TIME Ukraine

Civil War Hangs Heavy Over Ukraine During Its Independence Day Celebrations

Ukrainian forces parade during a military ceremony marking the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine's independence in Kiev on Aug. 24, 2014.
Ukrainian forces parade during a military ceremony marking the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine's independence in Kiev on Aug. 24, 2014. Sergei Supinsky—AFP/Getty Images

Marches in Kiev take place amid new reports of Russian hardware finding its way into rebel hands

The increasingly bloody war carving up Ukraine was in the thoughts of many Sunday as the embattled nation observed a somber Independence Day.

In Kiev, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gave an impassioned address, praising the “warriors” fighting against foreign aggression.

“Never in 23 years has this day been so majestic as today. People have never celebrated it as sincerely as today,” said Poroshenko, as honor guards and battle-primed infantry, preparing to deploy to the front, stood ramrod straight.

“Ukraine will never again celebrate this holiday under [the] military-historical calendar of the neighboring country. We will honor defenders of our motherland, not someone else’s!” roared Poroshenko.

Following the speech, a military band led a column of troops, missile launchers and armor through Kiev’s Maidan Square in a pointed message to Moscow, days ahead of a meeting between Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Further east, in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, an entirely different scene played out, as pro-Russian separatists marched captured Ukrainian soldiers at gunpoint through the streets of Donetsk city.

Pedestrians responded to sight of the haggard prisoners of war with cries of “fascists” and some threw bottles at the POWs, according to Reuters.

“This is no independence day. This is a plague on our land, the fascists who have taken control of Kiev who are now shooting at hospitals and morgues,” one Donestk resident told the news agency.

Ukraine has been locked in bitter civil war for months in the wake of a pro-Moscow uprising in the country’s far east, following the Russian military’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in March.

Kiev and Washington have accused the Putin Administration of providing arms and supplies to the separatists, including a sophisticated surface-to-air missile system that could have downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 in July with the loss of 298 lives.

On Friday, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes confirmed to reporters that forces within Russia were firing artillery into Ukraine and moving heavy weaponry across the border into rebel hands.

TIME russia

Putin’s Popularity Soars to 87% in the Face of Adversity

Vladimir Putin
President Vladimir Putin speaks at the opening ceremony of the monument to the Heroes of the World War I in Moscow on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. Yuri Kochetkov—AP

A new survey claims Russians are more than happy with their controversial strongman at the helm

Russian President Vladimir Putin has enmeshed his nation in civil war in Ukraine, faces international sanctions for allegedly contributing to the downing of a commercial airliner last month, and has been targeted by a fresh round of financial sanctions from the West. But Russia loves him all the same.

In fact, his popularity among his fellow countrymen appears to grow with each new controversy.

A new poll released this week by the Levada Center reports that the Russian President currently enjoys an approval rating of 87% — a 4-point jump since a similar survey was completed in May, according to the Moscow Times.

Meanwhile in the U.S., where the economy is bouncing back and the White House has largely retreated from militaristic interventions abroad, President Barack Obama’s approval rating sagged to 40% this week — its lowest point to date.

TIME Ukraine

Investigators Finally Reach Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Crash Site

Alexander Hug deputy head for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine, looks on next to armed pro-Russian separatists on the way to the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site, near Donetsk on July 30, 2014.
Alexander Hug, deputy head for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe monitoring mission in Ukraine, looks on next to armed pro-Russian separatists on the way to the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site, near Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, on July 30, 2014 Sergei Karpukhin—Reuters

Clashes between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists had kept the team from the site until today

International investigators reached the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 for the first time since the Boeing 777 was downed by a missile in eastern Ukraine on July 17, the Associated Press reports.

Fighting between the Ukrainian military and the pro-Russian separatists had kept the investigation team, made up of Dutch and Australian forensic experts and officials with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, from accessing the site.

But on Thursday, the team was able to pass through both Ukrainian and rebel checkpoints. A spokesman for the Ukrainian government announced a “day of quiet” Thursday to ensure the safety of the team, though reporters on the scene say clashes were ongoing in the area.

Ukraine has intensified its assault on rebel-held territory since MH17 crashed with 298 people on board, and fighting has left more than 1,000 dead, including hundreds of civilians.

The investigators limited their initial visit to reconnaissance, according to the New York Times, and left at around 5 p.m. local time to head back to the rebel-held city of Donetsk, about 65 km (40 miles) from the site.

