In 2022 the West gave too much credit to Russia and too little ammunition to Ukraine
CIUS annual report on North American media coverage of Ukrainian affairs, 24 February 2022–24 February 2023
Twelve publications (Atlantic Council, The Atlantic, The National Interest, National Review, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Economist, Politico, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Conversation) were selected to prepare this report on how the situation in Ukraine has been portrayed in the North American press during the past year (24 February 2022–24 February 2023). The sample was compiled based on their impact on public opinion as well as on their professional reputation, popularity among the readership, and topical relevance. These publications represent liberal, centrist, and conservative viewpoints on the political spectrum.
This report covers only the most-read and relevant articles about Ukraine, as ranked by the respective North American publications themselves on a weekly basis during the past year. Its scope covers promoted articles on home pages and articles from special sections on Ukraine, with the hashtag #Ukraine, from the paper editions of the publications, and about Ukraine from opinion columns and editorials. In total, over 500 articles were analyzed on a monthly basis preparatory to the compilation of this annual summary report.
Main arguments discussed in the articles:
February 2022. The expected aggression happened in an unexpected way. On 24 February the Russian army invaded Ukraine and turned a new page in the Russo-Ukrainian war, an invasion of Ukraine’s sovereign territory that had started in late February 2014. On the eve of the all-out invasion in 2022, the Ukrainian authorities and their partners in the West recognized the fact of an unprecedented aggregation of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine and weighed two scenarios for future developments.
The first was “optimistic” and did not seriously consider the probability of the Kremlin’s military aggression. Having previously encountered Moscow’s foreign policy strategy of intentionally “escalating to then de-escalate,” many expected the tension to decrease after Russia’s sabre-rattling led to advantageous concessions from the West. This scenario was propounded by the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.
The second scenario was “pessimistic” and perceived Russia’s aggression as highly likely. Some of the speculation was that if the Kremlin bothered to gather so many troops in one place, it would not fall back. However, even under such a scenario the majority of analysts and decision-makers believed that those troops would be sent only to the Donbas, in order to continue the Russian occupation of that industrial region of Ukraine. Meanwhile, massive combined-arms warfare involving operations on numerous fronts was not seriously discussed.
In sum, before the escalated invasion took place, the Western world and Ukraine expected aggressive action from Russia. However, the scope and character of the aggression was unexpected to many.
The next day after 24 February, Western media exploded with articles analyzing the invasion. The majority of authors gave Ukraine little credit. They seemed to believe that the defending army would be wiped out in one powerful wave, the government in Kyiv would fall within days, and a new reality would reign in Central and Eastern Europe after the Kremlin succeeded. The Russian victory appeared indisputable considering the number of missiles, troops, and equipment it threw at Ukraine. Such was the dominant expectation.
However, unexpectedly the invaders encountered a fierce and effective resistance movement. Upon occupying some territory, the Russian army would become enmeshed in Ukraine’s manoeuvrable defence, suffer immense initial casualties (compared to other modern wars), and stall.
February ended with Western media discussing how much Russia’s superiority in firepower contributed to its rapid advance, how effectively Ukraine had acted to stop that advance, that any future resistance by Ukraine would eventually be futile, and that the system of international law and global security architecture would be strongly shaken in the aftermath of the invasion.
March 2022. To the Kremlin’s surprise, it was not that easy to conquer Kyiv in three days. By the early spring it appeared that Russia hit a hard bottom in Ukraine and was unable to achieve a decisive victory, which cast a shadow on its great power status.
In the fourth week of fighting, the Kremlin changed its objectives. Instead of the initially declared “denazification” and “demilitarization”—unrealistic military goals that had led to the collapse of the offensive, as the invading forces failed to conquer Kyiv fast and remove the Ukrainian government—Russian officials started prioritizing the “liberation” of the Donbas. At the same time, the Kremlin raised the stakes by highlighting the possibility of chemical and biological catastrophe if the fighting continued.
In early March, Western media actively discussed the necessity of ending the war with a peace deal that would incorporate hard compromises. Joining NATO would likely be ruled out for Ukraine, while neutral status would allow for its close cooperation with the West, up to gaining security guarantees from the USA. For its part, the Kremlin would likely bargain for the “independence” of occupied territories, refuse to pay reparations, and push for reduction of Western sanctions. However, the initial peace talks in Istanbul bore no fruit due to such inflated Russian expectations as well as Ukraine’s shock from the evidence of brutal war crimes in liberated Bucha, Irpin, and Borodianka.
In addition, Western media attempted to argue that economic sanctions against Russia would be hard to maintain. Global disruptions in food and energy supplies, disunity among Western states on the future of the war, and fear of Russia’s switch to new growing markets were recognized as major factors that would eventually weaken the sanctions’ effect. Moreover, Europe was facing an unprecedented migration crisis. The waves of Ukrainians fleeing their country transformed the European continent into the world’s biggest shelter for displaced people.
