Ukraine overcomes challenges and is winning at sea

Ukraine overcomes challenges and is winning at sea

CIUS weekly report on North American media coverage of Ukrainian affairs, 4–10 February 2024

Six publications (The Wall Street Journal, Globe and Mail, The Province, Global News, National Post, and Foreign Affairs) were selected to prepare this report on how 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 MMS 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.

  • The world and Ukraine: Russia’s military adaptability is a new threat to Ukraine; a new strategy can save Ukraine; the possibility of Russian victory in Ukraine threatens the entire liberal world; Ukraine wins at sea.
  • Russia at war: Putin ​​draws on Soviet propaganda techniques in Tucker Carlson interview.

Russia’s adaptability a new threat. Mick Ryan (Foreign Affairs) argues that the gap in the quality of combat adaptation between Ukraine and Russia has narrowed considerably. Throughout the war both sides have fought adaptively, “trying to learn and improve their military effectiveness.” At the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion, Kyiv had a significant advantage in this aspect of warfare. Today, Ukraine is still superior in terms of adaptability and innovation, with an innovative and bottom-up military culture that allows for the rapid introduction of new battlefield technologies and tactics, but Kyiv is unable to scale them up to its entire Armed Forces. Russia, on the other hand, has been a much slower learner due to its “centralized command philosophy,” but it has been more effective in systemizing these lessons at the level of the army and defence industry, and is rapidly closing the gap. According to Ryan, “Ukraine is better at tactical adaptation: learning and improving on the battlefield. Russia is superior at strategic adaptation, or learning and adaptation that affects national and military policymaking, such as how states use their resources.” Both forms of adaptation are extremely important, but the latter type plays a key role in winning wars. So time is playing in Moscow’s favour. According to the author, Kyiv and its Western allies need to take the following steps to regain the initiative: (1) “Ukraine must construct its own strategic approach to learning and adaptation—one that can complement its remarkable history of combat adaptation”; (2) Ukraine must remove the institutional and timing obstacles that stand between tactical learning and doctrinal innovation and training; and (3) the West should continue to arm Ukraine with modern weapons. With these changes, Kyiv can build on its momentum for victory.

A new strategy that can save Ukraine. Stephen J. Hadley and Matthew Kroenig (Wall Street Journal) opine that a war of attrition is a losing proposition and only plays into Russia’s hands. To win, Ukraine and its Western allies must follow an adapted strategy: focus military efforts more on defence; reduce dependence on foreign aid and strengthen Ukraine’s “robust defense industry” by signing more international agreements with foreign companies; build a stronger air and missile defence network: “Western allies should reallocate Patriot batteries from other parts of Europe to Ukraine and cooperate with Kyiv to develop low-tech, low-cost defenses against drones and other battlefield weapons”; and increase the threat to Russia’s vulnerable military positions in Crimea through long-range strikes and special operations. To make the strikes possible, Western states should provide Ukraine with longer-range weapons and F-16s and lift the ban on using these weapons to attack Russian troops and logistics. According to Hadley and Kroenig, this is important, because “supporting Ukraine isn’t an act of philanthropy. If Ukraine and the West falter, Russia may succeed in conquering Ukraine. Mr. Putin wants to restore the Russian empire—a revanchist ambition that may drive him to invade a NATO member. The result would be war with NATO and the U.S., something no one should want.”

