Category Archives: Russia

Anti-Syrian propaganda and the White Helmets

Victim of “rebel”/”terrorist” attack on government-controlled Aleppo. Our media rarely covers these and there are no White Helmets in sight. Source: Dr Tim Anderson

US Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently met with people from Syrian opposition groups – including the “first responders” – the White Helmets. Somebody recorded the discussion and it has now been leaked (see Audio Reveals What John Kerry Told Syrians Behind Closed Doors).

The discussion is quite revealing, for a number of reasons, including divisions within the US ruling political circles and Syrian opposition beliefs that the US is not doing enough for their cause. But here I will just concentrate on aspects relevant to the anti-Syrian propaganda our news media seems to be saturated with.

The propaganda

I think this is important because there is a section of the US political system lobbying for military intervention, such as attacking Syrian armed forces or  attempting to enforce a no-fly-zone. Kerry, who originally supported military intervention, pointed out that the US people did not have an appetite for this. However, as we saw with Libya, such an appetite can be promoted by carefully playing the card of suffering civilians (and especially children) and arguing for “humanitarian intervention.”

That is certainly happening at the moment. One could be excused for believing that the Syrian war is all about the government and their allies, the horrible “Russkies,” purposely attacking civilians, destroying civilian buildings and, particularly, burying young children in rubble.

This image is typical of what we are exposed to – and news services like Al-Jazeera seem to present variants of this image almost every day.


Typical media photo of White Helmet “first responders” rescuing children in a ‘rebel”/”terrorist” held area of Syria.

Of course, if this was the true intention of Syria and its allies the war would be over by now. But in fact, the Syrians and their allies are fighting armed “rebels”/”terrorists,” very many of them from outside the country. Armed and financed by external powers directly or indirectly. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, USA, UK and other NATO countries.

Civilian casualties, including children. may, at times, be an accidental by-product of this sort of war (what the US calls “collateral damage”) and can be caused by either side. But it is disingenuous to portray this as the intention of Syria and their allies. On the other hand, let’s not forget that terrorists very often deliberately target civilians, including children.

Aleppo has become the Middle Eastern Stalingrad. I sometimes wonder what sort of propaganda the German citizens at home were served with during the Stalingrad battle in World War II. Did they get images of children being pulled out of the rubble and hysterical complaints about those horrible Russians bombing and shelling the city indiscriminately – perhaps purposely bombing hospitals, schools and civilians? That sort of propaganda seem ludicrous to us now – but how different is it to what we are currently fed by most of our media?

And how often does our media cover the civilian casualties caused by “rebel”/”terrorist” attacks on areas under government control? Very rarely – and when they do we are often still left with the impression that the guilty parties are Syrians and Russians and not the terrorists. A recent classic example was UK newspaper, The Independent, report of the death of  a Syrian Olympic swimmer  and her brother in Aleppo (See Syrian swimmer and her 12-year-old brother killed by shelling in Aleppo). These deaths were originally reported as a result of Russian and Syrian bombing – but many readers protested because the swimmer was killed in the government-held part of Aleppo during a terrorist missile attack. The Independent backed away (slightly), adding this sentence:

“A number of commentators claimed the deaths were a result of a rebel-led attack, although those claims could not be verified.”

But their report still claimed the deaths occurred “amid a sustained assault on the city by pro-Assad forces backed by Russian warplanes.”

Images and videos  like those produced by the White Helmets are very effective. News readers are inclined to weep and it is hard not to empathise. After all, these are children. And the “first responders” rescuing them, the White Helmets, must be angels. Hell, they have even been recommended for the Noble Peace Prize and who would deny them that?

Well, I would – but more of that below.

Kerry’s concern about this propaganda

The Syrian opposition people referred Kerry to images videos like this as reasons for the US to become more involved – to impose a fly-free-zone in Syria. But  the US officials present pointed out that these images and videos were of no use to them. If these opposition people have video cameras around to film such events they should be filming the attack itself. Providing evidence that it is specifically the Syrians or Russians who are attacking civilians. These officials believed such information would be more useful to their cause.

The US officials also directed this critique at the White Helmet coverage of the attack on the humanitarian aid convoy in Aleppo province. A White Helmets’ spokesperson fronted images of burning trucks, claiming the attack was by Syrian helicopters, barrel bombs, and Russian bombers (he didn’t seem to want to miss anything out). But the officials’ response was that coverage was not useful – they need images of the attackers themselves. They need evidence of the munitions used.

Incidentally, the White Helmet spokesperson in this report leads a double life – see below.

As an aside, this plea for evidence, especially the munitions used, shows how hypocritical is the US claim it was the Russians who were responsible for the  attack on the aid convoy. Unfortunately, such unfounded (or at least evidence-free) claims from John Kerry and other US spokespersons are not new to us. But also, unfortunately, this claim is being used specifically to justify breaking off diplomatic negotiations on Syria and to argue for “Plan B” – the military option of a fly-free-zone or outright attacks on Syrian armed forces.

Who are the white Helmets?

This brief video from The Friends of Syria in Australia provides some information and background on the White Helmets organisation.

