21 September 2020 — Moon of Alabama
Just yesterday we flogged the false and misleading reports in the New York Times about Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine. Today a different New York Times report by Ivan Nechepurenko, who is also with its bureau in Moscow, proves to be of similar shoddy quality:
In Belarus, Russian Mercenaries Turned From Saboteurs to Friends
President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko accused Russia of sending a group of mercenaries to disrupt his re-election. With mass protests consuming the country after the vote, he briskly changed his tune.
Diligent readers of Moon of Alabama will remember what the story is about. On August 7 we reported how the Ukrainian intelligence service SBU, in the guise of a private military company, hired former Russian and Ukrainian soldiers allegedly for jobs in Venezuela. All the hired men had previously fought on the ‘Russian side’ of Ukrainian civil war in the Donbas region. The men were told to go to the Belorussian capital Minsk from where they were supposed to be later flown to Venezuela to guard oil installations.
The Ukrainian SBU then told the Belorussian security service KGB that the Russian mercenaries, who were then waiting in a resort near Minsk, were in Belarus to overthrow its president Lukashenko. The men were arrested and Lukashenko made a public fuss about the alleged Russian coup against him. Ukraine then asked for the extradition of the men. It had plans to indict them for their involvement in the Donbas war.
But just a few days after the men were arrested the whole plan unraveled. Russian media proved without doubt that the men had been tricked to go to Belarus and that they had no plans to overthrow Lukashenko. The Belorussian president apologized and the men were returned to Russia. As the Russian broadsheet kp.ru summarized (machine translation):
[I]t can be stated that the Ukrainian special services managed to create a fake project, in which they involved 180 Russian citizens, while including in the first group of war veterans in the Donbas. At the same time, it is quite possible to admit that the entire fascinating and instructive story was brought to the Belorussian side in a very truncated form – without details about air tickets.
Through this entire operation, the SBU seems to have intended to kill several birds with one stone – the ubiquitous, nightmarish and terrible PMC Wagner was supposed to ricochet on Rosneft – as one of the largest Russian companies, but the main blow, undoubtedly, on the Russian-Belorussian relationships. Not to mention the possible extradition of Russian citizens to Ukraine, which Kiev would be incredibly happy about – such an opportunity to avenge its sailors, whom Poroshenko sent “to slaughter” in the Kerch Strait.
That version story has since been confirmed by the Ukrainian side (see below).
But today’s New York Times report does not tell that story at all. It makes it seem as if Lukashenko changed his mind about the ‘Russian coup’ not because he gained knowledge of the real plot, but because he was under pressure from election protests:
President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, who was facing a presidential election in less than two weeks, convened an emergency meeting of his top security officials, saying that the Russians were mercenaries with “dirty aims.” Speaking at the meeting, Valery Vakulchik, at the time the head of the K.G.B., confirmed that the Russians belonged to the Wagner Group.
Then, just 10 days before the Aug. 9 vote, Belarusian investigators accused the Russians of plotting to disrupt the election.
“Russia is afraid of losing us,” said Mr. Lukashenko, accusing the Kremlin of trying to “suffocate” Belarus.
Up to that point the NYT got the story right. But it fails when it covers the unraveling of the plot:
According to this new version of what happened, the men had been lured to Belarus by Ukrainian spies, who planned to seize their plane as it flew over Ukraine and have the men arrested over their role fighting in eastern Ukraine.
That Belarus has changed its story so dramatically is a measure of how swiftly the country’s strongman leader, Mr. Lukashenko, has reassessed his political interests.
On Aug. 14, after failing to curb an initial round of street protests with a frenzy of police violence, he ordered the Wagner mercenaries released and allowed them to return to Russia. All charges against them were dropped.
Upon the mercenaries’ return to Russia, several of them appeared on Russian television, claiming that they had no connection to the Wagner Group and had simply stopped off in Belarus en route to Venezuela, where they had a job lined up guarding an undisclosed Russian facility.
The NYT makes it look as if the Ukrainian intelligence service and the CIA were not involved at all and as if the revealed Ukrainian plot has not been real. The change in the ‘Russian coup’ story is attributed solely to the changing needs of Lukashenko.
That is of course bollocks. The Ukrainian plot was real. We know that because officials from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, which is supported by the U.S. State Department, have officially admitted it and because the Ukrainian media have been all over the story.
As the Canadian political scientist Ivan Katchanovski relayed it:
Ivan Katchanovski @I_Katchanovski – 0:35 UTC · Aug 18, 2020
National Anti-Corruption Bureau of #Ukraine agent states that #Russian mercenaries, who fought in #Donbas war, were lured to #Belarus by Security Service of Ukraine using fake offers by fake persons of work in Venezuela & tickets to fly there via Turkey.
>>> Агент НАБУ заявил о “госизмене Ермака с задержанными вагнеровцами”
National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine agent states that SBU planned to seize #Russian mercenaries, who fought in Donbas war, by making their passenger plane on route from #Belarus to Turkey land in #Ukraine
His statements are generally consistent with previous statements by #Russian representatives & media, release & return of arrested Russian mercenaries by #Belarus to #Russia & with statements of released mercenaries in the Russian media that they were lured with such work offers.
#Ukrainian media reports that US intelligence agents were also involved in this #FalseFlag operation & that video & audio recordings of #Russian mercenaries lured to #Belarus concerning their involvement in Donbas war would soon be published in #Ukraine
>>> “Вагнеровцы”, Ермак и измена Родине
Security Service of #Ukraine sources confirm to Ukrainian media #FalseFlag operation concerning luring of #Russian mercenaries from #Russia to #Belarus. Most of mercenaries were also Ukrainian citizens & fought for separatists in civil war in #Donbas
>>> Затримання “вагнерівців” мало бути українською операцією, яка зірвалась після доповіді в ОП
There is zero doubt that the Ukrainian plot, which was planned and executed together with the CIA, was real. There were no Wagner mercenaries at all, just former Russian and Ukrainian soldiers who were lured into a trap. The plot went bust because the Ukrainians had made some mistakes with the flight tickets which made it easy for the Russians to uncover the whole thing.
The NYT report, which comes nearly six weeks after Moon of Alabama published the real story, is hiding the failed CIA/SBU plot. It is attributing the whole unraveling of the plot’s cover story from late July to mid August, and Lukashenko’s change of tone as a consequence thereof, to the election protest against him.
It is not that there was too little room in the NYT to report the full story. Of the 26 paragraphs of the report a full 11 are about the Soviet-era like resort the Russian mercenaries had rested in. Those 11 paragraphs may help to justify the travel cost of the NYT’s reporter and photographer but they are otherwise of zero value to the reader.
The real story is the failed CIA/SBU operation. The NYT editors and its Moscow bureau seem to believe that the CIA’s failure is not part of “all the news that’s fit to print“. Instead of reporting what really happened, like the Ukrainian media did, they cover it up by claiming that it is somehow Lukashenko’s fantasy.