Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 30.09.2017
Russia is responsible for the death of an American, Joseph Stone. Joseph Stone, 36, was a medic who worked for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission (OSCE SMM) in Ukraine. On 23 April 2017, he was riding in an OSCE SMM convoy on patrol in Russia-occupied Luhansk region, when a land mine blew up his vehicle, killing him and wounding two of his colleagues (a woman from Germany and a man from Czechia). Joseph Stone was an American citizen, from Arizona. He was a medic serving in an unarmed monitoring mission of the OSCE, of which Russia is a member. He was killed near the village of Pryshyb which had been under the control of the Russian armed forces for two and a half years at the time the land mine was detonated under Joseph Stone’s car.
"Incredibly", a crew from Russian propaganda TV “Russia Today” arrived on the scene a mere three minutes after the explosion occurred. The village of Pryshyb is 40 kilometres from Luhansk city by road, and a 45 minute drive at best. Nine minutes after the explosion a car full of unidentified men in plainclothes arrived, to give directions to the TV crew. Four and a half hours after the explosion uniformed men of the so-called “LPR police” arrived, and then a coroner came to finally remove the body of the deceased OSCE SMM employee. All this time, and well into the next day, the OSCE SMM was denied access to the scene. The killing of Joseph Stone was a made-for-TV war crime by Russia.
Propaganda was the end goal, and blowing up the convoy was just the means to this end: the visuals to the story. Right away, the Russians said this was a “provocation” by the Ukrainian armed forces. But this story turned out to be a weak one, given the incredibility that the Ukrainians had anything to do with it and the certainty that the Russians did. Therefore, the Russians have mostly tried to remain silent about the killing of Joseph Stone, and the attempts of the propagandists at “whataboutism” deflection have been weak.
The reaction of the American president, Donald Trump, was to say and do nothing. Russia killed an American, and he was silent, taking no notice in an official statement or in a tweet. He has consistently refrained from any criticism of the Putin regime. Even in this case, he asks for no explanation from Putin about the killing of an American citizen and he offers no words of condolence to Joseph Stone’s bereaved family and friends.
This was a Russian special operation directed against the OSCE SMM which has not been especially fruitful for the Putin regime. The attack took place in territory nominally in the control of a fictitious entity called “LPR” but actually in the control of Russia, and everybody knows that. The attempt by Russian propagandists to pin the blame on Ukraine completely failed amongst Ukrainians and the international community. The attack did, though, provide horrific images to domestic Russian TV viewers. Outside of Russia, the death of Joseph Stone has not become an event to rally anti-Ukrainian sentiment, so the response of Russia internationally has been mostly silence. When forced to comment, such as when the OSCE announces some progress in their laborious investigation, the Russians trot out their unsubstantiated “blame Ukraine” talking points. At a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on September 28, the Russian envoy, Alexander Lukashevich, blamed Ukraine for the death of Joseph Stone. In fact, Ukraine did not shell the area and has not impeded the investigation, and it is Russia which stops the OSCE SMM from doing its job in Russia-occupied Luhansk and Russia-occupied Donetsk.
Joseph Stone was doing an honourable thing. He was serving a higher purpose. He was a medic on a team that was monitoring the ceasefires that were supposed to be in effect along the battlefront of Russia’s invasion of Europe in Ukraine. Russia cannot escape its responsibility with lies. When Russia targeted an OSCE SMM convoy, blew up a vehicle, and killed Joseph Stone, Russia committed a war crime.