In Charles McKelvey, Media critique, Russia, Ukraine

(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr)

There is a fundamental difference in perspective between the mainstream media, owned by the great corporations of the North, and the media of the global South, developed by states that are seeking to develop an alternative world-system.  With respect to Russia and Ukraine, the difference is as follows.

By Charles McKelvey

Published on the author’s Stubstack column, Feb 25, 2022
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Invasion or defensive military action?

There is a fundamental difference in perspective between the mainstream media, owned by the great corporations of the North, and the media of the global South, developed by states that are seeking to develop an alternative world-system.  With respect to Russia and Ukraine, the difference is as follows.  The mainstream media: Russia has launched an invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine, reflecting the authoritarian personality of Putin, thereby renewing the Cold War.  The media of the global South: Russia has undertaken a military action, with the intention of dismantling the Ukrainian military infrastructure, in the Russian-majority republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, recently recognized as independent by Russia, in response to the sustained military attacks of the ultra-nationalist government of Ukraine, which usurped power eight years ago; and in response to the expansion of NATO to the East, in violation of previous promises by the Western powers to Russia.

My source for the view of the mainstream media is The New York Times, which is the voice of the liberal wing of the U.S. capitalist class and political establishment.  I have long considered The New York Times to be the best of the U.S. mainstream media, although I have been distressed during the last couple of year to see that the venerable newspaper has fallen victim to the divisive and destructive ideological and cultural battles that have infected the United States.  My sources for the global South include the Spanish-language Russia Today, the Venezuelan state news outlet Telesur, and Cuban news outlets like Prensa Latina, Cubavision, Granma, and Cubadebate.  These outlets do more than cover news in Cuba and Venezuela.  Their journalists are connected to intellectuals and activists in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and China, and they offer ongoing analyses of world affairs from the perspective of the neocolonized peoples of the world.

An important source of news analysis is NewColdWar, which is managed by the Geopolitical Economy Research Group of the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada, with the aid of a small volunteer editorial group.  NewColdWar was founded in 2014 “to provide factual and insightful analysis, backed by accurate news and information, about the proliferating national and class conflicts changing our world, which the established media were either misreporting, or failing to cover. . . .  At their worst, they present and recycle simple falsehoods as accomplished fact.”  Recognizing that a new independent journalism of higher quality is emerging, NewColdWar seeks to provide a platform for the new journalism, by selecting, on the basis of high standards of rational, evidence-based inquiry, the best and most informative works, making them available to the general public and scholarly world.

NewColdWar.org differs from the news outlets of Cuba, Venezuela, and Russia, in that it engages more in analysis of news, going beyond reporting, although the Cuban news outlets also have analysis by journalists, academics, and leaders.  NewColdWar.org is located in the global North.  Its contributors are mostly located in the global North, but they are experientially connected to the global South and its perspective.

What did Putin say?

NewColdWar recently published the full transcript of Vladimir Putin’s February 21 sixty-minute speech to the Russian people, in which he announced Russian recognition of the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic.

Putin began by noting that “Ukraine is not just a neighbouring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space.”  He recalled that in Ukraine are found colleagues and friends who once worked together as well as ties of family and blood.  Modern Ukraine, he maintained, was created by Bolshevik, Communist Russia in the period 1917 to 1924, a dimension of the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which was conceived as a confederation of sovereign republics, including the sovereign right to secede from the union.  Such a confederation was a utopian and impractical idea, Putin notes, and with the “rapid slide into Stalin’s dictatorship,” its ineffective principles were transformed into mere declaration, such that the republics did not have any sovereign rights at all.

In the case of Ukraine, excessive concessions were made “beyond the dreams of the most zealous [Ukrainian] nationalists,” which included territory and populations that had historically been culturally and politically Russian.  This was done, especially at first, as a political strategy of the Bolshevik Party to help consolidate political power.  The error of this conceptualization was covered over for decades through falsifications and doubletalk, and it was never correctly analysed and attended.  During the crisis of the 1980s and the corresponding conflict within the Communist Party, the opposing sides thoughtlessly encourage nationalist sentiments, in order to expand their own political base, without concern for the consequences for the country.  In Putin’s view, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was brought about by the historic, strategic mistakes of the Bolshevik leaders and the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, at different historic moments.

Following the dissolution of the USSR, Russia recognized the newly independent states, and provided help to its CIS partners.  Financial support to Ukraine was provided from the moment it declared independence, in a manner that respected Ukraine’s sovereignty.  During the period 1991 to 2013, subsidized loans by Russia to Ukraine provided an accumulated benefit of $250 billion to Ukraine.  In addition, Russia committed to pay all Soviet debts ($100 billion in 1991) to other countries and international funds, with the newly independent states agreeing, in exchange, to turn over part of the Soviet foreign assets in their countries.  In the case of Ukraine, an agreement was reached to this effect in 1994, but its government did not ratify the agreement and later violated it by making demands for Soviet assets abroad.