Western media were also spreading many misconceptions and problematic statements—such as: the Kremlin did not deploy all of its troops and was likely to overcome Ukrainian resistance in future; a long-lasting normalization of Russian-Ukrainian relations was possible only through redesigning the Western security architecture and accommodating the Kremlin’s demands; NATO enlargement to the east and Ukraine’s NATO membership aspirations were the major factors that ignited the invasion; or referendums in Crimea and the temporarily occupied territories should take place in order to determine their national allegiance.
That being said, messages that Ukraine might win the war did start appearing in Western media by the end of March, following acknowledgements of the defenders’ battle prowess and the discovery of the Russian atrocities to the north of Kyiv.
More details about how Western media portrayed the war in March can be found under the following links:
- Ukraine kept backstage in analyses of the war within its own borders (21–27 March 2022)
- Society as a driver behind Ukrainian diplomacy and defence measures (28 March–3 April 2022).
April 2022. Ukraine hit back, but Russian firepower remained superior. The month started with a wave of publications in the Western media that Russia’s war crimes in Bucha, Irpin, and Borodianka were characteristic of a genocide. In contrast, the Kremlin launched a counter-narrative that these crimes might have been committed by counter-advancing Ukrainian troops with the objective of framing Russia; it was not given any credence, as Western media and public became cognizant of the Kremlin’s pattern of falsely accusing its perceived enemies of the very same crimes that it had committed itself.
On 14 April the Russian missile cruiser Moskva sank. Ukraine’s successful attack on the flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet not only dealt a heavy blow to the morale of the invading troops but also diminished their operational capacity. Furthermore, opinions were aired in the media that Putin risked being ousted if Russia continued suffering military defeats, which were predicted to push the state toward turmoil and instigate a rotation of the political elites in the Kremlin. At the same time, the foreign policy of the new elites would still remain intact without a nationwide revision of Russia’s neo-imperial expansionist values. To prevent his own demise, the West believed that Putin would resort to nuclear bombardments; at least, his nuclear blackmailing of the West became very explicit in April.
To help Ukraine in its fight, the US deployed a powerful tool—the Lend-Lease scheme. On 7 April the US Senate unanimously passed the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act, which allowed immediate shipments of weapons systems, ammunition, and military assistance to Ukraine.
Writing of the West, the media highlighted that rather than fractured it became unified in face of Russian aggression. Putin was misled by the West’s unimpressive response to the previous wars in Georgia (2008) and Syria (2016), as well as to the 2014 occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea and the Donbas. He overlooked a particular feature of how democracies work—they are slow to anger but react with fury when their interests are directly threatened. At the same time, the media highlighted that, unlike Russia’s objectives in Ukraine, those of the West had always been much less specific.
By the end of the month, themes had begun circulating in the media that the Russian army was in a woeful state and that the West decided to support Ukraine till its victory. However, many analysts also concluded that the war had entered a stalemate phase.
In April, Western media spread many misconceptions and problematic statements, such as: the Russian invasion was Ukraine’s fault because the Kyiv government pursued engagement with transatlantic institutions and for more than a decade had been refusing to negotiate neutrality or a closer relationship with the Kremlin; ceding part of its territory was an acceptable price for Ukraine to end the war, making it far more viable as a state and further strengthening its ties with the West; the 2014 war in the Donbas was ignited by local separatists without Russian army agents; the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine was a regional conflict, one of many in the world, and should be dealt with as such; the Russo-Ukrainian war would end only through a Western “new deal” with Putin, without consulting the government in Kyiv; or the Russian nation should not be accused of starting the aggression—epitomized in the oft-repeated misconception: “It is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war and no one else’s, just as World War II in Europe was Adolf Hitler’s.”
More details about how Western media portrayed the war in April can be found under the following links:
- Russian crimes in Ukraine: West is pushed to the point of no return (4–10 April 2022)
- Ukraine emerging as a new pillar of global order: All it needs is victory (11–17 April 2022)
- Ukraine and Russia prepare to battle for the Donbas (18–24 April 2022)
- Ukrainians’ postwar mental traumas will be a problem for generations (25 April—1 May 2022).
May 2022. Ukraine’s fight is about the preservation of its territory, people, and identity. The media highlighted that the Kremlin’s historical misconceptions and delusions played a crucial role in igniting the war. Apart from military destruction, Russia was assaulting Ukraine’s culture and denying the state’s right to a sovereign existence. Therefore, “for Ukrainians, the drive to hold fast to a national identity, history, and culture is at the heart of a tenacious resistance.”
Ukraine successfully holding its ground was of course determined to a great degree by Western military aid. Four main categories of weapons had been shipped to Ukraine by its allies—basic guns, missiles, attack drones, and artillery. Alongside the conventional weaponry Ukraine was making use of an army of cyber-volunteers. Over 400,000 specialists from all across the world responded to Kyiv’s invitation and joined the IT Army of Ukraine.