If nothing else, the fact that the group operates only in areas held by “rebels”/”terrorists” (despite claiming in its propaganda that it is neutral) is telling. The fact they receive funding from anti-Syrian governments including the US and the UK (despite claiming they don’t) is also telling. Their spokespeople also never seem to miss any chance to attribute all the damage and loss of life to “the regime,” barrel bombs and the Russians – often in hysterical tones.

I referred above to the White Helmet coverage of the humanitarian aid convoy attack. The image on the right is taken from the White Helmet report video. That on the left shows that the same guy is also involved in an armed “rebel”/”terrorist” group.

white-helemets Armed “rebel”/”terrorist” in Aleppo dons white hat and becomes an unarmed member of “aid” group – the White Helmets – reporting the attack on the humanitarian convoy. Image Source Friends of Syria.

Investigators have published on-line a number of similar images portraying White Helmet people in action as “first responders” but also of the same people posing with rifles and along with other “rebels”/”terrorists.”

There are also plenty of images and videos online showing members of the White Helmet group cooperating with “rebels”/”terrorists” in demonstrations They are easily seen in groups where Al Nusra flags are flying. And this video shows a White Helmet member participating in the assault on a prisoner captured by “terrorists.”

And isn’t this revealing, although not surprising considering where the White Helmets are active. A spokesperson for the Al Nusra front (recognised by the UN as a terrorist group) describes the White Helmets as Mujahideens

Another charge sometimes laid against the White Helmets is that some of their videos are staged and involve actors. News media often reenact actions from wars (although they usually acknowledge their video is a reenactment). The report “White Helmet” “Save Aleppo” Protest Proves How Easy it is to Dress Up Actors as “War Victims” shows how easy it is to make such staged videos to promote as news.


Actors staging a typical White Helmet “rescue” during anti-Syrian protests in Europe.

Of course, that  charge is also easy to make and hard to prove. But there has been at least one official complaint to the BBC about them running videos of staged scenes in their programmes about Syria.

I find it suspicious that the White Helmets always seem to go into action with a sizable camera crew in attendance – or at least with mobile phones recording the events. And there seems to be a common elelementf a guy, wearing a white helmet and White Helmet logos or uniform, carrying a child and urgently rushing forward or away from the camera. I can’t help feeling such videos are contrived.

Contrived or not the White Helmets’ videos are certainly emotively picked. They know what works. And our media goes along with the game – ignoring the children and civilians injured and killed  by “rebel”/”terrorist” missiles in government-held areas.

The above video shows the aftermath of a “rebel”/”terrorist” attack in west Aleppo. Not a single White Helmet in sight!


The video and photographic propaganda promoted by the White Helmets is not “proof” of their claims – but it is very effective in  promoting a narrative. A narrative which can be used  to justify direct military attacks by the US and NATO on the Syrian forces and their allies. (Yes, the US and NATO  already illegally bomb Syria and have armed forces on the ground – but so far these have not intentionally been directed at Syrian forces).

That narrative fits in with the  agenda of a section of the US political establishment promoting “humanitarian intervention” aimed at regime change. It fits in with the often repeated chant of politicians in the US and other NATO countries that “Assad must go!”

We saw what this led to in Libya – it was disastrous. And considering the support Assad has in Syria this regime change, or attempted regime change, would be much worse.

Pentagon: Russia S-300, S-400 Air Defense Deployment Grounded US Jets in Syria

Russia is deploying advanced S-300 and S-400 Air Defense systems in Syria. An attempted Libyan-style “regime change” by the US and NATO would be disastrous.

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Syria & the fog of war


BBC’s Radio 4 has talkback on Syria – the mainstream media message doesn’t fool everyone.

I believe our media is currently feeding us biased propaganda – formulated to tweak our emotions – on the war in Syria. One would think that the Syrian government and the Russian aerospace forces were fighting only civilians, hospitals and, especially, children. There is hardly any mention of jihadist terrorists.

If that scenario were true the war would have been over in days. Instead, Syria and its allies are fighting extremist Islamist jihadists, armed to the teeth and funded by external countries, and using foreign fighters. The emotions raised by videos showing children being pulled out of the rubble (notice how this only happens in areas controlled by terrorists according to our media) is diverting attention away from the real causes of the conflict. And hence we have a “fog of war” which blinds us to the political actions necessary to bring an end to this conflict.

So – I was pleased to hear this discussion on  BBCs Radio 4 programme Any Answers. If only our talkback programmes could be this sane.

Clearly, the contributors were chosen to provide balance – but most of them are rational, thoughtful people. This suggests that many people in the UK are not fooled by this “fog of war” promoted by the media.

It’s worth listening to – for the whole 28 minutes. It’s also worth listening to soon as it is available for only 28 days.

Source: BBC Radio 4 – Any Answers?, Syria

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But will it stand up in court?


MH17 tragedy. Arguments remain about the model of missile used, the location where it exploded and its launch site

The joint investigation team (JIT) responsible for the criminal investigation of the downing of Flight MH17 over Ukraine in July 2014 have delivered the preliminary results of their investigation.

Wilbert Paulissen, the head of the Dutch National Detective Force announced their findings at a press conference in the Dutch city of Nieuwegein, saying:

“We have no doubt whatsoever that conclusions we are presenting today are accurate.”

