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The Washington Post Needs a Reality Check

Editorials that pour fuel on the fire and make no effort to explain the historical roots of this conflict leave readers none the wiser

MORE: Ukraine

Danielle Ryan is a regular contributor to RI. This article originally appeared at Journalitico

The Washington Post’s latest editorial on Ukraine (Helping Ukraine in its time of need), deserves some attention.

<figcaption>This way, WaPo!</figcaption>
This way, WaPo!

In an ideal world, it would — being so totally useless — be disregarded as waffle. But things as they are, that is highly unlikely and so let’s give it a look.

It begins, as many before it have, with a statement so ludicrously one-sided you would be forgiven for giving up and going to Instagram a picture of your lunch instead.

RUSSIA HAS not abided by the latest cease-fire in eastern Ukraine.

But let’s persevere.

For some time now, it’s been apparent that the Washington Post is living in a mystical world where lethal weapons cause death and destruction only if they’re launched from east to west. As such, the anti-government forces in the east can be conveniently blamed for everything.

And when the reality on the ground doesn’t always match that neat little narrative, it is either barely referenced, reported as ambiguous or simply written out of history.

Take for example — and let me detour here for a minute — the media blackout on an incident last week which saw an eight-year-old girl mowed down and killed by a Ukrainian army tank, full of reportedly drunk Ukrainian forces in the town of Konstantinovka.

Yes, this particular incident was an accident. No one is suggesting that it wasn’t. But that’s not the point.

This would have been a major international news incident had anti-government rebel forces killed an eight-year-old Ukrainian girl by rolling over her with a tank — such a horrific death. It would have been presented to the world as proof that the rebel forces are careless, terrorist thugs unmoved by human suffering.

Instead there was silence. Type the word ‘Konstantinovka’ into Google News now and see what you can find. It’s not the kind of story that BuzzFeed, CNN, Newsweek, Time or the BBC etc. felt justified any attention.

But back to the Post’s editorial.

Russia, the writers continue, has taken the opportunity offered by the ceasefire to “send more weapons across the border” and “its forces” (Russia’s official forces, we can assume?) “continue to shell Ukrainian positions”.

No one else is doing any shelling, of course.

Russia may well be sending weapons to the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics. I don’t know. Neither, I’m willing to bet, do the editors of the Washington Post. But pfft, why let a little formality like evidence deter you?

In the same fashion, they continue on, excoriating Vladimir Putin for ordering new military exercises in western Russia; a sign, they say, that he is preparing an offensive to seize some territory. It’s unclear where this territory is.

Interestingly, the Post brings this detail about Russian military drills to our attention without any context whatsoever or any explanation for why Russia might feel justified in conducting military drills on its own land.

What context, you ask?

Perhaps it was, after US and UK tanks rolled through eastern Estonia 300 yards from the Russian border three weeks ago, that Putin felt a little perturbed. Not to mention the rapid build-up of NATO troops in numerous other eastern European countries during the past year. Or the hundreds of unreported NATO flights along Russian borders (because it’s only a big deal when Russia does it, remember!).

It is ironic, the surprise and dismay that is apparent in our media, when Russia conducts military exercises inside its own borders or in international airspace. Shock! Horror! How dare they!

It’s just a suggestion, but the US and its NATO allies might want to reconsider the provocative nature of their own actions before expressing outrage when other powers make moves to resist them or to similarly display their own strength.

Of course then they wouldn’t be able to use Russia’s completely justified responses for fear-mongering purposes, so that suggestion is probably a no-go.

And, perfectly in step with Washington and Downing Street, the Post prefers to paint Russia as a loose cannon, saber-rattling in an otherwise peaceful and unthreatening world.

There is no great value in a game of ‘my tank is bigger than yours’ but let’s not act surprised that world leaders will always line up for a seat at that table.

The editorial here changes direction, meandering into a discussion about how the IMF’s recently agreed-upon package of financial aid for Ukraine gives Russia “an opening”.

The Post notes the IMF’s recent determination that Ukraine needs at least $40 billion to keep its currency afloat and meet its external debt commitments in the next four years. It also notes that the desperate-to-help-Ukraine West has only pledged $7.5 billion so far, leaving Ukraine to extract $15 billion in debt relief from its foreign bond-holders, the largest of which is Russia.

What a fantastic, game-changing opening. An end to all Russia’s woes really, isn’t it?

The point the Post is making is that Russia is taking the “hard line” on Ukraine’s debt — and how dare they! Because of course, Western countries would never take the hard-line with a debt ridden country hard-pressed to pay it back. That would be terribly unfair, wouldn’t it?

This leads us to a real kicker.

