Secondly, one has to believe that the fuzzy photographs of the circled faces are the same individuals. They may be, but it is difficult to be sure from what is displayed. The principal figure shown is a man with a long beard and a cap sometimes pulled down over his forehead. He could be a Russian special forces soldier or a character from "Duck Dynasty."
And the resemblance of some uniforms to those worn by Russian soldiers is also circumstantial, since military gear often looks similar or it could have been sold to civilians, or the men could be veterans who kept their old uniforms after leaving the military. The fact that these men are adept at handling weapons also could mean that they have prior military experience, not that they are still active.
For the Times to cite the Obama administration's endorsement of the Kiev regime's claims as some kind of verification is also silly. Anyone who has followed the Ukraine crisis knows that the U.S. government is wholeheartedly on the side of the post-coup regime, trumpeting its propaganda and dismissing any counterclaims from the Yanukovych camp or from Moscow.
There's other silliness in the Times article, such as the notion that the Russians are unusual in "masking" their special forces when U.S. military and intelligence services have been doing the same for decades. In contradicting Russian denials that the Kremlin has dispatched undercover soldiers, the Times wrote:
"But masking the identity of its forces, and clouding the possibilities for international denunciation, is a central part of the Russian strategy, developed over years of conflict in the former Soviet sphere, Ukrainian and American officials say."
Is it possible that the Times' reporters, including Pentagon correspondent Gordon, don't know that U.S. Special Forces and CIA officers routinely grow beards and wear local garb to blend in when they are operating in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Central America, etc.?
When I was covering Central America policy in the 1980s, I knew American mercenaries, including former U.S. Special Forces soldiers, who provided training and other assistance to the region's security forces. Sometimes, these veterans coordinated their actions with the U.S. government and sometimes they were simply making money.
More recently, there have been the various permutations of Blackwater, a private security firm that employs former U.S. military personnel and makes them available to governments around the world, sometimes in support of American interests but sometimes not.
All these are factors that should be considered when making claims about whether military men who show up in Kiev or eastern Ukraine or anywhere else are on assignment for a specific government or are working for a local "oligarch" or are simply inspired by nationalism. But these nuances are missing from the Times story as it jumps to its preferred conclusion.
Plus, you have to wonder how skillful the Russians really are at "masking" if they have their special forces troops wear uniforms that can be so easily traced back to Russia.
That is not to say that these "green men" might not be Russian special forces. I have one longtime source who is convinced that they are Russian soldiers (though he has not seen any proof), and another source who insists that the Russian government did not want the uprisings in eastern Ukraine and did not dispatch these men.
But the Times should have learned from its previous blunders and taken care to include alternative scenarios or point to evidentiary holes in what the Kiev regime claimed. Instead, the Times has again acted like a prosecutor determined to make a case, not a fair-minded judge weighing the evidence.
It is also an indictment of the Times' professionalism that this newspaper of record can't seem to detect neo-Nazis in the post-coup regime, when some have open histories of pro-Nazi behavior, while it goes to dubious lengths to discredit the eastern Ukrainians who are resisting the imposition of authority from an unelected administration in Kiev.
Just like the "aluminum tube" story that justified killing so many Iraqis and the "vector analysis" that almost unleashed a devastating U.S. bombing campaign on Syria, the Times' "green men" piece may be the prelude to a bloodbath in eastern Ukraine. [For more on the U.S. propaganda, see "Ukraine. Through the US 'Looking Glass.'"]