Ukraine crisis: Both sides in the conflict lay claim to the truth

It is all too easy to envisage civil war being triggered by mistake

Share

A feature of the Ukraine crisis, ever since the then president, Viktor Yanukovych, rejected the EU’s Association Agreement back in November, has been the huge gap between perceptions on either side.

That applies both within Ukraine, between (broadly speaking) the pro-European west and pro-Russian east; and outside its borders, between Russia and (broadly speaking) the West. What one side accepts as truth is denounced by the other side as propaganda at best, and malicious lies at worst.

But the competing versions have never differed as sharply as they have done since the weekend, after pro-Russian, but unidentified forces seized town halls in several eastern cities and the government in Kiev threatened force to take them back. The existence of these two narratives has created a situation that is as dangerous as anything that has so far happened on the ground. It is all too easy to envisage civil war or invasion being triggered essentially by mistake.

Certainty is a hallmark of each version. Addressing the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Sunday – a meeting requested by Russia – the US ambassador, Samantha Power, took it for granted that Russia was behind the disturbances in the east. But, like the many Westerners who take that view, she has nothing more than circumstantial evidence to support it.

Neither did William Hague, the UK Foreign Secretary, when he levelled similar charges. Russian officials and observers meanwhile issue denials – to be met by the West with “Well, they would, wouldn’t they?” None of this leaves much room for negotiation.

Read more: EU mulls further economic sanctions against Russia
How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

It must be hoped officials on both sides are aware of how far not to go. It is hard to have even that degree of confidence, however, in relation to some of the charges being bandied about on Ukrainian and Russian websites and social media. For this, I am indebted to the daily Johnson’s Russia List, a non-profit compilation service provided by David Johnson at George Washington University. 

The 30-item menu that arrived in my in-box 24 hours ago exposed how dangerously heated the atmosphere within Ukraine and between Ukraine and Russia has now become.

Here is just a taste: a writer on euromaidanpr.com called on Kiev to threaten a series of moves that would leave the West with no choice but to intervene. Specifically, he said Kiev should give 72 hours’ notice that it would, among other things, destroy all gas pipelines; arm all Ukrainian “patriotic citizens”; remove uranium from Ukraine’s nuclear reactors and disperse it in Russia, and prepare to “flatten” Belgorod (a city on the Russian side of the border).

None other than the acting interior minister in Kiev reported on his Facebook page that there was extensive bloodshed in Slavyansk, which was not in fact true, and that Russia had already invaded. Another report spoke of Russia laying anti-personnel mines in parts of Ukraine. 

Each and every one of these reports is incendiary, with the capacity to set off a conflict that would be all the harder to resolve, because of the tissue of lies that gave it birth.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

John Rentoul
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...