Neil Abrams Profile picture
Mar 22 89 tweets 22 min read
OK, so @MaxBlumenthal of @TheGrayzoneNews recently published an article claiming that Russia’s bombing of a Mariupol theater was actually a false-flag operation carried out by Ukraine’s Azov Battalion. Reader, this is one dishonest article, and I’m about to show you why. Thread:
@MaxBlumenthal @TheGrayzoneNews The bombing occurred a week ago. Locals, in an attempt to dissuade Russia from attacking it, had written “children” on the ground outside in letters so big they could be seen from space satellites. But was it really a false-flag operation by Ukrainian forces? Let’s dig in.
@MaxBlumenthal @TheGrayzoneNews Before we get into it, though, here’s a link to Blumenthal’s piece for your reference:…
@MaxBlumenthal @TheGrayzoneNews For those unfamiliar, the Twitter Tankie worldview can pretty much be summarized thusly: “All the world’s evils are the product of imperialism and, by the way, there is no imperialism but US imperialism.” A crude summary, yes, but it does encompass about 95% of the shit they say.
@MaxBlumenthal @TheGrayzoneNews And what is the Azov Battalion, which Blumenthal blames for the attack? It was set up in 2014 as a paramilitary group to fight against a Russian-backed insurgency in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk (collectively known as the Donbas region).
@MaxBlumenthal @TheGrayzoneNews Soon after it was incorporated into Ukraine’s armed forces.
@MaxBlumenthal @TheGrayzoneNews Many if not most of its members are neo-Nazis, including its original commander, Andriy Biletsky, and deputy commander, Vadym Troyan.
@MaxBlumenthal @TheGrayzoneNews In addition to allegations of war crimes in the Donbas, it has allegedly engaged in pogroms against Ukraine’s Roma community. In short, these are very, very bad people.
@MaxBlumenthal @TheGrayzoneNews Estimates of its size vary, with 900 at the low end and 2500 at the high end. Blumenthal himself has previously claimed (without evidence) that it has 3000 members. Considering the source, this can be assumed to be the absolute maximum estimate of its total membership.
@MaxBlumenthal @TheGrayzoneNews Ukraine’s military has about 215,000 troops in total, which means Azov makes up anywhere from 0.4% to 1.4% of the country’s armed forces—not that you’d know that from the tankies’ obsessive commentary on its supposedly mammoth-sized influence.
@MaxBlumenthal @TheGrayzoneNews Azov is the main army regiment defending the city of Mariupol against Russian forces, which currently have the city under siege. The point of Blumenthal’s piece is to blame the theater’s barbaric destruction on Azov which, he claims, did it to make it look like Russia bombed it.
@MaxBlumenthal @TheGrayzoneNews Blumenthal starts by asserting that Azov is the only party which stood to benefit from the theater’s destruction while Russia had every reason not to do it due to the inevitable reputational damage it would suffer.
@MaxBlumenthal @TheGrayzoneNews So Blumenthal claims that bombing the theater could only harm Russia, not help it. He actually says this as if terrorizing Ukraine’s civilian population into pressuring the government to surrender on Russia’s terms isn’t a key objective of the whole invasion. Uh, okay?.
Now let’s turn to Blumenthal’s “evidence” that it was a false-flag op by Azov. The first piece of “evidence” is a video from the theater in which refugees demand a humanitarian corridor out of the city.
Blumenthal implies that Azov, not Russia, is the party refusing to provide this corridor. Except at the end of the video we a message stating that the video was PRODUCED BY AZOV.
Now why would Azov make a video portraying themselves as a bunch of heartless thugs preventing refugees from leaving the city?
What the people in the video are almost certainly saying, then, is that it is Russia, not Azov, that is stopping them from leaving the city—which would make sense being that it is Russian forces, not Azov, that has the city under siege.
Even if Azov were the ones stopping the refugees from fleeing, would that somehow prove it was Azov that blew up the theater in a false-flag operation? No, reader, it would not.
