‘Letter to Jews’, which Kerry cited, appears to be fake
A letter urging the Jews of Donetsk to get registered, which the US Secretary of State cited in Geneva, is a fake says a man whose signature appears on the communication.
Following the four-side meeting on the Ukrainian crisis in Geneva on Wednesday, John Kerry lashed out at a letter that was allegedly sent to Jewish citizens in Ukraine’s eastern town of Donetsk, asking them to register and report all their property, or be stripped of citizenship and face expulsion.
“In year 2014, after all of the miles traveled in all the journey of history, this is not just intolerable, it's grotesque… beyond unacceptable," he stated.
Images of the letter have been circulating online.
This is the document that John Kerry has just referred to - calling on Jews in Donetsk to register.
The letter was stamped and signed by Denis Pushilin, who was identified on it as the “People’s Governor.”
However, Pushilin denied he had anything to do with the letter, claiming it was a fake.
“There are similar letters not only addressed to Jews, but also to businessmen, foreign students, people of certain other occupations,” he told RT. “This is actually a fake, and not a good one. There’s a sign “People’s Governor”. First of all, no one calls me by that title, no one elected me. Secondly, the stamp is the former mayor’s. Everything’s photoshopped.”
Pushilin added that sensible people can only take what the authors of this “letter” were trying to say with humor. The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic “is multinational,” he said. “We get along perfectly well here with everyone. And there aren’t any conflicts on national grounds, that’s for sure.”
Although the letter’s authenticity is questionable, the fact that it was mentioned by a top US official has quickly sent the “Letter to Jews” story viral. It struck a very sensitive chord with audiences worldwide and cast a grave shadow over anti-government protesters in Donetsk.
The “letter” story also went ballistic on Reddit. However, its authenticity was seriously questioned and the social network community concluded the document is "almost certainly fake."
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian MP who has visited the turbulent region, Boris Kolesnikov of the Party of Regions, has urged that information coming from Ukraine should be double-checked.
He believes that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies aren’t being totally honest when they describe the people participating in the protests and claim there are Russian servicemen among them.
Kolesnikov specifically referred to a video which earlier appeared online. In it a man in a military uniform told police officers, who switched sides in the city of Gorlovka and joined protesters, that he was Russian lieutenant-colonel from Simpheropol, Crimea. The man was later identified by Gorlovka residents as the former director of a local cemetery.
“Officially, I’ve only seen one Russian serviceman,” Kolesnikov said. “The next day he appeared to be the ex-director of the Gorlovka cemetery, fired 2 years ago for selling 38 fences, stealing a monument and extorting money from old women for new graves. There are Interior Ministry and intelligence services in the country, which should give us truthful information.”
He added it was quite obvious that the protesters in Donetsk did not represent any danger to civilians and called for negotiations with the activists. These talks would explain Kiev’s position and that the government is ready to make amendments to the constitution.
The US appears to be relying on information from Kiev, while ignoring alternative points of view. And so it seems that a top US official picked up and railed about a letter of questionable authenticity.
Earlier in April, spokesperson for the US Department of State, Jen Psaki, said that protest events in eastern Ukraine “appeared to be a carefully orchestrated campaign with Russian support.”
She was then asked if the department was only relying on Kiev in its assessment of the situation, or was using some independent sources.
“Well, of course we remain very closely in touch with the Ukrainian Government, and that’s who we work closely with, and of course, they are on the ground, so their information is often very relevant and current,” was the reply.
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden calls Russian Vladimir Putin during the leader's televised question and answer session with the nation to ask about mass surveillance.
Moscow: Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who was granted asylum in Russia, made a surprise appearance on Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual televised call-in session to ask if the country conducts mass surveillance like the United States does.
Mr Snowden's revelations about US spying practices set off a national debate about the trade-offs between security and privacy.
Q&A: Edward Snowden appears on Russian television to question Vladimir Putin. Photo: AP
"Recently in the United States, two independent White House investigations, as well as the federal court, all concluded that these programs are ineffective in stopping terrorism," Mr Snowden said via video link from an undisclosed location on Thursday, local time.
"They also found that they unreasonably intrude into the private lives of ordinary citizens - individuals who have never been suspected of any wrongdoing or criminal activity - and that these kinds of programs are not the least intrusive means available to such agencies for these investigative purposes.
"Now, I've seen little public discussion of Russia's own involvement in such surveillance," Mr Snowden continued. "So I'd like to ask you: Does Russia intercept, store or analyse in any way the communications of millions of individuals, and do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies, rather than subjects, under surveillance?"
