‘Troop Buildup on the Border’–We’ve Heard This Before

NBC-UkraineWith all of the unknowns swirling around the Russia/Ukraine story, media seem to agree on one thing: Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops on their border with Ukraine, and this is of intense concern. 

On ABC World News (3/26/14), Jonathan Karl spoke of “those Russian troops continue to mass along Ukraine’s border.”  

A Foreign Policy report (3/27/14) begins:

American intelligence agencies have told Obama administration officials and key congressional staffers that there is mounting evidence that Russia is putting the pieces in place for an invasion of eastern Ukraine, and that the possibility of an imminent assault cannot be ruled out, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

The Wall Street Journal (3/28/14) reported:

Russian troops massing near Ukraine are actively concealing their positions and establishing supply lines that could be used in a prolonged deployment, ratcheting up concerns that Moscow is preparing for another major incursion and not conducting exercises as it claims, US officials said.

Such an incursion could take place without warning because Russia has already deployed the array of military forces needed for such an operation, say officials briefed on the latest US intelligence.

Citing Secretary of State John Kerry, the Washington Post (3/30/14) refers to the “massing of troops for possible further moves against the neighboring country,” while USA Today (3/30/14) discusses how the “Russian buildup of troops on its border with Ukraine is creating a climate of fear and intimidation.”

So it appears that there are claims being made based on intelligence that very few people have likely seen. The Foreign Policy piece helpfully points out that some of this could be intelligence sources swinging their judgments in the other direction:

Two officials said that the intelligence warnings have taken on a more alarming tone in part because the CIA failed to predict Putin’s Crimea invasion…. That missed call has chastened US intelligence analysts and forced them to reassess their judgments about Putin, one official said.

It could be that Russia, for any number of reasons, has decided to move tens of thousands of troops to the area.  They claim nothing out of the ordinary is happening, except for some training exercises. NBC correspondent Jim Maceda (NBC News, 3/30/14) went to the border area to check out the claims of Russian troop presence and couldn’t turn up much. 

But does any of this sound familiar? After Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, US officials–with the help of corporate media–were claiming that Saddam Hussein was headed next for Saudi Arabia, and the evidence was satellite images showing a massive Iraqi troop buildup on the border of the US ally.  But the St. Petersburg Times obtained satellite images that analysts said undermined the US claims (Extra!, 4/91).

“Intelligence” being offered by government officials as evidence could be solid; it also could be bogus. One doesn’t need a long memory to recall examples of the latter, which is as good a reason as any for journalists to be skeptical of these claims–and to present them as claims, not facts.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.