The next piece of “evidence” is a video purporting to show Azov forcefully preventing civilians from leaving Mariupol. In it, we see men dragging a guy from a car and assaulting him.
Are the perpetrators members of Azov? Is the guy who’s being assaulted an innocent civilian? Is this even Mariupol? Who knows? None of us, after all, are gifted with Max Blumethal’s sixth-sense abilities. Not that it would prove Azov blew up the theater either way, but whatevs.
Next we see a video allegedly showing someone from Azov telling a woman they’re cancelling the evacuation. What a bunch of callous brutes, right?
Except what he’s actually saying is: “We came to warn you because there are shootings. You can hear them right?” He’s not saying they can’t leave; he’s simply warning her to be careful because there’s danger out there. Here's a link to the video:
Now, finally, we get to an actual piece of evidence which, if true, would indeed suggest the theater bombing was a false-flag op by Azov.
It’s a Telegram message posted 4 days before the bombing by a Russian journalist claiming he “heard” from local residents that there would soon be a false-flag attack on the theater.
Seems credible, right? Until, that is, you learn who this journalist works for: Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Kremlin propaganda organ owned by one Grigory Berezkin, a Russian oligarch with a history of buying up and silencing disobedient news outlets.
See, for instance, his acquisition of RBC, then Russia’s biggest independent media group, in 2017. Berezkin, by the way, has close ties to the Kremlin and allegedly got rich off of sweetheart deals with Gazprom, the state energy monopoly.…
Now can you think of a reason why a journalist who effectively works for the Kremlin might have known in advance about the theater bombing—and why he’d want to get ahead of the story by sowing doubts as to whether Russian forces would be the ones who bombed it?
So that, thus far, is the only piece of actual evidence Blumenthal offers purportedly showing that the theater bombing was a false-flag operation by Azov. Only the evidence turns out to be, well, less than reliable, to put it charitably.
Blumenthal then moves on to note how Zelensky, desperate for military aid due to “his military collapsing” (note: it is not, in fact, collapsing), made an emotional plea to the U.S. Congress to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
This is meant to convince us that Zelensky & Azov carried out the bombing and framed Russia so as to recklessly draw America into a direct armed confrontation on Ukraine’s behalf.
Nice little theory, I guess, but absent, you know, *actual evidence* (see above) it’s nothing more than a fever dream in Max Blumenthal’s own mind.
Anyway, the rest of the piece consists of a bunch of videos showing Mariupol refugees (who may or may not be actual refugees) saying things that fit Blumenthal’s narrative. In one video, we see a Russian-speaker who supposedly fled Mariupol and who claims Azov blew up the theater
Puzzlingly, however, if you watch the full video (see links in next tweet), you can hear someone just off screen coaching the woman to praise the Russian troops in the city for handing out chocolates to refugees. Which is…kinda weird. I mean, what else did she coach her to say?
Here are links to the video with subtitles. The coaching happens in the second of the two videos around the 0:30 mark.

Pt. 1:

Pt. 2:
Next, Blumenthal links to a video of an elderly woman who supposedly fled Mariupol and who claims Azov “burned everything” in the city and invaded her home. Might this be true? Sure.
Does it provide us any information on who was responsible for destroying the theater? No.
Next, we see video interviews of people who supposedly fled Mariupol claiming Azov did all sorts of bad stuff to them and wouldn’t let them leave the theater or the city.
You can see from the video that they’re being interviewed in Russian-controlled territory. Are they telling the truth? Who knows?

I can think of any number of reasons (threats, bribes) why genuine refugees in Russian-controlled territory would be parroting Russian propaganda. Impossible to prove either way. But, again, none of this has any bearing whatsoever on whether Russia or Azov destroyed the theater.
Anyway, I’m not trying to claim these people aren’t genuine refugees or that they’re not telling the truth.
The point is, there is simply no way to verify these random videos posted by random people from a war zone. Unless it’s coming from a well-known, reputable news source, it’s hard to figure out what’s true and what’s not.