Russia’s victory in Ukraine threatens us all. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (Wall Street Journal) emphasizes that the West must do everything possible to prevent Russia from winning. That is why Europe and North America must sustain support for Kyiv, keep NATO solid, and resist the Kremlin’s attempts to split the West. A Russian victory would sound the death knell not only for Ukraine but for the entire liberal world order. The only thing standing in the way of Russia’s ambitions is the courage of Ukrainians and the support of Kyiv by its Western allies: “The European Union and its member states have been Ukraine’s largest financial supporter, having contributed more than $91 billion since the beginning of the war, followed by the U.S.”; the Chancellor emphasizes that country-by-country, Germany’s military support is second only to America’s. Nevertheless, Kyiv may soon face a serious shortage of weapons and ammunition. According to Scholz, in order to prevent Moscow from winning Russia’s war against Ukraine, Western allies should take four steps. First, the West should continue to support Kyiv, with financial support complemented by military assistance. Second, Western countries must continue to move in a strategic lockstep on both sides of the Atlantic: “We must prove them wrong by convincing citizens on both sides of the Atlantic that a Russian victory would make the world a far more dangerous place. It would also strain our budgets while putting the freedom and prosperity of each of us in peril.” Third, the West should not allow NATO to be drawn into Russia’s war against Ukraine. Fourth, NATO’s collective deterrence and defence must be credible. Therefore, all member states should increase their defence spending. According to the author, “The only way that we can contribute to a lasting peace is by keeping up our support, unity and resolve. We must stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Ukraine wins at sea. Mark Cancain (Foreign Affairs) declares that Ukraine has won the battle for the Black Sea. At the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Kyiv’s naval forces were significantly inferior to Moscow’s: “The Russian Black Sea Fleet [based in Sevastopol, Crimea, by agreement with Ukraine—Ed.] was far mightier than its Ukrainian equivalent, consisting of the battle cruiser Moskva, five frigates, six modern submarines, 13 tank landing ships, and many smaller vessels suitable for coastal defense.” However, during the two years following the escalated invasion, “Russia has lost about 40 percent of its naval tonnage in the Black Sea since February 2022. In addition to the Moskva, Ukrainian missiles and drones have destroyed or severely damaged two frigates, five tank landing ships, and a submarine.” Of course, Kyiv will not be able to win the war with victories at sea alone, but in the author’s opinion, they have allowed Kyiv to achieve critical goals: (1) strengthening the political and psychological resilience of Ukrainians: “Defeating the Russian fleet at sea boosts morale among Ukrainian civilians and military forces. And as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky makes the case for continued outside support for his country’s war effort, he can highlight this success”; (2) enabling the redeployment of troops to other hotspots: “To prevent a landing near Odessa, Ukraine had to station an infantry brigade and a powerful armored brigade along the coast—taking 5,000 trained troops and 100 tanks out of play as fighting raged around the country’s two largest cities, Kharkiv and Kyiv”; (3) providing sea routes for grain exports; and (4) creating logistical problems for Russia in southern Ukraine. To build on this success: Ukraine needs better equipment and training for sea mine clearance; the Ukrainian military must improve its antisubmarine warfare skills; the Armed Forces of Ukraine need to be creative and find new approaches to fight enemy submarines; and Kyiv should build a modest amphibious capability “that can threaten Russian positions in Crimea and the Russian rear areas along the Black Sea coast.” According to Cancain, “Ukraine’s naval success is dramatic and unprecedented, but the tide of victory could ebb if the United States and other partners cut their assistance. If Ukraine cannot replace the munitions it fires and the equipment it loses in battle, Russian forces will again encroach on Ukrainian coasts and reestablish secure supply lines through Crimea. Were that to happen, Ukraine’s victory at sea could be fleeting.”

Kremlin leverages Carlson to shape its geopolitical narratives. Aurel Braun (Globe and Mail) analyzes the Kremlin’s strategic use of Tucker Carlson to advance its wartime propaganda agenda. In his opinion, the two-hour “passive-aggressive and rather bizarre interview” conducted by Carlson showed a “manipulative morass of distortions, brazen rewriting of history, and Orwellian inversions” on Putin’s part. The author also notes themes to consider, including Putin’s calculated messages of Russia portrayed as the “perennial victim, threatened by NATO and Ukraine, fearful of aggression.” At the same time, the Russian leader “blamed Ukraine, the actual victim, for the devastation it has suffered from Russian aggression.” The choice of Carlson, known for his close ties to former U.S. President Donald Trump and sympathetic views towards Putin, underscores the Kremlin’s attempt to influence American politics and promote isolationist sentiments within the Republican party. Braun suggests that this tactic may backfire, potentially raising concerns about Russian interference and bolstering support for Ukraine: “Using Mr. Carlson…is such a clear attempt to manipulate the American elections that it might just fuel new concerns about Russian interference and thereby harm Mr. Trump’s prospects with the larger American public and even boost Congressional support for Ukraine.” Braun suggests that the potential backlash from Putin using Carlson as a pawn in his geopolitical game may yet pose unforeseen challenges for the Kremlin’s information warfare strategy, potentially altering the political landscape both domestically and internationally. 

