
        The simmering conflict in the Donbass which Russia really doesn’t what to incorporate? Why get settled with Ukranian problems. If Russia really had wanted – how long would it have taken to incorporate Donbass? The Georgian “affair” when the now stateless ex prime minister or whatever his title was gave the order to invade Ossetia? Attempts to invade the Baltic statelets? …one wonders…


    1. Lytt,

      Thomas Kent, Striking Back: Overt and Covert Options to Combat Russian Disinformation, Jamestown 2002

      You should take a look at that. Amazon allows you to take quite a look inside. About the amount I would get if I ordered a Reader preview I guess.

      To be fair both TTG and Pat Lang admitted freely: Of course we interfere/d in other countries. …

      Me: I was skeptical but. Russia vs Clinton/Obamagate? My favorite theory was quite early none of those two.

      But the lady is a very special example of the human species too. ‘Anti-stupidity’ as she proudly declares on her twitter site.


  5. On that last point in your post: the Ukrainian Constitutional Court deemed that these “anti-corruption” NGO’s are illegal, under Ukrainian constitutional law. Cynics might say that the Ukrainian oligarchs want a freer hand, and they would probably be correct. But another point of view is that these NGO’s have been an extra-legal instrument whereby unelected entities and foreign governments have been able to rule the Ukraine by proxy!

    For the rest of it: Diane Francis is simply Jan Brady:
    “Marcia! Marcia! Marcia! Russia! Russia! Russia!”


  6. “ Where does Francis get this stuff??”

    The same place the Anglosphere has been pulling its Russophobic 🐄💩 since forever. They make it up as they go along. And there’s nothing new about this, Paul.

    For instance, in the immediate aftermath of WWII, Stalin believed that the main future threat to the USSR would yet again come from Germany in 15-20 years.

    In order to deal with this threat, Stalin wanted to preserve the alliance relationship he had forged with the United States.

    Click to access 1987-800-05-McGwire.pdf

    So, where did the Anglosphere governments get the idea that Stalin wanted to conquer the world to spread communism?

    They made it up as they went along. Projection, mostly.


    1. For instance, in the immediate aftermath of WWII, Stalin believed that the main future threat to the USSR would yet again come from Germany in 15-20 years.

      In order to deal with this threat, Stalin wanted to preserve the alliance relationship he had forged with the United States.

      There’s a story where Stalin wanted a united, independent Germany that remained friendly to the Soviet Union, but the Allies did not want any of that, so their respective occupation zones became West Germany and the Soviet occupation zone became East Germany. Stalin was also said to have opposed the Morgenthau Plan.


      1. Can’t say I can, sorry; it’s the only page I’ve got so far. Just sharing something I came across and wondered what others would think of it.


      2. joey_n
        November 20, 2020 at 9:10 pm
        Also, ‘moon’, is there a problem with The Saker?

        None, if there are, they are mine and mine alone. I was in blabbering mode, sometimes I am.


    2. AFAIR Stalin in opposition to Trotsky was against promoting a “world revolution” led by Russia. Stalins thesis was “socialism in one country”.

      So in view of this the threat of a Russian bearhug was simply propaganda, the same propaganda that despite all the evidence accuses Putin of trying to reconquer the former member republics of the USSR while the west under leadership of the USA built somewhere close to 1000 military basis and invades and threatens on a continuous basis other nations that do not want to acknowledge the leadership und submit to the dictates of the USA.


      1. Correct. The last thing Stalin ever wanted to see in his lifetime was another socialist government in the world. After the war he had no choice except to allow a few to be set up in the perimeter, but always insisted the leaders had to kowtow to him and follow his every command. Some, like Tito, were not so keen on that idea.

        Stalin was so timid in this regard; and Putin likewise. Any Westie who believes either wanted to conquer the world, is simply projecting their own hegemonistic fantasies upon others.


      2. “The last thing Stalin ever wanted to see in his lifetime was another socialist government in the world.”

        That’s why by the end of his lifetime there were plenty of other socialist governments on the face of the planet Earth, who came into being in many ways thanks to the USSR’s government. Or was yet another of trademark explanation “не благодаря, а вопреки”?

        “After the war he had no choice except to allow a few to be set up in the perimeter, but always insisted the leaders had to kowtow to him and follow his every command”

        [Citation needed]

        Actually, as modern historical science and reserch make it abundantly clear, it was not the case. E.g., contrary to the Western claim, the USSR did not endorse North Koreas attempts to reunify the peninsula in 1950.


    3. I reply here as it is not possible to reply directly to the “well informed” joey_n.

      Stalin in 1952 submitted a proposal:

      “On March 10, 1952, the Soviet deputy foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, sent to the delegates of the three Western occupying powers of Germany diplomatic correspondence which included
      a draft peace treaty for Germany.’ The provisions outlined in this Soviet
      diplomatic note were sweeping. According to the Soviet note, Germany would be reunified, thus ending its aberrant division, and given an opportunity to establish itself as an independent, democratic, peace-loving state. In addition, all democratic parties and organizations in Germany would have free activity, including the right to assembly, free speech, and publication. The Soviet note also provided civil and political rights for all German citizens; this included all former members of the German Wehrmacht, and all former Nazis, excluding those serving court
      sentences for crimes against humanity.”

