Rosatom fuels Russia’s military machine

Rosatom fuels Russia’s military machine

CIUS weekly report on North American media coverage of Ukrainian affairs, 7–13 April 2024

Five publications (The Washington Post, The National Interest, Foreign Policy, The Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times) 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: Starlink is a weapon in the hands of US enemies; how Ukraine fits into foreign policy in Latin America;
  • Russia at war: Russian trolls undermine US aid to Ukraine; Rosatom fuels Russia’s military machine.

Russian trolls undermine US aid to Ukraine. Catherine Belton and Joseph Menn (Washington Post) argue that Russia has intensified its efforts on the second front of its war against Ukraine—the propaganda front. Moreover, according to many senior Western officials, this line of confrontation is no less important to Moscow than its military campaign in Ukraine’s borders. Given the paralysis of Congress on approving aid to Ukraine, fuelling anti-Ukraine sentiment plays into Russia’s hands. The most intensive efforts to discredit Ukraine are made at times when Washington is planning to approve aid to Kyiv: “The documents—numbering more than 100 and dating between May 2022 and August 2023—were provided to the Post to expose Kremlin propaganda operations aimed at undermining support for Ukraine in the United States, as well as their scale and methods. The files are part of a series of leaks that have allowed a rare glimpse into Moscow’s parallel efforts to weaken support for Ukraine in France and Germany, as well as destabilize Ukraine itself.” The main priority of Russian trolls is to stop the supply of US weapons to Ukraine. However, Moscow also produces other narratives: discrediting Ukraine and its top leadership, encouraging American isolationism, and stoking fear about the security of US borders. According to the authors, USA is not the only target of Moscow trolls, but it is in the United States that their efforts are most effective.

Rosatom fuels Russia’s military machine. Lloyd Doggett (Foreign Policy) emphasizes that the atomic energy agency Rosatom is a full-fledged and growing partner of the Russian military machine. This state-owned corporation is both a source of revenue to continue Russia’s war against Ukraine and a tool to avoid Western sanctions. To this day, regardless of the invasion of Ukraine, the United States and its allies continue to do business with Rosatom: “U.S. operators of nuclear power plants purchase approximately $1 billion in nuclear fuel from Rosatom annually—or about 20 percent of U.S. demand for enriched uranium. That number would likely be even higher, were it not for a cap on U.S. uranium imports from Russia imposed in 2020.” Moreover, the nuclear energy corporation is continuing to expand, “with nearly 20 new agreements and memorandums of cooperation signed in 2023, primarily focusing on Asian and African countries interested in affordable nuclear technologies.” Moscow also uses the penetration of this state-owned corporation into other sectors of the economy in order to circumvent sanctions: “Rosatom recently acquired Fesco, one of Russia’s largest shipping companies, which accepts payments from customers in Chinese yuan in order to avoid sanctions affecting U.S. dollar and euro transactions. In November 2023, Putin signed a decree transferring state-owned shares of Fesco to Rosatom, granting the nuclear giant control over an extensive array of assets, including terminal complexes across the country—in Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk, Tomsk, and Vladivostok—as well as 37 ships, more than 170,000 shipping containers, and 11,000 platforms for container transportation.” According to Doggett, as Rosatom and its subsidiaries diversify their activities, “the company has become an unsanctioned funnel for high-tech products, not to mention for additional revenues, to strengthen Putin’s war machine.” Thanks to the corporation, Moscow has access to chips and other electronic components “that go into missiles, aircraft, battlefield communications, and other things that it needs to keep fighting.” The author concludes, “If Russia’s nuclear industry remains sanctions-free, it will not only undermine clear U.S. foreign-policy goals but also risk failure in U.S. efforts to support Ukraine’s essential fight for freedom.”

Starlink is a weapon in the hands of US enemies. Thomas Grove, Nicholas Bariyo, Micah Maidenberg, Emma Scott and Ian Lovett (Wall Street Journal) emphasize that Russia uses Starlink Internet terminals in its war against Ukraine. Even though Moscow has banned the use of Starlink on its territory for fear of losing state control over information, the satellite Internet terminals are being used by the Russian army. Some estimates suggest that the majority of Starlink’s orders in Russia “came from ‘the new territories’—a reference to Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine—or were ‘for use by the military.’” The Russian army uses satellite Internet devices to improve communication between troops and their commanders, as well as to provide “a way to control drones and other advanced technologies that have become a critical part of modern warfare.” Since SpaceX does not sell Starlink to Russia directly, Moscow buys them on Internet platforms through intermediate countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. SpaceX has the capability of restricting access to Starlink through “geofencing” or deactivating individual devices. However, so far such steps have not been taken systematically. Instead, in September 2023 “Musk said he declined a request to activate Starlink in Crimea, the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula Russia annexed in 2014, alleging that Kyiv wanted to use the service in an attack on Russian naval vessels. In a post on X, Musk said doing so would have made SpaceX complicit in a major act of war and escalated the conflict.” However, Russian Starlink dealers advertise on their platforms that “Crimea is no longer geofenced, and neither are the Russian-occupied regions of eastern and southern Ukraine, where Moscow’s troops are using the systems in their fight to grab more Ukrainian territory.”