The important question, though, is not the beliefs or conviction of the JIT spokesperson – but whether or not a court of law will accept these conclusions.

The scenario

The JIT has often been accused of deciding on the scenario they would investigate early in their investigation and subsequently restricted their investigation to that scenario – despite claims to the opposite. In other words, not giving proper consideration to other possibilities.

The presentation is online at Presentation preliminary results criminal investigation MH17 28-09-2016.” It  asserts:

“The BUK-TELAR that was used was brought into Eastern Ukraine from the territory of the Russian Federation.”

They rely on “intercepted telephone conversations and videos and photographs on the social media” for this assertion. Readers who have followed the social media discussion will not be surprised to find this scenario is exactly the same as that advanced by Bellingcat – a controversial site run by British journalist and blogger Eliot Higgins (formerly known Brown Moses). This site is well known for advancing apparently plausible but cherry-picked information promoting Higgin’s political arguments against Syria and Russia.

The problem is that having decided on this scenario last year, the JIT’s search for evidence involved the presentation on social media of a video outlining the scenario and asking residents in the area if they could contribute any evidence. It seems no other credible scenarios were  investigated.

The Ukrainian Army had many BUK systems and missiles in the area. I would have thought these should have been given at least as equal consideration – especially compared with an implausible scenario which involved very tight movement of  a system from the Russian Federation and its return to account for the fact that intelligence agencies had reported just days before the crash that the separatist groups did not have any such missile systems (see Flight MH17 in Ukraine – what do intelligence services know?)

As it stands a court may consider the sort of evidence promoted by Bellingcat and the JIT regarding this scenario as circumstantial at the best. Especially if JIT continues to base their scenario on “classified” US information they cannot reveal to the court. And how will the JIT respond to defence lawyers asking if they had catalogued all the BUL systems and accompanying missiles in possession of the Ukrainian Army at the time?

The other press conference

For some balance, I checked out another press conference occurring at a similar time today – that given by technical experts from the manufacturer of the BUK missile system – Almaz-Antey. Unfortunately, you are unlikely to see that press conference on our main-stream media.

Here is a video from this press conference – I appreciate it is hard to follow technical information presented in a foreign language and relying on translators – but it is worth watching and thinking about.

Credit: MH17 Malaysian Facebook feed.

Almaz-Antey, of course, does not have any responsibility to determine what the real scenario was and who was responsible. But they do have the technical skills to evaluate conclusions being drawn about the missile system, its detonation near the aircraft and its launch site.

Here they repeat data presented last year evaluating the conclusions drawn by the Dutch Safety Board in their final report. They also carried out an experiment testing these conclusions using a real missile and aeroplane fuselage. They found  that the Board was mistaken – holes and marks on the experimental fuselage did not correspond to those on the MH17 wreckage – and concluded that the missile used was actually an older version (not in the current Russian service but still used by the Ukrainians), that the detonation took place differently to what the Board had concluded and, therefore, the launch site could not be in the region the Board had concluded.

The primary radar data discussed was new – having been recently found among calibration data stored by a subsidiary company. This data could not find any record of a missile on a trajectory assumed by the Dutch Safety Board – and their estimate was that if a missile had been on that trajectory for the required time the chance of it being recorded in the primary radar data is more that 99%.

Unfortunately, that primary radar was not capable of recording any signal from the different trajectory and launch site indicated by the Almaz-Antey analysis of fuselage damage on MH17.

The company has passed on this information to Russian investigators who, I understand, have in turn passed it on to the JIT.


So, I am not convinced that the JIT has produced a case that will stand up in court. if they included further information – such as a survey of the BUK systems known to be in Ukraine at the time, and actual satellite data the US claims to have – then their circumstantial case may be more credible.

As for the Almaz-Antey information – I find it technically credible. But of course, that can only be tested by people with the same level of expertise. Until that is done it should not be rejected out of hand as the Dutch safety Board (and the JIT) appear to have done.

Let’s note that Wilbert Paulissen said: “there was conclusive evidence that a missile from the Russian-made Buk 9M38 missile system downed the passenger flight on July 17, 2014.” This relates to the missile system and should not be opportunistically interpreted to mean the JIT has “conclusive” evidence for the Bellingcat scenario they are pursuing.

I think most people now accept that a BUK missile system was the most likely weapon used. Tthe arguments are about the model of the missile, the detonation point and the launch site. I cannot see any credible argument from the JIT for their claims on these aspects to be conclusive.


Here is the video of the JIT presentation referred to at the beginning of the article. It is quite difficult to follow (foreign language, translators and the problem of sound levels of each) but I managed to stick with it to the end.

The first half essentially follows the text linked to above (Presentation preliminary results criminal investigation MH17 28-09-2016) but the last parts are interesting with statements from the countries involved (illustrating the political nature of the event) and the questions.

The video confirms for me that the JIT investigators had started with a preferred scenario and are not willing to consider others. I can’t see this standing up in court – if it ever gets to a reputable court.

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Syria UN Ambassador makes sense of the war in Syria

A brief interview with the Syrian Ambassador to the UN Dr Bashar al-Ja’afari.