The end of May was marked by hard negotiations to save Ukraine’s soldiers at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol. The government in Kyiv and its allies applied extraordinary efforts to make possible the evacuation of several thousands of Ukraine’s servicepeople and civilians trapped in the besieged steel plant. In Western Europe, Ukraine’s migrants and refugees contributed to forming a positive perception of the country; they were not only eager to cover shortages in the labour market but also opened thousands of businesses and thus boosted the economies of the host states.
Alongside this, Western media paid much attention to Russia’s unimpressive military performance. In particular it was argued that Russia’s troops would not be able to conquer all of Ukraine, because involuntary conscripts stood little chance against motivated volunteers. Apart from that, on top of problems with supply logistics, equipment maintenance, and poor training the Russian command issued bad orders that led to massive casualties among the invading soldiers. Finally, Russia was seen to be dismantling the peace-securing mechanisms of the current democratic world order by having brutally invaded and illegally appropriated the territory of a UN member and violating the UN Charter.
In light of Russia’s brutal conduct and military underperformance, the media saw a chance for the USA to reinforce its global status. Washington was encouraged to perceive developments in Ukraine as “a historic chance to turn back years of retreat and reassert the leadership that seemed to have been lost forever.” That reassertion of leadership was deemed particularly important for countering Chinese military ambitions, as Beijing was carefully observing Russia’s invasion with a view to enhancing its own stance against Taiwan.
By the end of May, the media started writing that Russians must be tried for their crimes of aggression in Ukraine and that the US was finally considering sending the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) to Ukraine.
More details about how Western media portrayed the war in May can be found under the following links:
- A war of attrition in Europe that may redesign the world order (2–8 May 2022)
- Russia’s Victory Day tarnished by Ukraine’s successes in Donbas (9–15 May 2022)
- Invasion of Ukraine bares Russia’s decline for the world to see (16–22 May 2022)
- Western support to Ukraine has objective limits (23–29 May 2022).
June 2022. Russia intends to systematically wipe out everything Ukrainian. When writing about Ukraine, Western media highlighted that the underground resistance in occupied parts of its territory was far stronger than Moscow had anticipated. The invaders suffered high volumes of casualties and its soldiers were unable to fully control recently conquered settlements. The majority of Ukrainians (except in Crimea and the Donbas, which could not be surveyed) were against the secession of any part of their territory as a means to end the war. According to the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), 82% of Ukrainians rejected yielding any territory under any circumstances, and 61% supported “opposing Russian aggression until all of Ukraine, including Crimea, was under Kyiv control.” However, Ukraine’s front-line settlements were gradually becoming ghost towns due to the massive population flight.
The contribution of Ukrainian women to the war effort against Russia became unprecedented—media analysts remarked on the phenomenon of tens of thousands of female soldiers joining the various armed forces of Ukraine. No less impressive was to observe how actively Ukraine’s non-combatant women were engaged as volunteers in supplying troops with food and equipment, coordinating relief for displaced people, promoting Ukraine’s interests at intergovernmental levels, and assisting foreign journalists in Ukraine.
Following the conclusions drawn by historians, scholars, and experts, leading US politicians publicly defined the Russian war in Ukraine as a genocide. The media actively reported that, for instance, Mike Pompeo “called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a ‘planned genocide’ akin to the mass starvation in the country nearly a century ago and dismissed the idea that the war could be ended through negotiations with Vladimir Putin, calling instead for a robust effort to propel Ukraine to decisive victory.” One way of making the effort more robust entailed in increasing the supply of precise artillery to Ukraine—which was eventually agreed to by Western governments.
In the third month of the invasion, Levada Center surveys revealed that 77% of ordinary Russians still supported it. At the same time, nearly 1,000 global companies declared their plans to leave Russia. As of May, these companies had sustained more than $59 billion in losses from their Russian operations, with more financial pain to come as sanctions hit the economy and sales and shutdowns continued.
In June, Western media continued to spread many misconceptions and problematic statements, including that the US and the West should abandon Ukraine in the face of growing Russian aggression. When discussing the USA’s foreign policy priorities, analysts believed that “We should not get too involved in Ukraine because in the end Russia will expend more political will, take more risks, and suffer more consequences to determine the final outcome there. In short, Ukraine is peripheral to us, and dear to them.” Another persistent misconception was that Russia resorted to violence in its policy toward Ukraine because of mistreatment by the West: “Having failed to get what it wanted from Minsk II, Russia decided to take a military option. In other words, deterrence failed. Russia accepted the high risks and costs of switching to a strategy of compellence.”
More details about how Western media portrayed the war in June can be found under the following links:
- The West needs to be more resolute in its commitment to Ukraine (30 May–5 June 2022)
- The Russo-Ukrainian war has become a game of “artillery ping-pong” (6–12 June 2022)
- Not by arms alone: The West should consider energy lend-lease to Ukraine (13–19 June 2022)
- Ukraine’s EU candidate status marks the beginning of a new era (20–26 June 2022).
