Journalists, like the West as a whole, are failing to understand what is happening in Eastern Europe, and who’s responsible.
Russia’s stepped-up aerial war of aggression continues to kill Ukrainians with no link to the military; basketball coaches, primary school teachers, mothers and fathers, and children in their beds.
On December 29, an extraordinary aerial barrage — the war’s biggest to date — launched 158 weapons against the standard range of military and in-no-way military targets in Ukraine. At least 31 died.
The following day, Russia said that Ukrainian drones had struck near the Russian city of Belgorod. The Kremlin claimed there were as many as 21 dead. Since then, there have been almost-nightly aerial strikes against Ukraine, as there were last winter, using hundreds of missiles. The campaign has been enormous in scope and intensity. They reduce whatever happened in Belgorod to a blip.
Yet many Western media explained that Moscow’s attacks after December 30 represented “retaliation” or a rise in “cross-border attacks” following the raid (see here, here, here, and here.)
Major names in the news should know better, just as they should have known better than to offer similar reporting after Ukrainian attacks on military infrastructure in Crimea. This is notable — after all, CNN, NBC, and the Daily Telegraph cannot reasonably be considered Russian agents of influence.
It’s worth asking why news media employed this absurd language and, what’s more, made no attempt to verify the allegations (there are numerous analysts who would have told them it was nonsensical.) Later, it transpired that at least some of the damage may have resulted from Russian missile failures over its own territory.
Regardless, the misreporting is a distortion of the facts typical of Russian propaganda. Ever the opportunist, Putin immediately picked up on this, claiming that his forces were only launching attacks against military targets in Ukraine.
Everyone is familiar with this lie: the only reality is that Ukraine is defending itself against deliberate, massive Russian attacks with no military objective, which has caused the deaths of multiple thousands of Ukrainian civilians. It is already clear that Russia has been stockpiling weaponry to rain on Ukraine this winter even as the US and European Union (EU) stall $110bn in aid to the country.
Let us be clear — Article 51 of the United Nations Charter is quite explicit on this point: an attacked state has the right to strike military objectives, including logistical elements used for aggressive purposes, on enemy territory. We should add that the allies of this attacked country have the same right, either to supply lethal weapons for Ukraine to strike deep into this territory or to intervene themselves.
The other reality is that when Ukraine has struck Russian territory, it has only ever targeted military infrastructure. Even if they had caused civilian casualties, these are considered collateral victims under international law. Ukrainian victims are not.
There are two other reasons why this nonsensical story was picked up by journalists, without even using the conditional tense with regard to the supposed Ukrainian strikes against civilians in Belgorod.
The first is that, with rare exceptions, the allies have largely failed to emphasize Ukraine’s absolute right to strike the enemy. In fact, they belatedly did so afterwards, at a Security Council meeting convened by Russia, with robust positions taken by the Czech Republic, which was absurdly implicated by Russia, and which refused to take part in this masquerade, as well as by the United Kingdom, Japan, and France.
The second, and even more worrying, reason is that some of Kyiv’s allies, including the United States, have expressed their strong reluctance to allow Ukraine to strike on Russian territory — indeed, at the start of the war, it was virtually forbidden.
Now, however, the allied strategy must be precisely the opposite. If we want Ukraine to win and Russia to be totally defeated, military strategists agree that the only way to win is to strike deep into the enemy’s military structure.
The relative failure of the Ukrainian counter-offensive this summer and fall can largely be explained by the fact that the allies did not supply Ukraine with sufficient long-range weapons, or that their range was deliberately limited.
Not only was Kyiv’s ammunition insufficient, but launching an offensive using only tanks and infantry — which, incidentally, are fewer in number than promised — was likely to fail. Russia can only be defeated by the massive presence of combat aircraft. Although Ukrainian pilots are now being trained, none of the promised F-16s have been handed to Ukraine and none are being directly provided by the US.
Military aid is now more vital than ever. North Korea and Iran are supplying longer-range weapons in greater number than the limited supplies of the French Scalp/British Storm Shadow and the tiny number of American ATACMS (only around 20 seem to have arrived, whereas the US could easily supply 300 without depleting its stocks.)
If we want to disorganize the Russian armed forces and their entire logistical apparatus, there must be strikes far behind the lines. This is also important in terms of psychological warfare against Russia: many Russians, especially in the western part of the country, don’t see the war up close. As the saying goes, it hasn’t yet entered their kitchen.
Sanctions are certainly hitting the middle class — and much has been made of Russians’ concerns with their lack of eggs rather than the 370,000 Russian casualties of war — but still far too little. Ukrainian strikes on military infrastructure close to home would have a completely different impact on the population.
It’s high time that the democracies halted attempts to halt or limit Ukrainian strikes on Russia (remember the head-shaking in Washington over Ukraine’s drone attack on the Kremlin in May?), and made a 180-degree turn.
In the face of the Kremlin’s war of aggression, our own war aims must incorporate a strategy of massive strikes on Russian bases and logistics.
But this begs the question — do we really want to win? We’re in a zero-sum game: victory will either belong to Ukraine, and therefore the West, or Russia. There is no middle way.