Europe would help significantly by sending troops to Ukraine

Europe would help significantly by sending troops to Ukraine

CIUS weekly report on North American media coverage of Ukrainian affairs, 21–27 April 2024

Five publications (The National Interest, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, National Post, and The Globe and Mail) 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: Europe should send troops to Ukraine;
  • Russia at war: Russia’s shadow fleet creates strange allies; potential successors to Vladimir Putin; Putin’s regime is fragile; Canada needs to step up support for Russia’s pro-democracy political prisoner. 

Europe should send troops to Ukraine. Alex Crowther, Jahara Matisek and Phillips P. O’Brien (Foreign Affairs) are convinced that the deployment of European troops in Ukraine could stop the Russian aggression. At the end of February, the French President Emmanuel Macron broke the taboo on voicing the idea of sending European troops to Ukraine. Later, his suggestion was supported by other European officials. These statements indicate the growth of a bloc of states that are ready for direct European intervention in Russia’s war against Ukraine. This is a positive development, because European leaders “cannot afford to let American political dysfunction dictate European security.” And Moscow’s victory would only encourage it to further escalate violence in Europe: “A Russian victory in Ukraine would vindicate President Vladimir Putin’s revisionist ambitions and belief in the inherent weakness of the West. It would enable the Kremlin to keep Russia on a war footing—an all-of-society approach to conquest that European countries would be unable to match.” According to the authors, Moscow’s threats to start World War III if the Western allies send troops to Ukraine are simply a bluff: “Ultimately, Russia cannot afford to fight multiple European countries at once, much less start a nuclear war. Tellingly, the countries that are most likely to be targeted in a nuclear attack—those that border Russia, particularly Poland and the Baltic states—are the least concerned about that prospect but rightly fear the aggression of a reconstituted conventional Russian military, buoyed by success in Ukraine.” The deployment of European forces in Ukraine would allow Kyiv to reduce pressure on its troops and increase their effectiveness in key areas. Europe could take over non-combat functions, such as maintenance and repair of military equipment, training of Ukrainian troops, strengthening of Ukraine’s air defence capabilities, protection of critical infrastructure, patrolling of Ukrainian border areas, etc. According to the authors, European leaders “must make it clear to Russia that Europe is willing to protect Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. Accepting the dire reality of the situation in Ukraine and addressing it now is better than leaving a door open for Russia to accelerate its imperial advance.”

Russia’s shadow fleet creates strange allies. Elisabeth Braw (Foreign Policy) emphasizes that NATO and environmental NGOs can become allies in fighting Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Russia uses a so-called “shadow fleet” to circumvent Western sanctions and export its oil to China, India, and other countries. Shadowy Russian vessels leave the Baltic Sea ports and head for the Atlantic through the Great Belt. Since many of them refuse pilotage, the risk of accidents is enormous: “Last month, the shadow oil tanker Andromeda Star, which is, as is normal for shadow vessels, managed by an obscure firm and was sold to undisclosed buyers at the end of 2023, hit a cargo vessel just off the coast of Denmark.” However, neither Denmark nor any other Scandinavian states can ban the entry of these risky vessels. In the event of an accident, it is the Scandinavian countries that would be forced to spend their taxpayers’ money on environmental revitalization, as the shadow fleet is not insured by recognized international insurance companies. According to the author, “Oil spills caused by a hostile country illegally operating merchant vessels are not a military attack. But the vessels are indisputably harmful not just to Sweden and Denmark but also to Finland, Estonia, Norway, and other NATO member states whose waters they traverse.” Even more, “Russia could instruct shadow vessels to deliberately cause harm—a cheap and easy way of hurting NATO member states.” Crimes against nature are not the Alliance’s responsibility, but they are a focus for environmental organizations. This is what can unite such different institutions: “NATO and Greenpeace would be highly unlikely to officially join forces, but both want the dirty boats gone.” Environmental CSOs could help “by identifying and outing the shadowy entities that own the shadow vessels. (Such shaming would convince many a shadowy owner that the shadow fleet isn’t worth the effort.) And analysts at NATO, Greenpeace, and beyond could send the International Maritime Organization (IMO) details about suspected shadow vessels.” Armed with such data, the IMO could create a blacklist of ships belonging to the shadow fleet. According to Braw, “New national security threats will, in fact, require NATO to become more agile. It can’t respond to every threat, of course; it’s a military alliance, after all. But with galling violations that cause concrete harm to member states, NATO can intervene—together with novel allies.”

