The armed rebellion by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has been ongoing for nearly a year, and if you believe everything Western media says, it’s astonishing that the conflict did not end months ago. It does not have popular support and is propped up by Russian troops; but that effort, combined with sanctions, has brought the Russian economy to the brink of collapse. Well, that doesn’t sound sustainable at all. Any day now Russia will be forced to retreat, Ukraine will reassert control, the locals will rejoice and the war will end. But this has been the narrative for all along, yet the conflict persists. In fact the separatists are gaining ground, not losing it.
The areas in rebellion right now voted overwhelmingly for Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych, the pro-Russian president who was overthrown in February 2014. Before winning presidential elections in 2010 he was governor of Donetsk Oblast, which is the current epicenter of the rebellion and where he remains popular. It’s reasonable to assume that the rebellion began organically, that locals actually were upset that the government they elected and supported was overthrown. The Russian government does support the rebels diplomatically and almost certainly militarily at this point, but locals were the catalyst and the fight is a popular one.
Russia’s economy is also doing poorly. Sanctions by Western nations certainly are playing a role there. Media constantly tells us that inflation rates in Russia are dangerously high and that is a symptom of a collapsing economy. Inflation rates have risen throughout the year and were 17% in February—which legitimately is cause for concern. However, what the media tends to leave out is that the inflation rate has been growing about twice as fast in Ukraine, coming in at 37% in February.
I think the current Russian government does some appalling things and I in no way support them. It’s also clear that western media reports on the situation do not reflect the reality on the ground. I do not have access to the equivalent Russian media, but I have no doubt that what is happening there is simply a mirror image of Western media.
The media relies heavily on statements from one side’s government and military spokespeople. Essentially, the media has become an unthinking propaganda tool in the war. In this regard, there is nothing special about this situation. Media always parrots state propaganda in times of conflict, and we generally accept it without question. Let’s question it.