Nuclear Comes to Crimea (But Doesn't Actually)

On Wednesday evening, CNN’s Jake Tapper sent out a Tweet. (Preface: Tapper maintains one of the better Twitter feeds extant. Follow him, if you’re not already.) Linking to the day’s latest news out of eastern Ukraine – the continued stream of Russian military hardware into eastern Ukraine – Tapper dropped a hook:

Before we get an answer to the question, we're greeted with a screenshot from the day’s coverage. A charred and blackened Crimea, flanked by a pair of Russian fighters, splashed with an ominous confirmation of Tapper’s question: a radioactive symbol, splayed over Simferopol.

 Do you see the radioactive symbol over Crimea? Because they'd really like you to see it. I'll give you a moment to find it.

Do you see the radioactive symbol over Crimea? Because they'd really like you to see it. I'll give you a moment to find it.

Nukes. In Crimea. An atomic hinge. A peninsula of mass destruction. A parlous situation, ratcheted that much more.

And it would be, certainly, if there was any evidence as to the inclusion of nuclear materiel in Crimea. Unfortunately, the Tweet-and-post pair seem to be only playing up a possibility of nuclear movement for the sake of click-bait, and playing into Putin’s recent rhetoric of Russia’s nuclear breadth. Because while it turns out that, yes, Russia has moved machinery capable of nuclear transit into occupied Crimea, the indication that any radioactive material has actually moved into the peninsula remains as spurious as evidence of the ceasefire holding. That is, nil.

Which places the Tweet – and the composition of screenshot, especially – squarely in the realm of fear-mongering. There is, of course, something to be said about attracting attention. There’s something to be said for the effort. But this entire frame was beneath the lot at CNN. This wasn’t worth the angle – or of Tapper’s feed. As Rory O’Neill added:

One additional note – this fifth graf, which actually details the sole information on nuclear-transit vehicles in the region  struck me as one of the most bizarre yet written on the entire crisis:

A day earlier, Breedlove said Russia has moved "forces that are capable of being nuclear" into Crimea, which was Ukrainian territory until being folded into Russia on the heels of a government turnover earlier this year. Crimea borders southeastern Ukraine, where much of the current unrest is focused and into which Russian troops allegedly have moved.

Not only does this push the Russian claims of outright annexation – rather than the "occupation" that the strong majority of nations and supra-national groups still claim – but it also refers to the EuroMaidan revolution as a "government turnover," as if the nation had just experienced a series of placid midterms. Don’t know that I’d ever seen such a turn of phrase applied to the revolution before. Don’t quite get the logic behind that one.