They are expected to focus on retrieving human remains — Australian Foreign Minister said up to 80 bodies are believed to still be strewn across the crash site — and collect victims’ belongings, the AP reports.

[AP]

TIME Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Investigators Examine Shrapnel-Like Holes in MH17 Debris

A part of the fuselage of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is pictured in a field near the village of Grabove, in the Donetsk region, on July 23, 2014.
A part of the fuselage of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is pictured in a field near the village of Grabove, in the Donetsk region, on July 23, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

Possible evidence of missile impact discovered, as well as more human remains, while crash site still remains inadequately secured

Investigators have found shrapnel-like holes in pieces of the fuselage belonging to the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that crashed in eastern Ukraine last Thursday, allegedly after being struck by a missile.

Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), described the punctures as “almost machine gun-like holes,” and said that Malaysian aviation-security officials had inspected the damage before leaving the site on Thursday.

A second plane carrying bodies from the ill-fated jetliner arrived Thursday in the Netherlands. With 194 of the 298 people on board being Dutch, the Netherlands was the country that lost the most citizens in the crash. Confusion remains over how many bodies have actually been recovered, though. Russian-backed separatists in control over the crash site claim to have handed over 282 bodies, plus more than 80 body parts. However, Dutch officials estimate that the figure handed over could be lower. Meanwhile, monitors in Ukraine keep finding human remains in the area.

There’s still concern that the 12 km-long area over which plane debris has been scattered hasn’t been adequately secured. Farmers are operating agricultural equipment in fields that could contain further evidence or even human remains. Serhiy Bochkovsky, the head of State Service of Emergencies Ukraine, said the separatists were preventing his team from doing their job.

“They took away our tents, the ones which were at our base camp,” Bochkovsky told a news conference. “We were allowed only our equipment and machinery and we were chased away at gunpoint.”

The Netherlands has officially taken charge of the investigation. “Now that … Ukraine has transferred legal responsibility to the Netherlands, we feel we’ll get more progress from the separatists,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in Kiev. With 38 passengers, Australians comprised the third-largest nationality on the flight after the Netherlands and Malaysia. Both the Netherlands and Australia are sending additional teams to help with the investigation in Ukraine.

TIME russia

Russian Media Narrative on MH17 Tragedy Highlights Kremlin’s Grip on Public Opinion

A camoflage sheet is hung to block the view through a gate of the Malyshev Factory, a state-owned producer of heavy machinery where a train transporting the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was taken on July 22, 2014 in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
A camoflage sheet is hung to block the view through a gate of the Malyshev Factory, a state-owned producer of heavy machinery where a train transporting the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was taken on July 22, 2014 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Brendan Hoffman—Getty Images

Most Russians get their information about the world from television, much of which is controlled or influenced by the state

Outside Russia, the tragic crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) has refocused the world’s attention on the separatists in eastern Ukraine who are suspected of shooting down the plane with Russian arms. But inside Russia, a dramatically different narrative has taken hold. The conspiracy theories are as varied as they are bizarre: The Ukrainian military shot down the plane in a failed assassination attempt on Putin, the plane was filled with dead bodies, the crash was orchestrated by the U.S. or NATO.The theories have one thing in common: Russia, and Putin, are not to blame. It may be mind-boggling in the West, but one thing the crash has brought disturbingly to light is the extent of Putin’s grip on public opinion in Russia.

When it comes to the information wars over the MH17 crash, the Kremlin fights its battles almost exclusively on TV. Despite an expansion of new-media outlets in the 1990s and early 2000s, the state has since reasserted control over much of Russian media. According to a recent poll by the Levada Center, an independent non-profit research organization based in Moscow, 90 percent of Russians say they get their information about Russia and the world from television, nearly all of which is owned or influenced by the Kremlin. Only 24 percent said they get information from the Internet.

“We used to hear many people saying they are fed up with state television,” says Mikhail Zygar, the editor-in-chief of TV Rain, Russia’s only independent news channel. “Probably this changed because Russian television changed. It used to be like North Korea and now it’s like Fox News.”

Not long after Putin first came to power in 2000, the Kremlin began exerting its influence over Russia’s privately owned television stations. By the end of 2001, all of the country’s major channels were owned by either the Russian state or by companies with close ties to the government. Since then, pro-Kremlin news coverage has seen a gradual but flamboyant makeover. State-owned channels like Rossiya and its many sister stations, Channel One and NTV, broadcast flashy, graphic-enhanced bursts of sensationalism on the various “threats” and “enemies” battering away at Russian wellbeing.

