Did The West Provoke The Ukraine War? Sorry, That Question Has Been Cancelled

Is it possible for an entire ‘mainstream’ media system – every newspaper, website, TV channel – to completely suppress one side of a crucial argument without anyone expressing outrage, or even noticing? Consider the following.

In February 2022, Nigel Farage, former and future leader of the Reform UK party, tweeted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was:

‘A consequence of EU and NATO expansion, which came to a head in 2014. It made no sense to poke the Russian bear with a stick.’

In a recent interview, the BBC reminded Farage of this comment. He responded:

‘Why did I say that? It was obvious to me that the ever-eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union was giving this man [Putin] a reason to his Russian people to say they’re coming for us again, and to go to war.

‘We’ve provoked this war – of course it’s his fault – he’s used what we’ve done as an excuse.’

The BBC quickly made this a major news story by publishing a front page, top headline piece by BBC journalist Becky Morton who cited, and repeated, high-level sources attacking Farage. Morton wrote:

‘Former Conservative Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who is not standing in the election, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Farage was like a “pub bore we’ve all met at the end of the bar”.’

And:

‘Conservative Home Secretary James Cleverly said Mr Farage was echoing Mr Putin’s “vile justification” for the war and Labour branded him “unfit” for any political office.’

Morton then repeated both criticisms:

‘Mr Wallace – who oversaw the UK’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 – said Mr Farage “is a bit like that pub bore we’ve all met at the end of the bar” and often presents “very simplistic answers” to complex problems.’

And:

‘Conservative Home Secretary James Cleverly said, Mr Farage was “echoing Putin’s vile justification for the brutal invasion of Ukraine”.’

Morton piled on the pain:

‘Labour defence spokesman John Healey said Mr Farage’s comments made him “unfit for any political office in our country, let alone leading a serious party in Parliament”.

‘Former Nato Secretary General Lord Robertson accused Mr Farage of “parroting the Kremlin Line” and “producing new excuses for the brutal, unprovoked attack”.’

Wallace, Cleverly, Healey and Robertson are all, of course, influential, high-profile figures; compiling their criticisms in this way sent a powerful message to BBC readers. Remarkably, one might think – given the BBC’s supposed devotion to presenting ‘both sides’ of an argument – Morton offered no source of any kind in support of Farage’s argument.

The BBC intensified its coverage by opening a ‘Live’ blog (reserved for top news stories, disasters and scandals) on the issue, titled:

‘Farage “won’t apologise” for Ukraine comments after Starmer and Sunak criticism’

The BBC reported:

‘Keir Starmer has called Nigel Farage’s comments on Ukraine “disgraceful” as Rishi Sunak says they play into Putin’s hands’

Again, nowhere in the ‘Live’ blog coverage did the BBC cite arguments in support of Farage’s argument. Is it because they don’t exist?

In June 2022, Ramzy Baroud interviewed Noam Chomsky:

‘Chomsky told us that it “should be clear that the (Russian) invasion of Ukraine has no (moral) justification.” He compared it to the US invasion of Iraq, seeing it as an example of “supreme international crime.” With this moral question settled, Chomsky believes that the main “background” of this war, a factor that is missing in mainstream media coverage, is “NATO expansion.”

‘”This is not just my opinion,” said Chomsky, “it is the opinion of every high-level US official in the diplomatic services who has any familiarity with Russia and Eastern Europe. This goes back to George Kennan and, in the 1990s, Reagan’s ambassador Jack Matlock, including the current director of the CIA; in fact, just everybody who knows anything has been warning Washington that it is reckless and provocative to ignore Russia’s very clear and explicit red lines. That goes way before (Vladimir) Putin, it has nothing to do with him; (Mikhail) Gorbachev, all said the same thing. Ukraine and Georgia cannot join NATO, this is the geostrategic heartland of Russia.”’

We know people are interested in Chomsky’s views on the Ukraine war because when we posted a comment from him on X it received 430,000 views and 7,000 likes (huge numbers by our standards).