With the breakdown of the US-Russia brokered the cessation of hostilities in Syria we are now being bombarded with claims and counter claims of who was responsible. There is also a propaganda barrage coming from the US and its allies suggesting to me they are more concerned about the impending defeat of the “rebels”/”terrorists’ in east Aleppo than they are with humanitarian suffering.

Dr Bashar al-Ja’afari  impresses me with the clear and concise arguments he makes. It is a pity  he is not given the coverage on our main stream media that his position should demand. He makes a lot more sense than the US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power.

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The shaky Syrian ceasefire agreement staggers on – or does it?

Video Source: On the Ground News TV

The current Syrian cessation of hostilities agreement, and its problems, are making it harder to pretend that Syria’s’ problems are caused by the “regime.”

We are getting the usual story that the Syrian “regime” is preventing humanitarian aid convoys getting to besieged cities but the facts are becoming harder to hide. “Rebel”/”terrorist” groups like the Free Syrian Army are refusing to leave their positions controlling part of the Castillo highway which the ceasefire agreements designate as “demilitarised.” This is preventing aid convoys from Turkey getting into eastern Aleppo. That part of Aleppo our media concentrates on because it is held by “rebels”/”terrorists” and has been besieged by the Syrian army and its allies. Syrian forces cooperated with the agreement by pulling back from the Costello road but have had to return when “rebel”/”terrorist” militia fired on Red Crescent and Russian marine checkpoints.

Meanwhile the “rebels”/”terrorists” in east Aleppo organised demonstrations against the transport of humanitarian aid along the Castillo road (see video above). The video shows protesters  carrying flags used by the Al Nusra Front (Jabhat Al Nusra or Jabhat Fatah Al Sham) terrorist group.

So we can see the propaganda round humanitarian aid runs along the lines:

  1. Call for humanitarian aid while the Syrian army is advancing
  2. Reject humanitarian aid while there is a ceasefire
  3. Blame the Syrian government for forcing people to starve in Aleppo

And our main stream media often goes along with that narrative.

Russian – US tensions

Meanwhile, tensions between the Russians and the US – the powers which brokered this cessation of hostilities agreement – led the Russian side to demand the text of the agreements be made public so that it can be discussed and supported by the UN. The US has so far resisted this (which led to abandonment of a Security Council discussions on the agreement) and one begins to wonder at their reasons for this lack of transparency

One possibility is internal conflicts about the agreements in the US, primarily between the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon. The US undertaking to coordinate with the Russian Federation in attacking Daesh and Al Nusra has its opponents. Many in the military oppose the exchange with the Russians of intelligence information about locations of “rebel”/”terrorist” forces this requires.

The US undertaking to enforce separation of their proxy “moderate rebels” from their terrorist fighting partners, like Al Nusra, appears to be dead in the water. Either because the US military is unwilling to do this. Or because they are unable – the “moderate rebels” seem happy to continue fighting alongside Al Nusra and are effectively giving the US “the fingers.”

There is also the feeling that neocons are inhibiting fulfilment of the agreements so as to prevent any progress on resolving Syrian problems until after the presidential election when they believe they will have more influence with a Clinton administration.

US bombing threatens to kill the ceasefire

So, the ceasefire agreements seem very shaky at the moment. Despite the fact that most observers do not see any alternative realistic opportunity to  defeat Al Nusra and Daesh and to move towards a political settlement. Even if those aims seem a long way off the immediate problem of getting humanitarian aid to besieged areas relies very much on the agreements working.

And then, as if there were not problems enough, war planes from the US military and their allies (including Australia) have attacked a Syrian Army group fighting to lift the Daesh siege of the city of Deir Ezzor. The attack with phosphorus bombs caused over 200 casualties with reports of 60 to 80 deaths. It was followed by a Daesh ground attack leading to the terrorists gaining ground. This was a critical battle as the position held by the Syrian military were vital to the airdrops supplying the besieged city

Whether intentional (many observers claim is was – given the US policy of regime change and the defeat of the Syrian army) or accidental (the US command called off their attack when the Russian military warned them of what was happening) this is a huge set-back to the co-operation required to make the cessation fo hostilities agreement work. An urgent US Security Council meeting called to discuss this attack lead to angry recriminations between Russian and US diplomats and increased calls for the text of the agreements to be released.

Te Syrian military command has now announced the ceasefire is over. They are engaged in intensified fighting around Aleppo as “rebel”terrorist” militia have launched a new attack on the south-west part of the city.

Actions threatening ceasefire illustrate the need for the ceasefire

On the one hand, all these factors damage any possibility for the ceasefire to hold and for the next stage of cooperation to defeat terrorism to start. But, on the other hand, these events surely underline the urgent necessity of the cooperative and coordinated actions called for in the agreements.

