Russia bashing: Hartcher and the SMH rewrite history yet again

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James O'Neill warns that without independent media, we could easily sleep walk into yet another war on behalf of a dangerous “ally.”

THE RELENTLESS, ill-informed and dangerous Russia bashing by Australia’s mainstream media proceeds apace. One of the worst offenders is the grandly titled ‘international editor’ of the Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Hartcher.

In a lengthy opinion piece in the SMH this week, he claims there are seven longer-run lessons of the UK’s referendum result favouring an exit from the European Union.

Quite how the non-binding referendum decision that may or may not lead to an actual British exit can lead to geopolitical dimensions as wide as “the end of the experiment in pacifist optimism” is unclear.

Hartcher quotes Robert Cooper’s 2002 essay ‘The Post-Modern State’ (2002) that the advanced “post-modern” States were characterized by

'the rejection of force for resolving disputes and the consequent codification of self-enforced rules of behaviour.'

One wonders what sort of “post-modern” world Hartcher inhabits. Since Cooper’s essay these post-modern States have:

  • Continued a 15 year occupation of Afghanistan, commenced a year before Cooper’s essay was written and based upon a series of lies.
  • Invaded Iraq in an ongoing devastation of their society.
  • Violently overthrown the government of Libya, sending that country spiraling down the hierarchy of living standards from being top in Africa to one of the worst.  It is now racked by civil war.
  • Supported a military coup d’état in Honduras
  • Precipitated an illegal war in Syria, creating large scale death and destruction.
  • Supported Saudi Arabia’s illegal war on Yemen, one of the world’s poorest nations.
  • Supported Israel’s ongoing destruction of Palestine

In addition to these overt military actions, there has been constant hybrid warfare waged via such favoured devices as ‘colour revolutions’ economic warfare, sabotage and assassinations.

As recently as this month, NATO has staged large-scale war games on Russia’s European borders. That exercise, Anaconda, included German troops and occurred on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the German invasion of Russia. The Russian-German war cost the lives of 27 million Russian citizens and is the single most important reason why we speak English today rather than German or Japanese.

ANACONDA: The biggest NATO drills in Europe since COLD WAR

If such insensitive and provocative exercises represent a “rejection of force” as Hartcher would have us believe, then it takes a decidedly myopic and distorted view of reality to reach that conclusion.

Quite apart from the military aggression in the aforementioned countries, the western media has waged a relentless propaganda war. A particular target of this warfare has been Russia in general and President Putin in particular.

It has become so outrageous that, as one observer noted, if Putin walked on water he would be accused of being unable to swim.

Hartcher has been among the more enthusiastic purveyors of this campaign of disinformation. In his article he writes:

‘Russia invades its neighbours and seizes territory as it pleases, and gets away with it.’

Hartcher does not specify what “invasions” he has in mind, or what territory Russia has “seized”. Probably for the very good reason that he could not provide specific examples because they are nonexistent.

Western Russia-bashing is not new, though it has never been so counter-productive

If he had in mind Russia’s brief war with Georgia in 2008, that began when Georgia sent troops into Abkhazia and South Ossetia to crush a separatist movement in August of 2008. Russia came to the assistance of the separatists.

Russia withdrew its troops from Georgian territory in October 2008. An independent European Union report published on 30 September 2009 stated that Georgia was responsible for the start of hostilities.

If Hartcher had in mind Ukraine, then he and his newspaper are among the worst offenders in failing to inform its readers about what really happened in that country. Readers of the SMH would be blissfully unaware that there was a violent coup in February 2014, masterminded and paid for by the Americans. Victoria Nuland of the U.S. State Department was the coup master.

It was as a result of that coup, and its violent aftermath against Russian speaking Ukrainians in the east of the country, that a civil war has been waging ever since.  More than two million Ukrainians fled as refugees into Russia, a fact completely overlooked by the Australian media.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has independent observers in Ukraine, monitoring the Minsk Accord, which Ukraine consistently violates. They have confirmed on multiple occasions that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine, although it is abundantly clear from the nature of the ongoing provocations that the U.S. and its allies would dearly like the Russians to invade.

Perhaps Hartcher had Crimea in mind.  Crimea was historically part of Russia, which he would know if he was paying attention in school history lessons when the Crimean War was discussed. Khrushchev “gave” Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. The Crimeans were not consulted.

After the February 2014 coup, Crimea held a referendum, first to separate from Ukraine and then whether to apply to rejoin the Russian Federation. The results were overwhelmingly in favour of secession from Ukraine and for rejoining Russia.

The U.N. Charter, and international law, specifically provide for such processes. When Kosovo wished to secede from Serbia, the Americans mounted a bombing campaign in support of their wish to secede. As far as Hartcher and the SMH are concerned, such history is down the memory hole.

Kosovo is now a centre for drug distribution for Europe and the site of an enormous U.S. military base. Hartcher and the mainstream media never write critically of the vast array of U.S. military bases in Europe and elsewhere. Neither do they report that the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty, all the more able to put missile bases on Russia’s borders, as they have done as recently as this year.

Far simpler to repeat their mindless and fact free assertions that everything the “west” does is from the purest of motives and to deter “Russian aggression.”

It would almost be comic were it not potentially so serious. As Australia has shown with its eager participation in the illegal U.S.-led assault on Syria, the risk of confrontation with Russia is very real. The same is equally true of our participation in military exercises in the South China Sea, ostensibly to deter “Chinese aggression” that Hartcher also writes of with his customary bias.

This election has been marked by an almost complete absence of policy debate about foreign affairs. This is partly because Labor and the Coalition sing from the same song sheet in their eagerness to appease the Americans.

Only the Greens have released a foreign affairs policy document that actually raises the serious issues Australia ought to be addressing. As Hartcher’s article shows, we cannot rely upon the mainstream media to fill the policy void with other than half-baked analysis.

Were it not for the alternative media, we could easily sleep walk into yet another war on behalf of a dangerous “ally.”

James O'Neill is a former academic, and has practiced as a barrister since 1984. He writes on geo-political issues, with a special emphasis on international law and human rights. He may be contacted at

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