Amid global instability, Ukraine impresses with notable accomplishments in Crimea, Black Sea
CIUS weekly report on North American media coverage of Ukrainian affairs, 15–21 October 2023
Five publications (Politico, The National Interest, Foreign Policy, Globe and Mail, and Los Angeles Times) were selected to prepare this report on how the situation in Ukraine has been portrayed in the North American press during the past week. 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 centrist 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 in the past week. 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.
Topics featured in the selected articles:
- The world and Ukraine: Ukraine’s victory depends on U.S. support; the war and its consequences for Ukraine;
- Russia at war: Russia’s potential role in the postwar world; the effects of military losses for Russian society;
- The world and Russia: Western dependence on Russian gas keeps playing into Putin’s hands.
When we decide to win, the war in Ukraine will end. Russell A. Berman (National Interest) argues that in order to stop Russia’s war against Ukraine, it is necessary to rethink approaches to resolving military conflicts. Indisputably, creativity in designing compromises “that would generously bargain away Ukraine’s territory” cannot compete with Russia’s unscrupulous play to win. Mechanisms such as the “Austrian solution” of 1955 will not work with Ukraine, as Russia’s goal is “to conquer all of Ukraine and put Zelensky and his collaborators on trial.” According to Berman, this is a fundamental asymmetry of our time: “Unless the democracies overcome this aversion against the prospect of victory, the outcome will not be auspicious, and not only for Kyiv.” Following Hamas’ attack on Israel on 7 October, the Russo-Ukrainian war is no longer an isolated conflict. The author believes the war will end when the United States “finally decides to win it, which means: recognizing the scope of the challenge, ramping up arms production, and committing to defeating—not appeasing—our enemies.”
Is there an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine? Mariya Y. Omelicheva (National Interest) emphasizes that the violence of Russia’s war in Ukraine will continue long after any potential “peace” agreement. The comforting assumption that peace in Ukraine and Europe will naturally come after the war ends is false. This approach “reflects a narrow perspective on war as a time-bound, discrete event with a clear beginning and an end.” However, it should be understood that regardless of Ukraine’s ability to restore its territorial integrity, Moscow may never surrender. Russia will likely retain the desire and capacity to threaten Ukraine, “not least because this war has been fueled by Russia’s imperial ideology that denies Ukraine its history, national identity, and statehood.” It is also unlikely that Ukrainians will be able to forget “the carnage of indiscriminate aerial attacks and atrocities of the Russian army.” Several other factors will prolong the wartime conflict and carnage: (1) Increased social violence after the end of the war, when traumatized soldiers return to their homes; (2) Mine and unexploded ordnance contamination of a large part of Ukraine’s territory; (3) Proliferation of firearms that could “end up in the hands of violent non-state actors within and beyond the combatant nations”; and (4) Improvement of already deadly weapons that will be used in future military conflicts. According to Omelicheva, although “the view that wars don’t end but transform into other forms of violence is discomforting, it is more realistic. It points out the broader ramifications of wars and calibrates our expectations.”
What is to be done with Russia after the war? Thomas Graham (Politico) writes that it is time to think about how to normalize relations with Russia after the war. Whether Ukraine wins the war or not, Russia is unlikely to disappear from the world’s political map. Being defeated in Ukraine could increase domestic tensions in Russia, but it will not spark a democratic breakthrough: “The Kremlin has eviscerated the democratic opposition in the past few years, imprisoning its leaders or driving them into exile and systematically dismantling its country-wide political networks.” However, the US will be unable to ignore Russia because of its large nuclear arsenal, cyber and space capabilities. According to Graham, these three factors that have defined relations with Russia over the past half-century should continue to guide US policy, but an additional task should supplement it: “structuring relations with Russia to best position the United States to deal with its major strategic rival, China.” According to the author, “No matter what happens in Ukraine, the United States is not about to rid itself of Russia.”
Could heavy military losses halt Russia’s aggression? Ben Soodavar (National Interest) tries to find the answer to whether there is an extreme limit to the number of military losses for Russia in its war against Ukraine—as it once was for the British people, for whom “the death of 179 solidiers in Iraq was traumatic enough for leaders to change course.” According to Soodavar, “military sacrifice has a different meaning in Russia, one that is diametrically opposed to the value the liberal West places on the individual subject.” As of August 2023, according to some estimates, Russia has suffered “as many as 120,000 deaths.” And in recent weeks this number has been steadily increasing as Russia seeks to capture the town of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region. However, according to the author, “For Russia, every dead soldier in Ukraine constitutes a step towards victory and reclaiming the great power image of the country’s Soviet past. While the West’s liberal philosophy promulgates the importance of individual rights, Russia is defined by a system of collectivism. Within its value system, the individual subject confers prestige through their self-sacrifice for the collective wellbeing.” That is why, for many Russians (but not for everyone), “the trauma of military loss does not mean that they should stop fighting in Ukraine. On the contrary, it can represent a pathway to martyrdom.”