      Click to access 1999_James%20Cartnal-ilovepdf-compressed.pdf

      There is some discussion how seriously this note was meant. But the proposal never the less was made.


      1. Sorry, the reply was to moon’s post: “Oh, well The Saker. Would you help me over the first couple of sentences via non-gray-area historical facts?

        Nomen est Omen?”


      2. Peter,
        There is some discussion how seriously this note was meant. But the proposal never the less was made.

        The Soviet note also provided civil and political rights for all German citizens; this included all former members of the German Wehrmacht, and all former Nazis, excluding those serving court

        not sure, what you want to hear. Took me quite long to understand how complex that was on the ground in the biographies, Would I have accepted Nazi and/or Wehrmacht crimes more easily had I lived in a neutral united Germany? I find that hard to imagine. Maybe it wouldn’t have changed a thing. The perpetrators, the ‘willing helpers’ would still have been all around. I am not a fan of Goldhagen, more with Birn, but there is truth in the coinage. Schreibtischtäter?

        Those serving in courts, would have made a lot of sense. Adenauer decided to integrate the former Nazi elites not only the judges and rearm. Seemed to take ages till that field could be or was addressed in research. Ok,except for efforts by the SDS.

        But: Is the sneak, the Blockward, the informer less guilty than the judge? You tell me.


  7. Tito also had designs on Greece, which Stalin opposed. He’d agreed that Greece was a British sphere of influence.

    Of course, that didn’t stop the Brits demonizing him, like they’ve demonized pretty much every Russian leader since Waterloo.


    1. Gleason’s basic account:

      In a mystical ceremony shortly after Waterloo, involving the Lady of the Lake, arm clothed in the finest shimmering Samite & holding aloft Excalibur, all the enmity built up from five centuries of wars with France got transferred to Russia.

      Ok, so I took a little artistic liberty with that, but basically, after the Napoleonic Wars, Brits decided to despise Russia, not due to any Russian foreign policy act or conflicting interest, but because of what Russia was.


      1. Ooooh! Here’s the one Amazon review!

        No actual conflict of interest? Check.

        Journalistic demagogues making things up? Check.

        Whiny butthurt Poles making things up? Check.

        Ignorant populations & policy makers influenced by above? Check.

        Plus ca change…

        “ This is a recent (2013) reprint, beautifully accomplished, of a classic book from the fifties written by a Harvard professor. The question that he poses at the start of the book, whose appearance roughly coincided with the start of the original cold war was as follows. Britain thrice in her history owed her victory in major wars (read: national survival in three world wars, starting with the Napoleonic one) to the military union with Russia. Whence, then, the rabid Russophobia that characterised British public discourse after WWII? He debunks the notion that the British Russophobia originates in the inter-imperial rivalry (there was no severe clash of imperial interests, the “Great Game” legend notwithstanding). According to Professor Gleason, a good part of it was due to internal ideological and political polemics, fueled both by journalistic demagogues and representatives of some limitrophe states such as Poland. It is fascinating to compare the anti-Russian political and media campaign of that time with what goes on right now in the US, for example. As today the Democrats are more rabid than Republicans in dishing out the Russophobic invective, then the Whigs were the party that was running amok. Professor Gleason explores the relations between the opinion-makers and policy-makers, with a particular focus on Urquhart and Palmerston. Be warned, however. The author writes in beautiful English, not jargon-laden at all. He also assumes that the reader has a decent knowledge of the international politics of the first part of the nineteenth century. For those whose primary intellectual fare is twitter posts, the book may be somewhat hard going.”


      2. The strongest land power in Europe with potential for greater prowess.

        Brits had concern (some of it paranoid) paranoia about Russia advancing in India and the Far east.


  8. There were 6 deaths during the Crimean crisis/standoff. Three civilian protesters (two pro-Russian, one pro-Ukrainian), one Crimean self-defense guy and two Ukrainian servicemen.

    The first Ukrainian serviceman was shot by an unknown sniper in Simferopol, who apparently also fired upon a group of Crimean militiamen nearby, killing one and wounding another.

    The second Ukrainian military casualty was a drunk sergeant who stormed through a Russian checkpoint in Novofedorovka in the wee hours. The Russian soldier who shot him was later sentenced by a Russian military court in Rostov for manslaughter, and served two years in prison. A fact that at least I find curious.

    Don’t know what this woman is on about. Around 10,000 Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea defected to Russia, including the UA Navy chief himself, rear admiral Berezovsky. Maybe that’s where the number comes from?

    About 10,000 have died altogether in the later Donbass conflict, over 6 years. But that kicked off when Crimea was already a done deal. Furthermore, the vast majority of civilian deaths in the Donbass have been due to Ukrainian shelling of residential areas. Militarily it’s probably 50/50 or some such.

    Russias direct involvement in the latter has been spotty, with only a few incursions and cross-border shelling to save the insurgency from being routed, especially in August 2014 and January-February 2015. Those were the only significant clashes, with nearly 1000 dead all in all (all sides). Very little direct Russian involement apart from that, and Russia evidently didn’t have much of a plan there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I must add that when I say “Crimean self-defense” I do mean the local militias. Russian troops were all around as well, and lots of obfuscation was going on, but yeah. Big part of the ongoing obfuscation is denying that locals staged a whole lot of actions.


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