British Embassy in Ukraine has decided to help the Kremlin spot its tanks seen in Ukraine

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British Embassy in Ukraine has decided to help the Kremlin spot its tanks that were seen in Ukraine, the presence of which Russians continue to deny.

As reported by Censor.NET citing Ukrainska Pravda, this was announced in the Embassy’s Twitter.
In particular, the British Embassy posted markings of a T-72BM tank, which is not used by Ukrainian army.

In addition, the Embassy published images of the same tanks in eastern Ukraine, along with dates the pictures where taken.

As reported earlier, NATO and the EU have repeatedly said about presence of Russian troops and military equipment on the territory of Ukraine.

In particular, the European Council officially recognized the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine and urged Moscow to withdraw them from the territory of Ukraine.

On the Frontline of the Information War: An Interview with Liz Wahl

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April 28, 2015 Washington, DC

Liz Wahl, who pronounces “köszönöm szépen” without an accent, is the first but not last Western journalist to resign from Russian funded RT due to the channel’s obvious disregard for journalistic ethics. She talked about the politics of deception, corruption, conspiracy theories, the troll war and how her anti-communist Hungarian heritage has informed her decision to quit being a cogwheel in the anti-Western propaganda machine of Russia Today.

PaprikaPolitik: You have a Hungarian-American father and you were born in a military base in the Philippines. How much influence did Hungarian culture have on you as you were growing up?

Liz Wahl: Both of my grandparents on my father’s side emigrated to the U.S. during the [1956 Hungarian] revolution so I was exposed to Hungarian culture thanks to them. Both of my grandparents spoke Hungarian, my grandmother made goulash and chicken paprikash all the time. They were also involved in the Hungarian community in Connecticut, so it was very much a part of my cultural upbringing.

PP: When you quit on-air at Russia Today last year, you specifically mentioned your Hungarian heritage. How did it factor into your decision that your grandparents fled communist Hungary in 1956?

LW: That week when the protests were really heating up in Ukraine, it was right around the ouster of Yanukovich, the station was really used as a propaganda tool in the conflict, and that really opened my eyes. By then, I would do a lot of my own research [on the events in Ukraine] and not just the articles and point of views that were given to me that they tried to push me to express as an anchor. The more I researched what was going on, the more I realized that the station was part of this larger organization to deceive, manipulate, exploit and create an alternate reality of the situation in Ukraine. And that didn’t make me feel good about myself, and my role in it, even if it was a small role that I played in all this. When I felt ethically conflicted, I started to really think, well, who am I? What do I stand for? I thought about my family, how they got here to the United States, their struggles and everything they had to overcome to get to where they are, the life they had built in the United States, which eventually allowed me to have the life that I had. And I felt that with Ukraine we were reverting back to something that was reminiscent of that which made my grandparents flee in the first place.

PP: Who approached you from RT originally when you took the job back in the day? What did they pitch to you?

LW: When they had contacted me [in 2011], I was overseas, reporting for a local station in a little island that was part of the Mariana archipelago and I was a regional correspondent for Guam. I was there for about two years and right around the time when I was ready to get back to the US mainland in 2011, RT had just e-mailed me out of the blue. The woman that had contacted me from RT – who didn’t use the word Russia actually– said that, they are an international broadcast news station, that focuses on stories that the “mainstream media” ignores, that they try to do hard-hitting stories, and don’t do the fluffy stuff, and that this is an opportunity to do serious journalism that shows a perspective that is ignored in the US. And so of course I was interested, it was international, it was in Washington DC, and I said well, these are the types of stories that I would like to cover, so it certainly sounded like a great opportunity. After I looked into it, of course I saw the Russian connection, and so in the subsequent interviews, I asked about that, because Russia didn’t exactly have the best track record for freedom of speech. So I asked how much this is going to play into the editorial slant and they laughed at it and said, this is exactly what they are trying to counter, this whole anti-Russian perspective, but that it is not what it’s about, and I will be focusing on US domestic issues for the most part. So I had some misgivings, but they said “this is us trying to be more fair in media.” I saw that there were Western anchors and some of the stories were actually good. And at that time, although I had misgivings, Russia was not in the news so much, nobody was talking about Russia on a large-scale level.