How Ukraine fits into Latin American countries’ foreign policies. Hector Schamis (National Interest) declares that the Ukraine-Latin America summit in 2024 will be able to neutralize Russia’s influence in the region. This will be achieved by promoting political dialogue and cooperation in areas of common interest and implementing a shared normative vision. According to the author, “The formula for a successful foreign policy—with substance, significance, and results—lies in aligning the state’s strategic interests with the nation’s founding principles.” These elements make foreign policy predictable and consistent and inspire confidence in the state and government. Tensions in politics arise when tactical actions are chaotic and do not correspond to the fundamental values and principles of a state’s population. This is exactly what can be seen in the position of Latin American countries on Russia’s war against Ukraine. Schamis opines, “The problem is that Latin America’s anti-imperialist convictions are so often selective. So many overwhelm us with pompous rhetoric about ‘American imperialism and its lackeys,’ reciting what they learned reading Granma (the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party) while overlooking Russian imperialism and its penetration into the region through brutal dictatorships.”

Japan understands the stakes in Ukraine. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal argues that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s upcoming visit to Washington serves as a pivotal moment to address Japan’s concerns about its security amid the shifting global geopolitical environment. Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesperson for the prime minister, emphasizes that Japan views Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as not merely a distant European issue but as a direct threat to the stability of the Pacific region. This concern is echoed by Shingo Yamagami, a former intelligence chief, who draws a parallel between Russia’s actions in Ukraine and potential future moves by China, particularly concerning Taiwan. Japan’s substantial aid commitment to Ukraine, totaling over $12 billion and including mine cleanup and medical equipment donations, underscores its recognition of the global implications of Russian aggression and its commitment to fostering stability through economic support, sanctions, and humanitarian assistance. The country’s willingness to provide nonlethal military assistance to Ukraine and to consider transferring Patriot missiles to the US (the transfer would free up American Patriot stocks to be sent to Ukraine) demonstrates its commitment to global security. “This is a welcome shift in Japanese foreign policy that reflects the seriousness of the current geopolitical moment,” asserts the op-ed. “Japan recognizes that the threat to the well-being of free nations is global, which is more than we can say for some Republicans in Congress.” 

Europe should prepare for a potential era of uninspiring American leadership. Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. (Wall Street Journal) argues that given the debate over aid to Ukraine, the divergence in approaches between the House GOP and President Biden reflects the adversarial nature of American politics. While Joe Biden’s policy has been criticized for its lack of agility, particularly in light of potential early opportunities, the recent revelation of a “secret” Trump plan for Ukraine suggests a similar stance. The underlying concern remains Ukraine’s fragile position, with its government—as well as Russia—facing internal challenges. While both President Biden and former President Donald Trump’s approaches present risks and rewards, according to Jenkins the ultimate challenge lies in Ukraine’s ability to navigate its precarious situation amidst internal and external pressures. As the US struggles to provide consistent leadership, in the face of escalating global dangers Ukraine’s allies in Europe need to brace themselves for a prolonged period of unpredictability.

As international support wanes, uncertainty grips Ukraine. Laura King (Los Angeles Times) emphasizes that as Ukraine continues to fend off the Russian invasion, a sense of uncertainty has begun to pervade the nation. The once-taboo question of potential defeat now lingers, fueled by multiple factors that include dwindling international support, war fatigue, and the stalling of crucial military aid. As one Ukrainian citizen poignantly expresses, “Every day, we’re dying,” highlighting the toll that the war is taking on both military and civilian populations. Despite the ongoing struggle, King notes, Ukrainians remain resilient in their fight for survival, recognizing the grave consequences of a potential Russian victory. President Volodymyr Zelensky’s increasingly sombre tone reflects the grim reality facing the nation as relentless Russian attacks persist and critical infrastructure is targeted. In the face of mounting challenges, Ukraine’s ability to withstand the Russian onslaught is increasingly uncertain. The drop-off in international aid, coupled with logistical and strategic difficulties, presents significant obstacles to mounting a successful defence or launching a counteroffensive. While some successes have been achieved, such as increased domestic production of drones and disruptions to Russian military operations, the overarching sentiment remains one of concern and urgency. As Ukraine grapples with the grim prospect of prolonged war and mounting casualties, the need for continued international support, particularly from key allies like the United States, is more crucial than ever.

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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