Indicating war on TV: where Mart de Kruif & co. get their knowledge from

Many a former soldier, diplomat and former Russia correspondent these days join current affairs columns, talk shows and radio programs to update viewers and listeners about the war in Ukraine. NRC asked five of them how they prepare for such media appearances. As connoisseurs they regularly return in broadcasts, how do they keep themselves informed? What is their ‘media diet’, which contacts do they consult? And: how do they determine their role among other experts?

Mart de Kruif: Prediction

Lieutenant-general retired Mart de Kruif, former commander of the land forces, gives in news hour regularly his view on the military side of the war. “I try to predict where it might go. And I try to keep it simple, even if it isn’t.

“In the morning I always watch a round of television: NOS Teletext, CNN and BBC World. And also Al Jazeera, they often have a different view. At the Führungsakademie der Bundeswehr in Hamburg, the training for military top management where I once followed a course, there is a group of people who closely follow operations in Ukraine. A Dutch superior who sits there gives me an update every two or three days.

“I also use the website of RUSI (the Royal United Services Institute in London), one of the most reliable think tanks. Through my career I have some friends in and around the Pentagon, who have also formed a kind of think tank and called me right away the first day: turn on your television. Some of them I know from Afghanistan [waar De Kruif commandant was van het Regional Command South van de internationale troepenmacht ISAF] and I studied for a year at the US Army War College in Pennsylvania. That also leaves you with a network. I only include it in my presentation when all those sources confirm a certain image. Not before, otherwise you’ll fly off the track.

“On television I try to get a helicopter view of what’s happening – you need military experience for that. I have forty years of experience with Russian action and their doctrine, in Afghanistan I led 45,000 people. That’s why you have a certain intuition, you think you see things coming. Then I look for sources that can confirm that.

“Another source: just look at where the Second World War was fought in Ukraine. The terrain dictates military operations, and the terrain hasn’t changed that much.”

A lot of nonsense stories are also told in the media, warns De Kruif. “About tanks that got stuck in the mud, for example. Come on, Russian tanks are made to drive in mud.”

Laura Starink: Friends and acquaintances in mourning

Laura Starink was from 1987 to 1991 NRCcorrespondent in Moscow and in 2016 one of the founders of the journalism platform Window on Russiafor which she still works daily. In March she appeared in broadcasts of BNR Nieuwsradio, NPO Radio1 and in One today

Her day starts with Twitter and ends with Twitter, she says. “That is my lifeline. I follow 600 accounts: Russians, Ukrainians, Kremlin watchers, political analysts, military specialists, newspapers, magazines – that’s how I get the entire international spectrum. What I find most interesting are the detailed war reports from people on the ground.

“Such a Twitter bombardment can sometimes be restless, it just rages on. In addition, of course, I have my personal contacts, although my Russian friends and acquaintances are currently completely upset. Talking to them is difficult, they are in mourning. And my Ukrainian friends and acquaintances are very busy with the war.

“You can never know everything. There is a fog of war – no one knows what is really happening. The members of the Russian delegation to the negotiations with Ukraine are making contradictory statements, and even the experts you rely on may be wrong. For example, no one expected Ukraine to last so long and Russia suddenly has to realize that they need another thirty years to get Ukraine under control. With all the lines you have, all the knowledge you acquire, you can still be wrong.

„I hate talking in sound bites† The more I know, the harder I find it† If I get an hour on BNR, I can tell a well-balanced story. But I don’t find it easy to give my own interpretation on television. The images are often so overwhelming – you are then no more than a caption to the images.

“In the end, my main goal is to understand the mentality of the Russians and Ukrainians and to explain their actions. In this way I try to interpret and interpret the developments that I see on social media and in newspapers. I want to unravel the riddle.”

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: A day job

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, former Secretary General of NATO (2004-2009), only joins what he calls ‘the Eredivisie’, „Buitenhof, Nieuwsuur, Sven Kockelman on NPO Radio1, Bernard Hammelburg and Diana Matroos on BNR Nieuwsradio. And I do a lot of foreign media, from Al Jazeera to Japanese newspapers.”

He has “a day job” collecting information and backgrounds. “Since this war started, it has been a priority. If you pretend that you have a public opinion about it, you must also inform yourself adequately.

