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Deutsche Welle is continuing to mislead the public about Russia’s Crimea land-grab

Halya Coynash
Internationally recognized borders are not re-drawn by armed annexations. This is certainly understood by Germany’s leaders and it is baffling that Deutsche Welle is continuing to present a different picture

Left: Screenshot of the map which Deutsche Welle posted in its report on 19 August, right Feb 2014, Photo: Guardian

Internationally recognized borders are not re-drawn by armed annexations.  This is certainly understood by Germany’s leaders and it is baffling that the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle constantly presents a rather different picture.  Almost literally, as its map of Ukraine and Russia from August 19 would seem to suggest. Crimea is, in fact, striped yellow, like Russia, and orange, like Ukraine, although this requires scrutiny to notice.  It looks yellow. 

That broadcast was made four days after an official response to outcry over a trip made by Juri Rescheto, head of DW’s Moscow office, to Crimea, his controversial pronouncements to the Kremlin-funded Russia Today, as well as Rescheto’s own tweets with the hashtag #CrimeaisRussia.  There is nothing to suggest that DW has protested against the reports on RT, however DW’s Press Office, Christoph Jumpelt immediately demanded ‘corrections’ to the article published here: How can Deutsche Welle take part in a Russian propaganda trip to Crimea?,   That text was amended only to reflect his statement that DW had paid for the trip, however his letter was posted below the text.  In fact, the assurance that a visit used openly for propaganda by Russia was funded by Germany’s public broadcaster should and seemingly did elicit angry questions from German taxpayers.  

Neither then, nor in his subsequent statement did the DW Press Officer address the real concerns.  Rescheto is quoted as asserting that his words had been taken out of context, that he had always condemned the annexation as illegal and that he had ‘inadvertently’ used the hashtag.  The Kremlin-funded media reports which we cited are still online, and in context or not, they express views which are disturbingly inappropriate for a person representing Deutsche Welle.

It may be that Mr Jumpelt explained that the DW team had taken a separate route merely for information.  The fact that they got off near the "Russian-Ukrainian border" and took a ferry fails to answer the question of why DW had entered Crimea illegally by not crossing through Ukraine’s border controls.  

There was no attempt to explain why, despite assurances of Rescheto’s reports on human rights violations, etc., the main DW report that Recheto produced after his visit is essentially an advertisement for tourism to Crimea.  The feature mentions only that Ukrainians stopped coming after annexation, without explaining that Crimea is under international sanctions and that the foreign ministries of all democratic countries, including Germany, advise their nationals against visits in breach of Ukrainian law.  It ignores such inconvenient details as the fact that the largest Ukrainian hotels in Crimea have simply been appropriated by Russia. 

DW’s defence of the chief of their Moscow office is baffling since Rescheto’s position on Crimea should surely have aroused concern from the outset.  In a video posted on the DW website on 29 March 2014 entitled “How Crimea is becoming Russian”, Rescheto begins with the words: "Crimea has decided. The peninsula is now part of Russia”.  He has, he says, come to Crimea to see how people’s lives have been affected by what he calls “the crisis”.

This was broadcast just two days after the UN General Assembly passed a Resolution calling on all states, international organizations and specialized agencies to not recognize any alteration to Crimea’s status and “to refrain from any action or dealing that might be interpreted as recognizing any such altered status.”

Yes, there are details about people who are unhappy.  Most viewers will understand that there are always those who are disgruntled.  They are unlikely to think much more of it, after all, according to Rescheto, "Crimea has decided". 

The same blurring of the issue is seen in most material, at least that in English, concerning Crimea on the DW page.  In the report accompanying the above-mentioned map, we learn that “Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Crimea, the annexed territory that once belonged to Ukraine. His visit comes shortly after he accused the government in Kyiv of a military incursion into the territory”.   There is nothing else in the report at all to indicate why Putin has no right to accuse Ukraine of ‘incursions’ into its own territory.

There is sometimes more detail, as, for example, here

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine of using "terrorist" tactics to try to provoke a new conflict over the region, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014 after justifying the move with the results of a controversial referendum among Crimean residents.”

The reports do use the term ‘annexed’ but talk only of a ‘referendum’, with no mention of the Russian soldiers who seized control from Feb 27, 2014.   This, it should be noted, has been true from the outset.  On 18 March 2014, an article entitled Putin defiantly moves forward with annexation of Crimea stated that “Russian President Putin has signed a bill that would annex Crimea, little more than a day after the region voted to join Russia”. … It later asserts that “Voters in the Black Sea peninsula voted over the weekend to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The referendum garnered 96.77 percent approval from voters.”

That result is so Soviet that alarm bells should have begun ringing.  They did not, and do not appear to be heard to this day. 

Deutsche Welle is thus gravely misleading its audience on events in Crimea.  Heavily armed Russian soldiers seized control on Feb 27, 2014 and installed a ‘government’ loyal to Russia.  The so-called ‘referendum’ was a fiction from the outset.  It was held within 10 days of being announced and offered no possibility for choosing the status quo.  The event was ‘observed’ only by politicians from far-right and neo-Stalinist parties known for their unwavering pro-Kremlin position.  Even Putin’s own Human Rights Council has acknowledged that the results were falsified.  It estimates a turnout and vote that would indicate far less than half of the Crimean population.  Any such ‘referendum’ was in breach of Ukraine’s Constitution, and could not possibly be considered fair when people were surrounded by Russian soldiers and armed paramilitaries with machine guns. 

In a report from Aug 10, 2016, DW states that “Ukraine, along with the United Nations and many other countries, regards the annexation as a violation of international law. But since the annexation, Crimea has remained largely peaceful.”

So that’s alright then?

Some other details that DW has seen fit not to mention.  No, there was no fighting, however the lack of it does not turn an invasion into something fuzzy and benign.  Ukraine was in no position to defend its territory against a much more powerful opponent.  Any attempt to fight the heavily armed soldiers would have led to bloodshed, yet changed nothing  

There was, however, peaceful resistance to Russia’s annexation.  The Crimean Tatars, the main indigenous people of Crimea, were virtually all against Russia’s occupation and their self-governing body – the Crimean Tatar Mejlis – called on people to boycott the pseudo referendum. 

Even before that, Refat Ametov, standing in silent protest, outside the seized parliamentary building, had been abducted and tortured to death. 

Civic activists disappeared, and were probably killed.  Others fled to mainland Ukraine.

Some of those who protested peacefully, like renowned filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko were arrested, tortured and then sentenced in Russia to huge terms of imprisonment on grotesque charges. 

The Crimean Tatar people have been especially persecuted, though even Rescheto’s slightly more adequate report on this is pitifully short on detail.  There is a great deal to be said, with the Mejlis itself having been banned, its leaders either prohibited from entering their homeland; imprisoned on trumped up charges or prosecuted and subjected to punitive psychiatry for openly saying that Russia should be forced to leave Crimea. 

DW should seriously consider whether its map is appropriate.  Crimea is not ’disputed territory’ in any normal sense of that word, but territory which was invaded and remains under Russian occupation.  It would be desirable if Germany’s public broadcaster also carry out a proper investigation into how its reports have come to be so full of misinformation and distortion. 

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