In spite of such difficulties, bilateral trade between Russia and Ukraine continued.  Ukraine’s trade with Russia has been greater than its trade with all EU countries combined.  However, ignoring this partnership, the Ukrainian authorities, Putin maintained, have been building their statehood on the negation of everything that unites Ukraine and Russia.  This attitude contributed to a far-right nationalism and aggressive Russophobia, utilized by the oligarchic Ukrainian authorities to promote their economic and political interests.

In Putin’s view, radical nationalists, taking advantage of justified public discontent, seized power in 2014, and subsequently unleashed a terror campaign against politicians, journalists, and public activists that protest their anti-constitutional actions. Consistent with Putin’s claims, Alan Macleod wrote in MintPress News (February 18, republished in NewColdWar on February 23):

“Amid soaring tensions with Russia, the United States is spending a fortune on foreign interference campaigns in Ukraine. Washington’s regime-change arm, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), has spent $22.4 million on operations inside the country since 2014, when democratically-elected President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown and replaced by a successor government handpicked by the U.S. Those operations included propping up and training pro-Western political parties, funding pliant media organizations, and subsidizing massive privatization drives that benefit foreign multinational corporations, all in an effort to secure U.S. control over the country that NED President Carl Gershman called‘the biggest prize’ in Europe.”

Since the 2014 coup d’état, Putin continued, energy costs have skyrocketed, and hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost.  Major economic sectors, important in Ukraine in the era of the Soviet Union, including machine building, instrument engineering, electronics, shipbuilding, and aircraft manufacturing, have been undermined or destroyed altogether.  With the economy in tatters, in Putin’s view, the country has been reduced to a colony with a puppet regime.

In March 2021, Putin reports, a new Military Strategy was adopted.  The document sets the goal of involving foreign states in a conflict with Russia; it outlines a potential war, “with foreign military support in the geopolitical confrontation with the Russian Federation,” in the language of the document.  The strategy includes the organization of what Putin described as “a terrorist underground movement in Russia’s Crimea and in Donbass.”

Putin pointed out NATO presence in Ukraine.  He declared that “over the past few years, military contingents of NATO countries have been almost constantly present on Ukrainian territory under the pretext of exercises.”  And the Ukrainian system for control of its troops has been integrated into NATO.  He observed that the USA and NATO have been developing Ukrainian territory as “a theatre of potential military operations.”

Putin recalled that when German unification was discussed in 1990, the United States promised the Soviet leadership that NATO would not expand to the east following unification.  “They issued lots of verbal assurances, all of which turned out to be empty phrases.”

Putin revealed that he asked outgoing President Bill Clinton in 1990 how the U.S. would feel about admitting Russia to NATO.  Putin noted that Clinton did not really respond to the question, but the answer was given through subsequent steps.  There has been support for terrorists in North Caucasus, disregard for Russian security demands and concerns, the continued expansion of NATO, and the withdrawal from the ABM treaty.  He elaborated on the theme of the expansion of NATO:

“Today, one glance at the map is enough to see to what extent Western countries have kept their promise to refrain from NATO’s eastward expansion. They just cheated. We have seen five waves of NATO expansion, one after another – Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary were admitted in 1999; Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004; Albania and Croatia in 2009; Montenegro in 2017; and North Macedonia in 2020.  As a result, the Alliance, its military infrastructure has reached Russia’s borders. This is one of the key causes of the European security crisis; it has had the most negative impact on the entire system of international relations and led to the loss of mutual trust.”

NATO, Putin observes, now appears to be planning on the development of a capacity to attack Russia with land-based attack weapons deployed in Ukraine.

Putin observed that Russia proposed in December 2021 a treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America.  The proposal had three key points: (1) no further NATO expansion; (2) no deployment of assault weapons systems on Russian borders; and (3) rolling back NATO’s military infrastructure to where it was in 1997, when the NATO-Russia Founding Act was signed.  The response to the proposal ignored these key areas of Russian concern.

So, Putin reflected, they do not want to be our friends or allies, but why do they want to make enemies of us?  He responded: “There can be only one answer – this is not about our political regime or anything like that. They just do not need a big and independent country like Russia around.”

With respect to the situation in Donbass, Putin observed that the government in Kiev has made clear that they are unwilling to comply with the Minsk accord of February 12, 2015, approved by UN Security Council resolution on February 17, 2015.  To the contrary, “Not a single day goes by without Donbass communities coming under shelling attacks. The recently formed large military force makes use of attack drones, heavy equipment, missiles, artillery and multiple rocket launchers. The killing of civilians, the blockade, the abuse of people, including children, women and the elderly, continues unabated.”  Russia, in contrast, has persistently pushed for the implementation of said Security Council resolution.