July 2022. Ukraine seized the initiative and started gaining strategic victories. Much attention of Western media was dedicated to the return of Ukraine’s agricultural products to global markets. Thanks to Turkey’s diplomatic mediation, the port in Odesa was restored as a key link in the UN-backed deal “to reopen Ukraine’s ports and export its grain to a hungry world.” Before the invasion, Ukraine had provided 10% of the world’s wheat, 16% of its maize, and roughly half of its sunflower oil. However, with Russia’s naval blockade and Ukraine’s very modest railway transport capacities, local farmers had no feasible options to deliver their products to customers.
Ukraine reclaiming Zmiinyi (Snake) Island became one of its biggest strategic successes since the all-out invasion. Analysts noted that control over that tiny piece of land in the northwestern part of the Black Sea seriously undercut Russia’s expansionist objectives: “[the island’s] location overlooking the Danube delta and shipping channels to Odesa and other Black Sea ports makes it a strategic prize [for Russia]. It could also serve as a bridgehead for an amphibious [counter]attack on Odesa, some 140 km away.”
The US-supplied HIMARS changed the progress of the war. In particular, Ukrainians learned to use these rocket systems to “rack up a major cost in Russian ammunition, supplies, and likely lives.” That being said, for the HIMARS to make a decisive impact Ukraine needed to acquire dozens of them, which was not seriously discussed by its allies. Instead, the allies discussed strengthening control over their hi-tech exports, as Western-made microchips had been found in recently landed Russian missiles.
Apart from that, Western media considered that Ukraine’s internally displaced persons might never return to their homes. The longer the war lasted, the less incentive these persons would have to abandon their new places of residence. It was also remarked that Ukraine lost a strong ally with Boris Johnson leaving the post of British Prime Minister.
As for Russia, the media suggested that in order to achieve its objectives in Ukraine it also focused on destabilizing the global economy: “by causing international shocks, Russia hopes to overawe the West once again, both presenting it the prospect of a winter energy shortage and stoking crises in the developing world.” The media also argued that Russia was better prepared to endure the calamities of a protracted war. Western weaponry was helping Ukrainians to hold the front line but was unable to inflict critical damage or impose strategically meaningful costs on Kremlin strategists. The latter, in turn, warned the US against establishing an international tribunal to investigate Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine. Erstwhile Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev denounced the US for what he described as politics to “spread chaos and destruction across the world for the sake of ‘true democracy.’”
At the end of July, the media reported on the killing of dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war in an explosion at a camp at Olenivka, on Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory. Kyiv claimed that Moscow had orchestrated the killing in order to take revenge against imprisoned Azov Regiment soldiers who had inflicted significant damage on its attacking troops during the defence of Mariupol that spring; this killing was a violation by Russia of international humanitarian law, not to mention the laws of warfare. In response, Russia accused Ukraine of killing its own soldiers in Olenivka; these accusations were given little credence by Western media.
Also, by the end of July narratives began circulating that Ukraine was preparing for a counter-attack on southern fronts. These narratives helped distract the attention of the Russian command and eventually contributed to the success of Ukraine’s operations in the north in autumn.
More details about how Western media portrayed the war in July can be found under the following links:
- Protracted war is exhausting for both sides, but Russians seem better prepared (27 June–03 July 2022)
- Ukraine’s art of war: Tactical retreats and strategic offensives (4-10 July 2022)
- The West gives too much credit to Russia and too little ammunition to Ukraine (11–17 July 2022)
- US policy toward Ukraine should be more supportive and proactive (18–24 July 2022)
- Ukraine prepares the ground for a counter–attack in the south (25–31 July 2022).
August 2022. Ukraine’s “MacGyver army” continues to amaze the West. Many media analysts acknowledged that the tide of the war was slowly shifting in Ukraine’s favour. On the one hand, after half a year of heavy fighting Ukraine was still struggling against Russia’s advantage of raw firepower; on the other hand, as they received more Western weapons Ukraine’s defenders were increasingly successful in hitting Russian logistical targets and military bases—including in Crimea. Ukraine’s greatest success was a missile strike on the airbase in Saky, which had a profound psychological effect on Russians: there remained no place on the territory of Ukraine where they could feel safe.
Media analysts also acknowledged that Ukraine had exceeded Western expectations with the effective use of available weaponry: “from the sinking of the Moskva, Russia’s Black Sea flagship, in April to the attack on a Russian air base in Crimea this month, Ukrainian troops have used American and other weapons in ways few expected.” Ukrainians were commended for adopting a practical approach to warfare that resembled solutions from the 1980s TV show “MacGyver”: engineering simple, improvised contraptions to secure the best outcomes from unfavourable circumstances.
