Simon Ostrovsky’s fearless efforts to bring us the truth in his correspondence from Ukraine have been highly commendable. His report after the recent checkpoint shooting was one of my favourites. It began by showing the two involved cars’ charred remains being transported away from the scene by pro-Russian forces. Bullet holes could be seen on the cars but why the evidence was burnt has of course not been explained. We were assured of the specifics (that favour Russia) by Sloviansk’s self-proclaimed mayor, Vacheslav Ponomarev.
It was Vacheslav who gave a colourful array of different explanations for Simon’s abduction. Like all his explanations, Vacheslav delivered preposterous stories – like that Simon was compiling a report on the SBU facilities from within – with the air of indifference and confidence that his watchers have become accustomed to. For me his demeanour is significant.
Ostrovsky is right, those ‘little green men’; the silent elite soldiers who are clearly in charge; they are the key. If we could see their documents, or their backgrounds, there might be a link to the Kremlin. Frankly their secrecy is enough. That aside, for me it would be astounding at this point if there wasn’t a connection to Russia. Internationally we need confirmation. Even more generally it’s fair to say that in the public sphere, tangible proof is essential. Of course this is great dismay to me personally. Logic alone is irrelevant.
I have watched Vacheslav Ponomarev closely in his public appearances. Wearing his tracksuit he stares people down provocatively, speaking of the repercussions awaiting journalists who ‘lie’. We may not have evidence of Russian forces’ involvement, but can we not learn enough from this man and his surrounding circumstances? This is not a man ‘yielding to the masses’, like we expect of our power-seeking politicians. What I mean is, there is no public facade here. There is no considering, no attempts to seduce public confidence. This is a man who clearly doesn’t feel he needs to be popular, which is the primary objective of most politicians. So why not?
As he dishes out his threats – and they are threats if they’re anything at all – he may betray the power behind him. Vacheslav probably hasn’t ever considered what would make his performance convincing, and I would argue that the absence of attempts to even appear a legitimate politician, to the extreme of such abandon; well to me that suggests he does not fear for the security his power. It is certainly consistent with him being a puppet politician installed as an arm of a higher body.
He seems a thug. Of all his former graces, if you told me conflict or espionage was one I wouldn’t exactly recoil in shock. If he is secret service then the power that might have been the irresistible draw into that line of work in the first place, has left him so brazen now that his illegitimacy is, I would argue, to anyone of any discern obvious. Who could possibly be fooled by this?
I know this is a juvenile fantasy, but I just wish I could be in some of these public showings to ask a few questions of my own. Am I alone in wishing the truth would be put to these people in more glaring terms? Of course, I would love to ask Putin himself if he regrets that Ponomarev is so bad at pretending to be a real politician. But most of all I would have liked to be in one of Vacheslav’s public appearances during Simon Ostrovsky’s detention. “Vacheslav,” I would have enquired, “I don’t know if you are a fan of psychology – I’m an amateur enthusiast – but if you are, I wonder if you ever consider how your actions appear to the outside? You have locked up Simon on the grounds that he was reporting lies, but if they were lies he wouldn’t have been a threat to you. If they were lies, you could have shown us the truth and his credibility would be on the table instead of yours – and your credibility is on the table, let me tell you. The only reason you would detain a journalist is because they are approaching what is for you a dangerous truth. A truth that you are attempting to occlude.”
In recent weeks we have seen more that is hard to digest: A column of APCs, allegedly in Western Russia, that was too long to record reasonably in one video (we can’t confirm that they were full, where they were, or even when the video was recorded); A rally in Donetsk supporting Ukrainian unity, of around 2000 people, was attacked by baseball-bat wielding pro-Russian ‘separatists’; Putin continues to maintain that the only legitimate political position in Ukraine is the pro-Russian movement, and that the intolerable interference from outside will be any that undermines them. Everything points to some hybrid between a clandestine invasion of Ukraine and the engineering of a situation where Russia will claim they have no option but to intervene.
The irony for me is who can throw the first stone? Bull shit is what all these polticians deal in and Putin’s position is no weaker than the positions of other world leaders on any number of intolerable issues. But where will it go next? Can Putin really continue this? Is his pride now a dangerous component? None of us can believe this could lead to large-scale conflict, but what if Russian troops crossed the border? For now, we can only watch. And until evidence shows Russia’s complicity, any opinion can be argued as influentially as the truth.