Marco Levytsky, National Affairs Editor.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau linked the expulsion of four Russian diplomats with the smear campaign against Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland a year ago, he once again opened the lid on a media feeding frenzy surrounding her late grandfather.
At issue is Michael Chomiak’s service in the wartime Ukrainian-language newspaper, Krakivs’ki visti, published in Nazi-occupied Poland. This newspaper served the Ukrainian-speaking population both in Poland and later in the Nazi-occupied territories of western Ukraine and strove to maintain some semblance of Ukrainian national consciousness in those turbulent times. According to Chomiak’s daughter, Natalia, employees of the newspaper even worked to some extent with the anti-Nazi resistance; in particular, they issued false papers for members of the underground. But, as can be expected under such circumstances, they had no choice but to publish Nazi propaganda including some anti-Semitic articles. However, under no circumstance does that make them “Nazis”. I worked with the late Michael Chomiak at Ukrainian News in 1982-1983 and knew him to be an honest journalist and a deeply religious and conscientious individual.
Chomiak’s ghost was first resurrected by a well-known KGB agent, John Helmer, who fled his native United States in the 1980’s before he was exposed by former KGB Major Yuri Shvets. Helmer now works as a “journalist” in Putin’s Moscow, churning out propaganda pieces for his Vozhd. His piece “SCOOP: Canada’s new foreign minister lying about family’s Ukrainian Nazi past,” was posted on the Russia Insider website on January 19, 2017 and this was followed up by Arina Tsukanova’s “A Nazi skeleton in the family closet,”, posted on consortiumnews.com on February 27, 2017. Tsukanova is identified as “a Russian Ukrainian journalist from Kiev (sic) currently living in Crimea,” who claims it is actually Ukraine that annexed Crimea, not the other way around.
Such drivel circulated mainly in pro-Kremlin, far-right and far-left websites until The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa Bureau Chief, Robert Fife, decided to make this an issue during the March 6, 2017 press conference announcing the Government of Canada’s decision to renew Operation Unifier.
Fife said: “It’s no secret the Russians do not like you. They’ve banned you from the country. Recently, there has been a series of articles about you and your maternal grandparents, making accusations that he was a Nazi collaborator in pro-Russian websites. I’d like to get your view on do you see this as a disinformation campaign by the Russians to try to smear you and discredit you, which they have a tendency to have done?”
He was correct in identifying this as a Russian smear campaign. Nevertheless, once he let the cat out of the bag, the feeding frenzy began, just as it has begun once again following Trudeau’s revelation.
And those who joined this current frenzy, are the same ones that feasted on it in March, 2017.
“Why did Canada expel four Russian diplomats? Because they told the truth: The Russians are being punished for saying that Freeland’s grandfather was a Nazi collaborator during the Second World War. He was,” read the heading for the Toronto Star’s Thomas Walcom’s April 5, 2018 column. It was more or less the same point he stressed in his March 15, 2017 column entitled “Chrystia Freeland and the Russian disinformation bogeyman: News that seems to back the West’s favourite villain isn’t necessarily false.”
Among some of Walcom’s earlier pieces are the February 19, 2014 column entitled: “Canada’s strange views on Ukrainian democracy: Ottawa backs those who would overturn an elected government by force” ,“Canadian military aid adds more fuel to Ukraine crisis: Arming Ukraine’s military with sleeping bags and helmets is an act of political mischief that could backfire (August 8, 2014); Pianist punished for daring to challenge political orthodoxy in Ukraine: Valentina Lisitsa’s views on Ukraine’s civil war are deemed too provocative for Toronto’s tender ears (April 7, 2015).
But it was the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese who got the real “scoop”. “Exclusive: Russian diplomat booted from Canada has some advice for Trudeau — it won’t work: Good-bye Kirill Kalinin, the Russian press secretary who outed the Foreign Affairs minister’s grandfather as a Nazi collaborator.” Yes, Pugliese actually managed to get an exclusive interview with Kalinin, who confirmed he is one of four Russian diplomats told to leave Canada. Why is that? Well, for one thing, he is noted for propagating the Russian line. Pugliese dove right into the earlier Chomiak-Freeland connection on March 8, 2017 with a piece entitled: “Chrystia Freeland’s granddad was indeed a Nazi collaborator – so much for Russian disinformation” and previously argued that the reason for Russia’s aggression in Ukraine was NATO’s decision to expand into East European countries who had previously suffered under Russian occupation and – most notably, in October 2017 — defended Kalinin’s tweets that claimed Roman Shukhevych participated in the German-orchestrated 1941 Lviv massacre of Jews and that the First Division of the National Army of Ukraine was guilty of war crimes. (Both charges have been refuted in detail by this newspaper. Please see “Canadian mainstream journalists parrot Putin’s propaganda”, New Pathway – Ukrainian News, November 10, 2017).
Kalinin told Pugliese that he sent photos and links to the stories about Freeland’s grandfather to Canadian news outlets, as the material was already in the public domain.
Pugliese concluded that “with Kalinin gone, the Russian embassy is expected to name a new official spokesman. The tweets and official statements aren’t expected to change.”
We hate to agree, but that is correct. There is a massive amount of Russian disinformation out there in cyberspace, and whoever replaces Kalinin will continue to feed it to Canadian journalists. But there is no reason why Canadian journalists should take the bait.
And those are issues we, as a community, should be raising with the mainstream media. Why, for example, does a supposedly respectable newspaper like The Ottawa Citizen continue to give Pugliese an outlet where he can shamelessly espouse his pro-Russian, anti-Ukrainian biases? And why, of all things, is he assigned the duty of reporting on military matters?
Russian disinformation is intended to draw attention away from the real issues at hand,
namely, Russia’s rogue behavior in the international community; its invasion and illegal
annexation of Crimea, where human rights abuses run rampant; its military, economic and political support of warlords in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has cost more than 10,000 Ukrainian lives; its assassinations of activists and journalists, at home and abroad, who are critical of the Putin regime; its subversion of democracies and elections throughout the West; and a whole host of other brazen violations of international norms and laws.
Canadian journalists, who give credibility to Russian disinformation, serve only to fulfill that purpose.