WASHINGTON — A delegation consisting of Ukrainian members of parliament, a paramilitary leader, and one Georgetown professor gave a senator's office photos purportedly of the Russian military invading Ukraine that were later debunked.
Several photos allegedly showing the Russian military in eastern Ukraine that ran on the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday were quickly shown to actually be photos from other conflicts, some from years earlier. A spokesperson for Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe told the Free Beacon that the office had procured the photos from a "Ukrainian delegation" in December.
Inhofe's office provided BuzzFeed News the list of names of the people who provided the misleading photos:
None of the Ukrainians on the list are particularly well-known to Westerners and the list does not include high-level government officials.
A spokesperson for Inhofe said that the delegation had provided the images in print form when Inhofe was the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and that Karber, who led the delegation, had recently said that the photos were authentic when staff reached out to him.
"Prior to using these photos this week, staff reached out to the Georgetown professor who said he could confirm that these photos were taken between Aug. 24 and Sept. 5 in Eastern Ukraine," Inhofe spokesperson Donelle Harder said. "We scanned them in to provide to the Free Beacon. Since they were in print form and we had other sources confirm that these photos match the scenario on the ground, we failed to Google image search them." Harder said that the office had learned that one of the photos is an AP photo from the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, and the office was able to find two others online here and here.
"The Ukrainian parliament members who gave us these photos in print form as if it came directly from a camera really did themselves a disservice," Inhofe said in a statement. "We felt confident to release these photos because the images match the reporting of what is going on in the region. I was furious to learn one of the photos provided now appears to be falsified from an AP photo taken in 2008. This doesn't change the fact that there is plenty of evidence Russia has made advances into the country with T-72 tanks and that pro-Russian separatists have been killing Ukrainians in cold blood."
Karber, who co-wrote a paper last year with former General Wesley Clark urging the U.S. to provide more nonlethal military aid to the Ukrainians, said in an email to BuzzFeed News that there had been "basically a misunderstanding compounded by miscommunication."
Karber described bringing Semenchenko, Bereza and Teteruk to meet with members of the Senate Armed Services, Foreign Relations, and Intelligence Committees in November. He said that Bereza brought "several packets" of 3x5 photographs; one packet, Karber said, included photos taken by Bereza's men of casualties, and a second included photos that Bereza's men could not have taken of Russian arms.
Karber said that some of the Senate staffers asked to keep some of the photos. He said that on Wednesday while packing to go to Ukraine, he received an email from Inhofe's office asking for the time when the photos were taken. He sent the following email to Bereza's staff, he said:
"The Senate Armed Services Committee and Senator Inhof [sic] want to use some of the photos that Yuri showed to Congress — the ones showing badly burned troops, etc. BUT they need to know when they were taken; and they need that INFO today! I told them that I believe that the photos were taken during the summer Russian "backstab" invasion between 24 Aug and 5 Sept when Bereza and his men were surrounded at Iliovsk battle. If that's the case just give me a confirmation. If NOT, try to give me a range of dates." A staffer for Bereza confirmed those dates with Karber, who relayed the message to Inhofe's staff.
"In terms of yesterday, from my perspective there was no intention to mislead anyone, and particularly a US Senator or his staff," Karber said. "In the haste of running for the airport and trying to respond to a last minute request with short time fuse, I made the mistake of believing we were talking about the same photos — i.e. burned casualties (which were 6 of the nine used) and it never occurred to me that the 3 photos of Russian armor were part of that package or being considered. Had I seen them, I know I would have raised immediate objection to the use of at least one and insisted that none of the armor photos be used until Bereza himself confirmed each and every one by looking at the photos personally. That is hindsight, but it does not excuse what happened or rectify the embarrassment it has caused."
Rosie Gray is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Gray reports on politics and foreign policy.
Contact Rosie Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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