GONZALO Lira is alive and well. If you don’t know who he is or why this is good news I’ll explain in a moment.
But first, let me ask a quick question: does it matter whether or not we get to the bottom of what’s really happening in Ukraine?
I hope you’ll agree with me that it does very much. And the same goes for all the other wars that have cost us blood and/or treasure over the last few decades from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya and Syria.
What if we were dragged into them on a false prospectus? What if our servicemen and servicewomen lost lives, limbs and mental health there for no obvious reason? What if the people we were told were goodies were in fact the baddies – or vice versa? What if our involvement ended up doing far more harm than good?
These, surely, are the kind of basic questions we ought to be asking about any war in which we get involved, whether directly – as in the two Gulf Wars – or (so far at least) indirectly, as in Ukraine.
But you’d be amazed by how many sovereign citizens do not think that it is their job. I notice this from the preponderance of people on social media with Ukraine symbols in their profiles; from the blue and yellow flags fluttering outside houses; from conversations like the one I had at a party the other day when two guests – one an ex-Army officer and senior county bigwig, the other a hereditary peer – actually laughed in my face when I suggested that Putin might have a reasonable casus belli.
What soon became clear was that neither of my scorners was informed by any special insight. They had simply taken on trust everything they had read and heard in the mainstream media. It had never occurred to them that there might be an alternative to the relentlessly-promoted official narrative that Putin is an insane, empire-building warmonger who has violated sovereign territory; that Zelensky is the greatest leader since Winston Churchill; that the evil Russians are behind all those terrible war crimes which should see Putin prosecuted at The Hague; that the Russian battle plan has failed dismally thanks to unexpectedly stiff resistance from the plucky Ukrainians; that with just a few more shipments of money and materiel, Zelensky’s heroic freedom fighters will prevail . . .
While I don’t pretend to be the world’s greatest expert on Russia and Ukraine (though I have visited both, and once ate Chicken Kiev in Kiev, or Kyiv as now everyone is insisting on calling it), I do rather suspect there’s more to this war than we’re being told in our mainstream media. Which is why I go to alternative sources like Gonzalo Lira.
Lira, whom I only discovered a couple of weeks ago, is a Chilean journalist currently trapped in Kharkov, in northeast Ukraine. I know very little about his background but his reporting has struck me as honest, considered, authentic and – insofar as it’s possible to judge in this hall of mirrors where everyone has an agenda – unbiased.
I commend to you the nearly two-hour broadcast he did a week or so ago about the state of play.
In Lira’s view, the Russians have made one or two strategic and tactical errors, but so far have generally been faring very well (as you might expect given their relative military strength) and are near-certain to win, eventually. The only question, according to Lira, is whether or not the tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops now encircled in the Donbas (the Russian-speaking Eastern part of Ukraine) will choose to surrender quickly or whether they will have to be wiped out in a brutal process of attrition.
Lira fears the latter. And there is no glee in his prognostication. Though he has been presented by his critics as a Putin apologist, he sounds to me much more like an adrenaline-junkie war tourist with the gift of the gab but with no particular dog in the fight. He just reports things as he sees and hears them from his near-frontline seat. His perspective is a very normal, engaging, human one: he doesn’t like seeing people suffer, be they civilians, or captured Russian soldiers being kneecapped and then shot in the groin and left to die by Ukrainian paramilitaries or hapless Ukrainian conscripts being slaughtered wholesale because the Zelensky regime and its hard-right enforcers refuse to let them surrender.
Listen to his report and judge for yourself. Certainly, I find his reportage a deal more persuasive than anything I’ve heard from the BBC or read in the papers. And it aligns with stuff I’ve read elsewhere, not just on obvious Russian propaganda channels like Intel Slava Z on Telegram, but also from more independent sources such as the Swiss intelligence officer Jacques Baud and from reporters such as Eva K Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley.
