BBG Watch

In a show of incredible slowness, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) failed to make the Ukrainian fighting story one of its top news items, did not update it with new information and finally replaced its own short news item with a Reuters report, which gives more play to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov than to State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.

VOICE OF AMERICA ENGLISH NEWS VIA REUTERS: In Moscow, the Kremlin immediately took the side of the separatists, accusing the Ukrainian armed forces of carrying out provocative actions.
 
“In Moscow, we are following very closely, and are deeply concerned by, the provocative actions by the Ukrainian armed forces that are, as far as we can see, provoking the situation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on a call.
 
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said those responsible for the fresh fighting were trying to halt progress in internationally-brokered peace talks.
 
Washington blamed Moscow for the violence. “Russia bears direct responsibility for preventing these attacks and implementing a ceasefire. Any attempts to seize additional Ukrainian territory will be met with increased costs,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

On news stories of this importance, the Voice of America is required by its VOA Charter (Public Law 94-350) to “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively.” It failed in this case and in many others before.

As of 4:45 PM ET Wednesday, the Reuters news report on the VOA News website, last updated at 2:22 PM ET, does not appear among VOA Top News stories and shows only 2 (two) Facebook “Likes.”

A VOA News report as updated on June 3, 2015 at 5:47 PM ET has only one sentence on State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf’s comments on Ukraine and does not mention at all her lengthy explanation of what she meant by using the terminology, “combined Russian-separatist forces.”

VOA Homepage Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 4 47 PM ET

Reuters Report on VOA Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 4 46 PM ET

As of 4:50 PM ET, Ukraine fighting is number two news story on Russia’s RT English news website with over 1,500 Facebook “Likes” compared to 2 (two) “Likes” for the story on the VOA News website. RT also quotes Peskov and Lavrov, but not State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. BBC has the story now in the fourth position.

DW has it now it the third position. RFE/RL English news website has the story in the number one position.

As of 5:05 PM ET, RFE/RL Russian Service Radio Svoboda report on Ukrainian fighting was showing 1,000 Facebook “Likes.” VOA Russian Service report was showing 15 (fifteen) Facebook “Likes.” The Ukraine fighting story still does not appear among top news on the VOA website.

UPDATE: VOA Ukrainian and Russian Services to their credit eventually posted separate news reports on State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf’s comments about Ukrainian fighting, but neither service included video from the State Department briefing.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt had to retweet a Deutsche Welle Ukrainian Service report on U.S. State Department spokeswoman’s comments because VOA had just two sentences on it earlier, and only in English.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine also had a tweet with a video clip of Marie Harf’s, which VOA failed to put online.

RT

RT English Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 8 14 PM ET
RT English Ukraine Fighting Report Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 8:14 PM ET

VOA English

VOA English Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 8.14 PM ET
VOA English Ukraine Fighting Report Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 8:14 PM ET

RFE/RL Radio Svoboda Russian

RFERL Radio Svoboda Russian Service Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 8 12 PM ET
RFE/RL Radio Svoboda Russian Service Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 8:12 PM ET

VOA Russian

VOA Russian Service Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 8.13 PM ET
VOA Russian Service Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 8:13 PM ET

VOA Ukrainian

VOA Ukrainian Report Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 8.35 PM ET
VOA Ukrainian Report Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 8:35 PM ET

RFE/RL Ukrainian

RFERL Ukrainian Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 8.36 PM ET
RFE/RL Ukrainian Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 8:36 PM ET

Voice of America News is not showing video of State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf or reporting on her comments at much length.

Much more information about U.S. and other reactions to the new Russian military offensive in Ukraine can, however, be found online.

Marie Harf
Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 3, 2015

MS HARF: And lastly on Ukraine, we are disturbed by reports, including those from the OSCE that combined Russian-separatist forces launched coordinated attacks overnight against Ukrainian positions near Donetsk – near Donetsk city in Pisky, Luhansk, and Maryinca. We are now seeing unconfirmed reports that the town of Maryinca may have fallen. These attacks by combined Russian-separatist forces are on the Ukrainian side of the ceasefire line. They have reportedly utilized Grad rockets and other heavy weapons that should have been withdrawn under the February Minsk plan, and they’ve reportedly killed at least one and injured 20 Ukrainians. Any new attack or aggressive action by combined Russian-separatist forces is unacceptable and contravenes the Minsk agreements. Russia bears direct responsibility for preventing these attacks and implementing a ceasefire. Any attempts to seize additional Ukrainian territory will be met with increased costs.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the Ukraine stuff?

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: So Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that the fresh fighting was – had stalled the peace plan – I’m sorry, stalled peace talks. Is this your understanding as well?