Ukrainians’ long-held view of Russian culture as a weapon of war began to be picked up in the West. Analysts highlighted that many Russian artists of the past were instrumental in the creation and promotion of imperialist and expansionist ideas. Therefore, today’s Russian artists were encouraged to recognize that parts of their culture had become tools of aggression and were utilized by the Kremlin in order to justify genocide in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the most culturally non-conformist part of Ukrainian society was the youth; they became the core of a new nation: “a war designed to crush Ukrainian independence has in fact resulted in a stronger, unifying Ukrainian identity centered on the principles of freedom and democracy.”
Russia’s human losses in Ukraine became the highest since the Second World War. According to the Pentagon’s estimations, “the Russians [were] probably taking 70 or 80,000 casualties in less than six months.” The deficit of servicepeople alongside the deficit of ammunition made Russia ineffective even at defending its strategic objects in Crimea—specifically, the airbase at Saky. On the other hand, some analysts also believed that the Russo-Ukrainian war could last for years, with no side gaining an unequivocal victory on the battlefield.
In August, Western media spread a few misconceptions and problematic statements. One of them was that Western sanctions against Russia did not discourage the Kremlin’s aggression. Some argued that the sanctions neither weakened Putin’s regime nor made the invading army less battle-capable. That being said, these analysts overlooked the fact that sanctions do not work overnight; also, the Kremlin had not disclosed all information about the economic and military situation in the country since February 2022.
More details about how Western media portrayed the war in August can be found under the following links:
- With every new day, Russia fails to appear as strong as its threats (8–14 August 2022)
- Ukraine’s high-tech and improvisational warfare outpaces Russia’s (15–21 August 2022)
- Ukraine’s innovative use of Western weaponry far exceeds expectations (22–28 August 2022).
September 2022. Russia fell victim to overconfidence and was forced to retreat. At the beginning of the month, the attention of the media was captured by Ukraine’s stunning counteroffensive in Kharkiv oblast. Highly motivated soldiers broke through Russia’s lines and started advancing at an incredible speed; that success had a significant effect on the dynamics of the war. Russia lost hundreds of pieces of heavy equipment and thousands of ammunition rounds. Instead, Ukraine demonstrated to the world that it was serious about defeating Russia.
The Kharkiv counteroffensive encouraged Ukraine’s aspirations to become a NATO member. On 30 September, Ukrainian President Zelensky declared that the national army had achieved the necessary standards and could join the Alliance under an accelerated procedure. Western analysts suggested, however, that “Ukraine likely won’t join NATO anytime soon, but [its application is] a big symbolic move in a war that’s increasingly going against the Kremlin.”
Some Western analysts also acknowledged that Ukraine was fighting generally for democracy and against authoritarianism and nihilism. In this light, “a Ukrainian victory would confirm the principle of self-rule, allow the integration of Europe to proceed, and empower people of goodwill to return reinvigorated to other global challenges.” Therefore, it was in the interest of the USA to help Ukraine to win and reinforce its global leadership. Moreover, supporting Ukraine until it was victorious against Russia would break the chain of US retreats and failed interventions from the early 21st century, as well as demonstrate to other global powers that Washington was far from giving up its leadership status. For this to happen, the USA and its allies should not fall victim to Russian nuclear blackmail and should arm Ukraine with all that it asks for. Hopes that “normal” cooperation with Russia would soon be restored should be abandoned.
The media also touched upon the postwar reconstruction of Ukraine. For all its destruction, the Russo-Ukrainian war presents an opportunity to rebuild the country in ways that could remedy the ills of outdated, Soviet-era urban design and even slash national greenhouse gas emissions.
Speaking of Russia, analysts believe that it had planned the invasion as a blitzkrieg but ultimately plunged into a venture that would be hard to end. With its desire to build a new empire, the Kremlin miscalculated on many levels and irreversibly lost Ukraine from its sphere of influence. Putin risks going down in history as Russia’s worst ruler, not least due to his numerous poor command decisions. In addition, the first signs appeared that Russia was running out of ammunition, because it approached North Korea to renew its stockpiles. The utilization of nuclear weaponry was purported to be an unlikely measure that Putin would use only if Russia lost control over the occupied territories.
At the international level, Russia was portrayed as a revisionist power that was working to fracture Western unity and reshape the world order, with the help of countries that opposed Washington. The Kremlin worked to eliminate Russia’s isolation “from the capital and technology it [needed] to generate security and prosperity over the long term.”
More details about how Western media portrayed the war in September can be found under the following links:
- Ukraine victory delayed by West’s fear of crossing Putin’s red lines (29 August–04 September 2022)
- Ukraine’s counteroffensive brings hope, but Russia is ready to up the ante (5–11 September 2022)
- Russia falls for Ukraine’s trap in Kharkiv oblast (12–18 September 2022)
- Haphazardly mobilized Russian soldiers not likely to influence the war (19–25 September 2022)
- Cornered Kremlin decides to escalate (26–30 September 2022).