The West should look closely at Ukraine’s achievements in the Black Sea. Oz Katerji and Vladislav Davidzon (Foreign Policy) argue that the recent focus on Kyiv’s land offensive in the east has overshadowed Ukraine’s achievements in other areas. “Over the last several months, Ukraine has achieved a series of startling victories in and around Crimea, including missile strikes against the Kerch Strait bridge and multiple daring attacks on the Black Sea Fleet itself—with major impacts on the Russians’ ability to operate on the peninsula and in the western Black Sea.” The authors add that these successes constitute a “major breakthrough for Ukraine”: the combination of attrition and displacement of Russian naval assets has diminished their capacity to patrol near Ukrainian ports, which could help open Odesa’s deep-water ports for international shipping; Ukraine has also established alternative humanitarian sea corridors protected by NATO member navies, allowing grain exports to resume and conducted successful commando raids to destroy Russian anti-air missile installations and regain control of strategically located oil and gas drilling rigs. Finally, Kyiv also developed locally made sea drones capable of effectively striking Russian naval assets. Katerji and Davidzon conclude by citing British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey: “The functional defeat of the Black Sea Fleet—and I would argue that is what it is, because it has been forced to disperse to ports from which it cannot have an effect on Ukraine—is an enormous credit.”
Amid the ongoing global instability, Canada finds itself in a more passive role. Lawrence Martin (Globe and Mail) highlights the problem of Canada’s limited influence in the world, due to changing geopolitical dynamics and external events such as the election of Donald Trump in 2016, strained relations with China and India, and the economic impacts of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada, traditionally seen as a medium-sized power, according to Martin, is particularly vulnerable in this turbulent global environment and the diminishing of American hegemony has left Canada more exposed to global challenges. Martin suggests that the current Canadian Prime Minister has not been able to exercise the same level of international influence as some of his predecessors who had stronger international relationships and were able to exert more influence on global issues. “Mr. Trudeau gets along well enough with Joe Biden, but the President is consumed by other issues and is paying Canada little heed. A big hike in defence spending might help our reputation but none is planned by our deficit-plagued government,” according to Martin. “As accumulating global crises make Canada more vulnerable, the prospect of our being able to impact them is remote.”
US crucially needs to rally support for Ukraine and Israel amid common threats and adversaries. Jonah Goldberg (Los Angeles Times) argues that in the midst of shifting foreign policy debates, it is of utmost importance for the US to maintain its credibility, not just in its support for Ukraine and Israel but also for its broader coalition of allies. The traditional left-right political divide doesn’t neatly align with these debates. Typically, the right supports Israel while the left leans toward Ukraine; there is, however, a growing skepticism regarding Israel within some right-leaning groups. Goldberg adds that those debates inevitably end with a question whether the US support to those countries should be treated separately or rather in a connection, based on the common threats they face. He believes that both wars are part of a larger struggle. “Seeing both conflicts through a partisan lens just demonstrates how domestic partisanship can blind you to the bigger picture. These are two fronts in broadly the same fight. Israel and Ukraine alike are flawed but decent democracies facing enemies who seek to erase them from the map. Israel may be more of a historic ally than Ukraine, but their enemies are allies with shared interests.” Goldberg adds that NATO might need the US to help deal with the threat on its doorstep: “And we may need NATO if Iran opts to join the fray in Israel. Lord knows China is watching to see if we buckle.” Goldberg emphasizes that providing support to these countries does not necessitate deploying American troops in Israel or Ukraine, as both nations are willing to shoulder the burden of the fighting. They are seeking assistance in what essentially amounts to the same war on two separate fronts.
Western investment funds major Putin gas project as the war in Ukraine continues. Zoe Reiter (Foreign Policy) reminds readers that in July a massive gas extraction and liquefaction project known as Arctic LNG 2 commenced from Russia’s Murmansk. Reliant on international investment and Western technology, it had attracted significant Western investment but is now facing increasing scrutiny due to Western sanctions against Russia. Despite an EU ban on exporting LNG equipment to Russia, shipments of vital equipment from European and US manufacturers have continued throughout the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, totalling over 400m USD in imports, as revealed by customs records. The US had imposed sanctions on Russian companies involved in energy infrastructure projects like Arctic LNG 2, but the EU did not sanction Russian LNG directly. “Europe should be under no illusions about the price of its addiction to Russian gas. The first-ever stakeholder mapping of the Russian Arctic by Arctida, a nonprofit watchdog founded by exiled Russian anti-corruption advocates, demonstrates that businesses, political leadership, security agencies, and expert groups in the region are often closely entwined, and follow an agenda set by the Kremlin,” Reiter writes.
The project aims to enable year-round gas shipments via the Northern Sea Route to Asia, reducing delivery time and keeping it within Russia’s economic zone, with an added benefit of reduced ice blockage along the route due to climate change. The author concludes with advice for the West to accelerate its transition to renewable sources of energy and help others to do the same: “Western companies have helped Putin to build a carbon bomb, but there is still time to defuse it.”