Discouraged for so many reasons.
First, that the Russians are such assholes, and people don't challenge them sufficiently when they get a precisely-launched active-measures propaganda bomb like this. The cunning propagandists in the Kremlin know that journalists will *have* to run this as news so as not to be "left behind" -- and they can count that it will "stick" and the undoing of it will be long in coming and short on undoing the original damage.
Second, because of the great lengths of time it takes for people trying to call from Kiev to Tallinn, or from Tallinn to London, the many people who exist in between those with the facts and those who have to make decisions, the long silences across the continent -- and then the awful hold music used by officials. That's depressing all on its own. What, somebody couldn't just pick up Skype (invented by Estonians!)?
Three, because of the way in which the Snowden hack's alleged revelations about German Chancellor Merkel's phone call saturated the mindshare forever, and is chief among the demonizing narratives of the Snowdenistas, and yet...we never learn a thing about the *content* of Merkel's phone call. That's because Snowden only got a list of a hypothetical capacity for hacking, not tapes. I really don't believe hacker Jacob Appelbaum has the content of any of Merkel's calls.
By contrast, when the Kremlin telephone hacks, they get -- and recklessly disseminate -- actual destructive content. Difference! The only thing bad about the Merkel hack is hurt feelings over the potential to maybe hack or to might have hacked -- but again, no content.
But when Toria Nuland is hacked, we get in stark detail her vulgarities about the EU and her condescending attitude toward the Ukrainian opposition. Not pretty, and not a new experience for me, as I've seen this cavalier attitude in our diplomats to beleaguered East European and post-Soviet oppositions for ages. Still, no harm, no foul. Toria/the US has absolutely no influence over the composition of the Kiev government; meanwhile, when Russia talks about these people, you can be damn sure it's with actual effect, later. Difference!
Today's EU call was as destructive as it possibly could be, because the Kremlin and all its faithful outlets East and West cherry-picked out a minute-long segment that made it seem as if the EU was frankly assessing along with a Ukrainian doctor that the snipers were maybe not Ukrainian riot police (Berkut), or Russian GRU (military intelligence) as some version of this story -- unconfirmed and rather sketchy -- assert -- but the armed opposition groups themselves. Because police were killed by snipers, too, the theory was that it must be the opposition recklessly killing their own people.
The pique of interest with which former CND operative Ashton seemed to pick that up was also depressing.
But yet -- that's not what the parties in this conversation claimed, they only discussed that variant and misrepresented that it was something that their interlocutor in Kiev was pressing.
The phone call was actually about a lot of things, and that was only one part, but it served the Kremlin to flog that easily-muddled bit in particular.
I was fretting because the news of this leaked call in its Kremlin-spun frame was on our website for hours before the rebuttals started coming in -- the Telegraph thought to get a full interview with the medic Olga Bogomolets, who put it all in context. Such are the perils of live-blogging, the "blog of war" I guess.
The statement from the Estonian Foreign Ministry was rather terse, and regrettably, only one line in it confirming that there really was such a phone call got tweeted and memed about -- making the "lie that got half way around the world before the truth could put its pants on," as Churchill put it, even worse.
To be sure, the Estonians added that Paet was discussing a hypothesis or understanding which some had, was appeared to be trying to confirm it, not asserting it, but the full version of the story from Olga wasn't in that document.
I'm still -- a day later -- posting her words to people who are still claiming that this is a smoking gun showing the violent fascist nature of the opposition in Ukraine -- blah blah.
Olga rightly says in the Telegraph interview that she is not a forensics expert, she's a doctor, and furthermore, she didn't see the policemen's bodies, so she can't compare the two types of victims. All correct, and one if the Kremlin were actually in good faith would concede -- but of course, it's not, not in a world where even the resetters at State are now forced to put up documents with titles like "10 Fictional Statements from President Putin".
Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch weighs in with a good statement on this point about a doctor's lack of competence and the need for special forensics experts.
My quibble here is her swipe at the EU for not having good security, when the real swipe -- maybe if HRW didn't have an office in Moscow to try to keep from being booted -- should have been at Russia's intelligence for hacking and cherry-picking in the first place. Hello! Why is that so hard?!
Human Rights Watch knows all about forensics on the battlefield and no doubt they will be involved in looking at this -- although again, the existence of their need to keep a Moscow office open is, in my view, a hindrance. Your mileage my vary.
OSCE could in theory also mount a good forensic expert mission on this issue. My problem with OSCE in the past with "non-permissive environments" of the Soviet nature as we see returning is that they tend to send not the hard-core human rights people, but the politicos for "dialogue."
