The mainstream US media loves war. It provides them the opportunity, especially in the early stages when things usually are going well militarily, to openly engage in forms of jingoism that it would not be able to do at other times. It is only when things go sour, as they usually do, that they start to tone down that rhetoric. You would think that given that the US has just painfully pulled out of its disastrous war in Afghanistan, the media would be more circumspect about beating the drums for a new war. But it is startling to me how quickly the US media seems to have decided that the US has reached a point of confrontation with Russia over Ukraine.
News reports lead with alarming stories of how Russia has amassed troops on the Ukraine border in preparation for a takeover of that country and that the only issue in doubt is when they will invade (speculation is after the Beijing Olympics) or whether they will trigger some sort of provocation first or whether they will launch some non-military destabilizing effort such as cyberattacks to paralyze the country. It is almost as if the media in the US have decided that an attempted Russian takeover of Ukraine is inevitable and that the only issue for debate is how the US should respond when it does. The US and UK took the alarming step of evacuating the families of its embassy personnel but none of the other countries have followed suit. It is notable that, apart from the UK, other countries in the NATO alliance are not talking as belligerently and are trying to play down the threat of war. The mood in Russia also seems to be not that concerned about the prospect of war.
The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky seems fed up with the fate of his country being seen as a geopolitical football between the US and Russia with their own views being ignored. He held a press conference a few days ago in which he urged everyone to calm down instead of causing panic.
Branko Marcetic tries to make sense of why war talk is being hyped so much.
The world has been gripped for the past two months by the Ukraine crisis, with Moscow seemingly poised to invade Ukraine at any moment, and US officials calling for war — even nuclear strikes — in response.
Last week, just hours before Biden told the White House press corps he thought Russian president Vladimir Putin would “move in” because he “has to do something,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was urging his people to “take a deep breath” and “calm down,” assuring them things were “under control.”
“The risks have not just existed for a day, and they have not become bigger. The only thing that has become bigger is the hype around them,” he said, adding that media should strive to “be methods of mass information and not mass hysteria.” Later, after Washington and the UK evacuated their Ukrainian embassies, Zelensky thanked Charles Michel, president of the European Council, and leaders of European Union countries for not following suit.
In other words, we have Ukraine’s president, its foreign and defense ministers, and a top national security official all urging calm, while denying there’s sufficient evidence to expect a coming Russian invasion, contrary to the tidal wave of messaging from US officials and the press. Of course, you could dismiss this as a country’s leadership playing down a threat they know is real to prevent panic and disorder. But they’re not the only ones saying it.
Earlier this week, the Center for Defense Strategies — a think tank headed by a former Ukrainian defense minister and on whose board sit a variety of other defense and diplomatic officials from both Ukraine and the United States — published an analysis of the risks of a Russian invasion. Its conclusion? That “a full-scale invasion capturing most or all of Ukraine in the near future seems unlikely,” citing the insufficient number of Russian troops and a number of other indicators, including the lack of mobilization of medical infrastructure and strategic military units. (There have been some more troop movements since then).
While Russia and the US have been in talks, the media has been pushing the narrative that the two sides have irreconcilable positions and thus war is portrayed as being almost inevitable. But wars are never inevitable. I cannot imagine that given the disastrous experiences of the US and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, that Russia is not aware of the dangers of what would be a similarly protracted and messy occupation of Ukraine.