MS HARF: Well, I saw some of those reports, and as I said, Russia bears direct responsibility for what’s happening here. These are combined Russian separatist forces that launched coordinated attacks overnight against Ukrainian positions on the Ukrainian Government’s side of the ceasefire line.

QUESTION: Do you know if – this is all happening just before the EU discusses whether to keep sanctions against Russia. Has the U.S. been advising them in any direction?

MS HARF: Well, we’ve certainly been in close coordination with our European counterparts on this issue of sanctions particularly.

QUESTION: And is the U.S. considering anything new or continuous on the sanctions as well?

MS HARF: Well, we’ve said if Russia continues its aggressive actions and violations of international law, the contest – the costs, excuse me, will continue to rise. But we’ve also said if the Minsk agreements are fully implemented by Russia, we can roll back some significant sanctions. So the choice is really on Russia here on sanctions.

QUESTION: So is this your – is what’s happening now, given that you’re blaming Russia for this, that you believe that the sanctions should be increased, or —

MS HARF: We’ll continue to impose additional costs, and we’re having those conversations internally, certainly, and with our partners. And I don’t have much more detail to share today.

Michael, yes.

QUESTION: Marie, on Ukraine.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: This terminology, “combined Russian-separatist forces,” I think was introduced here a few weeks ago —

MS HARF: Mm-hmm, it was.

QUESTION: — in a statement. Could you explain that a little more? It seems to me that what you’re referring to are – they’re Russian conventional military forces with separatist forces, but actual Russian troops? Or what do you mean by “combined Russian-separatist forces”? Are they under Russian command and control? Are they regular Russian army troops? Do you have any numbers as to —

MS HARF: As to how many?

QUESTION: — how many personnel are involved in this —

MS HARF: Numbers are —

QUESTION: — what sort of asset – weapons systems they have?

MS HARF: Yeah. Numbers are a little hard to come by on this given that Russia actively tries to camouflage its soldiers that are going in. They take off their insignias; they’ve covered up their insignias on tanks, for example, and trying to scrub them. But the Russian military has advanced air defense systems in eastern Ukraine. Russian and separatist forces have a large concentration of command and control equipment in eastern Ukraine together. Combined Russian-separatist forces have conducted complex training together in eastern Ukraine. And really, the complex nature of this training leaves no doubt that Russia was involved itself in this training. And this training has also incorporated Russian UAVs, an, I think, unmistakable sign of Russia’s presence. Russia’s shipped additional heavy weaponry into eastern Ukraine. Combined Russian-separatist forces maintain artillery pieces and multiple rocket launcher systems within areas that are prohibited. So they’re really operating together here. Russia’s taking steps to cover this up and to mask what they’re doing, but again, given the kinds of weaponry, given the kinds of command and control, certainly these are combined forces operating in eastern Ukraine.

QUESTION: Just two quick clarifications.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are they under Russian command and control? That seems to be what you’re asserting.

MS HARF: Well, no, I said the Russian-separatist forces are jointly operating command and control equipment together in eastern Ukraine.

QUESTION: And these are Russian army troops?

MS HARF: I don’t know if it’s army. I’m happy to check on specifics. But we’ve said Russian troops, yes.

QUESTION: And the UAVs are being flown from within Ukrainian territory, or across the border from Russia, or both?

MS HARF: Well, they’re Russian UAVS. Let me see if we have more details about where they’re being flown from.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS HARF: You’re welcome.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Ukraine. Last week, your colleague here at the briefing said that Ukraine’s rebel forces are responsible for, quote, “the overwhelming number of violations of the Minsk agreements.” I’m looking at the OSCE daily reports for the last two months – daily reports of violations – and here’s what they show: Ceasefire violations – in nine of their reports, it appears that Donetsk and Lugansk forces were – have violated the ceasefire. In eight of their reports, it appears that the Ukrainian Government has violated the ceasefire. In nine of the reports, it was not clear who violated that ceasefire. Now, withdrawal of heavy weapons: rebel forces, 33 reports of violations; government forces, 35 reports of violations. This is hardly a vast majority behind —

MS HARF: I haven’t seen —

QUESTION: A question.

MS HARF: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Where do you – and I mean the State Department – get the information that the rebel forces are responsible for the vast majority of violations?

MS HARF: From a variety of sources, including the OSCE. So I’m happy to take a look at what you’ve quoted specifically and look at the numbers underlying that.

QUESTION: I’m looking at all their daily —

MS HARF: But there’re a lot of numbers here, and a lot of people can use numbers in different ways, and I want to take a look at them myself. But what we know from the OSCE – again, I can take a look at what numbers you’re quoting, and I’m happy to get into them specifically and see what more we can say.