This debt dilemma puts Natalie Jaresko, Ukraine’s American-born finance minister, in the position of attempting to negotiate debt relief with an enemy (Russia, that is) which seeks “nothing less than the destruction of her government”.

Interesting. What were the editors saying when the freedom-loving Ukrainians of yore were demanding nothing less than the destruction of the Yanukovych government? Can someone dig up that editorial?

What’s the difference? Could it perhaps be that Yanukovych was not part of a hand-picked pro-US Ukrainian government, and that Mr. Poroshenko and his (literally) foreign ministers are?

In fairness, the Post does then admit that Western leaders, using “lofty rhetoric” about how important it is to help Ukraine, have not followed up with particularly big checks. The $2 billion offered by the United States, they say, is a “paltry sum compared with the bailouts that have been delivered to other allies in crisis”.

The editors go on to lament that not only are Western leaders not coughing up the cash to help Ukraine pay its debts to Moscow, but neither will they help “stop its army”.

The future of Western values in “much of Europe” (is there another war we don’t know about?) depends on whether the West will come to Ukraine’s defense. Which parts of Europe is the Post referring to?

Estonia? Latvia? Maybe Lithuania, which recently confused a train full of Russian students for an invasion…? Or perhaps Hungary, which has seen its attempts to keep friendly relations with both Russia and the West seriously hampered by an insistence from Brussels and Washington that “unity” is of paramount importance in “dealing” with Moscow.

‘Unity’ here is a code word for: Don’t evening f***ing think about it.

The Poroshenko government, the Post finally pleads, has not asked for a no-strings handout. It is committed to a program of radical and painful reforms, presumably to become more functional and to be fully recreated in the West’s image — and we should all do more to help.

I suppose banning Euronews from being broadcast in Ukraine, which Kiev just did, fits nicely in line with these European values of free speech and democracy we hear they are so ardently committed to.


It’s against this backdrop that Germany and the United States have pledged to keep sanctions on Russia in place until the Minsk agreements are “upheld” — a self-serving Catch 22.

As pointed out by Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian parliament, tying the easing of sanctions to the full implementation of the Minsk ceasefire leaves Russia in a no-win situation.

Kiev will now have no incentive to implement the Minsk agreements because their priority is to keep sanctions in place — and because they know full well they will not be held accountable for anything.

Let me finish by referring to a book written in 1996 and which caught my attention on Twitter yesterday. The book is Flashpoint: World War III, written by Andrew Murray.

In it, he wrote:

(and remember this is 1996)

The Ukraine itself is clearly pregnant with the possibility of conflict, divided between a Russian-oriented and heavily industrial east, and a nationalistic west…

‘Ukraine for the Ukrainians’ shout the western Ukrainians; ‘union with Russia’ and ‘life was better under the Communists’ say the eastern. Russia’s conflict with the Ukraine over control of the Crimea, most of whose people wish to be reattached to the Russian Federation, is a further source of friction. The US and Germany have clearly declared for an independent Ukraine, primarily as a means of weakening their Russian rival.  Germany is in the lead here, too….the burgeoning Ukrainian fascist movement is closely aligned with German sympathisers.

The splits among the Ukrainian people, reflecting different histories and culture, could provide any number of internal pretexts and possibilities for external intervention.

Revisiting his ’96 predictions today, Murray writes that four major factors have contributed to bringing this all to pass.

The first he says, is the breakdown, but not yet collapse, of US hegemony. American might is no longer unchallengeable. China is rising. Russia is resisting. The “war on terror” has been a nightmarish failure.

The second factor he notes is the rise of Russian power. Russia, under Putin, he says, has taken a more cohesive approach to world politics, based on a doctrine of Russian nationalism and domestic conservatism. The third has been NATO’s dangerous march to the east — a NATO which is “above all an instrument of US global power”.

Finally, the fourth factor was greatest economic crisis since the 1930s, which left Russia and China (thus far) mostly unscathed. The attempt to draw Ukraine away from Russia and into full dependence on NATO, he argues, was a gamble driven by a determination to stop an economic competitor (Russia, China) emerging stronger from the economic crisis.

Maybe someone could send a copy of Murray’s book to the Washington Post?

I’m serious.

Is there a complete vacuum of independent thought at these newspapers? Week after week, they fire out thoughtless and useless editorials, thrown together in a few hundreds words. Editorials that pour fuel on the fire, make no effort to explain the historical roots of this conflict and leave readers none-the-wiser about anything. You go, Western free press!

.Murray wrapped up his recent piece with another prediction:.

It may be that it is best to quit while you’re ahead in the field of prophecy, but it is all-but-certain that, if NATO and the EU carry on expanding eastwards, above all at a time of economic crisis, a third world war will be a near-certainty.

Let’s hope he’s not right this time.

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