It reached a fever pitch with Russia’s annexation of Crimea. State-controlled outlets began running bombastic, round-the-clock coverage depicting the Crimean crisis as a battle of good versus evil: benevolent, virtuous Russian-speakers defended by heroic rebel militias, battling against a stranger-than-fiction partnership of bloodthirsty Ukrainian fascists and the American political class, among other perceived interlopers intent on weakening Russia politically and economically. Earlier this month, Channel One took the media onslaught to new lows when it aired an uncorroborated and highly disputed story claiming the Ukrainian military had crucified a three-year-old boy in the former rebel stronghold of Slavyansk.

“This campaign of raw propaganda on Russian television has gone on for some time, but its intensity is unprecedented,” says Masha Lipman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank. “The conflict was framed here in a very clear way—‘ours’ versus a variety of evil-doers identified with a number of bad words, like ‘fascist’ and ‘Nazi.’”

“The shift during the Crimean crisis was very psychologically important,” says Zygar. “The significance for many people was that we’ve been weak and we’ve been wrong for many years, but now we’re right and we’re strong. It’s a very pleasant thing to discover, that at last you’re strong and you’re loved and you’re on the right side and you don’t have to feel sorry.”

Putin’s disinformation campaign taps into a deep history of media manipulation, which has left many Russians distrustful of almost everything they read and hear. The mesh of vague and often-conflicting insinuations is well suited to a long-held Russian tradition of conspiracy-minded skepticism and a sense of grievance towards the West.

“I don’t think that there is some kind of extraordinary force of state propaganda persuading the Russian audience that the pro-Russian militias are not to blame,” says Zygar of TV Rain. “Conspiracy theories are eternally popular within the country. They usually aren’t real accusations. It’s some kind of half-joking everyday speculation. If we have bad weather, probably it’s the result of some weather weapon from Washington… This is really the way a lot of people’s brains are functioning.”

TV Rain, which launched in 2010, is one of a small but tenacious crop of independent outlets that continue to challenge the mainstream narrative. Others include the opposition-leaning newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Russian Forbes and financial daily Vedomosti, which is partially owned by the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. But for the most part, they are all preaching either to the choir or to the deaf. According to Levada Center, Putin’s approval rating in June was 86 percent, the highest it’s been in 14 years.

“For at least a decade, Putin has not had to worry about any real political opposition,” says Lipman. “He didn’t crush non-governmental media but he sort of insulated them, where they could say what they want but did not have access to a broader audience.”

Only two percent of Russians say they watch TV Rain regularly, the Levada Center found, compared to 71 percent for Rossiya-1, 48 percent for NTV and 8 percent for Channel One.

So in the days after the MH17 downing, while TV Rain was supplementing live coverage from the crash site with a broad range of on-air commentary, from guests, including separatists, Ukrainian officials and independent experts, the vast majority of Russians were watching something quite different. The phrase “on Ukrainian territory” punctuated every twist and turn of the coverage on state media, as Russian arms and aeronautical experts were brought on camera to blame Ukraine and argue the impossibility that the rebels could have fired weaponry sophisticated enough to bring down the jet.

These days Russia’s independent media seems increasingly on the brink of extinction, especially since December 2013, when Putin decreed into existence the state news conglomerate Rossiya Segodnya, which subsumed leading news agency RIA Novosti and the international radio service Voice of Russia. The man he appointed to head the massive organization is Dimitry Kiselyov, a right-wing TV presenter best known in the west for bragging that Russia is “the only country in the world capable of turning the United States into radioactive dust” and recommending burning the hearts of gay people who die in auto accidents.

“We have this kind of tradition of black August in our country. Every year something horrible happens in August. This year we joke that August has come in July,” said Mikhail Zygar of TV Rain. “Just half a year ago, no one could believe the annexation of Crimea. When we discussed the possibility, all of us told each other, ‘No. That’s not possible. Never.’ But we are all living in some fantastical reality now. After Crimea, after war in eastern Ukraine and after everything else that’s happened, it’s possible to believe anything.”

TIME Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Russia Will Comply With MH17 Probe Led by Dutch

A pro-Russian separatist seen at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, near the village of Grabovo, July 23, 2014.
A pro-Russian separatist seen at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, near the village of Grabovo, July 23, 2014. Zurab Dzhavakhadze—Itar-Tass/Corbis

Opposes letting Ukraine lead the investigation

Russia’s ambassador to Malaysia told Reuters Wednesday that the country will cooperate with an investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that will be led by the Dutch.