In 2022, John Pilger commented:

‘The news from the war in Ukraine is mostly not news, but a one-sided litany of jingoism, distortion, omission.  I have reported a number of wars and have never known such blanket propaganda.

‘In February, Russia invaded Ukraine as a response to almost eight years of killing and criminal destruction in the Russian-speaking region of Donbass on their border.

‘In 2014, the United States had sponsored a coup in Kiev that got rid of Ukraine’s democratically elected, Russian-friendly president and installed a successor whom the Americans made clear was their man.’

Pilger added:

‘Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is wanton and inexcusable. It is a crime to invade a sovereign country. There are no “buts” – except one.

‘When did the present war in Ukraine begin and who started it? According to the United Nations, between 2014 and this year, some 14,000 people have been killed in the Kiev regime’s civil war on the Donbass. Many of the attacks were carried out by neo-Nazis.’

In May 2023, economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University wrote:

‘Regarding the Ukraine War, the Biden administration has repeatedly and falsely claimed that the Ukraine War started with an unprovoked attack by Russia on Ukraine on February 24, 2022. In fact, the war was provoked by the U.S. in ways that leading U.S. diplomats anticipated for decades in the lead-up to the war, meaning that the war could have been avoided and should now be stopped through negotiations.

‘Recognizing that the war was provoked helps us to understand how to stop it. It doesn’t justify Russia’s invasion.’ (Our emphasis)

Sachs has previously been presented as a credible source by the BBC on other issues. In 2007, Sachs gave five talks for the BBC’s Reith Lectures.

The New Yorker magazine described political scientist Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago as ‘one of the most famous critics of American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War’. Mearsheimer commented:

‘I think the evidence is clear that we did not think he [Putin] was an aggressor before February 22, 2014. This is a story that we invented so that we could blame him. My argument is that the West, especially the United States, is principally responsible for this disaster. But no American policymaker, and hardly anywhere in the American foreign-policy establishment, is going to want to acknowledge that line of argument…’

There are numerous other credible sources, including Benjamin Abelow, author of How The West Brought War to Ukraine (Siland Press, 2022) and Richard Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands (Yale University Press, 2022). Journalist Ian Sinclair, author of The March That Shook Blair (Peace News, 2013), published a collection of material titled:

‘Testimony from US government and military officials, and other experts, on the role of NATO expansion in creating the conditions for the Russian invasion of Ukraine’

Sinclair cited, for example, current CIA Director William Burns:

‘Sitting at the embassy in Moscow in the mid-nineties, it seemed to me that NATO expansion was premature at best and needlessly provocative at worst.’

And George F. Kennan, a leading US Cold War diplomat:

‘…something of the highest importance is at stake here. And perhaps it is not too late to advance a view that, I believe, is not only mine alone but is shared by a number of others with extensive and in most instances more recent experience in Russian matters. The view, bluntly stated, is that expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era’.

We can understand why the BBC might want to cite Sunak, Starmer, Wallace, Cleverly, Healey and Robertson, but we can’t understand why it would ignore the counterarguments and sources cited above.

It gets worse. A piece in the Daily Mail essentially repeated the BBC performance with endless vitriolic comments again cited from Sunak, Starmer, Cleverly, Healey, Robertson and several others. And again, no counterarguments.

A Reuters report quoted Sunak and Healey but no counterarguments.

ITV cited former prime minister Boris Johnson:

‘To try and spread the blame is morally repugnant and parroting Putin’s lies.’

No counterarguments were allowed, other than from Farage himself. At a recent rally, he held up a front-page headline from the i newspaper in 2016, which read, tragicomically:

‘Boris blames EU for war in Ukraine’

That about sums up the state of both Boris Johnson and UK politics generally.