In any event, the rest of the essay is a long and largely irrelevant tangent about alleged false-flag operations in Syria which Blumenthal and his media outlet, The Grazyone, have touted over the years.
I won’t weigh in on this stuff because I’m not an expert on Syria. If I *were* to weigh in, I’d first check to see what *actual* experts on Syria had to say on the matter. Yes, there is a lesson here for Max Blumenthal and his tankie friends.
Incidentally, when actual experts evaluate the claims of Blumenthal and his buddies, it can reveal just how dishonest and/or ignorant these guys are.
See, for example, this takedown by a Nicaragua specialist on some of the things Blumenthal said about the country.…
So that’s it for the substance of the article. In short, it’s a mess of unsupported assertions, a couple bits of evidence that *would* support his claims if they weren’t totally unreliable, and a bunch of other stuff that’s impossible to verify and totally irrelevant in any event
But before I end this thread, I want to discuss another part of Blumenthal’s essay in which he attacks a Ukrainian journalist named Illia Ponomarenko along with his employer, the Kyiv Independent.
Now, the problem with Ponomarenko is that, while he’s a good reporter, he’s posted pictures of himself in the past palling around with members of the Azov Battalion. Yes, reader, that is bad.
Recall that Azov was set up in 2014 by a bunch of neo-Nazis whom the government relied on to help fight against a Russian-backed insurgency in the Donbas.
The government relied on Azov not b/c it *liked* Nazis but rather b/c Ukraine’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, had fled to Russia with the entire contents of the state treasury after a failed bid to brutally repress a popular uprising against his corrupt, authoritarian rule
Yanukovych’s epic corruption (even by Ukrainian standards) left the new government so cash-strapped that it actually had to appeal to citizens for donations to fund the war effort.
That’s…not a good situation to be in if you’re a provisional government facing annexation and armed insurgency by a much more powerful neighbor.
Because it had no money, the provisional government had to rely on anyone willing to fight, including but not limited to Nazis, lest Ukraine literally cease to exist in the face of a Russian proxy invasion.
So the only reason Azov became a relevant force in Ukraine from 2014 onward was that Russia attacked the country and was now sheltering its ex-leader who had just looted the treasury so thoroughly that the government was totally unprepared to fight a war Russia had forced upon it
Anyway, the Ukrainian government eventually incorporated Azov into its own military. Turns out that, once you’ve had to depend on armed Nazis to help defend your country from a foreign attack, you can’t just snap your fingers and make them disappear into oblivion.
BTW, as much as the tankies LOVE to bring up the Azov Nazis as a means of discrediting Ukraine, they never mention the fact that the insurgents Russia literally shipped to Donbas in 2014 WERE THEMSELVES NAZIS.
Examples of these Russian-backed Nazis were Igor Girkin, Pavel Gubarev, Alexei Milchakov, and Anton Rayevsky. But there were *plenty* of others too.…
But I digress. We’ll learn much more about all this stuff in my upcoming mega-thread on the Twitter Tankies. And, yes, I’ll be bringing receipts.
Anyway, back to Blumenthal’s attempted takedown of the Kyiv Independent. The standard tankie trick for discrediting a media outlet that’s reporting things the tankies find inconvenient is to paint it as an instrument of the US government—or, better yet, the CIA.
And that’s precisely what Blumenthal tries to do here.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. The Kyiv Independent was set up with help from a US intelligence cut-out? Sounds suspicious, right?
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is indeed a US-funded agency formed in 1983 to continue a previously covert CIA program for promoting democracy around the world.
And before you have to ask, no, the groups the NED supported were not always so pro-democratic, especially during the late Cold War period.
The idea behind the NED was that, unlike most of what the CIA does, there’s nothing shady about democracy-promotion and thus no need to do it in secret. It can all be done out in the open with full public disclosure, etc.
And so a bipartisan commission founded the NED while Congress would provide its annual funding.