October 2022. Russia continued to suffer defeats and renewed its nuclear blackmail. The media highlighted that after September’s counter-offensive a window of opportunity opened up for Ukrainians to continue pressing Russians out from occupied territories. The liberation of Lyman and other settlements in Kharkiv oblast delivered a serious blow to the invaders as their faulty logistics got disrupted even more. Then, on 8 October Ukraine attacked the Kerch Strait Bridge and besmirched the image of Putin as a victorious leader. While no one knew the exact details of how the Ukrainians managed to strike the bridge, its partial destruction became “one of the great inflection points of this war—the moment when Russian elites began to understand that they are losing.” Russia responded with indiscriminate missile strikes on Ukraine’s cities and infrastructure. In this light, discussions intensified in the media about closing the sky over the country. Western allies promised to provide Ukraine with the most advanced air defence systems. That promise became a noticeable development, as Ukraine’s requests for air defences had never been properly addressed in the first months of the invasion. The media also concluded that the Russo-Ukrainian war was increasingly becoming a clash of drones. The Kremlin had massively resorted to Iranian-made weapons and deployed dozens of models of remote-controlled and programmable drones. At the same time, Ukraine had been building an Army of Drones since the first days of the invasion and used them effectively to hunt for Russian infantry, vehicles, and warehouses on the front line.
The discussions about Russia’s threats of a nuclear retaliatory response to Ukraine’s successes also intensified. The city of Zaporizhia was portrayed as one of the most probable targets for a nuclear strike, which might not even require firing missiles—an explosion could be orchestrated on its outskirts at a nuclear power plant in occupied Enerhodar. At the same time, the prevailing opinion was that the global security architecture would change irreversibly if Russia used nuclear weapons. A future war of total destruction would become more likely, because Russia’s belligerence would encourage dozens of other countries to acquire nuclear arsenals of their own. Meanwhile, a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe dated 13 October condemned Russia’s aggression and also raised the issue of legitimacy of its UN membership and seat on the United Nations Security Council.
The media also reported on Russia’s systematic war crimes in occupied Ukrainian territory: “With Russian soldiers pushed out of parts of the Kharkiv region, Ukrainian investigators have been overwhelmed with accounts of detentions, torture, and missing relatives as well as collaboration and property theft.” At the same time, Washington was portrayed as the world’s biggest military and economic supporter of Ukraine. Between 24 January (one month before the invasion) and 3 October the USA accounted for 56% of the total commitments given by Western countries, compared to 40% from European countries collectively.
On the other hand, in October the media did disseminate some misconceptions and problematic statements, including that a Russian nuclear strike would lead to its decisive victory over Ukraine. Some analysts believed that deploying the ultimate weapon would solidify Putin’s regime at home, legitimize Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s territory, and discourage the Western world from supporting Ukraine. However, very little was said about the certain international backlash against the Kremlin and radioactive fallout that would occur, to which many Russians also would become victims. Another misconception was that the responsibility for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine lay with the West—supposedly, Washington and its allies had been trying too hard to integrate Ukraine into their system of institutions and thereby disregarded Russian vital interests. But analysts pushing that misconception did not give any credence to Ukraine’s sovereign right to conduct its own independent foreign policy.
More details about how Western media portrayed the war in October can be found under the following links:
- The war heats up with bold nuclear rhetoric (1–7 October 2022)
- Russia’s missile strikes on Ukraine signify desperation (8–14 October 2022)
- Russia uses Iranian drones in attempt to curtail Ukraine’s initiative (15–21 October 2022)
- Ukraine to receive Western tanks and fighter jets, eventually (22–28 October 2022).
November 2022. Russian missile attacks did not intimidate Ukraine and instead strengthened the resolve of the West. The month started with the media savouring that Ukraine’s pressure forced Russian troops to retreat from the west bank of the Dnipro River and give up the oblast capital of Kherson—the only oblast centre that Russia had managed to capture in nearly nine months of fighting. Its withdrawal from Kherson was considered a major defeat of the invading army, as control over the city was key to strategic developments on the southern battlelines. That being said, the government in Kyiv was expected to face challenges in bringing life in Kherson back to normality in the near future.
For his part, President Volodymyr Zelensky was praised for having become one of the most inspiring orators of the contemporary era, as he masterfully adjusted his addresses to every audience in a broad range of countries and international forums. In November the media also discussed the importance of Ukraine being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and underscored that the idea behind it had always had a strong connection to freedom; this prize is often awarded to freedom fighters, supporters of uncensored media, and defenders of political liberty.
On another topic, the media highlighted that the massive population displacement provoked by the war posed a future existential challenge for Ukraine. The number of Ukrainians residing beyond the border of their state in November was approaching 8 million. The effects of such a flight of intellectual and labour potential were not to be underestimated.