Whatever your take on Gonzalo Lira, here’s at least one other thing that I hope we can agree on: he doesn’t deserve to be tortured and to die horribly just for being insufficiently complimentary about the current Ukraine regime. Yet this, rather shockingly to my mind, is the fate that has been wished on him by certain voices in the Western media. Not only that but, more shockingly still, those voices have been agitating to make their sick and violent fantasy a reality.
One of those voices is Mark Hay, who wrote a hit piece for Daily Beast headlined ‘How a Sleazy Dating Coach Became a Pro-Putin Shill in Ukraine’. It accuses Lira of having ‘far-right’ associations, of being an anti-vaxxer (!), of spreading conspiracy theories (as an example Hay cites the US bioweapons labs in Ukraine, apparently unaware that these are a well-documented reality) and, most dangerously, of being a ‘Russian disinformation shill’. Hay declares piously (presumably repeating what he was told to say by libel lawyers): ‘Lira is not fake. Nor is there any evidence that he’s a paid Russian agent.’ But later he insinuates that actually Lira probably is working for the Russians. He cites a Ukrainian ‘expert’: ‘[Hrycak] speculated that he may be compensated by Russia, albeit perhaps indirectly. Russian disinformation shills are, after all, an unfortunate fixture of the modern social-media landscape.’
Another is Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, a transgender activist (formerly Michael John Cirillo) currently embedded with Nazi paramilitary units of the Ukraine armed services. Here is what she/he tweeted on the news that Gonzalo Lira was missing, believed taken by Ukraine’s notorious security services:
Hay and Ashton-Cirillo are, if you like, a more extreme version of those two chaps who laughed at me so rudely at the party. Ukraine, like ‘Covid’ before it, appears to have brought out many people’s inner fascist. They have become so convinced of the moral superiority of their position that they seem to imagine they have been absolved of the need to act with generosity of spirit, empathy or human decency. Normally when upper-class Englishmen disagree with someone at a party, they’ll maintain a straight face and save their scornful laughter till they can tell their wives about it on the drive home; normally when journalists disapprove of another journalist’s politics, they’ll take the piss over drinks, not deliberately and blatantly contrive to have him murdered by Nazi death squads.
For a few worrying days last week, it seemed that this might indeed have been the fate of Gonzalo Lira. When he stopped broadcasting and proved uncontactable, dread rumours began to circulate that he had been kidnapped, tortured and executed by one of the Ukrainian paramilitary units – perhaps the Azov or the Safari battalion – which make no bones about their Nazi sympathies or their savage delight in dealing with ‘traitors’. Happily, days later, Lira resurfaced. He had been detained by the SBU, Ukraine’s security services, and though apparently unhurt he was clearly badly shaken by his experiences. His computers and broadcasting equipment have been confiscated. He has been forbidden to leave Kharkov. It seems unlikely that he will dare broadcast with any frankness again.
There is much more that could be said about Mark Hay and Sarah Ashton-Cirillo. (If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend this discussion on UK Column with Vanessa Beeley, who gives you some background on these extraordinary characters. Her section is about 30 minutes in.) But I don’t wish to distract from my broader point about the Ukraine conflict, which is that never in my journalistic career have I seen a war of so little intrinsic interest to the public so aggressively bigged up and so outrageously misreported by the mainstream media. The ‘news’ we are being fed in the West on everything from Putin’s motivations to the Russian military’s tactical successes is so completely unreliable that it makes Soviet-era Pravda look like a model of journalistic integrity. Yet in the UK, the US and elsewhere, its propagandising of the populace has been so thorough that only a handful of mavericks and outcasts appear capable of seeing through it – and, if they dare to point this out, they are immediately marginalised as ignorant dupes of Putin’s propaganda.
Now, more than ever, we need outspoken, courageous, independent voices like Gonzalo Lira’s to tell us what is really going on in Ukraine. But there’s a mightily powerful machine out there – much, much bigger than the puppet Zelensky regime it controls – which is going to do its damnedest to make sure we don’t hear them.