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Derek Monroe: The fog of war brings US satellite images allegedly showing Russia firing rockets into Ukraine into question

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

The U.S. State Department has released images showing a satellite image that it purports to show self-propelled artillery only found in Russian military units on the Russian side of the border, oriented in the direction of a Ukrainian military unit within Ukraine. The United States says the images back up its claims that rockets have been fired from Russia into Eastern Ukraine. Officials said the heavy weapons fired between July 21 and July 26, which happened after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Now joining us to discuss all of this is our guest, Derek Monroe. He’s an independent journalist who writes for the Institute for Policy Studies’ Foreign Policy in Focus.

Thanks for joining us, Derek.


DESVARIEUX: So, Derek, Moscow has already come out saying–they’ve angrily denied allegations of Russian involvement in Eastern Ukraine. But what do you make of these new developments, these new images?

MONROE: Well, it’s really in the eye of the beholder. First of all you have to understand that some of the elemental pieces which are actually being presented to the public as justification of Russia’s involvement are also found in different militaries. Older pieces are also part of the Ukrainian military, where there are different reports of different units defecting to the rebels, bringing the equipment with them, and not only artillery, but tanks and other pieces of heavy equipment. So there’s a possibility here that what’s being presented is truthful, but, however, also there is possibility where we are being fed misinformation here.

One thing you have to also understand: that Ukrainian military has been considered, even by its own government, to be very ineffectual and well-corrupted, with a variety of different pieces of weaponry being sold worldwide on the black market. It even got to the point where there was a film (I don’t know if you remember) ten years back about the great Russian weapons smuggler that was arrested in Johannesburg, who was played by Nicholas Cage, where a situation was that he would basically go into the bases, Ukrainian military bases, just after the fall of the Soviet Union and buy the old military equipment wholesale to be sold to different countries. So right now, at this point, it’s very difficult to say whether the images being presented here are, first of all, coming from Russia themselves, as far as territory is concerned, also coming from the Ukrainian side. So it’s really–.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. So it’s basically fog of war–a lot of uncertainty, it sounds like.

MONROE: Unfortunately, it is. And I think at best the arguments which are being brought in by photos actually are at the best very speculative.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. What about the media? How do you think they’ve been portraying this? Because the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, there’s an investigation ongoing right now, but there have been lots of talks, on the U.S. side, at least, pointing the finger at Russia right now.

MONROE: Well, I think there’s also very–it seems that U.S. media in general has really reached a pre-gone conclusion as to who is at fault here. But there’s–quite possible that the military book system, which the antiaircraft missiles which actually were perpetrated to bring down the airliner, were brought in from Russian military or from Russian sources into the rebels’ hands.

However, what is also not being discussed about, which I think is extremely disingenuous on the part of the major news media, is simply–there are two questions. Why was the flight originating from Amsterdam, going [into column (?)] for Malaysia, going over the hot military zone? This is really something which is unspeakable as far as the normal routine of overflights of passenger flights. And a second question which can be asked which is not answered also: why would the Ukrainian civilian authorities basically approve flying–flight like this? And, also, why would they allow the Malaysian airliner to enter its airspace over the, quote-unquote, military hot zone? Those are two questions which are truly not being asked or answered, and I think this is–if you really look a little bit deeper in those issues, you would probably get a lot of answers from it [inaud.]

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Let’s talk more about what I mentioned at the beginning, Moscow, and how they’ve come out angrily denying any sort of allegations and connections to the separatists. But why don’t they? If they are, why don’t they just openly support them?

MONROE: Well, first of all, you have to also look at the issue from very much a Russian political domestic scene. As much as the popularity of Putin is concerned, which is basically at this point the highest of any other elected leader in the Western world, not to mention probably the whole world wide, which probably hovers around eighty-some percent, they have very strong ties, economic and trade ties, with Western Europe, as well as the other Western companies. So, fundamentally, putting the issues up on sort of a nice edge where there’s a conflict between Russian interests and international interests, in this case Western interests, is not very productive for furthering development of the trade and commercial trade situation, as well as the, basically, balance of payments, which actually have being outgoing from Russia, and by the record tempo, since the whole conflict in Ukraine began.

So one thing has to really be also–not appreciated enough, I think, in U.S. media is simply the degree where a variety of different points which have been brought forward by a variety of different news media outlets or international media outlets is simply putting things in a much–black and white perspective. It’s quite possible that the Kremlin is using its economic and its political power in order to support, at least morally, if not, say, logistically, the developments in Ukraine is far as the rebel side is concerned, but it’s also very dangerous to see from the Russian perspective further escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, because this destabilization of the country itself on its eastern border is really not productive to Russian interests. It’s also not very productive for the Western interests.

So it’s quite possible where the military hardware of the military’s coming from, it can be debatable. As I said before, there were different reports of military units from Ukrainian army being defected to the rebel side, mostly Russian speaking side, and basically using their equipment with them. They include tanks, include rockets. I’m not sure at this point of their antiaircraft rockets systems, which are rather complex. And, also, one thing just cannot be emphasized strong enough: at the beginning of the conflict, a variety of different military and weapons depots were really raided by rebel side, and a lot of military equipment has been carted away. So at this point it’s really hard to tell where the equipment is really coming from. If there’s any [effectual (?)] and practical support as far as training, as far as arming, at this point it’s very speculative. So I would say I would reserve my judgment till there are some real facts that really come to the light.

DESVARIEUX: Derek, you mentioned how this would not be productive for the Russian side and the Western side to be continuing this conflict. Can you just speak to specific examples? What do you mean by that?

MONROE: Well, I think, first of all, you have to look at a situation from a humanitarian perspective. You’re talking about a nation of 45 million people which is basically going to be put in a similar situation like in Iraq, where there is occurring a civil war. So you have a huge degree of outflow of population from East, and eventually as the conflict would spread to the West. So this [has] even gotten to a situation where in the Western part of the European Union, in Poland, for example, there have been widely reported movements and over the Polish [authorities (?)] to incorporate hospitals, incorporate schools into the makeshift refugee centers for people coming from their east. So that’s one thing.

Economically, also, there has been a huge degree of hoopla, which actually started this whole situation in Ukraine, as far as the association agreement with the European Union of creating the new economic reality in Ukraine, where it would basically become more of a transparent market economy with help of IMF, specifically to the tune of $15 billion or $20 billion, which they were supposed to receive as far as a revamp of their economy’s concerned. Nothing really has changed at this point.

And politically and economically, as of right now, despite of successful elections in Ukraine, although some people would basically deride its success because of the variety of different problems in the East, and also the fact that the Eastern part did not participate in the last election, the problem is simply that the government is facing a sort of annulment situation. The further this situation will escalate militarily, the lesser there is a chance of a political resolution of the issue. And what really can happen at the end would be a de facto partition of the country between the Eastern side and the Western side, which I think is pretty much detrimental for anyone who’s an honest broker in this case, because I think every country, just an honest person would like to have Ukraine stay as one economic and political unit, because ultimately it should be for Ukrainian people to decide on a peaceful basis, not in–wearing arms. But this is something that I think that just unfortunately escalated to the point of no return in many cases.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Derek Monroe, thank you so much for joining us.

MONROE: You’re welcome.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Derek Monroe is an independent reporter/journalist based in Illinois. He covered Ukraine, Iraqi Kurdistan and continuing crisis in Fukushima Japan for Foreign Policy in Focus, a Washington based publication for Institute for Policy Studies. Monroe also works as international business consultant and translator of 3 languages. He worked and lived in US, Poland, Mexico, Japan and Germany.