Under the rules of the United Nations’ civil aviation body, the ICAO, the country where the crash occurred typically heads up the probe. But Russia has opposed a Ukrainian-led investigation, saying the rebels who control the site do not trust the central government. But it is satisfied with a probe led by the Netherlands.

“We want an international investigation led by ICAO. Any country part of ICAO may take part [sic]. Netherlands has the right to lead this,” Liudmila Vorobyeva, the ambassador to Malaysia, told Reuters.

MA17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur one week ago, killing 298 people including 193 Dutch citizens. Western officials and Ukraine believe Russian-backed rebels may be responsible, having been given the technology to bring down an airliner by Russia — the Kremlin, however, has laid blame on Kiev.

A separatist commander in Ukraine earlier admitted that the rebels did possess the surface-to-air BUK missile system that are suspected of downing the airliner, even as other rebels and the Russians deny that the separatists have the technology.

“I don’t know the reason why he gave such a statement,” Vorobyeva, the ambassador, told Reuters. “It was clearly stated by our ministry of defense that we never provided any BUK air defense systems to the so-called pro-Russian rebels. We are pretty sure they don’t have this kind of system.”

[Reuters]

TIME foreign affairs

Malaysia Flight 17: The Unique Way the Dutch Mourn

With their innate distrust of ideology, the Dutch are strikingly different from Americans in their gut reactions.

A cultural conundrum that I struggled to comprehend during my six years of living in Amsterdam concerned the Dutch attitude toward celebrities. They are passionate about their own celebrities – far more than about Hollywood stars, which is fair enough – but in the midst of intensely gossiping about a homegrown film or sports personality, they will suddenly turn blasé, as if the celeb were a mere family member who had started to become uppity.

The explanation is in the size of the nation. When you’ve got a total population of 16 million crammed into a country smaller than most individual U.S. states, everyone is within a couple of degrees of separation of everyone else. Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie, and the other stars of the country’s World Cup team are brought down to Earth by the fact that, chances are, you know them, or your uncle does.

That thought came to mind as I’ve watched somber memorials unfold like dreams in cities all over the country this week. Roughly two-thirds of the 298 people who died on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were Dutch. I asked several Dutch friends how they were doing. As I more or less expected, every one of them knew at least one person who was on the plane. One, who lives in The Hague, said her daughter was friends with a girl whose entire family was on the flight: they were going on vacation to Borneo. “They were in primary school together and took the same ballet lessons,” my friend said of her daughter and the girl who died. “When you think of their empty house, it is all very unreal.”

A few people want to lash out, saying the country should strike out against Russia. Someone posted the address of Vladimir Putin’s daughter, who lives in the Netherlands, on the Facebook page of the Netherlands-Russia Center. There are some vicious tweets.

But in the main the reaction to the sudden loss of a cross-section of Dutch society – the proportionate loss of life for a country the size of the United States would be about 6,000 people – has been muted. The government declared a national day of mourning, but events were already taking place everywhere, in a natural, non-official way. A mountain of flowers in front of a restaurant in Rotterdam. A pall of silence descending on the “Rose Kermis” gay festival in Tilburg. The deaths were evenly spread all over the country, and the memorials are localized.

The Dutch are strikingly different from Americans in their gut reactions to things. When hit with a national shock, Americans will almost instinctively reach for ideology or ideals. People saw 9/11 as an assault on “freedom.” The Dutch have an innate distrust of ideology. You could relate that to World War II and their experience under Nazism, but it goes much farther back. It has something to do with being a small country surrounded by larger countries that have had long histories of asserting themselves.

It also stems from the fact that Dutch society grew not out of war against a human foe but out of the struggle against nature. Living in low lands on a vast river delta, the Dutch came together to battle water. Building dams and dikes and canals was more practical than ideological. For better or worse, the Dutch are more comfortable with meetings and remembrances than with calls to arms.

Geography has defined destiny throughout Dutch history. The little country has reached outward, and prospered thanks to its ability to trade and engage with others; it also has proven a safe for refugees from less tolerant lands. Even before its 17th century golden age, Holland had become an intensely polyglot hub for goods and ideas, intricately connected with farflung places.

Flight 17 reflects and updates that history. Of course, by definition the plane was packed with travelers. But this tragedy gives an inadvertent indication of how racially mixed the country has become. Among the Dutch passengers listed on the flight manifest were a Vietnamese family who lived in Delft, the city of Vermeer; a Chinese couple from Rotterdam; a Dutch-Israeli student; a Dutch-Malaysian family; a Dutch-American; people born in Curacao and South Africa; and others with German, Indonesian and British backgrounds.