Since then, the NED has made a practice of awarding grants to NGOs and media outlets and providing leadership training in developing countries. Is it entirely legit? Here’s a lengthy and mostly critical investigation from Pro Publica so you can decide for yourself.
If you go by Blumenthal and his tankie friends, you’d probably think the NED is teeming with CIA operatives who kidnap people and send them off to faraway black sites to be tortured. That, dear reader, is not the kind of thing the NED does.
But there’s no need to really get into NED’s dealings here. Wanna know why? Because, contra Blumenthal, the NED ***played no role in setting up the Kyiv Independent***. So what really happened?
Well, that requires explaining why the Kyiv Independent was established in the first place. Although founded just a few months ago, it isn’t exactly new.
It was set up by the staff of the Kyiv Post, a highly-regarded English-language news outlet which for 25 years did essential, award-winning reporting on Ukraine.
As someone who does research on Ukrainian politics, I followed the Kyiv Post for the better part of two decades. Its reporting was indispensable to my work on corruption among Ukraine’s elite, the subject of my PhD dissertation.
The Kyiv Post pulled no punches and refused to pledge allegiance to any one political or business faction.
The fact that it managed to withstand constant attacks from politicians and oligarchs is a testament to the tenaciousness of its staff and (previous) owner.…
But last year the Kyiv Post, now under new ownership, finally met its match. It was actually its dogged reporting on Zelensky and his ties to offshore bank accounts that would prove its undoing.
Thanks to the Kyiv Post’s reporting, its new owner, Adnan Kivan, a wealthy businessman with ties to the government, allegedly found himself cut off from government procurement contracts.…
Kivan got the message. He sought to get back into Zelensky’s good graces by shutting down the paper and firing its staff.
He then offered them the opportunity to get their jobs back under new management. But they balked, rightly seeing it as an attempt to subject their reporting to undue influence.
So they left to found the Kyiv Independent. It’s doing great reporting but is operating on a shoestring budget, dependent on a mix of small private donors (of which I am one) and a sizeable grant from the European Endowment for Democracy.
In fact, I urge you all to support the work of the Kyiv Independent.
Here’s where Blumenthal tries to trick his audience into thinking the Kyiv Independent is controlled by the NED. NATIONAL Endowment for Democracy. EUROPEAN Endowment for Democracy. Get it? They’re the SAME THING, right? No, they are not.
The European Endowment for Democracy (EED) is, as it freely admits, “named after and inspired by” the NED, but there are no financial or organizational ties between the two—at least none that I could find despite having done some extensive digging.
The EED was established in 2013 by the European Union, which funds it. Its activities are similar to NED’s. But it was set up independently of NED and, unlike NED, has no CIA roots whatsoever. It operates as an NGO which, like NED, awards grants to media outlets and the like.
The Kyiv Independent is one of those outlets.…
Why did I go into this lengthy tangent about the Kyiv Independent, the NED, and the EED? First to show that the Kyiv Independent is not some state propaganda organ obediently parroting the line of either the US or Ukrainian governments.
I mean, the whole reason the Kyiv Independent EXISTS in the first place is because its staff faced pressure from the Ukrainian government and were unwilling to work under anyone’s thumb.
But more than that, it provides a window into the dishonesty of Blumenthal and his tankie friends.
Twitter Tankies like @MaxBlumenthal will go to great lengths to “investigate” the funders of any media outlet they dislike. But if you’re an ACTUAL RUSSIAN STATE PROPAGANDA ORGAN such as Komsomolskaya Pravda, they’ll accept whatever you say unquestioningly.
@MaxBlumenthal In other words, Blumenthal et al have no actual principles. They’ll happily regurgitate state propaganda when it suits their purposes while falsely painting actual independent outlets as purveyors of propaganda if they find it convenient to do so.
@MaxBlumenthal By the way, @MaxBlumenthal, who funds The Grayzone? Wanna tell us? ‘Cause it’s a little hard to believe y’all get by on small donations alone. /END

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