  • Exchange of intelligence and cooperation between the US and Russia in military attacks on the terrorist groups of Daesh and Al Nusra is sorely needed and, if allowed to go ahead, will be very effective.
  • Separation of “moderate rebels” (who should welcome a ceasefire and the opportunity to participate in the future political process) from the officially declared terrorist groups of Al Nusra and Daesh is essential. Until now, cooperation between “terrorist” and “moderate” rebels has been an obstacle to defeating terrorism and has led to a constant complaint from the US that the Russian aerospace forces are actually bombing the US proxy groups.
  • The agreement to include so-called “moderate” rebels which refuse to disengage from their cooperation with Al Nusra and Daesh in the common targeting by the US and Russia is necessary. And, after all, if a “moderate” rebel group fights alongside a terrorist group, refuses to participate in a ceasefire and continues to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching civilians there is surely no reason to treat them differently to terrorist groups.

As the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said last year in  response to a question about identifying which groups are terrorist:

“If it talks like a terrorist, walks like a terrorist and acts like a terrorist – then it is a terrorist.”

Let’s treat them like terrorists, then.

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Ceasefire in Syria is exposing real nature of “moderate” rebels

This video illustrates the international nature of the terrorist opposition in Syria.

The new cessation of hostilities agreement for Syria, brokered by the US and the Russian Federation, may have only a small chance of success – although let’s hope it does work. But one thing it has done is clarify the nature of the “opposition” in Syria and the problem the US has with its chosen proxies in that country.

The US and its NATO allies have long claimed they are supporting the “moderate opposition.” And that support has included finance and arms. The have also condemned the actions of the aerospace forces of the Russian federation – claiming the Russians are targeting the “moderate” rebels, the US allies, instead of the terrorist groups – Daesh and Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, the formerly named Al Nusra (The UN describes both of these groups as terrorist).

The US has now been forced to admit that their “moderate” rebels are intricately entwined with the terrorist groups. That these groups fight together, often share the same command and territory. In fact, the recent attacks in the large battles raging around the major Syrian city of Aleppo have involved the  “Army of Conquest” where the “moderate” rebels and terrorist groups have united under the command of Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (the terrorist Al Nusra group).

The US is acknowledging that their pleas for the “moderate” rebels to distance themselves from the terrorists have fallen on deaf ears. US Secretary of State John Kerry has even suggested that those “moderate” rebels who do not distance themselves will now be subject to US bombing if the cessation of hostilities can last for 7 days.

Some “moderate” rebels have accepted the cessation of hostilities agreement – but many haven’t. Over 20 groups recently announced their rejection in a document presented by the Free Syrian Army (supported and financed by the US).


Over 20 militant groups in Syria have rejected the US-Russian brokered ceasefire. Credit:Over 20 militant groups reject the Syrian ceasefire agreement.”

This announcement was made by the Free Syrian Army but many of the groups rejecting the ceasefire are not a part of that group’s umbrella. These groups claim:

“the major reasons for the rejection of the ceasefire is that it benefits the Syrian Army more so than their own militant factions. They also state that because it excludes Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra, from the ceasefire, they cannot agree to those terms.”

Perhaps if these agreements do fail (as many if not most commentators expect) they will still have left one success. The clear identification of most of the so-called “moderate” rebels with their terrorist allies – Daesh and Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham. Hopefully, this will make claims that Russian attacks on terrorist groups are actually attacks on “our” “moderate” rebels a thing of the past.

Surely that would be progress.

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Ethics and the doping scandal – a response to Guest Work


Grigory Rodchenkov, Russia’s sacked anti-doping lab director. Considered a criminal in Russia and a “whistle blower” in USA. Credit: Emily Berl for The New York Times

International Olympic Committee (IOC) decisions about participation of athletes from the Russian Federation in the Rio Olympics have brought both criticism and support – from the political as well as the sporting communities.

The issues of sports doping, the responsibilities and actions of sporting bodies and the political context and factors all need discussing. So I am pleased to see a Guest Work blog post at SciBlogs from Ian Culpan discussing the ethical questions involved (see Ethics, Doping the Olympics and Russia).

But I think the article missed important ethical considerations and I do not think the issue can properly be discussed without these. To me the following ethical and legal principles, which Ian did not discuss, are central:

  1. Proper testing of claims and evidence;
  2. Presumption of innocence until proven guilty;
  3. Inadmissibility of collective punishment
  4. Avoiding direct or implied political direction in decision-making.

A brief background

The Russian Federation does have a problem with sports doping. It should be in everyone’s interests for this to be dealt with. Interestingly, the Russian national officials and politicians do appear to be cooperating with international sports bodies. They have transferred testing of athletes to non-Russian laboratories. Officials (including the deputy Minister of Sport) implicated by Richard McLaren’s World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) commissioned report have been suspended pending investigation. The President himself has urged officials not to react defensively but to deal with the problem.

Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory, was a key figure in the current scandal. He was taking bribes to supply illegal drugs to athletes and (apparently) to enable falsification of test results. When he was sacked and criminal proceeding taken against him he fled to the US. Now treated as a “whistle blower” instead of a criminal he made charges implicating higher officials in the doping scandal. His claims made in a May New York Times article (see Russian Doctor Explains How He Helped Beat Doping Tests at the Sochi Olympics) sparked the decision of the WADA to commission the McLaren report.