PP: Freedom House’s poor media freedom rankings for Russia and the disappearing of journalists was certainly not in the mainstream news. It was the time of the US-Russia reset and what you had in the air was this cozying up to the Russian government…

LW: Yes, it was a time when politically at least there was this hope that you can have a reset of relations. And perhaps naively I thought that maybe all that is more the past and you can’t live in the past forever and that this international news station with another perspective would be part of this effort. And the way they pitched the job to Americans certainly sounded good, so I took the job. Back then the climate around Russia was nowhere near where it is today.

PP: How big was the staff at RT and what was the environment like? How much editorial leeway did you have?

LW: I would say there were about 70-80 employees at the bureau in Washington DC – mostly Americans. But the people running it are Russian. It’s interesting because you didn’t get this strict editorial directive; you kind of had to figure out yourself how to make your Russian bosses happy. For example, when I started my job, it was the first week of the Occupy Wall Street movement and we became obsessed with covering this story. Even when it wasn’t really a story anymore, it was our top story and we put a correspondent on the West Coast on it, we put one here in DC, one in New York, and we went really heavy on this story.

PP: Did the editors tell you why it was so important to cover this particular story?

LW: The reason, they said, was that the “mainstream media” was ignoring it, and we are covering it because there are important viewpoints that are being expressed [by the protesters]. But after a while, when we really went heavy on it for months, then I started to ask myself: OK, so why are we so obsessed with this story? And then everything started to fit into place in terms of why we were doing it. Because it made the US look really bad: look at democracy failing us, look at the people that are rising up in the streets, almost comparing it to the protests in Russia, and they of course didn’t want to pay attention to those, but instead focus on the hypocrisy within our Western governments and within the US. And we put up pictures of people pitched in tents and police being heavy-handed, and it all gave the impression of a….

PP: …declining and corrupt West.

LW: Exactly, but there was no context there. We had to really show every weakness and blow it up and make it all seem as evil and corrupt. And so I realized that if you wanted to be successful, your stories had to fit in line with this narrative of the US system being in shambles. So the general agenda was just to make the US and the West look bad in any way possible, and the better you fulfilled that editorial mission, the more you fell in favor with the Russian bosses. If you pitched something that was not along those lines, it just wouldn’t see the light of day and it just would not work.

PP: Did you do any stories that never made it on air because it didn’t make the US look bad enough from the Russian perspective?

LW: Yes, and there certainly is this anti-American sentiment that you need to adopt in order to thrive there, which I guess I never really acquired. There was one interview that I did when the French had invaded Mali to stop the terrorists that were gaining ground there. So the [news director] said: find somebody on the ground in Mali that can talk about what it’s like to have NATO intervening and get a first hand account. And so I did a pre-taped interview with this very well spoken gentleman, and my colleagues thought it was a great interview because he really explained what it was like to live under the threat of Sharia law. But basically what he had said was that the French forces were seen there as heroic and people were waiving French flags, and that the intervention was welcome and he would have wanted for NATO to do more. And after this I was called into my bosses’ office and he said “That was a weak interview. We’re not showing it.” That was one thing that really really got to me because it was clear why: it didn’t make the West look bad enough. It made NATO seem like they were actually a positive force. That was not the narrative that they wanted me to deliver. Despite getting this really compelling story from somebody on the ground there who knew what it was like being faced with the horror of terrorist networks – it never saw the light of day. So there you go. If you don’t guess right, and if you don’t ask the questions that fall in line, it gets censored and you are not going to be looked upon favorably by the Russian bosses. And that really bothered me.

