A successful prisoner swap occurred this past weekend between Moscow and Kiev. The exchange included 24 Ukrainian sailors involved in the Kerch Strait incident last November as well as 10 others, including Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov who had been held by Russia on terrorism charges since 2015. An equal number of Russians held prisoner in Ukraine were also part of the exchange but there has been less fanfare about them, even in Moscow (more on that point in the video below).
The exchange is intended to build trust to facilitate future negotiations for ending the Ukraine crisis that erupted after the Maidan coup in 2014, leading to civil war in the country’s eastern region known as the Donbas.
The OSCE Chair and Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia, Miroslav Lajčák made the following statement on Saturday:
“This exchange has the potential to build up confidence between the two countries, as well as lead to exchange of all detainees, as provided in Minsk agreements,” said Lajčák adding that no effort should be spared to solve the conflict and end the suffering of people. “The OSCE and the Slovak Chairmanship stand ready to assist in any way possible.”
The exchange marked an important moment for Zelensky, the new Ukrainian president, as he can point to obtaining concrete positive actions out of Moscow. Zelensky and Putin held a telephone conference after the exchange in which the Kremlin reported that both sides stressed the importance of making progress on the Donbas problem, particularly using the Normandy format. RT reported:
They both agreed that the swap is an important step to mending ties between the two countries, the Kremlin press service said. Putin and Zelensky also discussed the prospects of solving the crisis inside Ukraine and putting the lengthy conflict between Kiev and the breakaway Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk to an end.
The two presidents talked about have also discussed the prospects of a new meeting in the Normandy Four format, that comprises leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany. The process has been somewhat stalled since 2016, but since his election in April 2019 Zelensky urged for leaders to meet. Such an event must be thoroughly prepared to yield some results in regards to actually implementing the Minsk agreements, Putin stressed.
A link to the statement put out by the Kremlin on the phone call can be found here.
The next day, Putin had a telephone conversation with French President Macron after which Macron announced that a summit would take place in the Normandy Four format of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany to revive the Minsk Agreement, but no date was set.
Commentary on the prisoner exchange can be viewed below from Bryan MacDonald – one of the best English-speaking journalists based in Russia.
This morning a diplomatic meeting was held between the French and the Russians with respect to paving the way for more engagement between the two countries, particularly with the goal of resolving the Ukrainian civil war. AFP reported the following:
France said Monday that the time had come to start easing tensions with Russia as senior ministers held four-way talks in Moscow not seen since the crisis over Ukraine broke out.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said there was a “window of opportunity” for resolving the Ukraine conflict after a landmark prisoner exchange on Saturday, but that it was too soon to talk of lifting sanctions on Russia.
Le Drian and French Defence Minister Florence Parly were in Moscow for talks under the so-called “2+2” format that been suspended since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine….
…Lavrov said progress on rebuilding ties with Europe was “possible and necessary”.
Well, we’re at the point where they’re not even trying to be subtle about it. The Pentagon is now coming right out and saying that it wants to be able to essentially police the news that Americans get on the internet…because they don’t trust us rubes with democracy – especially that freedom of speech thing.
As Matt Taibbi reports for Rolling Stone magazine, the Pentagon – via its Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – wants to utilize software that can detect “fake news” using some sort of algorithm. Taibbi provides more detail:
One of the Pentagon’s most secretive agencies, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is developing “custom software that can unearth fakes hidden among more than 500,000 stories, photos, video and audio clips.”…
DARPA now is developing a semantic analysis program called “SemaFor” and an image analysis program called “MediFor,” ostensibly designed to prevent the use of fake images or text. The idea would be to develop these technologies to help private Internet providers sift through content.
It’s the latest in a string of stories about new methods of control over information flow that should, but for some reason do not, horrify every working journalist.
Taibbi goes on to point out that the worst examples of “fake news” historically have been propagated by the establishment to either crank up support for a dubious war or a dubious crackdown on the rights and liberties of Americans. Ironically, “fake news” itself is now being used as an excuse to curtail our free speech rights.
If there’s a fake news story out there, it’s the fake news panic itself. It has the hallmarks of an old-school, WMD-style propaganda campaign.
It includes terrifying pronouncements by unnamed “intelligence officials,” unprovable, overblown, or outright fake statistical assertions about the threat (like the oft-cited claim that fake election news had more engagement than real news), open conflation of legitimate domestic dissent with foreign attack, and routine dismissal of experts downplaying the problem (here are two significantstudies suggesting the “fake news” phenomenon is overstated).
Of course, the final, omnipresent ingredient in most major propaganda campaigns is the authoritarian solution. Here, it’s unelected, unsupervised algorithmic control over media. We’ve never had a true news regulator in this country, yet the public is being conditioned now to accept one, without thinking of the consequences.
As social critic Caitlin Johnstone has pointed out, the most powerful tool that the elites have in a society is not control of the money supply, energy or food, but control over the narrative. Control over what you think about what’s going on:
Power is being able to control what happens. Absolute power is being able to control what people think about what happens. If you can control what happens, you can have power until the public gets sick of your bullshit and tosses you out on your ass. If you can control what people think about what happens, you can have power forever. As long as you can control how people are interpreting circumstances and events, there’s no limit to the evils you can get away with.