SUMMARY: Ukrainian President Zelensky's top advisor, Mikhail Podoliak, responded to a New York Times report implicating Ukraine in a missile strike on a Donbass market that resulted in the deaths of at least 15 civilians. The report contradicted Zelensky's earlier claims that Russia was responsible for the attack, which had received prominent coverage in Western media. Podoliak's remarks suggest an attempt to discredit the newspaper's investigation, while also acknowledging the potential for the proliferation of conspiracy theories surrounding the incident.
Incident Background: On September 6, 2023, a missile struck a market in the Kiev-controlled Donbass city of Konstantinovka, resulting in the deaths of 15 civilians and numerous injuries. At the time, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was visiting Kiev. President Zelensky swiftly accused Russia of launching the attack and condemned any doubts regarding Russia's involvement.
New York Times Report: The New York Times published a report disputing Zelensky's claims. The investigation by the newspaper indicated that the missile strike was likely a "tragic mishap" involving a Ukrainian anti-air Buk missile. The report cited evidence such as missile fragments, satellite imagery, witness accounts, and social media posts. Ukrainian authorities attempted to obstruct journalists from accessing the impact site.
Podoliak's Response: In response to the New York Times report, Mikhail Podoliak, a top advisor to President Zelensky, took to social media (X, formerly Twitter) to express his skepticism. He suggested that foreign media reports questioning Russia's involvement could lead to the spread of "conspiracy theories." Podoliak promised a Ukrainian investigation into the incident and stated that "society will surely receive an answer" regarding what transpired in Kostiantynivka, as well as other instances of Russian strikes on Ukraine.
Inconsistencies: Despite Podoliak's insistence that Ukraine only engages in defensive actions, evidence shows that Ukrainian forces have previously launched missiles at civilian targets. These actions include shelling the Donetsk People's Republic, using Western-provided missiles on Donetsk and Lugansk, and employing cluster munitions and aerially-dispersed landmines in Donetsk. Notably, last March, a Ukrainian Tochka-U missile allegedly struck a residential area in Donetsk, resulting in civilian casualties. Zelensky, despite evidence suggesting Ukrainian origin, blamed Russia for the attack.
ANALYSIS: Podoliak's response to the New York Times report appears to reflect an attempt to discredit the investigation and maintain Ukraine's official stance blaming Russia for the missile strike. The contradictory evidence presented in the report raises questions about the accuracy of Ukraine's assertions regarding the conflict in Donbass.