Evacuations following the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Partisan journalism doesn’t help Ukraine

Western media must keep some distance from the conflict

Artillery Row

Water was still rushing over the ruins of the Kakhovka dam when retired staff officers began sharpening their pencils. “Russia must feel the consequences,” demanded General Sir Richard Shirreff in the Financial Times.

Mr Shirreff, a man who has written what he termed “a pretty trashy novel” about full scale war with Russia, was once NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Perhaps the rather histrionic title has made Mr Shirreff believe he is a kind of clairvoyant Eisenhower, because Shirreff would have no other way of knowing that Russia was behind the destruction of the dam. One of his “consequences”, incidentally, is for NATO to be expanded to include Belarus.

Western governments still cannot say for certain who blew the dam

Similar articles declaring Russian responsibility based upon scant evidence could be found in the opinion pages of most broadsheets last week — and, shockingly, in reportage.

It may be that the Russians are to blame. With the Ukrainians beginning the long-awaited counteroffensive, flooding a potential enemy approach is an understandable motive. Then again, as an analysis in the Guardian states, the dam is more than 100 miles away from the main thrust of Ukrainian activity and an amphibious, cross-river operation against entrenched positions in Kherson was always a risky, “low-probability prospect”.

Kyiv wouldn’t be without reasons, either. It was reported in December that Ukrainian forces had considered bursting the dam — if “enough to stymie Russian crossings but not flood nearby villages” — to disrupt Russian operations, even going so far to conduct a test strike with American-supplied HIMARS rockets.

In any case, there were no journalists present at the scene. Western governments — who have backed Ukraine to the point of damaging their economies and depleting their own stocks of military equipment — still cannot say for certain who blew the dam. Commissioning editors and reporters know this, but whether it be the destruction of Nord Stream 2, the missile strike in Poland or the disaster unfolding in the lower Dnieper River, it has become accepted practice for journalistic standards to be discarded when it comes to the Ukraine War.

Earlier this month, pro-Ukraine Russian fighters launched cross border raids into the Belgorod region, where Russian military personnel were captured and then paraded in front of a camera. Publishing or sharing identifiable images of prisoners of war is in breach of the Geneva Convention. Not only was this omitted in most of the coverage of the raids, but outlets like The Times became active participants in the breach by displaying the photos at the head of their reportage.

Most also failed to mention that the man who led the raids, Denis Kapustin, has a Schengen entry ban for being a Right-wing extremist. He runs a neo-Nazi clothing brand with the black sun as its emblem.

It doesn’t even work as pro-Ukrainian agitprop

The bullishness of the press has now extended to calls for Western leaders to overcome their hesitancy about Ukraine extending its military campaign into Russia itself. The danger here should be obvious to everyone.

Should the Russian military ever be in such a position that it could not stop a major advance into its own territory, the Kremlin would be forced to decide between its own obliteration or deploying tactical nuclear weapons. If they were to choose the latter, the pressure on the West to retaliate in kind would be considerable.

The path to nuclear escalation is clear, but this is far from the only issue — it doesn’t even work as pro-Ukrainian agitprop.

In November, from a single anonymous source, almost all major British outlets reported that Russia had fired on a NATO member before having to quickly pull the headlines when photos showed the wreckage to be that of a Ukrainian S-300 air defence missile.

A similar story may have occurred regarding the Nord Stream 2 bombing — leaked documents suggesting that US authorities might have had advance knowledge of a Ukrainian plan to sabotage the pipeline.

It is well established that Russian strategy involves exploiting the rifts and the tanking trust levels of Western societies — see the often quoted and almost never-read Gerasimov doctrine. So what possible good does it do Kyiv for Britain’s entire media apparatus to have been shown so publicly to be incompetent or untruthful?

Zelensky’s response to the Poland strike was to demand Article 5 be invoked, and he continued insisting on Russian responsibility long after conclusive evidence to the contrary had widely circulated. This playing out in the open dented his otherwise revered public image, showing him to be a potentially deceptive character — understandably deceptive perhaps, but deceptive nonetheless.

The naked partisanship by Western media — to the point of jettisoning journalist standards — is also contributing towards a significant and growing subsection of initially anti-war Russians becoming wary of the West and of the consequences of defeat. If you want Putin gone, these are the people you want on-side.

Bombarded as we are on our social media feeds, with gladiatorial spectacle of trench assaults and drone bombs set to an Eastern Block synth-wave soundtrack, it is difficult for a society a little starved of martial endeavour to resist the call of mass digital conscription.

If we want to maintain a modicum of faith in our information networks (and avoid nuclear holocaust), it is necessary to refrain from it. Alternatively, if the primary motivation of mainstream outlets is a total Ukrainian victory, they should at least be a little smarter with the propaganda.

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