QUESTION: The daily reports – their daily reports do not show an overwhelming majority.

MS HARF: I think our experts who look at them say something different, so let me go back to our team. But everything we’re getting from the OSCE and other sources of information indicates that a vast majority, as my colleague said, are from the Russian separatist combined forces. So we can go through the numbers, and I’m happy to do that, but again – I would also mention that the Russian separatist forces are preventing OSCE access in many places and they’re not letting them in to see what’s actually going on.

QUESTION: A simple question: Do you acknowledge that the Ukrainian Government too is violating the Minsk agreements?

MS HARF: Well, I think by saying a vast majority are the Russian separatist forces, that would then indicate —

QUESTION: But —

MS HARF: — that a small, a very small minority are on the other side. But let’s also remember here —

QUESTION: That is not clear from the OSCE daily report.

MS HARF: I just told you I would look at them, and we can get into a numbers game here and see what numbers you’re using and what other experts, including our team, says. Broadly speaking, though, this is Ukrainian territory. The Ukrainians have a right to defend themselves when Russia sends into their territory heavy weapons, tanks, fighters, across that – just today across the ceasefire line into Ukrainian territory.

QUESTION: But that was not my question. Can I – it’s a simple yes or no question.

MS HARF: I think I just answered your question.

QUESTION: Do you acknowledge that the Ukrainian Government too is violating the Minsk agreements? Yes or no.

MS HARF: I think I just – I think I – we don’t do yes or no’s here. I think I just answered your question when I said if a large majority is the Russian separatist forces, then there’s a very small minority that is on the other side. I think I answered your question.

QUESTION: Is that a yes?

MS HARF: I’m not going to play that game with you.

QUESTION: It is not a game.

MS HARF: Justin, let’s move on.

QUESTION: OSCE reports —

MS HARF: I said I —

QUESTION: — show violations on both sides.

MS HARF: I said I would look into these reports, and I don’t have anything else for you until I’ve seen them myself.

QUESTION: Why do you feel so uncomfortable to acknowledge —

MS HARF: I don’t.

QUESTION: — that the Ukrainian Government too is violating the Minsk agreements?

MS HARF: I don’t feel uncomfortable about – I just answered your question.

QUESTION: Then why – you did not answer it. Yes or no. Did you answer question —

MS HARF: I’m not going to say yes or no.

QUESTION: — do you acknowledge that the Ukrainian Government —

MS HARF: I’m going to answer the question in the way I think is appropriate, and I just did. And I’m going to move on now.

QUESTION: Which is not answering.

MS HARF: Justin.

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Just on this, Marie.

MS HARF: Yeah. Or Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you – as far as I can tell, you are acknowledging that there are some violations. You say —

MS HARF: We’ve said that publicly.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: But why did it take so long to get to the point where you would acknowledge them? I mean, two weeks ago there was no answer to the question at all, not even what you said —

MS HARF: I think often information is just conflicting and we don’t have all the information we need to answer that question.

QUESTION: And —

MS HARF: In part, again, because OSCE monitors can’t get into a lot of these places.

QUESTION: Given – if we accept what you say is happening is happening, and there are certainly independent reports of —

MS HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: — big fighting going on, isn’t Minsk dead now?

MS HARF: Well, we firmly believe that Minsk is the path forward here. And the Russians signed it, the Ukrainians signed it. And the Russians, when we were there, said privately and publicly they would implement it, which they haven’t done yet. And we believe it is the right framework moving forward to de-escalate here; that it has in it the ingredients we need. What needs to happen isn’t some new framework; it’s the Russians actually implementing it.

QUESTION: Well, given what you’ve said today, do you – are you saying then that we were – when we – that when we were in Sochi, that President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov lied to the Secretary?

MS HARF: Not at all. Not at all.

QUESTION: Oh. Well, what —

MS HARF: They said it – Foreign Minister Lavrov said it in his press availability.

QUESTION: Right. But you seem to be taken aback a little bit by the fact that there is fighting going on and saying that the Russians are violating it.

MS HARF: Well —

QUESTION: So I just want to know: Do you think the Russians are backing out —

MS HARF: I mean —

QUESTION: — going back on their word that they gave the Secretary?

MS HARF: I’ll let them speak – I’ll let them speak to the reasons why they haven’t fully implemented Minsk yet. That’s what I would say.

QUESTION: And – and then this is going to get back to the Secretary, but do you know if he’s made any calls about this, and – or on other subjects while you’ve been —

MS HARF: He has not today. He has not today.

Yes, Pam.

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