Ukraine crisis: One person’s saviour is another person’s conqueror

The images in Russian minds are those of the pogroms and general lawlessness that Ukraine suffered before and after the First World War

Share

When countries set up broadcasting stations with a view to getting their perspective across, they need to realise that things can go wrong. Rarely more so than this week, when Abby Martin, US anchor for TV channel Russia Today, said she absolutely disagreed with RT’s Ukraine coverage and flounced off the air.

Before leaving, she said: “What Russia did is wrong. Military intervention is never the answer, and I will not sit here and apologise or defend military aggression.” It should be said here that Ms Martin is an American, based in America, which allowed her to see the disparity between the version of events being put out by US broadcasters for their audience and the version being put out by the Russians for theirs. 

On Ukraine, as I swiftly learnt by contributing to both Western and Russian programmes broadcast from London over the past couple of weeks, the twain do not meet. Indeed, they have been spinning apart since the violence in Kiev of 20 February. To me, this is one of the most disturbing aspects of the Ukraine conflict.

There may indeed have been, and continue to be, disinformation, but the two versions can also be explained by the quite different places from which East and West start in their view of Ukraine – and which are combined, uneasily, in Ukraine itself.

If you watched or listened to most Western coverage, including that of the BBC, you would understand that Viktor Yanukovych defied prevailing Ukrainian sentiment when he accepted a Russian bailout back in November, rather than the association agreement on offer from the EU.

You would also understand that the protesters on the streets of Kiev were representative of Ukraine’s population, exercising their legitimate rights. You would also believe that Mr Yanukovkych was justly toppled.

If you obtained your information from the Russian media you would believe that the vast majority of those on the streets harboured far-right, Ukrainian ultra-nationalist sympathies. You would accept that many of these protesters were hurling Molotov cocktails and some of them armed. You would know that many of those killed were policemen.

You would believe, further, that Yanukovych was ousted illegally. And you would note that one of the first acts of the post-Yanukovych parliament was to rescind equal recognition for the Russian language in Russian-speaking parts of the country; you would be fearful about what this government would portend.

For this group, Putin’s show of military force in Crimea was the very least he could have done. Ditto his warning that he reserved the right also to protect the safety and rights of Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine.

The images in Russian minds are those of the pogroms and general lawlessness that Ukraine suffered before and after the First World War. Their fear is of what extreme nationalist Ukrainians might do, if let off the leash by their European friends. Such fears will doubtless seem dangerously exaggerated to many Ukrainian speakers and outsiders, for whom the Kiev protesters were enlightened, pro-democracy, pro-Europe patriots, and Russia’s seizure of control in Crimea an all-out assault on Ukrainian sovereignty.

This divergence presents an exceptionally dangerous situation and will complicate any conciliation set in motion by international diplomacy. But it is not all down to inaccurate or even dishonest reporting. Coverage of the conflict offers a graphic example of what happens when two sides start out with starkly different assumptions about the world.

Read more:
The hypocrisy of the Great Powers is on display again in Ukraine
Obama’s cautious style has left US foreign policy lagging

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne likes to think of himself as the greatest political mind of his generation  

Budget 2015: It takes a lot of hard work to be as lucky as George Osborne

John Rentoul
George Osborne will deliver his emergency Budget on July 8th  

Budget 2015: We gave the Tories a mandate, now we will see what we voted for

Hamish McRae
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test