PP: When you actually watch RT, it looks like CNN, it talks like CNN, it almost could be CNN, or any one of the major American cable news networks…

LW: That’s exactly the impression they wanted to give. And that’s why although originally they called the station Russia Today, they dropped “Russia” and started to just call it RT because they really wanted to create this sort of separation and give the impression that they’re not really affiliated with Russia. So they get Western presenters to provide this visual of RT being “just another alternative” to your CNN or Fox News or MSNBC. They take a page out of the playbook of the Western media outlets and they try to make RT look like them. And this is why it’s problematic, because at the same time, for example, when you get to a story that is about Russia or one of its allies, as a journalist you need to get this snippet of information in the story here, or a twist in a story there or just ignore certain things, so it can become really far from the truth. And especially when it came to Ukraine, it got so far from the truth that it became a lie.

PP: It seems like RT is just trying to provide “another viewpoint of the truth”, but at the same time you get this feeling that maybe truth doesn’t exist at all. The impression you are ultimately left with is that everything is a matter of interpretation and that has a very important moral message.

LW: Yes, RT’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, has actually said that everything is a matter of perspective and there is no objective truth. And in a way, that sounds very “enlightened.” But when it comes to news and journalism, what are the implications of there being no truth and everything being up to interpretation? That gets very manipulative. What the Russian media does is they take advantage of the approach of Western journalism that aims to be fair by showing both sides of the story. They manipulate that. If you have a journalist that is legitimately trying to report on the truth and another entity that just wants to obscure it, instead of being closer to a greater truth, you end up with a lie. It’s just chaotic.

PP: Peter Pomerantsev, a British journalist who testified together with you at the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s hearing two weeks ago, said in his testimony that unlike their Soviet predecessors, Putin’s regime will “work with anyone as long as its agenda helps creates instability. Its aim is not to persuade anyone Russia is ‘right’. Their aim is to disorganize and demoralize the West.” Do you agree with this?

LW: Absolutely and it can be a far left party, it can be a far right party … Russia finds strange bedfellows and provides anybody a platform who would go out and criticize the West. And oftentimes these are the people who don’t get a platform for a reason, because some of them are just simply crazy. But then thanks to RT, they get an audience, what’s more, a receptive audience, when otherwise they wouldn’t even be heard. And I will give you the example of the Malaysian Airlines incident. The Russians very quickly put out a story that it was the Ukrainians who shot down the airplane because they [the Ukrainians] thought that Russian President Vladimir Putin was flying in it. And then there was another conspiracy that it was actually the first missing Malaysian plane already carrying dead bodies. No basis in facts. But it didn’t matter. And it’s not like they were trying to convince anybody, but they just wanted to pollute the conversation and the dialogue, so any constructive conversation that you are trying to have, gets lost. What they’re really trying to make use of is to be the first in putting out an explanation and since first impressions count, it will stick. And if they plant these seeds of doubt, it becomes indirectly part of the conversation even if it’s complete nonsense to begin with. In the end it creates this chaos, and it corrupts the idea of journalism and fact-finding so that we can’t really move on as a society because it creates just more of a divide.

PP: How about your former colleagues, how come they don’t recognize this?

LW: There are some people that truly believe in all this, because they have become so immersed in this thinking that the West is this evil hegemonic power that they think they are actually doing a service. But I think that they are really brainwashed by that ideology and believe in it and they convince themselves and others that they are providing others a great service. That’s a minority, actually. Others feel sometimes uneasy about it, especially over Ukraine, but people stay in jobs, because they convince themselves that it will just pass and they will get to report on another story and that will make them feel better for a little while. And some people just don’t care. If you tow the line and you are willing to really push this anti-Western line, you will get rewarded and you get your own show and a raise of tens of thousands of dollars. The more you break the journalistic rules, the farther you get. I think they will have a harder and harder time getting Western journalists to join them, but there is always going to be people who buy into their conspiracy theories.

PP: Do you think that the US is losing or winning the information war?

