US Media portrayal of the Ukraine situation

I have not been following the Ukraine story in great detail. But I have been struck once again by how the US media covers these situations. In the immediate aftermath, it immediately clicks its heels, salutes the flag, and regurgitates the official government line without seemingly any critical examination.

For example, it seems to be simply assumed that the overthrow of the elected Ukrainian government was a perfectly justifiable action and that the new unelected government that took its place is legitimate and represents the ‘will of the people’. We are assured that this attitude has nothing to do with the fact that the overthrown government was more friendly towards Russia and the present one is more friendly to the west.

Meanwhile, the peaceful referendum that took place in Crimea that voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine was denounced as illegitimate and phony without it being explained why this was any less the ‘will of the people’ than what happened in Kiev.

The almost unanimous vote by the Russian parliament to accept Crimea into the Russian federation is being portrayed as if it were a forcible annexation and the first stage of a wildly irrational president Putin’s ambition to first reconstitute the Soviet Union prior to taking over all of Europe and perhaps the whole world. The whole situation is being presented as a major world crisis and that Russia must be stopped somehow, but there is a notable shortage of specifics.

As usual, the world is lectured to by US officials who, without any hint of irony, go on about how awful it is when one country violates the sovereignty of another. Long forgotten is how the US and NATO enabled the separation of Kosovo with a massive bombing campaign. And all today’s rhetoric will be conveniently forgotten if Scotland votes to secede from the UK or Catalan does the same with Spain.

I must say that Kevin Drum showed himself to be quite prescient about how all this would play out.


  1. Peter MacKinnon says

    The problem for the USA is that it has absolutely no moral legitimacy when it comes to international relations.

  2. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    In Scotland and Catalonia the vote makes some sense. The voters are still the decendants of long term inhabitants. In the Crimea the Russians become the majority only after WW2, when most of the earlier population (especially the Tatars) had been gotten rid of.

    The USA did the same thing in Hawai’i.

  3. Peter MacKinnon says

    I wonder how the USA would respond if Quebec voted to seperate from Canada, and France, say, quickly embraced the new Quebec country. Would this be seen as a threat to American safety and security requiring economic and diplomatic sanctions, and lots of sabre rattling?

  4. NitricAcid says

    The politically-active people I know in Kyiv pretty much agree with the western version of events. They remember the Holodomyr, and really don’t want the Russians in charge again. But the Russian media is portraying anyone who disagrees with letting the Russians re-take everything as a Nazi, so things are not going to be very calm in the near future.

  5. richardrobinson says

    I think the west needs to give up on Crimea and let Putin have it, but if Obama were even inclined to let that happen, he would immediately be compared to Neville Chamberlain. And it’s not at all clear that Putin is willing to be appeased.

  6. brucegee1962 says

    I agree that there’s probably a lot more going on behind the scenes that isn’t being reported on, but I don’t quite see it like you do.

    I agree that it’s pretty bad that we’re hearing all this about “the voting is illegitimate,” without hearing why. My take is that the West pretty much realizes that Crimea is a done deal. All the kerfuffle and sanctions aren’t really about Crimea at all. They’re about the Russian troops on the eastern borader of the Ukraine.

    I think that there’s a report on Obama’s desk that lays out a case (maybe justified, maybe not, but with some signatures on it from people who ought to know what they’re talking about) that Putin really, really wants to rebuild the old Soviet Empire. He’s using the crisis in Ukraine as a pretext to see how well that’s likely to work out. And we’re trying every way we can to send him the message, “Don’t try it.”

    All the posturing that the West is doing has this subtext: “We can’t really do much about your annexing Crimea, other than making you uncomfortable. But if you go any further, we will make you really, really uncomfortable. No takebacks for Ukraine, Moldova, or any of the other European former SSRs.”

  7. says

    Would this be seen as a threat to American safety and security requiring economic and diplomatic sanctions, and lots of sabre rattling?

    It would almost certainly result in poutine being renamed “freedom glop”

  8. raven says

    I’ve been following this with half an eye. It’s not simple at all, it’s complex.

    1. Ukraine is a failed nation. They have yet to get a working country together. They owe money to everyone and are severely factionalized.

    Someone posting on FTB’s, apparently from Ukraine said, so what? We have a right to govern ourselves, no matter how badly. In theory they do. In practice, if they descend into chaos, wolves and others will be there to pick up the pieces, whether they like it or not.

    2. There are a huge number of factions. Some of the anti-Russian ones are not nice people. Ultra-nationalists and neo Nazis are among them.

    We like to see simple good people versus bad people stories but often enough, it’s one group of thugs versus another.

    3. I’m not sure why anyone would want the mess that is Ukraine anyway. Crimea costs money rather than being self supporting. Ukraine for the Russians would likely be the same deal. An economic sinkhole with a whole lot of ultranationalists that don’t want to be part of Russia.

    Some countries aren’t worth conquering. Our dream would be to fight the Russians over Afghanistan. And make sure we lose in 15 minutes. Let them have the headaches.

  9. raven says

    We could just invade and take over Cuba. We’ve done it before.

    It is after all, right next door 90 miles from Florida, has long standing ties to the USA, and is geopolitically significant. And the Russians couldn’t do much to stop us. We could call it Operation Crimea West.

    (I’m not being too serious here.) Cuba is moribund and would be an economic drain for generations.

  10. RJC says

    If I remember correctly the referendum in Scotland is not being setup foreign government.

  11. Vote for Pedro says

    There is a lot more going on here, obviously (and neither side should be taken at face value – but that’s always true in international politics). But regardless of hypocrisy, legitimate votes are usually announced more than a week in advance, and typically don’t feature armed bands intimidating voters. Just saying. Plenty of reason to regard the vote as bogus.

  12. Dunc says

    In Scotland and Catalonia the vote makes some sense. The voters are still the decendants of long term inhabitants.

    The campaign for Scottish independence (at least in its modern form) has nothing to do with ethnic nationalism. There is no ethnic difference between the Scots and the English. It’s a question of civic nationalism, which is an entirely different beast. In fact, several prominent figures in the SNP are English.

    I’m not sure why anyone would want the mess that is Ukraine anyway.

    It has access to the Black Sea, and is a vital transshipment route for oil and gas from Russia to Europe. If you control Ukraine, you can turn the lights off across the whole continent.

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