Richard McLaren’s report effectively supports Rodchenkov’s claims and found Rodchenkov to be trustworthy. But this appears to be McLaren’s opinion, rather than a conclusion based on testing of claims and evidence. There was no attempt to interview officials in the Russian Federation which is surely required for a proper evaluation. And results of the “forensic testing” commissioned by McLaren (DNA data and testing the methods for removing and replacing seals on sample vials and scratches on the vials) are not even included in the report. We are asked simply to accept his judgment on these.

I agree, the time limit of 57 days may well be to blame but in the absence of presentation of the forensic evidence, relying on the claims of an obvious criminal and lack of any consideration of evidence from Russian officials I think Culpan’s judgment the report “seems to contain irrefutable evidence” is just not valid. To interpret a situation where there had been no opportunity given to refute as meaning the evidence was “irrefutable” is hardly fair. Or ethical.

The reliability of the McLaren report and the information he gathered appears to be unravelling – according to articles in The Australian (unfortunately behind a pay wall but see WADA ‘sexed up’ anti-Russia case, implicated clean athletes – Australian media, citing officials). These claim the president of the Australian Olympic Committee, John Coates, who is also an IOC vice president, wrote to Australia’s Health Minister Susan Ley, saying that the IOC had a “lack of confidence in WADA.” There are also problems with the list of “implicated” Russian athletes not named in McLaren’s report but provided to the sporting federations by McLaren. The Australian cites a senior sports official as saying “We were asked to make a judgment about Russian competitors based on McLaren’s report but without having any of the detail to understand the significance of them being named.”

For Richard McLaren’s description and defence of his work see ‘No time to ask Russia’s opinion, I had enough evidence anyway’ – WADA doping report author to RT

Unwarranted judgments are easily made in the context of the current geopolitical struggle and the resulting information war. They can have consequences which are hardly ethical and I think Richard McLaren himself is concerned about this. He said recently:

“The focus has been completely lost and the discussion is not about the Russian labs and Sochi Olympic Games, which was under the direction of the IOC.”

“But what is going on is a hunt for people supposed to be doping but that was never part of my work, although it is starting to (become) so.’’

“My reporting on the state-based system has turned into a pursuit of individual athletes.’’

This treatment of individual Russian athletes, which was described as being like a “Stalinist witch hunt” by one commentator, is what concerns me. I think this raises ethical issues.

Presumption of innocence

This seems so fundamental to our legal (and ethical) system I just cannot see why critics of the IOC have been so prepared to ignore it – or worse, knowingly violate the principle.

Many Russian athletes who have never had a positive drug test have been denied the opportunity to participate in the Rio Olympics. The criteria applied to other Russian athletes has been much harsher than for other nations with sometimes impossible demands being made to prove a long history of clean test results. While athletes from other nations who have been found guilty in the past of doping and “served their time” in suspension are able to compete this is not the case for Russian athletes.

These clean athletes justifiably ask “Why me?” Russian sports fans may well be thoroughly disappointed by this scandal and particularly with athletes and officials who have found to be guilty of doping. But you can understand they are also angry at the unfairness of such discriminatory and unethical judgments made against their clean athletes.

Collective punishment

Punishing clean athletes for the crimes of those who used doping is simply collective punishment. It brings to mind the actions of Nazi occupiers in Eastern Europe who killed innocent villagers (or in some cases killed entire villages) as collective punishment for the actions of partisans. For the life of me, I cannot see how those critics who believe that the entire Russian Olympic Team should have been punished for the (as yet unproven) crimes of some officials consider they occupy the “moral high ground” as Culpan appears to argue.

Not that collective punishment is anything new when it comes the history of staging important international events by the Russian Federation (and the previous USSR). In the 1980s we saw boycotts of the Moscow and San Francisco Olympics. Attempts at collective punishment of entire nations because of disagreements in the international political arena.

There were attempts to inject political issues into the Sochi Olympics, and even promoting the idea of boycotts,  and who seriously doubts that there will be political attempts to harm, or even prevent, the 2018 World Football Cup in the Russian Federation.

Yet, international sporting and cultural events offer great opportunities to encourage goodwill and understanding between nations. They should not be used as weapons in the geopolitical struggle – because that, in turn, only enhances that struggle and harms peace.

Political motivations can prevent a solution

Fortunately, the IOC avoided a blanket ban on athletes from the Russian Federation, despite coming under political pressure to do so. The consequences of such an unprecedented and radical step may have been unpredictable but include a possible break-up of the Olympic movement. This would not have solved the sports doping problem.

As things stand there is now room for progress in a proper investigation of the charges made by Rodchenkov – particularly those suggesting the involvement of state officials. Such serious charges, made by someone facing criminal action, should not be left as they are without a proper balanced investigation. And this investigation must involve officials and legal bodies from the Russian Federation. It is hardly surprising that McLaren’s report is now being described as unfinished. The Australian articles reported IOC spokesman Mark Adams as saying:

“To have someone who didn’t (commit) a competition doping offence but was counted as such is a very dangerous thing. We encourage a full report by Professor McLaren before we make any full and frank ­decisions.’’”

Surely such a proper investigation will have more chance of eliminating Russian sports doping and corruption than external allegations primarily based on claims made by someone fleeing criminal proceedings.

