As Peter Hart (FAIR Blog, 3/31/14) writes, US intelligence claims about a Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border are just that–claims–and should be treated as such until they can be independently verified. On NBC Nightly News (3/28/14), however, anchor Brian Williams and Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski not only took these claims as gospel, they used them as the jumping off point for alarmist speculation.
Williams, reporting on a call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama, told viewers that the Pentagon is “worried that Putin is about to move on the rest of Ukraine.” And, with that, he turned things over to Miklasziewski:
Brian, that phone call tonight between the two presidents may have at least won Ukraine a short reprieve from a Russian invasion. Defense officials here tell us that as of tonight, the Russians have enough military firepower in place to invade Ukraine. There is an estimated 40,000 heavily armed Russian troops positioned near the Ukraine border. They are armed with tanks, attack helicopters, even field hospitals, to treat any wounded. Now, according to US intelligence officials, those troops are now positioned in–and locked down in three Russian military bases, about 40 to 60 miles from the Russian border. Intelligence officials say that it appears Russia wants to seize a large part of southeastern Ukraine. That would give its military a direct and open land route from Russia to Crimea. Now, if those upcoming US/Russian talks should break down for any reason, officials here warn that Russia could still launch an invasion without warning and admit that the US and Ukraine would be powerless to stop it.
Reality check: In 2003, the United States, with the most technologically advanced military on Earth, sent 150,000 troops to invade Iraq, a militarily crippled state–and this is now widely recognized as a vastly inadequate number, even with the assistance of 23,000 British and other troops. But 40,000 Russian troops are “enough military firepower in place to invade Ukraine,” a country half again as large as Iraq in 2003 and a much more even technological match for Russia? I get the feeling that Miklaszewski doesn’t know when his intelligence sources are pulling his leg.