Another fake Ukrainian separatist stunt with the trail from Odesa to Moscow
Yet another paid pro-Russian separatist protest in Odesa was nipped in the bud on Sept. 19. The event itself was modest and mainly intended as a photo stunt to back a far more sinister and entirely fictitious 500-strong protest in Kyiv. This was supposed to have been in support of a ‘People’s Council of Bessarabia’ with banners claiming that the authorities are persecuting national minorities in the Odesa oblast.
The fact that not even the event in Odesa took place did not stop certain media from obligingly reporting both events. One of these media – Korespondent.net - has already demonstrated suspicious alacrity in reporting an equally unreal Romanian separatist stunt. The material was reported just as swiftly by the Russian TV channel Rossiya 24.
It was activists from the civic organization Oberih who observed and ‘nabbed’ participants of a paid protest stunt on Saturday. Oberih asserts that the organizers intended that 60 people would unfurl a banner reading Free Buzila (details below) outside the SIZO [remand prison], for which each would receive between 50 and 400 UAH. These real photos were supposed to give credibility to the imaginary demonstration in Kyiv.
The video here shows one of the paid ‘protesters’ getting a verbal grilling from a person whose voice is deliberately distorted. It is not clear whether any force was used earlier, but there is certainly none on the video. The young man, whose face is also slightly concealed, admits that payment of up to 400 UAH was mentioned for an hour’s ‘work’, and looks disconcerted, even shamed, when the man fills him in on details about the purpose of the protest.
Korespondent.net and Rossiya 24 TV present the same image of a demonstration outside the Cabinet of Ministers building in Kyiv. The Russian TV channel embellishes its story with images of people at a meeting, and of somebody being detained.
Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] stated within hours of the first media reports that there had been no such demonstration. Dumskaya.net spoke with Kyiv residents who’d been in that area and said that they had seen nothing of the sort. Even members of the so-called ‘People’s Council of Bessarabia’ knew nothing about a demonstration supposedly defending their rights.
Korespondent.net has not removed its report of a non-existent protest, posted at 14.35 on Sept 19. Its report claims that there were around 500 participants who “gathered to call on the authorities to immediately stop repression against the organization [the ‘People’s Council’] and Odesa oblast national minorities”.
No photos are provided to back the assertion that the participants had banners and placards with slogans like “We are for the People’s Council of Bessarabia”, “Bessarabia for national-cultural autonomy” and “Bessarabia against repression”.
Four members of the ‘Council’ are alleged to have addressed the demonstration and called for the release of “all political prisoners”, while the SBU are claimed to have arrested 20 people.
Rossiya 24 produces the same shots, but then adds other footage. It is not clear whether a video was released to the media, together with a press release, or whether the Russian channel embellished the story itself. Dumskaya.net points out that the video footage has an entirely different date on it.
In Ukraine, the story was posted largely by pro-Russian websites linked with the Kremlin-backed militants in Donbas – and by Korespondent.net. The latter recently also published a fake story about another supposedly dissatisfied minority group and the alleged founding conference of the so-called ‘Assembly of Romanians of Bukovyna’. Korespondent.net is one of the media still owned by millionaire Serhiy Kurchenko who gained vast wealth through his close contact with ex-President Viktor Yanukovych and, like Yanukovych, is hiding out in Russia.
This is not the first separatist stunt in Odesa. In April this year, the Russian media buzzed with reports of persecution of members of the then “newly-formed ‘People’s Council of Bessarabia’. The reports claimed that this new ‘council’ was endeavouring to defend the rights of the area’s national minorities, and quoted an appeal to President Petro Poroshenko “In connection with human rights violations in Odesa”. 20 activists were indeed detained temporarily, and at least two people, including Artem Buzila, are still in custody. Buzila is charged with encroaching on Ukraine’s territorial integrity and inviolability (Article 110 of the Criminal Code). The young man who planned to take part in the protest on Sept 19 knew nothing about him, and is told that Buzila received 20 thousand USD from Moscow for his activities. The case has yet to reach the court, and such allegations cannot be verified, but there do not at present appear to be any grounds for believing Buzila to be the victim of political persecution.
Dumskaya.net pointed out at the time that the site of this alleged ‘Council’ was registered in Moscow and that it was made up of people from Odesa; Moldova; Transnistria; as well as Gagauz civic figures, all of whom espouse a pro-Kremlin position.
These individuals claimed to be speaking for the ethnic communities of Bessarabia, yet a number of the most prominent organizations representing these communities publicly rejected such assertions, slamming them as fake and deliberate provocation.
Perhaps the best response was given by Dora Kostrova from the All-Ukrainian Assembly of Bulgarians, who demanded that the members of this supposed ‘council’ “explain why they are presuming to speak in the name of our peoples, why they want a repetition of the scenario seen in the east of Ukraine”.
The so-called ‘people’s republics’ in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts did indeed start out on the basis of organizations heavily supported by Russia, and propped up first by Russian ‘tourists’ of athletic build, later by mercenaries, Russian nationalists, as well as large numbers of Russian soldiers. It is quite widely believed in Odesa that the disturbances on May 2, 2014 were supposed to result in a scenario similar to that seen just weeks before in Donbas. Many believe that the tragic deaths that day were the jolt that prevented Odesa from being next in line.
The stunt and reports came on the eve of an almost certainly Kremlin-funded “Anti-Globalization Movement” congress in Moscow during which separatists from other countries, including Ukraine, but not the Russian Federation, were given VIP treatment in the President Hotel in Moscow.
The motives for Saturday’s stunt, and, indeed, for repeated attempts to get mileage out of a ‘People’s Council of Bessarabia’ with its Moscow-based address and allegations that minorities are persecuted in the Odesa oblast, remain unclear at present. That, however, could well be because Ukrainians have learned a bitter lesson and are becoming vigilant. The weekend’s events, both in Ukraine and in Moscow, suggest that there is very good cause.
The list below does not claim to be exhaustive, but the sheer number and common elements of previous fakes should indicate why such instances seem worthy of attention.