Finally, we should not allow the current concentration on Russian sports doping to fool us into thinking it is only, or even primarily, a Russian problem. The fact is that sports doping is world-wide and there is plenty of evidence that international sporting bodies themselves are not free from corruption.

I presented the most recent official data from WADA n my article Quantifying the problem of international sports doping. This showed that the proportion of positive doping tests for Russian athletes was just less than average for the whole world. More importantly, there are a number of nations with a higher proportion of positive doping tests than the Russian Federation – including India, France, Belgium, Mexico and Turkey.


Yes, the data was for 2014. It did not (could not) cover the current Russian doping scandal or the McLaren report. But let’s not rely on an unethical presumption of guilt to discredit the data.

Let’s not allow geopolitical differences and prejudices get in the way of battling the sports doping problem.

And let’s not allow such differences to lead us to ignore important ethical principles.

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Being better informed – unexpected advice from The Guardian


How often does The Guardian attack truth instead of presenting it? Credit: “The Guardian” Blaming Trump for Racism in America

This opinion piece by Piers Robinson in The Guardian surprised me – and then it pleased me – Russian news may be biased – but so is much western media.

Surprised me because, of late, The Guardian has been shockingly one-sided. Particularly in its treatment of Russian politics, nationally and internationally. Unfortunately doesn’t include any self criticisms – that would have been nice but let’s be thankful for small steps. The fact the article appeared may mean some people at The Guardian recognised the their paper’s toeing of the “party line” on these issues may have been counterproductive.  Alexander Mercouris goes so far as to pose the question:

“Could it possibly be that the new editor – Katherine Viner – does not share the obsessive anti-Russian mania that took hold at the Guardian under the preceding Rusbridger regime?”

Wouldn’t it be  nice if this opinion piece was providing notice of a new policy, and is not just a one-off – an aberration?

Pleased me because the article makes recommendations I fully agree with and have often advocated:

“The first step towards becoming more informed is to avoid seeing our governments and media as free from manipulation while demonising “foreign” governments and media as full of propagandistic lies.

The second step is to recognise that one can gain useful insights and information from a variety of news sources – including those that are derided as “propaganda” outlets: Russia Today, al-Jazeera and Press TV should certainly not be off-limits.”

Some commenters have attacked me here for daring to use “unapproved” sources or questioning the prevailing “official” attitudes. I have also often warned about the demonising of governments and politicians  which, unfortunately appears to drive the political thinking of many people.

The article is directed mainly at common media reaction in the UK to the Russian news outlet RT. This has always seemed to me a rather childish reaction to the success of a competitor. However, it has led to serious calls for clipping RTs wings, even somehow banning it. There have been similar, perhaps more serious, calls from US politicians.
The author says of these complaints:
“Whatever the accuracy, or lack thereof, of RT and whatever its actual impact on western audiences, one of the problems with these kinds of arguments is that they fall straight into the trap of presenting media that are aligned with official adversaries as inherently propagandistic and deceitful, while the output of “our” media is presumed to be objective and truthful. Moreover, the impression given is that our governments engage in truthful “public relations”, “strategic communication” and “public diplomacy” while the Russians lie through “propaganda”.”
And yet:
“Neither of these claims has significant academic support. A substantial body of research conducted over many decades highlights the proximity between western news media and their respective governments, especially in the realm of foreign affairs. For reasons that include overreliance on government officials as news sources, economic constraints, the imperatives of big business and good old-fashioned patriotism, mainstream western media frequently fail to meet democratic expectations regarding independence.”
It refers to a Manchester University study showing that “UK media coverage of the 2003 Iraq invasion . . . . found that most UK mainstream media performed to reinforce official views rather than to challenge them.” And the recent Chilcot report  describing how “Tony Blair had discussed how phases 1 and 2 of the “war on terror” would require a “dedicated tightly knit propaganda unit”.”
The article is certainly true in its assertion:
“These are confusing times for consumers of the news, and the issue of which media outlets should be trusted is as demanding and critical as ever. Given the level of conflict and potential conflict in the world today, plus pressing global issues regarding environmental crisis, poverty and resources, it is essential that people learn to navigate the media and defend themselves against manipulation.”
All the more reason to avoid bias – to avoid:
“seeing our governments and media as free from manipulation while demonising “foreign” governments and media as full of propagandistic lies.”
And especially to be open minded. To obtain:
“information from a variety of news sources – including those that are derided as “propaganda” outlets.”
Now, wouldn’t be nice if The Guardian followed this advice in future.

Quantifying the problem of international sports doping


With the 2016 Olympics about to start the problem of sports doping is topical. Most attention  is concentrated on sports men and women from the Russian Federation.

The specifics of the current Russian doping scandal have yet to be sorted out. There has yet to be a proper investigation. But I thought it worth attempting to quantify the problem – and, in particular, illustrate that sports doping is not just a problem in the Russian Federation.

I have taken the latest official figures available. Released in February 2016 these are the international doping figures for 2014 and are published in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report “2014 Anti-doping Rule Violations (ADRVs) Report.” 

What do these data show?