Media event: Vladimir Putin responds to Edward Snowden's questions on his televised call-in session. Photo: Reuters
Mr Putin, a former KGB officer, responded with a smile.
"Dear Mr Snowden, you are a former agent, and I used to work in intelligence," he said, a remark interrupted by massive studio applause and laughter. "So we will talk in a professional language.
"First of all, the use of special means by special services is strictly regulated by the law here. And this regulation includes the need to get a court permission to [conduct surveillance on] a specific individual. And this is why it doesn't have a massive, unselective character here, and cannot have in accordance with the law.
"Of course, we proceed from the fact that modern means of communication are used by criminal elements, including terrorists, in their criminal activities. And special services, of course, must react accordingly ... using modern methods and means to struggle against their crimes, including terrorist crimes. And of course, we are doing it."
But, he added: "We don't allow ourselves to do it on a massive and uncontrolled scale, and I hope very much we will never allow that.
"Besides, we don't have the technical means and the funds for it like in the United States. After all, our special services are strictly controlled by the state and society."
Mr Putin has said repeatedly that Russian intelligence services were not working with Mr Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum last year. The United States has demanded that Snowden be returned to face charges of espionage and theft of government property.
His Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told the Los Angeles Times last year that Snowden had an apartment in Russia and was taking Russian language lessons.
He demonstrated the progress he was making on Thursday by beginning his question in Russian. "Zdravstvuyte," he said. "Hello."
It was the only Russian word he used.
Los Angeles Times
Edward Snowden: Vladimir Putin Must be Called to Account on Surveillance Just Like Obama
I questioned the Russian president live on TV to get his answer on the record, not to whitewash him
On Thursday, I questioned Russia’s involvement in mass surveillance on live television. I asked Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, a question that cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program: “Does [your country] intercept, analyse or store millions of individuals’ communications?”
I went on to challenge whether, even if such a mass surveillance program were effective and technically legal, it could ever be morally justified.
The question was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion. (See a side-by-side comparison of Wyden’s question and mine here.)
Clapper’s lie – to the Senate and to the public – was a major motivating force behind my decision to go public, and a historic example of the importance of official accountability.
In his response, Putin denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter. There are serious inconsistencies in his denial – and we’ll get to them soon – but it was not the president’s suspiciously narrow answer that was criticised by many pundits. It was that I had chosen to ask a question at all.
I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticise the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive. I regret that my question could be misinterpreted, and that it enabled many to ignore the substance of the question – and Putin’s evasive response – in order to speculate, wildly and incorrectly, about my motives for asking it.
The investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, perhaps the single most prominent critic of Russia’s surveillance apparatus (and someone who has repeatedly criticised me in the past year), described my question as “extremely important for Russia”. It could, he said, “lift a de facto ban on public conversations about state eavesdropping.”
Others have pointed out that Putin’s response appears to be the strongest denial of involvement in mass surveillance ever given by a Russian leader – a denial that is, generously speaking, likely to be revisited by journalists.
In fact, Putin’s response was remarkably similar to Barack Obama’s initial, sweeping denials of the scope of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, before that position was later shown to be both untrue and indefensible.
So why all the criticism? I expected that some would object to my participation in an annual forum that is largely comprised of softball questions to a leader unaccustomed to being challenged. But to me, the rare opportunity to lift a taboo on discussion of state surveillance before an audience that primarily views state media outweighed that risk. Moreover, I hoped that Putin’s answer – whatever it was – would provide opportunities for serious journalists and civil society to push the discussion further.
When this event comes around next year, I hope we’ll see more questions on surveillance programs and other controversial policies. But we don’t have to wait until then. For example, journalists might ask for clarification as to how millions of individuals’ communications are not being intercepted, analysed or stored, when, at least on a technical level, the systems that are in place must do precisely that in order to function. They might ask whether the social media companies reporting that they have received bulk collection requests from the Russian government are telling the truth.
I blew the whistle on the NSA’s surveillance practices not because I believed that the United States was uniquely at fault, but because I believe that mass surveillance of innocents – the construction of enormous, state-run surveillance time machines that can turn back the clock on the most intimate details of our lives – is a threat to all people, everywhere, no matter who runs them.
Last year, I risked family, life, and freedom to help initiate a global debate that even Obama himself conceded “will make our nation stronger”. I am no more willing to trade my principles for privilege today than I was then.
I understand the concerns of critics, but there is a more obvious explanation for my question than a secret desire to defend the kind of policies I sacrificed a comfortable life to challenge: if we are to test the truth of officials’ claims, we must first give them an opportunity to make those claims.
• Edward Snowden wrote for the Guardian through the Freedom of the Press Foundation