Editorials, Opinion

Russia wages war on more than Ukraine

Russia has invaded Ukraine.

The news was not shocking — U.S. intelligence  had been warning of an imminent invasion for weeks — but it was no less upsetting.

Many of us fear this is the beginning of World War III. At the moment, this is primarily a fight between Russia and Ukraine, but it is the first land war in Europe since WWII. The international community is lending all the support it can, short of deploying troops to the frontlines. Russian aggression is the reason Ukraine has not been invited to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; if Ukraine was part of NATO, fellow member countries would be obligated to give military aid, and it really would be the start of WWIII. But we aren’t there — yet, anyway.

At the time of this writing, Russian troops have infiltrated the northern district of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and Vladimir Putin has signaled Russia might be willing to discuss Ukraine’s “neutral status” and he would send representatives to Belarus for a meeting with a Ukrainian delegation.

We aren’t holding our breath.

If there is one thing you need to know about the war over Ukraine, it’s that Russia is waging a war on truth just as hard as it is waging a war on Ukraine’s democratic government.

The most obvious form is the Kremlin saying one thing (like the statements saying it had no intention of invading, or that it was withdrawing troops) and doing another (like actually invading and the multitude of soldiers mobilized on multiple fronts). But it also made multiple attempts to fabricate evidence that Ukraine had committed genocide against Russian speakers in the country. In addition, Russian trolls are inundating Western news sites with pro-Russia comments that Russian state media then use to say Russia’s invasion has Western support. Those same trolls (and probably more) will also be flooding social media platforms with misinformation.

In short: Just because it says so on Facebook or Twitter, doesn’t mean it’s true.

However, since social media plays a large role in how many of us get our news, it’s essential that we become critical media consumers. NiemanLab has created a resource to help distinguish trustworthy sources  (https://www.niemanlab.org/2022/02/follow-war-ukraine/).

The other thing we must be aware of is the proliferation of armchair generals. Every politician from local government all the way to Congress will have an opinion on how the U.S. should be handling this conflict. And because it’s an election year, members of the opposition party will say President Biden is failing no matter what he does. Take, for example, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s statement that “Biden’s words have been ineffective, too late, and too passive for the current situation” and Rep. David McKinley’s on Biden’s “toothless diplomacy.” (McKinley added that  war would not have happened under Trump. However, given that Trump has now praised Putin’s attack as “clever” and “smart” multiple times, it’s unlikely there would be any U.S. sanctions at all if the former president was in power.)

Besides the fact the Republican Party has no “solution” beyond criticizing whatever Biden does, we must also consider that Biden has access to information, intelligence and advisors  these armchair generals do not.

Biden must balance the needs and safety of the U.S., Ukraine and all our European allies who will be most affected by severe sanctions against Russia. Biden has so far declined to cut Russia off from international banking — one of the harshest restrictions available — at the behest of our allies across the Atlantic, specifically because our friends would be hurt as much as our foes.

No president is above reproach, but undermining Biden’s foreign policy for domestic political gain does not benefit any of us in the long run. If we are to deter further Russian violence, Putin must know he is facing a United States and its allies. The U.S. cannot stand strong on the international stage and in the face of Russian aggression if partisan politics is weakening the nation from the inside.