LW: I think in a way we are losing because of the effectiveness of this kind of Russian propaganda. It has been able to reach and mobilize an audience that otherwise would not be. The war on Ukraine is a really good example of how the Russian disinformation campaign has worked in confusing the public and political leaders and even journalists. Russia has really harnessed the power of the internet to spread the seeds of doubt and outright lies. At RT, for example we were very serious about putting everything on YouTube. And the Russian government focuses very much on using social media, Twitter, Facebook, and mainstream media site commenting, so that the real comments are corrupted by paid Russian trolls to spread the Kremlin’s pro-Putin messages. And it does have a kind of psychological effect because you are reading through them and you think, well, here’s another part of the story, here’s another viewpoint.

PP: What about your personal experience with all that? Did the trolls go after you once you quit?

LW: After I resigned, although it took them a while, RT had come up with their own response to my resignation. Through an online news portal written by the best friend of one of the conspiracy-minded hosts, citing anonymous sources within RT, they connected all these dots that existed but didn’t actually connect, and formed an alternative story to my resignation. They said that because of a tweet that came out from a conservative think tank, it was proof that my resignation was staged by neoconservatives that wanted to ignite a Cold War. And they ended up running an exclusive “inside scoop” of “what was really behind Liz Wahl’s resignation.” The correspondents vigorously tweeted out all this and the crazy following that they had amassed – they believed it. So there is this network of people who think they are critically thinking but they are obviously not because they believe everything that’s coming out of this organization. I got spammed and received hundreds of just really vile and hateful messages from people that had really bought into this idea that I’m this anti-Kremlin neocon. And I swear they just call me a neocon without really knowing what it means. But it’s this label that RT uses, the “evil neocons” that want to start another Cold War.

PP: …and that also conveniently caters to the anti-Semitic constituency out there as well…

LW: Yes, I was also accused of being part of this Zionist-Jewish plot. Of course, there is absolutely no basis of facts there, but for people who actually thrive on anti-Semitic hate, I’m part of this evil war-hungry system. And it gets kind of scary to see so much hate and lies.

PP: Were these attacks intimidating on a personal level?

LW: It was overwhelming at first, but I wasn’t scared for my life. I was more scared when I realized how easily manipulated people can be. It’s not to say that people who were trolling me represent the majority but there were enough of them. And the fact that people can be so blindly manipulated by something that is not based on truth is a scary prospect. And that’s what disturbed me at Russia Today in general: it was all this hate playing out right before my eyes. I think the real danger is creating this culture of hate that rallies people around it who are really paranoid and come from this anti-Western view.

PP: Where did your bosses come from intellectually and what drove them philosophically?

LW: My boss, for example, came from this libertarian background and so we obsessively covered candidates like Ron Paul who was very isolationist and very anti-intervention. And of course that’s a kind of leader that Russia can stand behind because there is a benefit there to them. But this libertarian slant was used only when it benefited Russia, so really it could be anything as long as it made the US, or Western powers or NATO look bad.

PP: Where do you think Russia Today is headed as a news organization in the news business?

LW: Since my resignation, Russian media has expanded. They have launched an RT channel in London and Germany. They also launched Sputniknews, an online news portal with the same kind of narrative and angles that they push at RT. It’s only expanding and we’re seeing a growth because they are trying to reach out to an international audience to try to gain sympathy in any way and in any corner of the globe. Be it the far right or the far left – anyone, anywhere to create that division in societies throughout the world.

PP: After covering so many shortcomings of the US democratic system and all the faults of the West, what makes you still believe in our system of government?

LW: The very existence and the fact that we have RT, this very anti-American platform just a couple blocks from the White House is the proof of our system and how strongly we value freedom of speech. I also believe in it because my grandparents had escaped Soviet rule during the 1956 Hungarian revolution and I had grown up in the United States without being oppressed, and I feel that I am lucky to live here. I absolutely think that it is better than its alternatives. Yes, we are not perfect, but we have a system that although imperfect, it strives to get there. The United States is not a utopia; we struggle with our own issues, politically, economically. But on my Filipino side, I have seen what it looks like to live in a country with mass corruption, mass poverty, where opportunity is not available except for a very very small group of well connected people. And without a question our system in the West is favorable to that in Russia and many other systems.

PP: How did you feel when you resigned and how do you feel now?

