In reporting on Russia & Ukraine, media
A WALL commentary
When President Biden held his two-hour
conversation with his counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on
December 7, the American news media dutifully repeated
what the White House had released: a warning by Biden to
leave Ukraine alone — or else!
But didn’t Putin have anything
to tell Biden? Is there a Russian side to the matter?
Not as far as some media are concerned.
Take NBC’s “Meet the
Press” on Sunday (December 12). Chuck Todd
opened the topic with a sound bite of Biden’s warning
to Putin of “economic consequences, like none he’s
ever seen” if Russia invades Ukraine.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken then told Todd that
Biden and he, Blinken, had made it clear to their
counterparts that the U.S. was prepared to take
extraordinary steps to stop “Russian aggression.”
“Ukraine is important and we are resolute in our
commitment to its sovereignty, its territorial
integrity.” Blinken said. But even more is at stake,
he said: international rules. “One country can’t
dictate to another county its choices, its decisions,
and its foreign policy …. One country can’t exert a
sphere of influence over others.”
The U.S. and European partners had issued a statement
warning of “massive consequences” if Russia invades.
“We’ve been continuing to shore up Ukraine’s defenses
... and we’re looking to see what NATO can do, if
necessary.” Blinken added the afterthought that
“diplomacy and dialogue and de-escalation” were far
preferable. (You think?)
None of the administration’s tough talk was tough
enough for interviewer Todd. Among his questions and
remarks were these:
“Why hasn’t the action of Russia amassing troops and
terrorizing Ukraine been a trigger for punishment? ...
We’ve heard that rhetoric for seven years, through
three administrations, and ... Putin’s behavior hasn’t
changed …. If Germany were open to essentially
shutting down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, do you think
Vladimir Putin would pay more attention? Does he think
Europe basically is keeping the U.S. from doing more?
… Are European allies the ones more hesitant at
stronger action against Russia than what you and
President Biden would like to do?”
What would satisfy Todd? Surely not (let us hope) a
shooting war between the U.S. and Russia, which could
easily become nuclear. Yet if he had much interest in
preventing Armageddon, he might have asked Blinken
questions more like these:
- By what constitutional and legislative
authority do you “shore up Ukraine’s defenses”?
- If one country can’t dictate to another its
choices etc., why did the U.S. force regime-change
onto Iraq (with the avid support of Senator Biden as
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee)?
- Can the U.S. convince the world of its
opposition to aggression after launching wars on
Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Korea
and numerous other countries? Moreover, why does
Biden give military aid to Saudi Arabia, supporting
its aggression against Yemen?
- You’re “looking to see what NATO can do.” Is
that a threat of war? What has NATO ever done in
international disputes besides support the U.S.
government in war-making?
- The world has mechanisms
for settling international disputes peacefully.
Why, for instance, don’t you bring the matter to
the United Nations?
- Why is Ukraine America’s business? Consider
how fighting mad President Kennedy got when Russia
under Khrushchev meddled in Cuba and shored up its
- You inform us what the U.S. told Russia. What
did Russia tell the U.S.?
RT — the official Russian television network formerly
called “Russia Today”
— had this answer to the last question:
“Putin replied that it was NATO making aggressive
moves against Russia, including in Ukraine, and said
Moscow was interested in getting firm legal
guarantees that the US-led alliance would not
expand any further to the east, or deploy offensive
weapon systems in any countries bordering Russia,
which includes Ukraine.”
While Ukraine was the top issue at the electronic
summit conference, other matters came up, including
Russo-American diplomatic exchanges, cyber-security,
and relations with Iran.
George and Martha
On the same Sunday, George Stephanopoulos, chief
anchor on ABC’s “This Week,”
opened a segment on Russia and Ukraine with Biden’s
warning to Putin of “severe consequences”
“As Russia is poised to invade Ukraine, can President
Biden do anything to stop them?” George asked. Like
Chuck, he apparently did not think of asking any
Ian Pannell, ABC foreign correspondent, at least gave
a clue that Russia had any case: “Russia has
repeatedly insisted it isn’t preparing to attack ...
engaging in high-stakes brinkmanship to try to force
the U.S. and NATO out of Ukraine.” (Ukraine is not a
NATO member, and Russia wants it that way.)
Martha Raddatz, ABC White House correspondent,
reported that “Putin, I’m told by U.S.
officials, was equally tough. He did not back down. He
played the victim. He said he was the aggrieved
person, and stop with all this democracy.”
Did he really say “stop with all this
democracy,” Martha? Did any of you make any effort to
get the Russian side?
Instead, they interviewed William Taylor, former U.S.
ambassador to Ukraine. George asked, “Is there any
real mystery here about Putin’s intentions? He insists
Ukraine is part of Russia.”
Taylor did not know Putin’s intentions, seeing a 45
percent chance of a major war in Europe over Ukraine,
a 55 percent chance of peace. According to Taylor,
Putin knows it would be very costly, not just from
economic sanctions. A large number of Russian and
Ukrainian troops would die. Moreover, Russia would
lose its pipeline to Germany, so important to Putin.
Biden has ruled out war with Russia, but could he
withstand pressure from the
military-industrial-congressional gang? At their
extreme is the senator from Mississippi who suggested
“defending” Ukraine by nuking Russia — i.e.,
starting World War III. Russian diplomats were not
By Paul W. Lovinger, December 15, 2021