We hear about the growing multiethnicity of the country mostly through the screeching of right-wing fanatic Geert Wilders, member of parliament and leader of the Freedom Party, who riles up some elements of society by declaring that newcomers (read Muslims) are torpedoing Dutch traditions and turning the land of windmills into a giant mosque. The international media is a sucker for Wilders because he seems to give the lie to what the Dutch are most famous for (besides tulips and marijuana cafes): tolerance. The Dutch pioneered the concept in the 16th century, enshrining it in their de facto Constitution two centuries before “all men are created equal.” America’s history–especially New York’s–was deepling influenced by it, via the Dutch colony of New Netherland and its capital of New Amsterdam on Manhattan.

Wilders knows that the media always glom onto a counter-narrative, and he has used that fact repeatedly to his own advantage and to the detriment of his country’s image abroad. But one truth revealed by this tragedy is that the country is quietly becoming a melting pot, a place intricately connected to other parts of the world. The Dutch people who died on MH17 mirror their own rapidly evolving society, and remind the rest of us that our futures don’t lie in tribalism, but in expanding our connections.

Russell Shorto is the author of Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: July 22

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Ukraine rebels turn over bodies from downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17; Kerry seeks Gaza cease-fire; Detroit suspends water shutoffs; One of the largest private gifts ever for scientific research; Georgia GOP primary; 10 years since the 9/11 Commission report

  • “After days of resistance, pro-Russian rebels on Monday yielded some ground in the crisis surrounding downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17—handing over passengers’ bodies, relinquishing the plane’s black boxes and pledging broader access for investigators to the crash site.” [WashPost]
    • Why Putin Is Willing to Take Big Risks in Ukraine [WSJ]
    • “The crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 exposes the truth about RT, the Russian English-language propaganda outlet.” [TIME]
  • Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and U.N. diplomats pursued talks on halting fighting that has claimed more than 500 lives. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in neighboring Egypt, while U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Israel later in the day.” [Reuters]
  • “Whether the Afghan forces can sustain themselves in the critical districts the Green Berets will be ceding to them is an urgent question all over the country. The answer will help define America’s legacy in Afghanistan, much as it has in Iraq, where the Iraqi forces have fallen apart in combat.” [NYT]
  • “Congress and the President have finally found some common ground: Obama will sign the first significant legislative job training reform effort in nearly a decade on Tuesday.” [TIME]
  • Breakthrough on VA Reform Bill? [Hill]
  • “President Barack Obama on Monday signed an executive order aimed at protecting workers at federal contractors and in the federal government from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.” [Politico]
  • “The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is suspending its water shutoffs for 15 days starting today to give residents another chance to prove they are unable to pay their bills.” [Detroit Free Press]
  • “…the Broad Institute, a biomedical research center, announced a $650 million donation for psychiatric research from the Stanley Family Foundation—one of the largest private gifts ever for scientific research. It comes at a time when basic research into mental illness is sputtering, and many drug makers have all but abandoned the search for new treatments.” [NYT]
  • Jack Kingston’s Insider Advantage [NJ]
  • “The evidence for a left-wing challenge to Clinton that could defeat her is thin to nonexistent.” [Slate]
  • “Ten years ago today, we released The 9/11 Commission Report to the government and the American public…” [USA Today]
TIME Media

Inside the Bizarro World of ‘Russia Today’

James Kirchick on RT. RT

RT never lets such things as basic facts get in the way of crude propaganda.

Last Friday, Sara Firth announced via Twitter that she had resigned as a correspondent for RT, an international, multilingual news network entirely funded by the Russian government. “I couldn’t do it any more,” the London-based reporter told Buzzfeed. “Every single day we’re lying and finding sexier ways to do it.”

Firth’s resignation came a day after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed into the fields of Eastern Ukraine. Aside from Kremlin dissimulators and professional conspiracy theorists (often one and the same), nobody at this point doubts that Russian-backed separatists, using military hardware at the very least provided to them, if not operated, by Russian agents themselves, shot down the plane. Yet watching RT in the aftermath of the disaster, in which all 298 passengers were killed, one would have learned a very different story.

One hypothesis, floated insistently by the RT anchors and guests, was that the Ukrainian military shot down MH17, under the erroneous impression it was actually Vladimir Putin’s presidential jet. Forget the absurdity of accusing the Ukrainians of trying to assassinate the Russian president, thus bringing upon themselves a full-on, open invasion of their country (in contrast to the limited and largely covert operation that the Russians have been waging). As the separatists have not been in command of any planes, the Ukrainian military has not deployed air defenses in the area under contestation.

