Ukraine legitimately defends itself by targeting Russian oil refineries

Ukraine legitimately defends itself by targeting Russian oil refineries

CIUS weekly report on North American media coverage of Ukrainian affairs, 5–11 May 2024

Five publications (Foreign Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, National Interest, Globe and Mail, and The Atlantic) 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: China taking lessons from Russia’s war against Ukraine; Ukraine should continue strikes on Russian oil refineries; Russia’s war against Ukraine undermines the world order; Ukraine’s security guarantees Taiwan’s security.

China has learned much from Russia’s war against Ukraine. Alexander Gabuev (Wall Street Journal) argues that Beijing has taken lessons from Russia’s war against Ukraine that are unlikely to please Western states. The overall conclusion is that the West does not possess the resilience to wage a prolonged war,  and China can take advantage of this weakness. In the author’s opinion, there are six key factors for Beijing to consider regarding Russia’s full-scale aggression against Ukraine. First, the Chinese government has realized how threatening corruption is to the country’s military machine, and so “in September 2023, China’s newly appointed defense minister, Li Shangfu, disappeared as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched a corruption investigation of the procurement system he’d led.” Second, Beijing’s expansion of its military-industrial complex indicates that “Chinese leaders are also heeding other lessons of the Ukraine war, including the need to prepare for a lengthy campaign that will require a colossal stockpile of munitions, missiles, and drones and the ability to produce them at scale.” Third, China recognizes the crucial role of drones in Russia’s war against Ukraine: “For now, the Russian and Ukrainian militaries are the only armies in the world learning how to operate thousands of surveillance and attack drones every day in real combat conditions. Through joint training operations with Russia, the PLA hopes to integrate those lessons into its own combat doctrine.” Fourth, Beijing has realized how important it is to ensure the security of the national economy in the face of possible confrontation: “China is much more integrated than Russia into the global economy. This makes Beijing more vulnerable than Moscow to potential Western restrictions, but also more capable of retaliation.” Fifth, China has used Russia’s experience in its war against Ukraine to improve their strategy for managing the home front: “Beijing has every reason to believe that a war framed as a defensive effort to prevent the split of the motherland will be met with at least similar support.” Sixth, China has been scrutinizing the West’s evolving commitment to Ukraine: “Two years ago, a US-led team of European and Asian democracies surprised the world—and themselves—with a swift reaction to Mr. Putin’s aggression. In year three, the fracturing of Western support is plain to see.” According to Gabuev, “The Chinese system sets a high value on history’s lessons. More than three decades after the Soviet Union crumbled, its collapse is still being studied in Beijing. For Mr. Xi, the event was a formative experience, just as it was for Mr. Putin. Beijing is studying Russia’s moves again—this time, in Ukraine.”

Ukraine should continue its defensive strikes on Russia’s oil refineries. Michael Liebreich, Lauri Myllyvirta, and Sam Winter-Levy (Foreign Affairs) declare that Ukraine should not halt its targeting of Russian oil refineries. Since October 2023, Ukraine has conducted at least 20 strikes on such facilities, aiming to cut off fuel supplies to the Russian military and reduce export revenues, which the Kremlin uses to finance its war machine. Paradoxically, as one of the world’s largest oil producers, Russia is now obliged to import petrol: “By the end of March, Ukraine had destroyed around 14 percent of Russia’s oil-refining capacity and forced the Russian government to introduce a six-month ban on gasoline exports.” Washington’s fears that Ukraine’s strikes would lead to higher oil prices are unfounded: “In fact, with less domestic refining capacity, Russia will be forced to export more of its crude oil, not less, pushing global prices down rather than up.” Moreover, Ukraine has so far focused its attacks on Russian refineries rather than on oil fields or crude oil export infrastructure. Kyiv’s precision strikes leave Russian producers with only two options: “Increasing exports of crude oil or shutting wells and reducing production.” Both options are painful for Russia, but increasing exports is less so than scaling back extraction. Targeting oil refineries achieves the same goals that the West had wanted to achieve through sanctions but failed to do so—“to degrade Russia’s financial and logistical ability to wage war while limiting broader damage to the global economy.” According to the authors, “Kyiv must take wins where it can, and a campaign to destroy Russia’s oil-refining capacity brings benefits to Ukraine with limited risk.”

Russia’s war against Ukraine undermines the world order. Andreas Umland (National Interest) argues that Russia’s war against Ukraine is a threat not only to Europe but to the whole world. By its actions, Moscow undermines the world order and threatens militarily weaker states across the globe. In his opinion, the results of Russia’s decade-long aggression against Ukraine are mixed for the Kremlin. On the one hand, Moscow has single-handedly destroyed the myth of its invincibility, lost Western markets, and prompted a fragmented consolidation of the Western bloc: “NATO and the EU have moved closer together; Western countries have supplied military and other support to Ukraine; Finland and Sweden have joined NATO; at the same time, the EU is about to start membership negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova and has granted candidate status to Georgia.” On the other hand, Moscow has succeeded in undermining the international rules of coexistence: “Although this was not the Kremlin’s primary goal, it should be assumed that these secondary effects on international stability are also in Moscow’s interest. Current and potential revisionist actors across the planet are benefiting from Russia’s subversion of the foundations of international law and order.” According to Umland, five violations of the fundamental rules of international order distinguish Russia’s war against Ukraine from other post–World War II conflicts. First, in 2014 Russia attacked a hitherto peaceful and militarily powerless country without any provocation. Second, the Russian invasion was aimed not only at the temporary occupation of conquered territories or inclusion of Ukraine in its sphere of influence but also at a final and complete annexation of Ukrainian territories. Third, since 2022 the Russian invasion has been a war not only for expansion but also for the annihilation of the Ukrainian state: Russia “aims to abolish Ukraine as a sovereign entity and eradicate the Ukrainian people as an independent cultural community apart from Russia.” Fourth, Russia is using its seat on the UN Security Council to diplomatically abet its war of annihilation and secure territorial enlargement. Fifth, Russia’s war against Ukraine has exposed the inability of the international community to provide effective non-military assistance to a state suffering from unprovoked external aggression. According to Umland, “Russia’s war against Ukraine since 2014 and its escalation in 2022 have shaken not only the liberal world order but also the European Security Order and the general international legal system. Russia’s attack is directed not just against Ukraine’s democracy but against the statehood, borders, sovereignty, identity, and integrity of a UN member state.”

