Russia’s Propaganda War Against Ukraine Continues

Those of us able to remember the Cold War will enjoy a sampling of modern Russia’s propaganda machine, updated in methods though hardly in output all these years later. Today, instead of Pravda and New York Times reporters, Russia employs … Pravda and Russia Today, which is staffed with future New York Times reporters.

In case anyone believes the recent contretemps with Ukraine is over, Russia’s propaganda organs would like to correct them. And so, in the English language version (which is invariably tamer than the Russian one), Pravda has an article subtly titled, “Ukraine is unwilling to learn from its mistakes.” In a style that has not appreciably changed in nearly a century, Pravda first argues that Kyiv’s accession to the WTO was a hasty error made solely to beat Russia into the trade pact (a curious proposition given that Russia’s accession was delayed only by Moscow’s repeated demands for more and more exceptions from basic WTO rules) and that Ukraine destroyed its economy by joining the WTO. The Association Agreement with the EU, Pravda helpfully adds, is even dumber, because it’s the same mistake, but worse, because certain “trading partners” will be even more upset with Ukraine.

Translation: Russia is quite serious about its trade war threats.

In Russia Today, which presents itself as a sort of Russian Al-Jazeera (a fair comparison, though not the way RT means it), the Kremlin-run news agency runs an interview with a Western “expert” who implausibly explains that everything that Kyiv has done to foster closer links with the West are in fact the result of a fiendish Western conspiracy to bleed Ukraine dry and grind up the bones afterward.

Lest this be thought an exaggeration, note the adoption of essentially that metaphor late in the piece.

There is better, smarter, more balanced commentary, little of it from Russia. For example, Forbes offers a smarter take that notes that Western integration, especially European integration, will pose extraordinary challenges to Ukraine’s economy — yet every alternative is so much worse.

Ukraine’s economy – fragile and in terrible shape – could collapse should Russia decide to sever ties with its neighbor and largest business partner. But Russia’s aggressive approach makes it obvious that Ukraine is making a good choice. Becoming an addition to Russia’s Eurasian empire doesn’t give Ukraine much chance for political and economic freedom, while getting closer to the EU would allow Ukraine to look for new markets anywhere in the world, as well as to maintain its independence.

Bill Clinton said that he “doesn’t approve of all the pressure that Ukraine has been subject to” by its neighbor, and suggested that as long as there is room for freedom and enterprise, Ukraine has all the chances for prosperity. He pointed out that the US supported South Korea because it seized the promise of freedom and progress. His remarks were followed by Tony Blair, the former prime-minister of Great Britain, who said: “We should stick with you and help you on that journey”

Ukraine and Russia have to find some way to cooperate and make decisions together that would work for both countries, but it’s also understood that Ukraine needs to have a plan B in case Russia continues its abusive tactics and shuts the door on Ukrainian businesses. Finding new markets and attracting new investments could be the way. If Western friends step in with more than just talk of democracy and transparency, Ukraine might achieve a level of strength that would be helpful in dialogue with a behemoth such as Russia.

It would in most ways be easier for Kyiv to fall back into old habits and side with Russia; yet credit goes to Viktor Yanukovych’s administration, which has been smart enough to see that whatever the short-term gains might be found in an alliance with Moscow, the future can only lie with Europe.

Breaking the trend was also a piece from The Moscow Times, which ran a piece some time ago noting that even if Yanukovych’s commitment to Europe — a fact since he took office nearly three years ago — was less than enthusiastic, Russia’s tactics have only strengthened his and his government’s resolve. The alternative, as the article notes, is to end up like Belarus — economically stunted, dependent on Moscow’s benevolence, and even so constantly chafing against the Empire.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has not yet found a time when the application of pressure did not yield him his goal; he will continue to try pressure tactics on Ukraine until they demonstrably don’t work.

It now falls on Kyiv and Brussels to teach him a new lesson in Realpolitik.

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