Is there an “enlightened” alternative to Putin? Andrew C. Kuchins and Chris Monday (National Interest) continue their series of articles on who could succeed Russian President Vladimir Putin. The first article was devoted to the possible semi-dynastic succession of Putin’s cousin, Anna Putina Tsivilyova. The second article considered the possibility of a hardline succession featuring the chairman of the Russian Federation’s National Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, or his son. In this article, the authors discuss the possibility of moderate Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin leading Russia. According to the authors, it is a mistake to assume that Russia is ruled exclusively by representatives of the security services. Technocrats are also influential actors, especially those in charge of the economy. The COVID pandemic, Russia’s war against Ukraine, and Western sanctions have only increased their influence in the Russian establishment: “Covid shutdowns and wartime disruptions have meant that they dole out massive state subsidies. Increasingly, Russian businesses and the military depend on the whims of the Kremlin’s civilian ministries.” Moreover, “While Russia’s military leaders have clearly underperformed, Russia’s financial wizards can boast of unqualified successes.” Despite Western sanctions, Russia’s economy is growing, supermarkets are still full, military production has increased significantly, and the ruble remains stable. Mikhail Mishustin has played a key role in stabilizing the Russian economy during the pandemic and the “special military operation”, allowing him to demonstrate his dissatisfaction with Russia’s war against Ukraine. Some even call him “the informal leader of the moderate peacenik faction.” According to Kuchins and Monday, there are three key qualities that allow Mishustin to feel comfortable in Russia’s governance system: “(1) he is very sociable, a born networker, and an excellent public speaker; (2) he is exceptionally bright and multitalented; and (3) he keeps his own political views to himself.” Since his appointment as Prime Minister, Mishustin has strengthened his portfolio of competencies through his presence on Russian state news: “Heading cabinet meetings, he cuts a dignified figure. Few broadcasts go by without a clip of Mishustin deliberating on pensions, health care, car insurance, veteran compensations, maternity benefits, minimum wages, and business subsidies. For everyday Russians, these topics are vital. While Mishustin methodically talks, other ministers dutifully listen, taking notes.” He also has access to Putin’s elite hockey club: “Mishustin has gained access to the highest rungs of power, including the intelligence services. Here, Mishustin could strengthen his ties, especially with the more hawkish siloviki, members of the Russian political elite from the military, security, and intelligence services.” According to the authors, among the conventionally liberal representatives of the Russian establishment, Mikhail Mishustin has the best chance of leading Russia after Putin. However, “it’s not clear Mishustin would even be a moderating force. We know as much today about what Mishustin really thinks as we did about Vladimir Putin in 1999.”

Putin’s regime is fragile. Maksim Samorukov (Foreign Affairs) emphasizes that President Vladimir Putin’s regime is more fragile than it seems. Russia has recovered from its first military defeats in Ukraine, adapted to Western sanctions, found new markets, and developed a military-industrial complex that produces more weapons than the whole of Europe. However, these external signs are not indicative of a strong or monolithic regime. In the author’s opinion, Putin’s Russia is now more vulnerable than ever: “Since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Russian political elite have grown more pliant in implementing Putin’s orders and more obsequious in pandering to his paranoid worldview.” The Kremlin regime makes decisions in a personalized and arbitrary way that lacks even basic quality controls. The cost of these structural deficiencies is growing every day: “Even a horrific terrorist attack by the Islamic State (or ISIS-K) at a concert hall on the outskirts of Moscow on March 22—killing 145 civilians—failed to make the Russian leadership reconsider its priorities.” According to Samorukov, the trends in modern Russia are to some extent identical to those that existed in the USSR shortly before its collapse: “There were no long-term trends that made the Soviet breakup inevitable. Rather, a relatively stable state was toppled by a series of decisions made at the very top and uncritically implemented by a system devoid of checks and balances.” Of course, Vladimir Putin is very different from Sergei Gorbachev, but what they have in common is “ability to impose his personal vision on the Russian state,” regardless of whether it is adequate or not. According to the author, “Putin’s regime, a highly personalized system run by an ageing autocrat, is more brittle than it seems. Driven by Putin’s whims and delusions, Moscow is liable to commit self-defeating blunders. The Russian state effectively implements orders from the top, but it has no control over the quality of those orders. For that reason, it is at permanent risk of crumbling overnight, as its Soviet predecessor did three decades ago.”

Republican Speaker defies party to secure billions in foreign aid. Kelly McParland (National Post) argues that in a surprising display of bipartisanship, Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson defied his party’s obstructionist tendencies and passed crucial foreign aid bills totaling 95 billion for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Despite facing fierce opposition and even threats to his position, Johnson’s principled manoeuvring, which included garnering support from Democrats, secured the much-needed aid. As McParland indicates, “Johnson’s measures succeeded thanks to the backing of Democrats, who provided the extra votes needed to foil efforts by his Republican colleagues to scuttle the initiative.” This unexpected cooperation highlights a departure from the typical partisan gridlock, signalling a potential shift towards a more responsible approach to governance. Johnson’s success in passing these aid bills demonstrates the potential for effective leadership to transcend partisan divides, even within a fairly polarised political climate. However, the author believes that while Johnson’s victory offers a glimmer of hope, it also underscores the ongoing challenges and divisions within the Republican Party, suggesting that such moments of unity may be fleeting amidst the broader political landscape.

