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Breaking Down War Propaganda
No, Vladimir Putin isn't declaring "war on the whole world"
The Telegraph ran a column by Lewis Page that declares that Vladimir Putin is “about to declare war on the whole world.”
The purpose of war propaganda is to convince an audience to support a particular war effort. In this case it is trying to convince the British public that the West should increase their involvement in the Ukraine-Russia war to provoke Putin into foolishly attacking NATO so that they have a pretext to directly attack Putin. They can’t come right out and say this up front, of course, so they have to try to slow-walk the public into it by pretending that what they do to Putin is blessed by God and not all that extreme besides, and everything Putin does in response is the very definition of evil.
On the one hand, I think that Page is correct when he writes:
But the possible Russian blockade would not really be aimed at the Ukrainians: it would be aimed at everybody else in the world. For a lot of people in Africa, rising grain prices could mean hunger or even starvation. There would be knock-on effects: not only grain based foods would be affected, as the price of livestock feed would rise. Food would get even more expensive in Britain than it already is. China’s new and rapidly developing appetite for meat and dairy would be more expensive to satisfy.
Vladimir Putin, ordering such a blockade, would hope to weaken Western support for Ukraine and turn Africa and China into firmer allies: it would have little direct effect on Ukraine itself.
The West has made it clear that regime change in Russia would be a desirable outcome for them, and that one of the goals in supporting Ukraine financially and militarily is to weaken Putin’s regime. So Putin’s response is to cut off the rest of the world from Ukrainian grain exports to hurt those governments so that they may back off their support for Ukraine. In short, Putin is trying to strengthen his hand when it comes to his position vis-a-vis the West in the hopes that he may be able to get them to back off their support for Ukraine at least somewhat. I’m not convinced that that is what will end up happening, but his objective seems fairly obvious.
What I object to is the characterization that this amounts to “[declaring] war on the whole world.” If the West funding the Ukrainian government almost in its entirety at this point and arming them to the extent that they’ve armed them is not a declaration of war on Russia then there is no way to logically argue that a blockade of Ukraine is a declaration of war on anyone other than Ukraine. Without western money and weapons the Ukrainian government would have already had to negotiate peace terms with Russia, as evidenced by the fact that they nearly did until Boris Johnson told them not to, or they would have collapsed with no money to continue operating at all. The fact that the West has not only kept the Ukrainian government in existence but actively fighting against Russia is far more provocative and militaristic than Russia’s blocking access from the Black Sea.
In discussing possible responses to Russia’s blockade Page writes:
One option, already suggested, is convoys. Warships from willing nations – who would be Nato members – could escort groups of merchantmen from the Bosporus to Ukrainian waters, guaranteeing their right of passage on the high seas. Any Russian attack on these warships would again be an act of war, a first attack on Nato…
Putin cannot make a first attack on Nato, as this would allow the US-led Nato armed forces to retaliate without being guilty of any escalation – and that would mean swift defeat in the Ukraine war.
This is where he begins to try to propagandize his audience.
In what world would NATO convoys in a declared war-zone being blockaded by the Russian military not be an escalation? How is it possible to say those words with a straight face? Page knows that what he’s saying is insane, because he turns around and explicitly admits that such a move would be escalatory later in the column when he proposes an alternative policy instead.
And sending the ATACMS is very arguably less escalatory than sending a Nato fleet into the Black Sea: indeed it’s barely more escalatory than sending the Storm Shadow already has been.
How can a NATO convoy to break the blockade be both not escalatory and also more escalatory than his preferred policy? Trying to apply logic to this argument is a pointless endeavor because the real goal here is to convince his readers that something must be done about the blockade one way or another. Yes, Page has his preferred policy, and maybe he’s even right at a tactical level about which policy is preferable, but his goal with this column is to convince the public to support any policy that subverts the Russian blockade by NATO and the West. And successfully provoking Putin into further escalation would merely be icing on the cake for warmongers like Lewis Page, and it may, in fact, be the entire point.
It’s getting very hard to understand what Joe Biden thinks he’s waiting for.
For a British writer to demand that the U.S. government pony up even more money and weapons than they’ve already given to the Ukrainians seems fairly presumptuous to me. What right does he have to demand that foreign taxpayers send more of their money into the Ukrainian blackhole for his preferred policy objectives? Joe Biden, to his credit, seems to be unwilling to risk direct conflict with Russia as I’ve written before, though I think it is shameful that he’s willing to sacrifice Ukraine as a means to hurting the Putin regime short of direct military conflict. So I don’t believe Biden will sanction NATO convoys to directly confront a Russian blockade in the Black Sea, but he has been willing to sanction ever-more powerful weapons being sent to Ukraine so maybe Page will get his wish nonetheless.
Regardless, either policy increases the risk that Putin will decide he has more to gain than he has to lose by attacking NATO countries who are obviously using Ukraine to try to weaken his hold on power in Russia. I would argue that propping up a government in Kyiv that is no less corrupt or dictatorial than Vladimir Putin’s own is not really a vital interest of the West in general, but is certainly not, as Barack Obama argued, a vital interest of the United States. Forgive me if I don’t believe that my tax-dollars should be spent on trying to secure Zelensky’s control of the Donbas region over Putin’s. If the United Kingdom and the European Union feel differently then I would suggest that they can waste their own people’s money over the issue and leave America out of it, but my advice would be to stay out of it and let those governments and those people settle it amongst themselves.