Also discussed was the incident in the Polish village of Przewodów, where a missile struck Polish territory on 15 November and killed two people. The conclusion was drawn that the West needed to take even bolder steps to support Ukraine’s war effort, for Poland would have never suffered this harm if Russia was not targeting Ukraine with its missiles. Russia was, in fact, condemned as a terrorist state that had perpetrated the missile strike: “The real cause of this explosion and the deaths of two people is the Russian invasion of Ukraine, an invasion that has already devolved into an advanced form of state terrorism.” In this light, the West was encouraged to increase its support for Ukraine and stop being skittish about Russia’s nuclear blackmail. Notably, the impact of Russia’s missile bombardments of Ukraine was completely the opposite of what Kremlin strategists expected. Instead of “destroying civilian morale and crippling the Ukrainian will to resist,” the bombardments angered Ukrainians and made them fight the invaders even harder.
Another story reported on was that the Russo-Ukrainian war prompted arms manufacturers across the globe to increase their production: “The world’s biggest arms makers are scaling up production of rocket launchers, tanks, and ammunition as the industry shifts to meet what executives expect to be sustained demand triggered by the war in Ukraine.”
Finally, serious discussions began of scenarios for the partition of the Russian Federation into smaller sovereign entities following its defeat in the ongoing war.
More details about how Western media portrayed the war in November can be found under the following links:
- Ukraine winning the war also means preserving its very identity and civil society (29 October–4 November 2022)
- US midterm elections carry the risk of weakening Western commitment to Ukraine (5–11 November 2022)
- Western security depends directly on the quality of weapons given to Ukraine (12–18 November 2022)
- Ukraine faces the harshest winter in living memory (19–25 November 2022)
- Is Turkey the biggest beneficiary of the Russo-Ukrainian war? (26 November–2 December 2022).
December 2022. The West and Ukraine weighed the costs of war beyond the battlefield. The media anticipated a drop in the intensity of fighting during winter but highlighted that the Ukrainian army was better prepared for a winter military campaign. During the fall months Ukrainians had been receiving military equipment from Western states that was designed for conducting operations in sub-zero temperatures. Off the battlefield, Ukrainians were forced to improvise in order to survive the winter while their power grid continued being targeted by Russia; frequently this involved acquiring portable generators. Another challenge that civilians had to face in the rearguard was that Ukraine had become one of the world’s most heavily mined territories.
The legend of Bakhmut was also born in December. Regardless of its minor strategic importance, “virtually all of Russia’s remaining offensive power…has been thrown at the town since August.” The Ukrainian army defending Bakhmut successfully endured extensive and fierce waves of attacks. In turn, Russians’ brutal aggressiveness and wanton commission of war crimes was explained by their being ideologically brainwashed. Theories previously advanced about why people committed mass killings—due to being psychopaths or killers by nature, or being compelled to do so—did not hold in the case of Russians in Ukraine. Although analysts hypothesized that the Russian population acquiesced with the Kremlin on this war because they were not sufficiently cohesive to speak against it, Russians were also accused of being too tolerant of violations in the treatment of prisoners of war.
At this time, the media reported on an increasingly popular opinion that it would be wrong to hold peace talks now. Washington and Paris supported Kyiv’s contact with the Kremlin only under the condition of Russia’s complete withdrawal from Ukraine. At a joint press conference of US President Joe Biden and his French President Emmanuel Macron on 1 December, it was stated that “the war in Ukraine can only end if Russia pulls out of Ukrainian territory entirely.”
However, after ten months of heavy fighting, a goodwill retreat on the part of Moscow would not be enough anyway, as the war criminals among the invaders would have to be brought to justice. The international community was called upon to develop and enforce mechanisms to investigate Russian war crimes and prosecute perpetrators: “Today’s Russian war criminals are not like the Nazis after World War II, who were scattered around the world. On the contrary, they overwhelmingly live in Russia itself and have no intention of leaving…[and] Russia will never hand over war crimes suspects within the framework of existing extradition procedures.”
More details about how Western media portrayed the war in December can be found under the following links:
- Ukrainian sea drones set benchmark for future naval warfare (3–9 December 2022)
- Ukraine’s war effort reduces Russia’s threat to Western Europe (10–16 December 2022).
January 2023. A “Western tank coalition” was finally formed. The New Year began with a media buzz about Western governments finally deciding to send armoured vehicles and advanced missiles to Ukraine. On 5 January, Washington promised radar-guided Sea Sparrow anti-air missiles as well as Bradleys—the US Army’s primary infantry fighting vehicle. On the same day, Berlin declared its readiness to send Marders, and in the following day Paris confirmed that it would send AMX-10 RC armoured fighting vehicles. All three types of vehicles аre known to be highly manoeuvrable and built around powerful guns with impressive destruction potential. By the end of January, Washington and Berlin announced that battle tanks would be delivered to Ukraine: “Тhe Biden administration [confirmed that it would] send a significant number of Abrams M1 tanks…settling a rift that threatened the unity of the alliance supporting Ukraine at a pivotal moment in the war.” Thе US’s move came as a reaction to the reluctance of the German government to send its Leopard 2 tanks before any of its Western coalition partners set the precedent.
