Conflicting Accounts Muddy Picture of What Happened in Russia-Ukraine Incident

Reports early today spread rapidly, and the tenor was clear: Russia had once again taken a step of aggression, launching a ‘naval attack’ that resulted in the impounding of three Ukrainian vessels and the capture of at least two Ukrainian soldiers.

As has become standard practice, Russia was immediately fingered as the agitator, before facts could even be plausible collected. And, while they may well prove to have acted in a way that is not befitting of international diplomacy, it’s far too early to be calling for the President to establish a chain of events and condemn one party or the other:

‘Trump fails to single out Russia in Ukraine spat’ – Washington Post

‘Trump Offers Muted Ukraine Response, Punting the Problem to Europe’ – Bloomberg

‘Trump refuses to condemn Russian aggression against Ukraine’ CNN 

Here is what the President has said after a weekend naval confrontation between Ukrainian and Russian troops in the Black Sea, near the Crimean Peninsula.

‘President Donald Trump says the U.S. doesn’t approve of escalating violence “either way” between Russia and Ukraine.

Speaking publicly for the first time after a weekend naval confrontation off the disputed Crimean Peninsula raised tensions anew in the volatile region, Trump is not specifically calling out Russia’s behavior.

Says Trump, “We do not like what’s happening, either way, we don’t like what’s happening and hopefully it will get straightened out.” (Washington Post)

However, as has been reported in the same Washington Post report, Trump’s mouthpiece to the international community, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, ‘urged Russia to “immediately cease its unlawful conduct” in the Black Sea.’

That is a pretty straightforward indication that Russia is being presumed to be the aggressing party by the Trump camp. But, as has tended to be the case, anything less than an war cry levied against the Bear of the East by the President himself will continue to be painted as pro-Russian sympathy.

These critical reports feed into an existing narrative that President Trump is buddy-buddy with Russian president Vladimir Putin. It also supports more directly speculation persisting for months that seems to indicate that Trump would support a Russian annexation of Crimea.

Stories such as Politico’s bluntly-titled ‘Trump is Already Helping Putin Consolidate Control of Ukraine’, penned by Anna Nemtsova in August of 2016.

Again, it has to be stated that Russia could be the aggressor. And, if Ukraine’ declaration of martial law in 10 of its 27 regions ultimately proves to be a prescient move that preempts further Russian aggression, then the media will be proven right. But, as of now, reports are conflicting, and the rush to draw a conclusion rapidly serves nobody, and only works to escalate already testy international tensions regarding Russia and the West.

These reports also feed into the recent media M.O. of eschewing patient fact-gathering in favor of instant conclusions based on preconceptions and the whistling of the international winds at the time an incident happens to occur. Russia as the Cold War-era Bear is really, really hot right now in media circles, and reporting of the weekend’s event reflect that.

However, new report suggest that there may be far more to the weekend incident than first appears. And, if there is any credibility to the report, it could ultimately prove the American president right in not jumping to a conclusion.

Even mainstream reports acknowledged the Russian side of the story: that Ukrainian ships were sailing into their waters in a provocative manner.

‘In the morning, Ukraine said it had sent two gunboats and a tug from the Black Sea port of Odessa to Mariupol in the Sea of Azov…Russia accused Ukraine of illegally entering its territorial waters… Russia said the Ukrainian ships were in its waters illegally because Moscow had temporarily closed an area of water for shipping.’ (BBC)

Now, a report has indicated that captured soldiers stated that the Ukrainian ships had intentionally provoked a response from Russian boats.

On the way to Mariupol through the Kerch Strait we reached the territorial waters of the Russian Federation where the Border Service of the Russian Federation warned us that that we violated the legislation of the Russian Federation. They told us repeatedly to leave the territorial waters of the Russian Federation." - A Ukrainian crew member identified by Russian media as Andrey Drach via ZeroHedge

Another sailor, if the account is legitimate, would seem to indicate that the response from the Ukraian vessel was not to proceed with caution, but to defy Russian commands:

"We sailed further on 'Nikopol' and Russian vessels contacted us and requested us to stop and reverse." (ZeroHedge)

It must be stated that these translations are the result of Russian news outlets. This must be considered with much more than a grain of salt. Perhaps these responses were coerced, misrepresented, etc. Which is to say, these reports are not necessarily to be trusted, but they are to be considered. Because, considering and reporting all the facts and accounts is what responsible newsmen and journalists do.

Those preemptively calling for the American president to arm Ukraine may prove to be right. Or, their jeers may ultimately help further foment anti-Russian sentiment in the West, sentiment that inevitably is returned in kind. And, this may ultimately prove to result in the conflict that some are now openly predicting.

However, due process should be granted somewhat equitably in international affairs, and fact-gathering must maintain a deliberant aspect and impartiality that, as of now, does not seem to be bestowed upon Russia. For most, the hope is that the consequences of this do not result in armed conflict.

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