In this situation, Putin concluded, the recognition of the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic is necessary and long overdue.

 Why has the USA initiated a New Cold War with Russia?

NATO expansionism has sought to provoke conflict with Russia, making the weaker Eastern European states militarily dependent on the United States; and creating tensions and reducing trade between Russia and Europe, thus making more necessary a strengthening of trade between Europe and the USA.  From the narrow reference frame of short-term U.S. economic interests, the ideal outcome would be Russian overreaction that would be perceived as aggression against Europe, fostering a complete rupture, including cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 connecting Russia and Germany, which is now ready to go once German regulators provide the final certification.

U.S. foreign policy seeks to undermine an alternative world order being forged by China and Russia, in which the global powers of the East are cooperating in developing trade relations with the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa, with mutually beneficial terms for all involved, different from the inherited economic structures of European and North America imperialism.  As Jenny Clegg writes in a February 18 article in Multipolarista (republished in NewColdWar.org), “Far from seeking their own exclusive spheres of influence, Russia and China set out a world order based on indivisible security, in which ‘no state can or should ensure its own security separately from the security of the rest of the world and at the expense of the security of other states.’”

Europe is torn between the aggressive imperialism of the United States, and the post-imperialist world order led by China and Russia and key countries of the global South.  Europe has a long-term interest in cooperation in the post-imperialist world order, but so far, it shows little sign of seeing this.  It appears to want to maintain imperialism, but a multilateral European, not U.S. unilateral, imperialism.

The U.S. strategy of an expansionist NATO hopes to break the Europe-Russia connection, using misinformation and manipulations of historic fears, in order to undermine both the multilateral imperialist and post-imperialist possibilities, bringing Europe once again to the side of the USA, both standing against China and Russia, and both seeking to block the emergence of a post-imperialist new world order in which China, Russia, and other nations play a leading role.  The USA seeks to block a pluripolar world that has tolerance for ideological and cultural differences, as it develops mutually beneficial trade among nations as the best foundation for world peace and prosperity.  Such a harmonious world would not tap U.S. strengths; the USA is at present more suited for global military dictatorship under its direction (but it could remake itself, with wise leadership).

As Jenny Clegg writes,

What Washington seeks is to restrict China’s growth, and at the same time reverse its own decline by blocking cooperation between China and Europe, thereby making European markets captive to US core technologies, as it races against China for control over the key technologies of the fourth industrial revolution, from AI to quantum computing.  The success of Biden’s new cold war “multilateralism” turns on the position of Europe. So the Ukraine crisis is being used as a lever to bring about unity among Europeans in a way not seen before – in the coordination of Iran-stye sanctions and military integration. This makes it all the easier, then, to follow the US in decoupling from China.

Clegg suggests that falling into the U.S. hegemonic game would not be in the interests of Europe.  “For the Europeans, adopting the US agenda will mean commitment to perpetual military upgrading. But would they on the other hand rather see themselves better off with a peaceful and prosperous Russia, engaging in a Silk Road-type trade, reaching across to China and to East and Southeast Asia, working together in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)?”

As Mike Whitney expressed in a February 11 article in the Unz Review, “In a world where Germany and Russia are friends and trading partners, there is no need for US military bases, no need for expensive US-made weapons and missile systems, and no need for NATO.. . .  A German-Russo alliance threatens to hasten the decline of the Superpower.”  Washington is hoping to use Ukraine to drive a wedge between Germany and Russia.  A similar thesis was presented by Yang Sheng and Xu Keyue in “US needs Ukraine crisis to harm European economy, and legitimize its military presence,” published in the Chinese review Global Times, on February 13.

In the conflict over Ukraine, much is at stake.  Clegg writes that “the outcome of the standoff over Ukraine is going to determine not just the balance of power in Europe but the shaping of the world order in years to come, as US allies, partners, and adversaries alike look to adjust their positions in accordance with the shifting powers of the hegemon.”

Conclusion

You are not going to find the articles of NewColdWar.org in the pages of The New York Times, except an occasional piece to give the impression of being openminded.  Nor are you going to find Russia Today, Telesur, and Cubavision Internacional among the offerings included in the more than 200 television channels offered in media packages.  I personally have access to these television channels of the global South in my apartment in Havana, as a consequence of the fact that most television media in Cuba are owned by the state, and the state is ruled by the elected delegates and deputies of the people, and the delegates of the people want media that promote the freedom and the dignity of the people.

Perhaps we need to rethink the meaning of freedom of the press.  Perhaps it should not mean the right of companies to buy media outlets, but the right of the people to full and free intellectual and moral development, on the basis of full access to the knowledge that emerges from human commitment to understanding; a right that can only be protected by the empowered delegates of the people.

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