Also read: Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: ‘Putin thinks our society is rotten’

„When shaving I listen to BBC World Service† I read six newspapers – on paper. That takes me two to three hours: NRCVolkskrantTelegraphThe Financial Timesthe Financial Times and The New York Times† Plus The Economist and, my wife is a French teacher, Le Point† I watch the BBC and CNN, and I listen to NPO Radio1. In addition, I have a subscription to the analyzes of the German analyst Ulrich Speck, I follow Politico and a number of think tanks. But you have to be careful not to get overwhelmed, you can keep reading 24 hours a day. Twitter and Facebook, I don’t do that.”

De Hoop Scheffer is a member of the Trilateral Commission, in which (former) politicians, businessmen and academics from the United States, Europe and Asia meet. “Webinars are being organized with speakers I highly value, such as Fiona Hill, one of the top Russia experts. They are usually have-beenslike me, but interesting have-beens.

“Every interpreter has his own personal network. Of course I still have connections with NATO, although that is getting old. But where under Trump we were all loose from our anchors, with Biden a large number of familiar faces are back. If I want information, I can get it there.

“I now have the luxury of speaking only on behalf of myself. I am not a thorough military expert, but a geopolitical interpreter, and speak about the broader connections.”

Renée Jones-Bos: Historical context

“I am not a Russia expert who spends all day on nothing but Russia,” said former diplomat Renée Jones-Bos, who was ambassador to Moscow from 2016 to 2019. “But I know the country, I speak the language and I have traveled a lot.

“Through my experience I can make political and diplomatic assessments, tell how the Russian economy, politics and society function. What the policy of the Netherlands was and whether it was effective. And because I was also in America [als ambassadeur van 2008 tot 2012, red.] can I say something about how those two countries look at each other.

Also read: Derk Sauer: ‘Mentally we are still in Russia’

“Every day I check Twitter a few times, there is always someone who says: you should read this. I follow think tanks and watch BBC and CNN, but also follow NOS, NRC The Green Amsterdammerthe website Window on Russia and The Moscow Timeswho has kept his head above water for a long time. Through my husband, who is British, I read British newspapers andThe Spectator

“I don’t want to get in trouble for contacts in Russia by asking them something. But there are now many Russian journalists in the surrounding countries who are still interesting as sources.

“To understand the context, books are also important to me. I just read a history of Ukraine, The Gates of Europe by Serhii Plokhy. When Putin gives such a speech with historical references, you still want to know: what exactly was it with history, before you start interpreting everything.

“I also try to follow what is happening in Asia, Africa and Latin America. There they look at the invasion differently, Russia has invested a lot in recent decades.”

Pieter Cobelens: Former CIA colleagues

Pieter Cobelens, former head of the Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) and former head of operations at Defense, regularly appeared in talk shows in recent weeks. On 1 and Today Inside and talked to listeners of Sven on 1 and viewers of One today Bee. Cobelens speaks easily, often in one-liners, and that makes him a welcome guest. Although he says he refuses media requests when he knows too little about the “desired” topic. “I’m not going The Telegraph read it, mix it up and make it your own story – I want to be able to give a new angle.”

His day starts with a regular routine: waking up to WNL on television, from bed in a dressing gown behind the computer to scan the newspapers. The round of teletext, BBC World, Radio 1 and NU.nl has been in his system since his MIVD time, and continues all day long. “After such a round of newspapers, I see where the nuances are in the news of that day. I try to delve deeper into this: can I, based on my professional knowledge, contribute something to the discussion?

“I speak with former American CIA colleagues, who now, like me, give advice in the field of cybersecurity. I am also still in contact with former bosses of the Israeli secret service, they often view things very differently than we do – they are less careful. For example, I am trying to form an opinion about what NATO should do now.

“I also talk to people from Defense. I ask specifically, sometimes I get an answer, sometimes not. And every now and then they are happy that I can convey something. Take the hassle of noise in military exercises, old heartache in the Air Force. If I can show people: it makes sense that we do military exercises like Frisian Flag, we have to ensure that there is a threat posed by us, then that helps Defense.

“I’m calling them. Everything can be found out these days, I don’t want a journalist to say: he is a mouthpiece. But at least I want to prevent them from turning on the television and thinking: is that old fart with his information from the nineties.”

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