Russia and Ukraine

Three Short Articles on What We're Not Learning from the Mainstream Media

Ukraine and its hero, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Russia and its authoritarian strongman, Vladimir Putin, threatening Ukraine and thumbing his nose at the world. Good vs. evil. The mainstream media, even cable news pundits, all agree. It’s as simple as that.

But it’s not as simple as that. Of course, we condemn Putin and his attempt to reunite the old USSR under his rule. Of course, we condemn it. And of course, we praise the actor-turned-president, Zelenskyy for his courage under fire and his presence and solidarity with his people. Of course, we praise him.

But, as usual, our mainstream media and those cable news channels are not serving us well. We’re not getting the whole story. And we’re not getting it because the truth - the whole truth - strikes a little closer to home. And it says an awful lot about us, about our short-sightedness at best, and our complicity at worst.

Here are three short articles that take us deeper analysis into what’s happening, not only between Russia and Ukraine, but also America’s involvement in the region.

ONE. Palestinian scholar, Yousef Munayyer (The Nation, March 4, 2022), “On Watching Ukraine Through Palestinian Eyes: The rightful outpouring of support for Ukraine teaches us that the West can condemn occupation when it wants to.”

Still, even as it was easy as a Palestinian to identify with the scenes of bombardment, destruction, and refugees, the international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was totally foreign to us. Overnight, international law seemed to matter again…. The US also decided to rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council just at this moment… Then there is the regime of ‘restrictive economic measures’ that the US and its European partners have taken against Russia…. Even boycott and divestment efforts are being heralded by the West. The double standards don’t stop at nonviolent efforts. In Ukraine, the West is actively supporting armed resistance by both shipping weapons and glorifying their use. In Palestine, the West is sending weapons too—to an Israel government practicing apartheid. … When international law is enforced only when it suits powerful nations to enforce it, and ignored when it suits powerful nations to ignore it, then international law does not exist as anything other than an instrument of power. 

TWO. University of San Francisco international relations and Middle East expert (who we’ve hosted here), Dr. Stephen Zunes (The Progressive Magazine, March 1, 2022), “The U.S. Hypocrisy on Ukraine: We should condemn the Russian invasion, but also recognize that the United States has been violating other nations’ sovereignty for years.”

Though U.S. and NATO policy in recent years has contributed to the current tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, responsibility rests unequivocally with the Kremlin. It is an illegal war of aggression which has quite deservedly resulted in worldwide condemnation. Media coverage has been sympathetic to the civilian victims of the invasion and the Ukrainian resistance. Again, while it raises questions about why there hasn’t been a comparable response when the victims weren’t white, Christian Europeans, or when the aggressor was the United States or a U.S. ally, it is refreshing to see this acknowledgement of the horrors of war. There’s no excusing the invasion, but the double standards and hypocrisy coming out of Washington, D.C., are quite striking.

THREE. Political Science Professor, Lena Surzhoko Harned (in Dr. Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, March 3, 2022) with insights about Russian Civil Religion, Holy Wars: How a cathedral of guns and glory symbolizes Putin’s Russia.

A curious new church was dedicated on the outskirts of Moscow in June 2020: The Main Church of the Russian Armed Forces. The massive, khaki-colored cathedral in a military theme park celebrates Russian might. It was originally planned to open on the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, in May 2020, but was delayed due to the pandemic. Conceived by the Russian defense minister after the country’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, the cathedral embodies the powerful ideology espoused by President Vladimir Putin, with strong support from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Those of you who have attended any of my classes know that a great interest of mine is the influence of civil religion on a society, those unspoken yet deeply held values and mores imputed often by using religious symbol, ritual, and creed. This is a prime example of Putin’s manipulation of Russian Civil Religion for militaristic purposes.

How is civil religion manipulated in America for the same militaristic empire-building, exceptionalist ends?

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