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U.N. Envoy Run Out of Crimea by Pro-Russian Thugs

First he was abducted by unidentified gunmen. Then, he wasn't. Now, Robert Serry, the United Nations' special envoy for the Ukraine crisis, is leaving the Crimean peninsula as fast as his plane can return him to Kiev.

On Wednesday, officials at the Ukrainian foreign ministry claimed that Serry had been abducted while traveling in Crimea, but those reports turned out to be incorrect. According to James Mates of ITV News, Serry's car was blocked by thugs who wanted him to come with them. Serry refused and left the car, hiding out in a café while pro-Russian militias blocked the entrance to the eatery. 

The entire episode played out live on Twitter: 




 

The U.N. has been eager to carve out a diplomatic role for itself in Crimea, and on Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon instructed Serry, his special envoy, to travel to Crimea and try to mediate a political settlement between Kiev and pro-Russian leaders there. But Crimea's new leadership refused to extend an invitation to Serry, and unidentified armed men controlling Crimea's key airports refused to permit him to land.  

Serry, a former Dutch ambassador to Ukraine, finally arrived in Crimea this week to begin talks with key players.

Serry was accosted by a group of about 10 to 15 men, some of them carrying arms and dressed in fatigues, following a visit to Ukraine's regional navy headquarters on Wednesday. The men, who didn't reveal where they were from, threatened Serry, saying he "should leave Crimea and go to the airport" immediately, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told reporters in an audio press conference from Kiev. When Serry refused to head to the airport, the men blocked his car from moving, forcing him to head back toward his hotel on foot. Serry stopped at a local café, where he placed a call to Eliasson and hid out with the ITV crew.

Eliasson denied reports in the press indicating Serry had been kidnapped. He said Serry was not traveling with a U.N. security detail and had relied on Ukrainian authorities to ensure his safety. Given Wednesday's drama, it seems like that may have been a mistake.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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RT Host Condemns Russian Invasion of Ukraine, Gets Threatened with Crimean Exile

This is what it looks like when a cog in Vladimir Putin's propaganda machine comes loose.

On Monday, Abby Martin, a presenter on the Kremlin-funded RT cable network, signed off with an unscripted and emotional tirade "from [her] heart" against Russia's invasion of Ukraine and her station's rosy coverage of the conflict. "Just because I work here for RT doesn't mean I don't have editorial independence, and I can't stress enough how strongly I am against any state intervention in a sovereign nation's affairs," Martin said, pacing around the studio and gesticulating with notes in hand. "What Russia did is wrong."  

After making a sweeping denunciation of military intervention -- that "it is never the answer" -- Martin came out swinging against her own network, which in recent days has offered a staunch, often propagandistic, defense of Putin's decision to deploy troops to Crimea. "I will not sit here and apologize or defend military aggression. Furthermore, the coverage I've seen of Ukraine has been truly disappointing from all sides of the media spectrum and rife with disinformation," Martin said. "Above all, my heart goes out to the Ukrainian people, who are now wedged as pawns in the middle of a global power chess game -- they're the real losers here."

 


 

RT management had a simple response to Martin going off the reservation: they decided to ship her off to Crimea, a potential war zone. "Contrary to the popular opinion, RT doesn't beat its journalists into submission, and they are free to express their own opinions, not just in private but on the air." the network said in a statement. "This is the case with Abby's commentary on the Ukraine." The station offered that there would be "no reprimands made" against Martin.

"In her comment Ms. Martin also noted that she does not possess a deep knowledge of reality of the situation in Crimea," the network said, referring to Martin's statement on-air that "I admittedly don't know as much as I should about Ukraine's history or the cultural dynamics of the region." As a result, the network said it would exile her to the turbulent region: "We'll be sending her to Crimea to give her an opportunity to make up her own mind from the epicentre of the story."

On Tuesday, Martin tweeted that she wouldn't be going to Crimea, despite the network's statement that it wanted to send her there:

With Russia having deployed thousands of troops on Ukrainian territory, RT has come under withering criticism for its slanted coverage of the crisis, which it has portrayed as an earnest effort by the Russian government to protect the rights of Ukraine's persecuted Russians. That coverage has occasionally devolved into outright farce: Earlier this week, the network invited the American actor and Putin-pal Steven Seagal on air to offer his take on the conflict.

According to its website, the official mission of RT, which is the world's most-watched online news channel with an audience of 1.1 billion, is to acquaint an "international audience with the Russian viewpoint." It's a shame she won't be broadcasting any viewpoints from Crimea.

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