LW: It was definitely a tense moment, but it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and my conscience felt better. After seeing the way things have played out in Ukraine and how Russian propaganda has been instrumental in manipulating the conflict in Ukraine, I am really glad that I took action when I did. We all need to be more conscious consumers of information and understand where it is coming from and what the interests are behind it. We must be aware of the Kremlin’s use of information and when they put out a lie, we need to recognize it. We can’t let that be part of the status quo. We need to reclaim the facts. We can’t buy into this fallacy that the Russian media and the Kremlin wants us to believe – that there is no such thing as the truth. I think there is and we need to fight for it.

Monitors Powerless to Prevent Putin Reinforcing Rebels

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Each day and night, monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) keep watch on Russia’s side of the border with Ukraine.

The monitors—19 in total (yes, 19)—have a mandate to observe what happens at the Russian checkpoints of Donetsk (not to be confused with the Ukrainian city of Donetsk) and Gukovo.

That mandate began in July 2014 and should have had more importance. Indeed, it should even have been strengthened after the Minsk II ceasefire accord reached in February 2015 by French, German, Russian and Ukrainian leaders. But it wasn’t.

The aim of the ceasefire deal was to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and Ukraine’s armed forces. While the fighting has certainly subsided, facts on the ground have been firmly established in parts of eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian forces hold sway.

The OSCE monitors have no illusions about the difficulties in implementing the ceasefire. Indeed, the monitors are so hindered in almost everything they do that they have no idea what and who crosses over from Russia to Ukraine each day.

What they do know is that weapons and soldiers from Russia can and do easily cross into Ukraine, where they can then supply the rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. That is the assessment of OSCE diplomats who are familiar with the Russian crossing points and who spoke to Carnegie Europe on condition of anonymity.

The 19 monitors, who take it in turns to observe in pairs over a 24-hour stretch, keep watch over a mere 66 feet of land that divides the entry and exit points of the Russian frontier crossings at Donetsk and Gukovo.

In theory, that should give the monitors plenty of opportunity to see exactly what is taking place. In practice, they can see. But that is all. What they see does not always reflect the reality. “We don’t have any law enforcement capabilities,” an OSCE diplomat said. “We cannot inspect.”

According to another OSCE diplomat, since the end of February 2015, almost every day about 100 men, as well as some women, dressed in camouflage have entered Ukraine through these border crossings. “Some have told us they are volunteer fighters,” the diplomat said. “They all carry rucksacks. And they carry weapons, but nonlethal ones.” How many volunteers cross the other border points is anyone’s guess.

Then there are the many civilians who cross too. The OSCE has no idea if any of them are volunteers. What the organization does know is that from July 2014 until the end of February 2015, some 2 million civilians have gone back and forth, many seeking refuge in Russia but returning to Ukraine once it was safe to do so.

Just as the OSCE is powerless in stopping fighters from entering Ukraine, so too is it powerless in inspecting the so-called humanitarian aid lorries. “We simply don’t have full freedom to check them,” the diplomat explained.

That’s an understatement. On any given day, if a truck crosses, the monitors can “check” it. “The trucks are visually checked by opening their back doors. You look at what you see. You can’t climb into the truck. This is not an inspection. It takes less than a minute,” he added.

There are special X-ray systems in which a truck drives through an open-ended container that can scan the vehicle’s contents. “The Russians don’t allow that,” the diplomat said. “So we have no idea what’s in any of the trucks.”

Things aren’t much better for the team of OSCE monitors who are supposed to observe the ceasefire on the Ukrainian side of the border. They are not allowed to approach those parts of the frontier held by the rebels.

And even if they want to observe what is happening along the ceasefire lines, they have to ask permission or are escorted by the rebels. There is no scope for spontaneity. Besides, it is still dangerous. The daily report issued on April 27 by the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine makes for grim reading. It describes how the area around Ukraine’s Donetsk airport had “seriously deteriorated.”