Numbers of positive doping tests

Perhaps not surprising to the average reader the Russian Federation scores the largest number of positive tests. But perhaps, given the current news coverage, the surprise is that the numbers are not that great and not much greater than for other countries

Number of violations

But let’s put that into some sort of context

Number of doping tests

When we look at the number of doping test actually taken we find a very important factor. The total number of doping tests taken was much larger for the Russian Federation than for most other countries. So the higher number of positive tests is not so surprising. Do more tests and you will catch more violations.

Total numbers

Proportion of positive doping tests

This is a better way to compare the figures by nation. When we make that comparison the data for the Russian Federation is not that out of step with the rest of the world.


In fact, if we are going to point fingers we should be pointing them at other nations before we point them at the Russian Federation.

I decided to look at the data because of a Facebook post from Nina Kouprianova (see WADA sports doping stats sorted (not by me)) which showed that the Russian Federation was well down the list of nations guilty of sports doping – in fact, 19th.

Here is her table.

dopingThe Russian Federation scores lower than the average for the whole world – 1.05% of positive tests.

Some qualifications which should be obvious.

Before I get attacked for being “pro-Moscow” (yet again) I must mention a couple of factors.

1: Some positive tests for many countries were put aside by WADA after cases were further considered. However, I do not think this changes the main message of the table above. (The numbers are in the report if anyone wants to check this out).

2: The current attention to the doping problem in the Russian Federation concentrates on more recent cases where these is, as yet, no reliable data. In particular there is the revelation of criminal activity by the head of the Moscow testing laboratory. He has since fled the country and surfaced in the USA.

While the officials implicated by these revelations have been suspended or sacked and criminal investigations are underway it is not yet possible to get official numbers.

Finally, I don’t think anyone can justify sports doping – whatever the nationality of the person concerned.  It  must be fought against and guilty athletes and officials should be punished.

However, we should be careful of violating basic elements of justice. Collective punishment is the sort of thing the Nazis went in for – killing a whole village because one of their soldiers had been shot by a partisan.  It is shocking to hear politicians and sportspeople advocating such forms of punishment here.

We should not make clean athletes suffer for the acts of others who indulged in doping.

It seems to me these actions will not solve the problem of sports doing – only make it worse and introduce other worse problems.

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The Putin diversion

Putin and Obama in serious discussion at the G20 summit. The political leaders need to be judged intelligently.

“The Putin diversion” could be the title for a n episode of the popular show “The Big Bang Theory.” Or, more appropriately, the name of a chess strategy. But I have found this diversion a real problem in discussing important issues.

How can we discuss , for example, the current Russian/Olympic doping scandal if a serious commentor simply responds “Russian authorities ran the doping! Putin is rotten, through and through.”

When I pointed out “Unfortunately, statements like “Putin is rotten” are hardly intelligent and they are certainly not a sensible response to this whole scandal,” and attempted to return to the doping discussion I get a response:

“Putin is a monster in one of the most oppressive countries. he has his critics assassinated in the best traditions of Russia. Your support for him is bizarre.”

So we make no progress discussing the issue of doping.

Similarly, I feel that diverting a discussion about the MH17 tragedy in eastern Ukraine with raves about Putin being a “petty tyrant” or that he has “been accused of assassinating or imprisoning his political rivals” is insulting to the memory of the innocent passengers who died in the  crash and to their loved ones.

So, my purpose with this post is to provide a forum for commentors to vent their feelings about Putin and the Russian Federation. Rave on about Crimea, Ukraine or Syria. Let’s discuss here some of the issues being inappropriately raised on comments on other posts.

It would be nice, though, if commentors present a bit more than feelings and prejudices – perhaps back up their claims with some citations or evidence.

To kick off, I do not know a terrific lot about Putin or have particularly strong feelings about the man. But he is certainly an important international figure today and any cultured person should make an effort to learn a bit about him. Two books that have perhaps influenced my thinking are:

First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President

Based on interviews of Putin soon after he became president in 2000. I have attempted to read other books about Putin but find so many of them are extremely biased (he is a controversial figure) and so many authors approach him with their own political agendas – often very extreme ones.
Godfather of the Kremlin: The Decline of Russia in the Age of Gangster Capitalism

Not about Putin but describes Russia in the 1990s when it had become, as the author put it, a criminal anarchy.

It does go up to the period when Putin moved to Moscow and was given Yeltisn’s blessing as acting president. But it provides a very useful background to what preceded Putin – and provides some idea of what he has been combating during his presidency. Incidentally, it perhaps gives some insight into the current situation in Ukraine where conditions similar to Russia in the 1990s still continues.

Another book I have found useful is The Litvinenko File. Putin is only a peripheral figure in Litvenenko’s story but it provides a similar picture the the Godfather of the Kremlin about the role of the criminal oligarch Berezokovsky in promoting Putin, why he and Litvinenko felt betrayed when he refused to deliver and turned against him.

Seeing I have been accused of being “pro-Moscow” for this level of interest in this particular political figure I should note that while having read one book by President Putin (or at least his interviews) I have also read one book by the US president Obama – Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.  So, perhaps I should also be labelled “pro-Washington.” Or, perhaps, we should just keep away from such silly McCarthyist labeling and instead get on with a good-faith discussion.

I look forward to the discussion.

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