But RT never lets such things as basic facts get in the way of crude propaganda. In one segment I watched, an RT anchor incessantly asked an aviation expert if it was conceivable that the Ukrainians mistook MH17 for Putin’s due to the fact that both aircraft are painted in red, white and blue. That these are the colors of British Airways, Air France, Aeroflot and untold other national carriers did not give the host pause. Nor did the fact that his hypothesis attributes super-human eyesight to the would-be Ukrainian mass murderers, who must have somehow been able to discern President Putin’s plane from 33,000 feet (the height at which MH17 was flying when it was struck). Finally, if they could detect the colors of the plane’s exterior from such a distance, would they not also be able to see the “Malaysia Airlines” lettering?

It has been an embarrassing year for RT, the network formerly known as Russia Today. Founded in 2005 to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, RT – which broadcasts in English, Arabic and Spanish – aims to counter the influence of what Putin calls the “Anglo-Saxon mass media.” It does so via a poisonous admixture of hysterical anti-Western propaganda, financial alarmism, conspiracy theorizing and the promotion of political extremists from left and right united in hatred of America and liberal democracy.

I had my own run in with RT last August when the network invited me on to discuss the sentencing of Chelsea Manning, the former Army private who leaked hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables to Wikileaks. Donning a pair of rainbow suspenders, I proceeded to protest the recently enacted Russian law prohibiting propagation of “non-traditional sexual relationships to minors.” In March, RT host Abby Martin made headlines when she criticized Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, her mealy-mouthed, morally equivocating 60-second statement newsworthy only in the sense that opinions diverging from the Kremlin line are all but nonexistent on the network. Days later, RT anchor Liz Wahl quit live on-air, citing her grandparents’ fleeing the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary as one of several reasons why she could no longer “be part of a network that whitewashes the actions of Putin.”

A particularly egregious example was the most recent episode of the Truthseeker, an inaptly named program seeing that its host, Daniel Bushell, never finds it. Titled “Genocide in Eastern Ukraine,” the 14-minute segment alleged that the Ukrainian government is conducting a crime on par with the 1994 Rwandan genocide (responsible for 500,000 to 1 million victims), which, for good measure, the United States enthusiastically supported. The Ukrainian government (“the most far-right wing government on the face of the Earth,” a description that far better suits the current Russian regime), whose leaders “repeat Hitler’s genocidal oath,” is “bombing wheat fields to ensure there’s famine,” a perverse claim in light of the Soviet-orchestrated Holodomor, the killing by starvation that took the lives of millions of Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933. The segment featured an interview with crank “historian” William Engdahl, a regular columnist for the virulently anti-Semitic website Veterans Today, where he has suggested that terrorist bombings in Russia earlier this year were conducted by Israel in retribution “for Putin’s role in winning Obama away from war against Syria last fall and openly seeking a diplomatic resolution of the Iran nuclear problem.”

Such ravings are par for the course on RT, but what happened afterwards surprised observers who have grown accustomed to the network’s practice of throwing out an endless stream of indefensible allegations in hopes that some of them will stick in the media ecosystem. Two days after the program aired, RT announced via Twitter that it had removed the episode from its website due to “uncorroborated info.” If this were to be the new standard by which RT determines what material to air, it would have no choice but to shut down altogether.

James Kirchick is a fellow with the Foreign Policy Initiative.

TIME Malaysia

See the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Crash Site in Ukraine From Space

Malaysia Airlines flight 17 crash site in Ukraine, July 20, 2014.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site in eastern Ukraine, July 20, 2014. DigitalGlobe/Getty Images

Satellite image released by DigitalGlobe shows a main impact site on July 20

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was traveling some 33,000 feet above eastern Ukraine on July 17 when it was struck by a surface-to-air missile believed to have been fired by Russia-backed separatists, resulting in the deaths of 283 passengers and 15 crew members from 12 nations. (Read about the lives lost in the tragedy.)

DigitalGlobe released this image on July 21, one day after its QuickBird satellite captured it. Debris from the plane, which had been traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was scattered over several square miles near the area of Grabovo. (For a closer look, see Jérôme Sessini’s photographs from immediately after the crash.)

President Barack Obama accused the separatists on Monday of removing evidence from the impact site following reports that bodies were not being properly released and international investigators were being blocked from the scene.

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