Ukraine’s security guarantees Taiwan’s security. Jaushieh Joseph Wu (Foreign Affairs) disputes the claim that international support for defending Ukraine from Russian aggression diverts attention and resources from the task of standing up to Chinese aggression. On the contrary, supporting and defending Ukraine contributes to the security of democratic countries such as Taiwan. Proponents of redistributing support and resources from Ukraine to Taiwan underestimate “the extent to which the geostrategic interests of the world’s democracies are linked—as are the agendas of Moscow and Beijing.” Weak support for Ukraine in confronting Russian aggression encourages other authoritarian regimes to aggress: “U.S. officials have concluded that since at least the second half of 2023, China has been providing military support short of lethal arms to Russia, a significant shift since the initial phase of Russia’s war on Ukraine, when Beijing took a somewhat more neutral stance. China has clearly decided that it has a strong interest not just in propping up Russia but in reshaping the geopolitical landscape in Europe.” In the context of globalization, the whole world is “a single, indivisible theater in which the security of every country is intimately linked to the security of every other.” That is why supporting Ukraine in confronting the invader is crucial for the security of other democracies threatened by expansionist autocratic regimes. According to Wu, “With China and Russia in such close alignment, it is all the more imperative for democracies to act in coordination. To that end, the democracies of the world, led by the United States, must sustain their military, economic, and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The objective of this support goes beyond returning to the status quo ante in the European continent. By helping Ukraine, democracies can increase their relative strength against the Chinese-Russian coalition.”

Ukraine’s overseas conscription drive likely to have limited impact on war efforts. Lidiia Karpenko (Globe and Mail) argues that while the Ukrainian government’s recent mobilization efforts, including consular restrictions on Ukrainian men abroad, aim to bolster military manpower in the ongoing war with Russia, doubts linger regarding the effectiveness of these measures. Even though it was framed as a matter of justice and solidarity with the soldiers who are enduring the prolonged conflict, this policy risks alienating Ukrainians who are living abroad and may fail to significantly enhance military capacity. Concerns over access to government services, logistical challenges, and the disruption of lives for Ukrainians presently abroad underscore the complexities of the situation. While some countries have offered assistance—such as Poland and Lithuania considering measures to facilitate the return of Ukrainian men—others are advocating alternative means of support, like financial remittances. Opinions within Ukraine diverge on the matter. While some endorse the enforced return of Ukrainian men under the new restrictions, others suggest that Ukraine should instead opt to open its borders. This latter proposal would allow men who are avoiding direct involvement in the war to depart freely, asserting that they could still contribute to the nation’s well-being through financial support. Karpenko notes that in 2023 alone, Ukrainians residing abroad forwarded over $15 billion in remittances to support their compatriots within the country, underscoring the significant economic impact of the diaspora. In addition, regarding the backing of allied states the author opines: “More than just manpower, Ukraine needs more robust and consistent military and financial support from abroad to change the trajectory of the war.”

Ukraine’s presently evolved social attitudes make compromise with Russia unthinkable. Illia Ponomarenko (The Atlantic) highlights that the recent push for peace with Russia, characterized by calls for Ukraine to compromise and make concessions, is met with skepticism and decisive emotions within the country. Ukrainians view such proposals as naive, considering the Putin regime’s totalitarian and militaristic nature. The author notes that “today’s Russia is a neo-Stalinist dictatorship led by an aging chauvinist,” emphasizing the profound changes that have transformed Ukraine in response to Russian aggression over the past decade. The Revolution of Dignity (aka the EuroMaidan) in 2013 and ensuing Russian invasion marked a turning point, sparking a decade-long defence against Russian incursions. Alongside their immense sacrifices, Ukrainians have forged a new national identity rooted in freedom, democracy, and resilience, making any compromise with the Kremlin’s vision untenable. The author underscores that Putin’s ambition transcends mere territorial conquest, aiming to erase independent Ukraine as both a nation and an idea. Russian atrocities in towns like Bucha in Kyiv oblast serve as a haunting reminder of the consequences of yielding to Putin’s aggression. Despite the resilience shown in rebuilding shattered communities, the scars of war run deep, reinforcing the resolve of Ukrainians to safeguard their sovereignty at all costs. As Ukraine continues to assert its independence on the world stage, the message is clear: any notions of compromise or concession with a regime intent on domination are fundamentally incompatible with the values and aspirations of the Ukrainian people. “No concessions or compromises are possible with such a vision—not given the kind of country Ukrainians have made and fought to defend,” Ponomarenko concludes. 

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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