By Nick D
Around the world, people have been rightly disturbed by images of violence emerging from the war in Ukraine following the Russian invasion. War is hell, particularly when it can be avoided, and ordinary people never win.
Putin’s actions should not be celebrated and steps towards peace should be supported by all progressive forces. By invading Ukraine, Russia has also violated a fundamental right of all nations: self-determination.
But explanations of the conflict in almost all mainstream accounts especially in the US and Australia have put blame solely on Putin. There has been no discussion of the rampant militarisation and aggressive expansion by NATO since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Most accounts fail to mention, for example, the amassing of 120,000 troops on the Russian border. As well as being a clear provocation and aggressive move, this also violated the promises of peace that were made to Russia by NATO in the 1990s.
The impact of unilateral US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) by Donald Trump in August 2019 is not analysed, nor the placement by NATO of advanced offensive weapons at many points on the Russian border.
Russia’s actual demand in going to war – that NATO not expand to include Ukraine – is not new. While this has been advocated by Russian diplomacy for years, it is hardly ever presented. It is never treated as a serious possibility, let alone a practical way, that this war could have been avoided – at virtually no cost to the US or NATO.
The reporting on the conflict in Australia, has been prone to such one-sided narratives. More striking however, has been the sheer scale of coverage both in the formal press and on social media.
Since the conflict began, the only story that has provided any competition for air time has been the devastating floods in Eastern Australia. In areas such as Lismore in Northern NSW, these have been the worst on record and it may take years for communities to recover.
The War on Yemen
Unknown to most people in Australia, Yemen has been under siege since 2015 by the United Arab Emirates (who withdrew in 2020) and Saudi Arabia. The decimation of Yemen has been carried out with the full support of Western powers. Australian support for that war includes 103 weapons shipments over 5 years to Saudi Arabia and former Australian Defence Force personnel are commanding troops and mercenaries based in the UAE.
Writing in October 2021, the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research found that, “Yemen, which has a population of 30 million, has lost over 250,000 people to this conflict, half of them to the violence of war and half of them to the violence of starvation and disease.”
In the same month, UNICEF reported on the ‘shameful milestone’ that 10,000 children had been either killed or maimed since the conflict began in 2015.
As of 31 December 2020, there were 4 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in Yemen according to the UNHCR. To put that into perspective, that is more than the combined population of Adelaide and Brisbane.
In the first week of the Russian invasion, bombs not only fell in Ukraine and Yemen, but also in Syria and Somalia. But because those falling outside of Ukraine are approved by the West, these remain basically unknown.
Levels of Coverage: Yemen and Ukraine
While the bombing of Yemen has taken place at the same time as the Russia-Ukraine war, it is unlikely that ordinary people in countries such Australia are aware of the destruction or sheer realities faced by people on the ground.
The primary reason being the vastly different level of coverage that the conflict in Ukraine has received compared to wars in Asia, Africa, Latin America or the Middle East, particularly when the aggressor is a Western country or one in their sphere of influence.
It may be said that these conflicts are not in Europe and therefore can be chalked up as ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ But even though many white Australians may see themselves as European, the reality is that Australia is a multicultural country located closer to Yemen’s capital than Kyiv. It also doesn’t explain the unequal level of coverage by the American media, which is based on the other side of the Atlantic.
Besides the media’s pro-NATO bias, another very real reason emerges through the various comments, freudian slips even, by journalists and commentators. The following are some examples:
“This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilised, relatively European city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen” (Charlie D’Agata, reporting from Kyiv for CBS News).
“These are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from Ukraine… They’re Christian, they’re white, they’re very similar [to us].” (NBC News correspondent Kelly Cobiella)
“The unthinkable has happened…This is not a developing, third-world nation—this is Europe!” (Correspondent for Britain’s ITV, reporting from Poland).
“It’s really emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed, children being killed everyday with Putin’s missiles and his helicopters and rockets” (David Sakvarelidze, speaking to the BBC).
Opposing All War
Russia is viewed by the US establishment as posing a challenge, or at least limitation, to US hegemony and its so-called ‘rules-based order.’ A key reason for this is its massive military strength and advanced technology – long considered the second most powerful military in the world. Additionally, hegemony over its Western European junior partners, in particular Germany and France, requires the active maintenance of the NATO military alliance led by the US.
Without a Russian enemy the contemporary purpose of NATO, which was initially established to crush the Soviet Union, is far from clear. Pushed on the outer by US hostility and under economic sanctions since 2014, Russia has maintained collaborative relations with other supposedly rogue, sanctioned states that are targeted by US hostility, especially Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and China.
Had the current war in Ukraine been ‘justified’ from the perspective of maintaining US hegemony – as was the case, for example, for the wars in Iraq, Vietnam and Afghanistan – then the picture being painted in the Australian media would be very different.
If the violence had been carried out by western-backed forces, such as the Australian supported illegal Indonesian occupation of Timor Leste from 1975-1999 or US backed counter-revolutionary death squads in El Salvador, then it is unlikely to have made front pages.
As the various racist remarks from the Western press indicate, the Russia-Ukraine conflict also differs from these wars because it primarily involves white, Europeans. Racism, plus the opposition of Australia and its allies to Russia, is the reason why there has been such pervasive coverage in Australia and elsewhere.
This is an obvious problem for progressive forces and the anti-war movement in Australia. If critical views are not pushed on a large-scale, then the consciousness of ordinary people will be shaped solely by one-sided and hypocritical narratives. If this remains the case, then we will remain in a situation where some wars are condemned while others are ignored.