Ukraine: Atrocities, (Mis)information, and Cold War 2.0

Red Harris #ukraine

For most people not plugged into geopolitical affairs, the news about the Russo-Ukrainian War may have slowed down on the timeline. With an initial blitz running headfirst into a brick wall of resistance and operational failure, the fronts have stagnated into a grinding slog, as Russia’s military looks to lick its wounds and consolidate hold over the territory it now occupies. Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has become a media darling and a living symbol of liberal democracy to millions of people. Multiple other nations now stand poised to join NATO. Russia has been hit with devastatingly punitive sanctions that have shunted them out of the most lucrative markets, and travel between Russia and the western world has been all but suspended. It is clear that a new global paradigm is manifesting before our eyes, though arguably it could be said that this is merely the geopolitical gloves coming off, and a formalization of what was previously an implicit state of affairs.

Accusations of genocide ring out on both sides, as Russia doubles down on its message of “denazifying” Ukraine, and Ukraine fires back with reports of war crimes in Russian-occupied territories. Russian anti-war dissidents and independent media outlets have been silenced, and Ukraine has outlawed pro-Russian opposition parties. In a confusing time, conflicting narratives have emerged. Is this a necessary war to prevent NATO expansion? Or is it a nakedly unprovoked imperialist invasion?

Under scrutiny, it becomes clear that whatever claims the Kremlin and its media fronts make, this war and its consequences are Russia’s cross to bear. War is the absolute evil of human life, make no mistake, and Russian forces have transparently targeted civilians. This is not just pointed out by state or corporate press, but verified by open source intelligence, or OSINT, a decentralized means of gathering intel on a given situation, verified by direct video evidence and eyewitness testimony. Countless moments of these atrocities have been documented for the world to see. Russian state media, on the other hand, speaks of Ukraine in apocalyptic terms, dismisses every atrocity as being perpetuated by “crisis actors”, and denies the legitimacy of Ukraine’s very existence as an independent nation, while the bodies of their own dead soldiers are quietly shipped home, if they ever come home at all. These narratives have spread beyond their own borders, and come to dominate the western far right, as well as many Marxist-Leninist circles.

This is not to say that Ukraine is entirely without sin. The Azov Battalion, an infamous Ukrainian national guard regiment with neonazi symbols and members, has been documented greasing their bullets with pig fat before going into battle against Muslim Chechen soldiers. President Zelensky has called repeatedly for NATO to institute a No-Fly Zone, a decision that would precipitate a drastic escalation of the conflict and possibly lead to a third world war. Anyone who refuses conscription is imprisoned or worse. And, lest it be forgotten, Ukrainian border guards have repeatedly and openly discriminated against nonwhite (and especially African and MENA) residents attempting to flee an active warzone. These are acts for which those responsible must face fair consequences.

But Russia shall not be the judge, jury, and executioner. For whatever problems Ukraine may have, Russia will not solve them, certainly not with atrocities of its own. The far-right ethnonationalist philosophy of Eurasianism has taken hold in the Russian government and guides Putin’s foreign policy, and Russia regularly deploys neonazi militias of its own abroad. If moral prescriptions must be applied, then there may not be a “good” side in this conflict, but there certainly is a bad one.

Do not get easily swept up into the manufacturing consent machine of an imperialist power. Think critically about what media and informational sources you engage with. It is paramount to do so in an age such as this. What may be the last hurrah of American geopolitical relevance is dawning as a result of Russia’s new status as a pariah state, and the narratives coming out of this conflict will have direct generational repercussions for tens of millions of people.

Solidarity with the victims of imperialist aggression everywhere.