House passage of aid package reveals GOP divisions, challenges conservative politics. David Shribman (Globe and Mail) highlights that the April 20 the passage of legislation for aid to Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific in the House of Representatives revealed deep divisions within the Republican Party and underscored the complexities of contemporary conservative politics. “The unexpected fallout from the week’s rancour and resentment: Republican regulars now themselves are in rebellion as well,” according to the author. He adds that Speaker Mike Johnson’s strategic manoeuvring to secure bipartisan support for the aid package incurred both credits and debits, as he defied expectations and faced backlash from within his own party. While Johnson’s leadership was praised for its rare display of moral defiance and strategic negotiation, his implicit deal with Democrats raised concerns among conservatives about the potential concessions and compromises made to secure the aid package. The rebellion within the Republican ranks, particularly among firebrands and moderates, reflects a broader struggle within the party over ideological purity versus pragmatic governance, reminiscent of historical divisions that have shaped American politics, Shribman concludes. “This internecine fight among conservatives led firebrands to renew their assaults on the conventions of American politics and led moderate and establishment figures to express frustration that the Republicans were undermining their own credibility as governing leaders.” 

Canada needs to step up support for Russia’s pro-democracy political prisoner Kara-Murza. Brandon Silver, Irwin Cotler, and Bill Browder (Globe and Mail) emphasize that Russian democratic opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza’s dire health situation and impending transfer to Moscow for a sham hearing underscore the ongoing persecution faced by critics of Vladimir Putin’s regime. “His doctors warn that he will not survive another year without proper medical treatment, which Vladimir Putin’s regime is denying as part of a slow-moving, torturous assassination.” Kara-Murza, an emblem of democracy and justice in Russia, faces grave risks, with his imprisonment and deteriorating health serving as proof of the authoritarian crackdown on dissent, according to the authors. Kara-Murza, in their opinion, represents all those who have faced persecution for opposing Putin’s aggressive actions and atrocities against Ukrainians, which have persisted for going on three years. Achieving success in Ukraine hinges not only on increased military and economic aid but also on ensuring the survival of Russian pro-democracy figures like Mr. Kara-Murza. Their endurance is crucial for the eventual rebuilding of democracy in a post-Putin Russia. The authors suggest a few steps that Canada and other allies could take to increase Kara-Murza’s chances of survival. They call on Ottawa to take immediate action to support Kara-Murza and advocate for his release. In 2023, for his many contributions to Canada, Parliament unanimously awarded him honorary citizenship. The authors suggest hosting an honorary citizenship ceremony, with a joint session of Parliament featuring Kara-Murza’s wife Evgenia as his proxy. This, in their opinion, would provide vital visibility and potentially life-saving attention to his plight. Secondly, Canada should expand sanctions against individuals complicit in his imprisonment and pressure allies to do the same, targeting those responsible for perpetuating Putin’s repressive regime. Lastly, the Canadian government must urge Washington to designate Kara-Murza as unlawfully detained and coordinate with allies to secure his freedom. The authors conclude that Vladimir Kara-Murza has “long stood for a brighter future for us all. Now we must stand for him.” 

NATO’s defence spending ought to prioritize nations in need. Doug Sanders (Globe and Mail) argues that the recent military spending announcements from Washington and Ottawa have highlighted a stark divergence in approaches to defence strategy: one rooted in traditional notions of warfare and another attuned to the pressing needs of the 2020s. “Military spending is now primarily a matter of buying arms and munitions to supply other countries engaged in wars we will not join, rather than building up domestic forces for our own defence,” Sanders underscores. This shift is exemplified by the U.S. Congress decision to allocate $61 billion for military support to Ukraine, reflecting a recognition of the evolving nature of military threats in today’s world. The insistence on meeting what the author calls an outdated two percent of GDP target for defence spending, as mandated by NATO, is questioned in light of the current geopolitical landscape. When Vladimir Putin annexed Crimean peninsula in 2014, many NATO countries and analysts concluded that he had successfully modernized his military to the point that Russia was capable of overtaking all of Ukraine and seizing parts of adjoining European Union countries. “This assumption led NATO that year to turn its 2006 napkin-scribble spending guideline—that its member states should devote 2 percent of their GDP to their own militaries—into a requirement,” Sanders writes. In its recent budget announcement, the Trudeau government pledged an additional $8.1 billion for its Armed Forces over the next five years. While this includes vital investments in submarines and surveillance equipment, a significant portion will be allocated to cover labour costs. Canada’s military commander General Wayne Eyre noted that meeting these new commitments will require recruiting 30,000 more troops “at a time when Canada is having such a hard time finding recruits that it has allowed immigrants to join the military before they have full citizenship.” This effort to meet the 2-per-cent target agreed upon by NATO may prioritize meeting alliance expectations over addressing Canada’s specific defence needs. What needs to improve, according to Sanders, is “investment in, and coordination of, industrial production of supplies for export.” While NATO countries possess formidable military capabilities, there is a growing recognition of the importance of supporting other nations’ defence needs rather than solely focusing on bolstering domestic forces. This underscores a paradigm shift toward a more collaborative and adaptive approach to collective defence, emphasizing strategic investments in global security.

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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