Just some two days after Russian war criminal Igor Girkin gave an interview to an odious Ukrainian host Dmitry Gordon, the so-called former "defense minister of of the 'DPR'" also appeared on the pages of a far more respectable The Times in an interview taken by Marc Bennetts.
In that interview, Girkin admitted "moral responsibility" for the downed passenger jet flight MH17 because at that time he commanded what he called "militias", at the same time stressing that the illegal armed groups of the "DPR" had nothing to do with the plane crash.
So what we have is a former terrorist leader, who once played a key role in the occupation of parts of Ukraine, is now claiming innocence on the pages of the publication whose site has tens of millions of unique visits…
Of course, many average Ukrainians, tending to trust any western media outlet unconditionally, might get goosebumps from this piece. After all, The Times isn't some Gordon-style YouTube stunt, so what's written on their site is perceived as narratives of a completely different level, tailored for a completely different audience.
However, over the six years of the Ukraine war, I've grown accustomed to seeing that Western journalism is not much different from Ukrainian. Many outlets are overseen by certain political forces or business elites, and many journalists tend to confuse their craft with that trading in Amsterdam's Red Light District. And if we talk about Mr. Bennetts, who interviewed Girkin immediately after Ukraine's Gordon, we'll see that there are more questions to this journo than clear trust.
For example, it was this guy who was directly involved in spinning a fake piece about the "Islamic State" militants allegedly fighting in the ranks of the Ukraine Army. At that time, it was one of Russian propaganda's favorite boogeyman story, usually headlined as "Ukraine is a transit base for IS terrorists ", "Ukraine supplies terrorists for IS", "IS terrorists are fighting in Ukraine's Armed Forces"… These narratives have dwelled on Russian "news" sites for years.
I wrote a plethora of articles, highlighting this lie so I'm familiar with the subject like no other. And just as well am I aware of almost every media figure who partook in channeling those narratives – in Russia and beyond. Marc Bennetts was one of those journalists who pioneered the issue.
His piece published in 2018 was dedicated to a certain "Chechen battalion" based just outside a strategic Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. Its fighters, Bennetts claimed, had been trained in the Islamic State boot camps in Syria and Iraq. That report was immediately picked up by Russian media and "experts" (read propagandists) like an infamous ex-MP Sergei Markov, who repeatedly cited the British journalist's report when accusing Ukraine of providing assistance to the Islamic State.
What's peculiar is that back then, this piece alleging the Islamic State's presence in Ukraine surfaced immediately after the Kremlin failed its attempt to accuse the Ukraine Army of setting up a chemical attack in Donbas. When it turned out that the accusations didn't hold water, Bennetts' interview emerged out of the blue with a militant who went by the name "Mansour" telling the British journalist "the whole truth" about IS terrorists fighting alongside Ukrainian troops. Besides a number of inconsistencies I spotted in the very interview, what struck me was that the caption photo showing that guy Mansour had been taken in the summer, while the report never came out until winter.
Really, how come a potential info bomb had been back-shelved for about six months (or maybe even longer – who knows in what year the pic was taken?) only to be published at a certain moment in winter? This isn't a typical behavior for media sharks chasing hype.
Ultimately, analysts and experts thoroughly dissected Bennetts' report, totally debunking its main narrative. However, not only did The Times fail to apologize for the implausible piece, they never even remove the fake story from their site.
On the other hand, there's nothing strange in the reports inked by someone who had previously demonstrated an extreme bias about Ukraine. A truly valuable asset for Russia, indeed. After all, he's been living in Moscow for more than 16 years already, having championed business trips to Iran and even North Korea!
Given the elements of propaganda narratives spotted in his reports and his unhindered visits to totalitarian countries friendly to the Kremlin, there's no doubt this Brit is somehow affiliated with Russian government. So what are the odds that it's he who jumps on a train of promoting a Russian terrorist just two days into Act 1 of this extended play orchestrated by you-know-who. For years, Mr Bennetts hasn't bothered offering a media platform to the warlord, but now – what an incredible coincidence, really! But is it?
In conclusion, a bit of advice for The Times and other major outlets. At the onset of the Crimea annexation by Russia, part of the Ukrainian military did flip to the invaders' side. Perhaps, that's because many servicemen had never gone on rotation from Crimea and thus developed some kind of psychological attachment to those who abruptly turned from partners to adversaries – the Stockholm syndrome of a kind....
And therefore, the longer a special correspondent lives in Russia, the more they become a pro-Russian puppet rather than an unbiased and cold-hearted media pundit. In addition, since Soviet days, Russian security services have been carefully, affectionately, and rather skillfully courting foreign journalists working on their soil.
On the other hand, if globally-acclaimed newspapers don't care about own reputation being dipped in mud due to dubious reports penned by their journalists, their HR policies are unlikely to change for decades to come.