So, for example, instead of sending experts from ODIHR, the human rights office in Warsaw, to investigate the hanging death of Charter 97's Oleg Bebenin before the presidential elections, they sent a police team organized by the Conflict Prevention Centre in Vienna of people involved in police training exchange in the past. Now, these were good people with plenty of skills and knowledge, but the conduit is politicized from the get-go, and they were then in a kind of dialogue strait-jacket that is hard to get out of.
In fact, I'm not aware that ODIHR has the kind of human rights investigators for conflict zones that it used to have in the days of the Balkans and Chechen wars -- it has tilted more to the dialogue and training mode, too, in recent years. No matter, if there is a political will from the Swiss, who are in the chair, and the US and other participating states, it could happen and the right office could be mobilized. It's a good sign that the experienced diplomat Tim Guldimann, who was in Chechnya and the Balkans, has been deployed by the Swiss chair of the OSCE to Ukraine now to try to gain access to the Crimea (although just as with Robert Sperry, the former Dutch ambassador to Kiev who was also knowledgeable, the Russians may object for that reason alone.)
Don't forget what Putin taught in his memoirs First Person published in 2000 which I translated: that you never, ever let in OSCE or UN or Council of Europe observers. Ever. Because once you let them in, you get independence for a breakaway enclave, as you did in Kosovo. So keep them out!
But...contrary to the mistaken impression created by the phone hack scandal, the Kiev government does not appear to have blocked an investigation. Moscow may not be able to keep people out of Kiev, even if they can block off Crimea. But there is the issue, given that the existing police and ministry of health are not reformed and have Yanukovych loyalists to contend with, of who and how to do this -- again, it's a channel issue.
I want to say another thing about forensic investigations -- they are painstaking, hard, and long. People spend years on them especially in controversies and they nearly always are about controversies.
I recall the work done by Sam Dash (famous as the Watergate prosecutor and the Lewinsky defense prosecutor) on Bloody Sunday, which was the shooting of Irish demonstrators in the Bogside in Derry in 1972. This took more than 30 years to start to reach conclusion in the Bloody Sunday Tribunal, but it remained controversial and difficult.
The important thing that Dash did at the time -- he was invited to perform an investigation back in the 1970s at the request of local civil rights lawyers -- was to get the alternative forensics done. Lord Widgery, the British official who performed the inquest at first, was biased and incomplete.
I worked with Sam Dash closely on this back in the 1990s when we re-released his report for the International League for Human Rights, which I directed then, and where he was a board member. We worked with Irish journalists and lawyers to contribute to the Tribunal. What Sam told me at the time is that he found a forensics expert, a retired policeman, in Long Island, who exampled all the autopsy reports, the bullets, shrapnel etc. And he was able to show that some of the demonstrators were shot in the buttocks as they crawled away, wounded, from the scene, and were not shot standing up. That was one detail that stuck in my mind -- there were many more exhaustively covered by Dash's report and the exhaustive materials in the later Tribunal.
I also recall the world done by Nadejda Ataeva of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia in Paris, with the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan. There, too, there are exhaustive reports from the morgue, eye-witnesses including doctors who were able to bring out relevant information.
In the Andijan story -- something HRW and others like to play down -- of course the events begin with a group of Islamic businessmen in an association called Akromiya who were angered that their fellow businessmen had been arrested by the corrupt and injust Uzbek authorities, and decided to stage a jail-break for their friends. They took police as hostages and killed some. That triggered all the ensuing tragic events, for which the Karimov government bears responsibility, involving soldiers shooting dead hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children on a public square, as people came out to demonstrate against the local injustices.
I am not a forensic expert at all myself but I simply have been involved in advocating the findings of others in various human rights NGOs at the UN, OSCE, and State Department. People always argue extensively over details, information is hard to get from closed societies, and the facts to chase are endless. But you can find important details when you have a will to build the alternative narrative, as Sam Dash did and as Nadejda Ataeva has done and many others dealing with all kinds of atrocities in their homeland, from Chechnya to Guatemala.
But I can only make this philosophical point: forensics are seldom 100% definitive and they seldom cure a deep human rights problem for you. For that, you need a lot of other things, starting with good faith.
The point is to get started -- and soon! -- and to have not only competent and trusted experts but a trusted channel for the performance of the mission and the delivery of its findings. I'm recalling the enormous troubles that the OSCE PA Finnish MP-led commission of inquiry had for the pogroms in Osh in 2010. They never could get access to Osh but had to get testimonies in other locations. We have just seen what a miracle was produced by the UN's North Korean Commission of Inquiry without any access to North Korea or China. It's about will -- and about not doing business as usual.