Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance writer based in Dublin. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, teleSUR, RBTH, The Calvert Journal and others. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleRyanJ
Western media continued its tradition of whitewashing far-right extremism in Ukraine this week, reporting that Italian police busted a neo-Nazi gang ‘linked' to Russia - but this alleged link was dreamed up out of thin air.
Italian police said on Monday that they had seized a cache of weapons and Nazi memorabilia belonging to a neo-Nazi group operating in northern Italy. The bust was part of a year-long investigation into extremists who had fought "against the separatists"in the Donbass region of Ukraine.
Those who read the news via major outlets like the BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Politico, ABC News, Sky News, CBS and Reuters learned a totally different version of events, however.
Rather than fighting "against" the rebels in eastern Ukraine's breakaway regions, as the police statement made clear, the extremists in question were actually fighting "alongside" the pro-Russia separatists. The neo-Nazis fighting for Kiev in eastern Ukraine had magically morphed into pro-Russia militants aiding the separatist cause.
Giving the story this added element of mystery, the Italian police also altered their original statement on the weapons seizure, to wipe the phrase about the gang fighting "against" the separatists and watering it down simply to say that the extremists had been monitored "for having taken part in the armed conflict in the Donbass region."
Why exactly the police changed their original statement remains unclear, but it did give the BBC the perfect opportunity to quietly amend its false story, dumping the Russia link and replacing it with the more vague assertion that the extremists had simply taken part "in the conflict in eastern Ukraine," echoing the altered police statement.
A Reuters update to its original story claiming the group was fighting "alongside" separatists now says that Italian police"declined to say" who they had been fighting for.
When contacted by RT, Italian police also said there had been an "error" in the initial press release and claimed that police had not said anything about "which side" the fighters belonged to. Except that in the original statement, they very clearly did specify a side.
This was confirmed again by Roberto Vivaldelli, a journalist for the Il Giornale newspaper, who reported that even during a press conference on the raid, the head of the Turin Counterterrorism Service, Luigi Spina, said that the Italian neo-Nazis "had helped Ukrainian nationalist groups in the fight against pro-Russian Donbass groups."
There does not seem to be any ambiguity here, so the excuse that some kind of "error" was made in the first version of the statement does seem rather implausible. What does seem more plausible is that the police may have altered the release for, shall we say, diplomatic reasons.
Many news outlets still have not corrected their stories claiming an imaginary link to Russia, despite neither of the two police statements ever having claimed one. The story swept across social media too, with influential Western reporters from other outlets tweeting out the news with the usual mix of disingenuous shock and dismay.
This is the kind of blatant disinformation that Western media screams about on a daily basis, but engages in without a second thought whenever it suits them.
It's certainly possible that Western reporting on the Italian weapons bust was not even intentionally incorrect, but that a few reporters who were accustomed to a certain narrative just got the facts backwards because nothing else made sense to them - and the rest followed suit: Russia is bad and linked to everything bad. Why would you even need to fact-check or dig any deeper?
But let's not be so kind and understanding. Western media has been actively and knowingly airbrushing neo-Nazi activity in Ukraine since the Euromaidan protests in 2013, which were exploited by Western powers who engineered a coup to install Petro Poroshenko as president.
From then on, the only acceptable narrative was that anyone on the side of the pro-West Ukrainian government was a heroic freedom fighter and anyone on the separatist side was a terrible Russia-loving troublemaker. This was despite ample proof that the US-installed government was relying on neo-Nazi battalions to fight separatists in the east and actively encouraging dangerous levels of nationalism and anti-Russia sentiment against ethnic Russians living in the breakaway regions.
Even when Ukraine played host to a massive neo-Nazi march in 2017, Western media ignored it. Encouragement from Kiev combined with lack of interest from Western powers emboldened these groups. But soon their activities could no longer be ignored and media outlets began acknowledging the very real rise of neo-fascism in Ukraine - a problem they had happily turned a blind eye to for years because it simply didn't suit them to admit that they were, essentially, on the same side as the neo-Nazis.
With their recent knee-jerk decision to link Italy's neo-Nazis to pro-Russia separatists instead of Ukrainian nationalists, it looks like they've gotten their Ukraine facts conveniently mixed up again.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.