The media also became more confident in stating that support for Ukraine should be one of Washington’s top foreign policy priorities: “Ukraine is doing something no one thought possible: defeating the Russian army and, in doing so, crippling one of America’s most dangerous adversaries.” Therefore, the USA and its allies should become even more open to requests from the defending country in the future. Regardless of a few successful counter-attacks, Ukraine’s army still lacks the resources and weaponry for a decisive victory. Some in the media even voiced the opinion that the West should arm Ukraine until it gains symmetrical firepower with Russia. For indeed, because of the limited scope of the military aid that had been provided to Ukraine since February 2022, “Russia [was] able to attack inside Ukraine with impunity, while Ukraine has been severely restricted in its ability to engage in anything remotely resembling proportionate retaliation on Russian soil.”
Western media commended Ukraine for learning to counter Russia’s drone attacks. On New Year’s Eve alone, as many as 80 Iranian-made aerial vehicles were intercepted over Kyiv in an operation that prevented massive destruction of Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. Apart from that, Ukraine was commended for liberating Kreminna city in the east of the country and advancing toward the border of the occupied Luhansk oblast.
As for Russia, Western media highlighted that it was determined to continue the war regardless of the costs. Putin’s acknowledgement of defeat would not only lead to his ousting from the Kremlin but also threaten the integrity of his state. In this light, the media encouraged Western decision-makers to start seriously working on their response to a plausible scenario of Russia’s disintegration into smaller sovereign entities: “A weakened regime, in conjunction with a malfunctioning economy, will invite disgruntled Russians to take to the streets, perhaps even with arms, and encourage some of the non-Russian political units comprising the Russian Federation to opt for greater self-rule; leading candidates include Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Chechnya, Dagestan, and Sakha.”
More details about how Western media portrayed the war in January 2023 can be found under the following links:
- Western states to provide Ukraine with advanced weaponry and military vehicles (1–6 January 2023)
- Ukraine’s environment another major victim of the Russian invasion (7–13 January 2023)
- The West should increase its support and secure Ukraine’s victory (14–20 January 2023)
- Ukraine will receive Abrams and Leopard battle tanks (21–27 January 2023).
February 2023. Ukraine continues integrating with the West, Russia continues committing war crimes. After the West agreed to deliver heavy tanks to Ukraine, the next piece of equipment on its list became the F-16 jet fighters. The media did not write about these fighters as a wonder weapon but argued that they would definitely help to neutralize Russian Su-27s and MiG-29s, provide a secure air shield against Iranian-made drones, and bring Ukraine’s defence doctrine closer “to the more sophisticated principles and strategies currently used by NATO countries.”
In other news, women in the Ukrainian armed forces have significantly changed the social perception of traditional gender roles: “According to Ukraine’s deputy minister of defence, Hanna Maliar, by the summer of 2022 more than 50,000 women were employed by the armed forces in some capacity, with approximately 38,000 serving in uniform.” After the fighting is over, many female soldiers are expected to remain in the ranks of Ukraine’s professional defenders.
When writing about the army, the media also highlighted that thousands of soldiers would suffer from concussions and PTSD after the war. Therefore, the government in Kyiv should start constructing and expanding rehabilitation centres as soon as possible.
On another topic, Ukraine is unlikely to join the EU under a fast-track procedure. Contrary to the optimistic expectations of Ukraine’s leadership and general public, media analysts opined that cooperation and negotiations between Ukraine and the EU in the nearest future would focus on the “concrete, short-term deliverables that Ukraine will get out of its ever-closer relationship with the EU,” not on full-fledged membership.
Regardless, Ukraine’s victory against Russia will help to dismantle the authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe. In particular, both acting dictators—Aliaksandr Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin—would be weakened to such an extent that they would not be able to support each other.
When writing of Russia in February 2023, analysts highlighted thinking that has evolved recently into a new conviction that it was not likely to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, even if it suffers new defeats, as national security protocols made that use hardly possible. However, Russia denied access for US inspectors to its nuclear facilities and sites. Its accusation that Ukraine was working on a “dirty” nuclear bomb sooner might have hinted at its own work in this area. Furthermore, the current Russian strategy in the war seems to be to conquer as much new territory as possible before Western heavy equipment arrives in Ukraine. Such a strategy contains a latent threat—namely, the collapse of the invading army if its soldiers experience too many casualties. Analysts also reported that the Russian economic system adjusted to the burden of Western sanctions and reconfigured itself in order to feed the military machine. That said, growth of living standards in Russia was not predicted any time soon, with health and education expected to be hit the worst.
More details about how Western media portrayed the war in February 2023 can be found under the following links:
- Ukraine’s European integration is steadfast, but not as fast as it could be (28 January–3 February 2023)
- Russo-Ukrainian war exemplifies international conflicts of the future (4–10 February 2023)
- Russian cruelty in Ukraine’s occupied territories is beyond imagination (11–17 February 2023).