The Telegraph cited Cleverly and other high-profile sources attacking Farage:

‘Tobias Ellwood, the former Tory defence minister, told The Telegraph: “Churchill will be turning in his grave. Putin, already enjoying how Farage is disrupting British politics, will be delighted to hear this talk of appeasement entering our election debate.”

‘Lord West of Spithead, the former chief of the naval staff, said: “Anyone who gives any seeming excuse to president Putin and his disgraceful attack … is standing into danger as regards their views on world affairs.” James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “Just Farage echoing Putin’s vile justification for the brutal invasion of Ukraine.”

‘Liam Fox, the former Tory defence secretary, told The Telegraph: “The West did not ‘provoke this war’ in Ukraine and it is shocking that Nigel Farage should say so.”’ (Daily Telegraph, ‘Farage: West provoked Russia to attack Ukraine’, 22 June 2024)

Again, all alternative views were ignored as non-existent.

In the Independent, journalist Tom Watling packed his article with comments from Sunak, Starmer and Wallace. Again, no counterarguments were allowed.

The Guardian cited Sunak, Healey and Cleverly. Again, no counterarguments were included. (Peter Walker, ‘Nigel Farage claims Russia was provoked into Ukraine war’, The Guardian, 21 June 2024)

With such limited resources, it is difficult for us to wade through all mentions of this story, but we will stick our necks out and suggest that it is quite possible that no sources supporting Farage’s argument have been cited in any UK national newspaper.

By any rational accounting, this ‘mainstream’ coverage is actually a form of totalitarian propaganda. It has denied the British public the ability to even understand the criticisms. Most people reading these reports will simply not understand why Farage made the claim – it is a taboo subject in ‘mainstream’ coverage – and so they have no way of making sense of either his argument or the backlash. This is deep bias presented as ‘news’. It is fake news.

And this suppression of honest journalism in relation to one of the most dangerous and devastating wars of our time, in which our own country is deeply involved, is happening in the run up to what is supposed to be a democratic election.

None of the above is intended as a defence of Farage’s wider political stance. On the contrary, we agree with political journalist Peter Oborne:

‘Farage, a close ally of Donald Trump, who has supported Marine Le Pen in France and spoken at an AfD rally in Germany, fits naturally into the rancid politics of the far-right movements making ground across Europe and in the United States.’

Farage and his far-right views have been endlessly platformed by the BBC.

Needless to say, the Ukraine war is only one of many key issues that are off the agenda for our choice-as-no-choice political system. In a rare example of dissent, Owen Jones commented in the Guardian:

‘Is this a serious country or not? It is egregious enough that this general election campaign is so stripped of discussion about the defining issues facing us at home for the next half decade, whether that be public spending, the NHS or education. But it is especially shocking how quickly the butchery in Gaza – and the position of this imploding government and its successor – has been forgotten.’

Jones noted:

‘On Thursday night’s BBC Question Time leaders’ special, there was not a single question or answer on Gaza.

‘Seriously? Clearly this is an issue that matters to many Britons.’

Earlier this month, Professor Bill McGuire, Emeritus Professor of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London commented:

‘The most astonishing thing about the UK election campaign is not what the leaders and parties are saying, but what they are NOT saying

‘It beggars belief that the #climate is simply not an issue and – as far as I have heard – has not been addressed by either leader

‘Just criminal’

It works like magic: two major political parties ostensibly representing the ‘left’ and ‘right’ of the political spectrum, but both actually serving the same establishment interests, naturally ignore issues that offend power. Establishment media can then also ignore these issues on the pretext that the party-political system covers the entire spectrum of thinkable thought, and that any ideas outside that ‘spectrum’ have no particular right to be heard at election time. Indeed, to venture beyond the carefully filtered bubble of party politics is seen as actually undemocratic. As one ITV journalist reported:

‘Outrage at Nigel Farage’s comments about the war in Ukraine has drawn criticism from all corners of British politics.’

Not quite. They drew criticism from the select few corners of British politics that are allowed to exist in our ‘managed democracy’.

DE