Some 550 explosions were heard near Donetsk. “Approximately 90 percent of all the explosions were caused by 120mm mortar and heavy artillery rounds. The number of violations in this area has increased sharply compared to the violations recorded in the previous days,” according to the report. And the village of Sakhanka, just 15 miles east of Mariupol, a strategic city still under Ukrainian control, was shelled on April 25.

This upsurge of fighting may be a prelude to the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, which will be celebrated with a huge military parade in Moscow on May 9.

Whatever the outcome, the OSCE monitors know what they cannot do. And even if they called for a more robust mandate, they would never obtain it. It would be vetoed by one of the organization’s 57 members—Russia.

Ukraine crisis: Shells rip through homes in Donetsk

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One Ukrainian soldier and two civilians have been killed in the past 24 hours in fighting in Eastern Ukraine.

Heavy shelling took place overnight in Donetsk although there were no reports of deaths in that area.
Residential buildings were hit, as well as a school in a neighbourhood near the frontline.
The BBC’s Tom Burridge reports from the scene.

Russian-separatist forces cite shelling to justify next offensive

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On the May 1 Labor Day holiday, Kremlin-backed separatist leader Oleksandr Zakharchenko said that his forces would take more territory around his home base of Donetsk to “guarantee the safety of our land” from attacks by the Ukrainian military.

Donetsk, which lost more than half of its pre-war population of 1 million people, was pounded with rocket salvos the next day.

Social media from 10:30 p.m. until after midnight were filled with videos shot by local residents, some of whom narrated in English, of shelling of the regional capital, which Kyiv hasn’t controlled since mid-April 2014.

Russia’s the same night reported that Kremlin-backed separatists told them that the city was being shelled with 155-millimeter artillery, “a caliber that is only used by NATO.”

Next, Ukraine’s positions near Donetsk, in government-controlled areas of Luhansk Oblast and a hotspot near the village of Shyrokyne along the Azov Sea coast came under heavy combined Russian-separatist heavy-weapon fire, and included tanks, various mortar calibers of up to 122 millimeters and multiple-rocket launchers.

One Ukrainian soldier and one civilian were killed and six troops were wounded, according to government statements on May 3, including the Defense Ministry.

Shortly after midnight on May 3, Russia’s Foreign Ministry released a statement accusing the “Ukrainian armed forces” for “shelling Donetsk using heavy artillery.”

Afterward, Ukrainian Gen. Andriy Taran gave a briefing in Soledar in Donetsk Oblast as part of the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination – a group that monitors the so-called truce and consists of Ukrainian and Russian military personnel, Moscow-backed separatists and members of the OSCE.

He denounced Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s statement, saying that its “contents aren’t confirmed by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine and armed forces of Ukraine.”

“The unconfirmed information of the shelling of civilian areas of (the city) of Donetsk, which had been allegedly conducted by the Armed Forces of Ukraine shouldn’t be grounds for official statements by the ministries of foreign affairs of other nations,” Taran stated.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry also on May 3 rejected the “accusations and responsibly claims that Ukrainian military did not commit any shelling of the city, like any other settlement on the territory of individual regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

“Any use of weapons by the units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, if it does occur, carried out as a necessary step in response to military provocations of illegal armed formations operating in the individual regions, in the event of a direct threat to life Ukrainian soldiers.”

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Austria Olexander Scherba tweeted on May 3: “Whoever conducted tonight’s shelling of Donetsk neither acted in the interest of Ukraine nor on Ukraine’s command.”

More than 100 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in eastern Ukraine since a truce that never took hold was brokered on Feb. 12 in Minsk, Belarus.

Is the Ukraine Conflict a Victory or Defeat for Russia?

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To paraphrase a famous expression, “Be careful what you complain about — or you might end up with something to really complain about.”

Moscow officials have long complained that the international community did not give Russia the attention it deserved. “Those insidious Westerners ignore Russia’s wonderful foreign policy initiatives,” they grumbled, “because they are unable to come up with anything half as brilliant themselves.”

But all of that changed almost overnight. Now Russia is once again firmly in the limelight — right alongside Ebola and the Islamic State.

