Western media coverage of the Ukraine conflict has been so hysterically one-sided, and divorced from reality, that it’s probably only a matter of time before Iraq’s erstwhile ‘Comical Ali’ is brought out of retirement to insist that there are no Russians advancing towards the Ukrainian army’s front lines. Meanwhile, the actual fighting continues to result in a string of defeats for Kiev’s battered forces, who have already lost control of two major cities, despite unprecedented support from the US and its allies.
As American officials work with the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to craft a perception of Kiev’s victory against the Russian military, Moscow is preparing to counter with a harsh dose of reality.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on the heels of a dramatic visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev where, together with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, he met with Zelensky, testified before Congress that the goal of the Ukrainians in fighting their two-month-old conflict with Russia “would be to push the Russians out of the territory that they’re trying to occupy in eastern Ukraine.”
Blinken added that the administration of US President Joe Biden was providing “full support” to Kiev to achieve this goal. The Secretary of State added that Zelensky’s objective was to degrade the Russian military so that it would not be able to attack Ukraine in the “next month, next year or in five years,” echoing similar sentiments expressed by Lloyd Austin, who had declared that the goal of the US was to “see Russia weakened” so that it cannot “do the kinds of things that it has done [in Ukraine].”
The shared optimism of Blinken, Austin, and Zelensky comes from the joint embrace of a narrative of the Russian military operation against Ukraine which holds that the Russians are in the process of suffering a strategic defeat in Ukraine. But in a sign that this narrative may represent little more than wishful thinking on the part of these three leaders, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, had a more nuanced take, noting that if Russia were to get away with what he termed its “aggression” against Ukraine “cost-free,” then “the global international security order” that has been in place since the end of the Second World War would be put at risk.
Far from projecting a sense of optimism as to the outcome of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Milley’s statements reflected a sense of urgency that comes with the recognition that the war in Ukraine has reached a critical juncture.
The gap between perception and reality when it comes to assessing the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is a direct result of the confusing nature of the conflict itself, where a well-oiled propaganda campaign waged by Ukraine and its Western partners, both government and media alike, contrasts with a Russian public relations effort which is reticent to delve deeply into Russian strategic goals and objectives, let alone the day-to-day details of the fighting on the ground. The result is an information war where two competing narratives wage an unequal conflict, and perception is ultimately trumped by reality.
Some harsh truths
As the military operation in Ukraine enters its third month, some harsh truths have emerged which are altering how both the Russian armed forces and modern warfare will be assessed going forward. Few analysts — including this author — expected serious resistance to last more than a month. Indeed, General Milley had briefed Congress during closed-door briefings in early February that a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine could result in the fall of Kiev within 72 hours.