I’m a bit hesitant to write this, as this post will most definitely be misinterpreted and certain folks will get upset. But this is too good of an example case to pass, so let’s get right on it.
The problem with following and investigating the Ukraine conflict lies in this notion that the available information is either Western-based or Russia-based. Both sides see the other’s information as propaganda, lies or at least a skewed version of the truth. Unfortunately, OSINT investigators are humans too and tend to fall into this same confirmation bias trap. I’m no better, but when it came to the (back then only alleged) existence of Ukrainian neo-nazis and other fascist elements of Ukrainian (para)military troops, I recall thinking that there’s just too much evidence to simply brush it off as Kremlin propaganda. Just to freshen up your memory, here’s some first-page search results:
This invisible, clandestine army, toiling away in obscurity, is an indispensable weapon in peddling the Russian narrative of “neo-Nazi extremists” backed by the U. S. state department and NATO, who usurped control from the “democratically-elected” Ukrainian president. We know Putin’s visible media and can evaluate it as such. (source)
At the same time, the Kremlin swoops in with a set of anti-Ukraine propaganda memes – US-sponsored coup, fascist Kyiv junta, Ukrainian neo-Nazi nationalists – that provide another ready-made version of events for mass consumption. (source)
I recall being sneered upon on Twitter when asking some questions about Ukrainian neo-nazis. Those who were “more in the know” (that is, reputable OSINT investigators that I still follow and respect to this day) claimed that I had fallen a victim to propaganda. I’ve since deleted all of those tweets, which in the hindsight was probably unnecessary.
Curiously enough, the Ukrainian nazi narrative has gone mainstream. Also, long gone are any mentions that there were ever any doubt about it – especially by the mainstream media.
I guess more than anything, this is just a reminder for journalists that OSINT tries to provide the most objective information possible, but it doesn’t mean that it would be the absolute truth. In this “post-truth” world, we can’t put any information above criticism or scrutiny, especially when it comes to geopolitics and armed conflicts.