A perfect illustration was the latest annual forum in Tallinn named in honor of that country’s second president, Lennart Meri, and devoted to the most pressing international problems. Russia’s outstanding successes in Crimea and the Donbass made it the primary focus of the entire conference. President Vladimir Putin figured in one way or another in almost every discussion panel.

Their headings speak for themselves: Is Home Still a Castle? Lessons From Ukraine for the Baltic Arena; Russia’s Energy Weapon: Blunted or Still Potent?; The World According to Putin, Putin According to the World; The Power of Narratives: An Unwinnable War Over the Truth?; Ukraine: Is There a Will? Is There a Way?; European Policies Revised: Neighbors Left Out in the Cold?; Transatlantic Relationship: Who Will Defend Europe?; Sanctions: A Sword or a Boomerang?; Russian Society: Fertile Ground for a Noxious Regime?

Every one of those panel discussions concerned Russia. For three days, leading world experts discussed the Russian threat. Can NATO defend the Baltic states from Russian aggression? Is there a way to counter the unrestrained campaign of lies on Russian television? Will Putin respond to Western leaders’ refusal to attend Victory Day celebrations in Moscow by renewing the war in Ukraine?

Representatives from Poland and the Baltic states set the tone at the conference — and they occasionally went overboard with their comments. For example, Marshal of Poland’s Sejm parliament Radoslaw Sikorski, stated with full confidence that Russia’s military doctrine contains a provision for a pre-emptive nuclear strike — a blatant falsehood.

However, I cannot blame Poland and the Baltic states for their zeal. They had insisted for years that Moscow posed a military threat. However, the “older” European states dismissed their fears, arguing that those regions have painful histories with Russia and that they position themselves as the “front line” in any confrontation with Russia so as to ensure that the “larger” NATO states do not lose interest in them. Now, after Crimea and Donbass, it turns out those fears were not groundless.

On the same day the conference ended, Russia’s state-controlled television aired a documentary informing the country’s fawning population of Putin’s unprecedented successes as national leader.

Let’s assess the results of these “victories” under Putin. The people of what Moscow has long hailed as its “brotherly neighboring state” now view Russia as an unmitigated aggressor. The Ukrainian representatives at the Tallinn conference were unanimous on this point.

Now Moscow will have to wait decades before it can even broach the subject of integrating Ukraine and Russia in any form. Conference attendees repeatedly called on NATO to abandon its previously declared principles and immediately bring Ukraine into the alliance, arguing that it is the only way to stop Russian aggression.

Recall that Moscow justified its decision to seize Crimea and start a war in Ukraine as the best way to prevent NATO forces from nearing Russia’s borders. Now that policy has only intensified NATO’s presence and hastened its approach.

Russia had just as fiercely objected to the appearance of NATO troops in the Baltic states. However, Moscow’s escapade in Ukraine prompted NATO leaders to decide at their most recent summit in Wales to rotate NATO forces through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

In doing so, they followed the example of Moscow when it announced that, by positioning contingents of thousands of soldiers near the Ukrainian border, it was not violating the Vienna Document — the last agreement still in force that seeks to maintain some measure of trust and transparency between Russia and the West on military matters.

Moscow argued that it was simply conducting uncoordinated maneuvers of various units, and was therefore under no obligation to inform NATO in advance or invite foreign observers.

However, Estonian politicians at the conference took this logic one step further. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said the basic NATO-Russia agreement does not preclude the alliance from permanently deploying troops to countries bordering Russia, and that to contend otherwise is to falsely interpret that document.

I suspect it is only a matter of time before the NATO leadership comes to agree with the Estonian position. In fact, an even more revolutionary idea arose at the conference. Participants suggested that the United Nations strip Security Council members found guilty of direct aggression of their veto power and possibly punish them for their crimes.

Of course, it is easy enough to ignore everything that participants said at the Tallinn conference. After all, those notorious Russophobes in the Baltic states will say anything in their eagerness to lash out at this country.

However, I suspect that this was only the first wave of angry response over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and that others will soon follow. At some point, international organizations will adopt the same attitude when reaching decisions concerning Russia.