Canadian Conservatives need to maintain support for Ukraine. The editorial board of the Globe and Mail reflects on the evolving stance of Canadian conservatives regarding support for Ukraine amidst Russia’s invasion, highlighting a shift toward isolationism among some Conservative voters. The opinion piece affirms the importance of maintaining solidarity with Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, emphasizing Ukraine’s role as a front-line defender of democratic values against authoritarian regimes like Russia and China. The authors urge conservatives to uphold traditional values of international engagement and opposition to brutality, urging them not to waver in their support for Ukraine: “Ukraine is indeed fighting for us all, and for all that Canada and Europe stand for. Every Canadian, regardless of political stripe, should stand by its side.” The board reminds readers of past conservative leaders’ principled stands against tyranny, citing Brian Mulroney’s role in opposing apartheid and Stephen Harper’s firm stance against Russian aggression in Crimea back in 2014. The authors warn against blind partisanship and encourage the prioritization of broader principles which are at stake in supporting Ukraine: “The Conservative Party and its voters have good bones when it comes to calling out brutal regimes. They should not flag now.” 

Ukrainian general asks for Canada’s 83,000 decommissioned rockets. Stewart Bell and Jeff Semple (Global News) report that the Ukrainian intelligence chief, Lt Gen Kyrylo Budanov, who has urged Canada to donate decommissioned CRV7 rockets to Ukraine. With over 83,000 such rockets awaiting disposal at a military base in Saskatchewan, Budanov emphasizes the urgency of Ukraine’s need for munitions and assures their willingness to handle any associated risks. Despite concerns about the rockets’ age and stability, Budanov asserts that “we have no concerns” and underscores the critical value the rockets would add to Ukraine’s defence efforts. While Canada considers the request, Budanov highlights the dire situation in Ukraine, emphasizing the imperative need for any available ammunition: “We desperately need any type of ammunition we can get,” Budanov said in an interview. Ukrainian officials argue that the CRV7 rockets, though outdated, hold significant value and can be repurposed effectively to bolster Ukraine’s defence capabilities. The authors also portray the frustration of Canadian military advisor Kate McKenna, who stresses the importance of trusting Ukraine to make good use of the rockets and calls for courage in supporting Ukraine amidst the ongoing war.

Canada needs to develop a comprehensive national strategy to accommodate the influx of Ukrainian refugees. Donna Kennedy Glans (National Post) highlights retired general Rick Hillier’s concern over Canada’s lack of preparedness to accommodate the influx of Ukrainian refugees, expected to reach 90,000 in the next two months as the deadline on CUAET visa arrivals to the country approaches (31 March 2024). Hillier emphasizes the need for a national strategy and logistical plan to address Canada’s general housing crisis and overcrowded homeless shelters: “We have not had a national vision, a national strategy, and a national effort to make this (Ukrainian refugee response) happen. But we can do this.” He draws parallels to Canada’s successful handling of 50,000 Syrian refugees eight years ago, urging proactive measures to accommodate and integrate the incoming Ukrainians. Hillier highlights the urgency of the situation, warning of a potential crisis if displaced Ukrainians in Poland or western Ukraine become panicked about the deadline or if Russia achieves a breakthrough in Ukraine. He also underscores the need for strategic communication to garner international support for Ukraine’s plight: “What Ukraine’s missing is a strategic communications plan to explain to Americans, Brits, Germans, the Dutch, Canadians…that this war in Ukraine is brutal, it’s bloody, it’s carrying on…and why this is important to them.” 

Battle between liberty and tyranny. Dave Smith (Globe and Mail) argues that while many focus on the strategic importance of Ukraine in preventing further Russian aggression, they overlook the deeper moral dimension of the conflict. Smith contends that the war in Ukraine represents a fundamental clash between liberty and tyranny, with the outcome shaping the future of global freedom. The author warns against the normalization of Russian aggression and argues that conceding to tyranny in Ukraine would embolden authoritarian regimes worldwide: “Truly free people believe liberty is the right to do anything that does not harm others…Tyrants define themselves by their rejection of liberty.” Smith cautions against underestimating the broader implications of the war while urging Canadians to recognize the existential threat posed by tyranny and to confront it head-on: “Understand the war you’re in. The tyrants are coming for you. If we do not stand up to them, our fate is sealed.” 

Media Monitoring Service

Media Monitoring Service (MMS) critically assess dominant narratives, including a special focus on disinformation, in selected key Canadian and US publications regarding contemporary Ukraine. The purpose of MMS is to inform experts and the general public about how Ukraine and Ukraine-related events are covered and reported on and to alert them to contentious ideas and claims that may be perpetuated in the media to Ukraine’s detriment. Read more

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