The light shed on reality by the ‘old gray lady’, the New York Times, is becoming dimmer and dimmer. Its pattern is to produce a set of falsehoods and half-truths, all given the appearance of balance by CYA articles and new falsehoods reformulating the previous ones. CYA means ‘cover your ass’. In this way, the New York Times like almost all other Western media are the distorting reality on the NATO-Russia Ukrainian war’s frontline and of Kiev’s failing counteroffensive. They substitute ‘slow progress’ for no significant process, ‘routs’ of Russian forces for withdrawals with little or no accompanying combat, ‘piercing’ Russia’s first line of defense for approaching it, ‘one of the world’s strongest armies’ for what they were calling an incompetent Russian military on the verge of collapse a mere few months ago, and so on.
I have been researching and writing about the US mainstream media’s distortions for two decades, all the while noting that other states, including Russia AND UKRAINE, routinely do the same–sometimes to a greater extent and sometimes to a lesser one. There is nothing particularly new in this new cycle – a wartime cycle – beyond the scale. Since the NATO-Russia Ukrainian war began in February 2022, we were told that Russia was running out of artillery shells, Russian soldiers were had extremely low morale, the army was about to collapse, the Russian ruble and entire economy would soon collapse, that there are no neo-fascists in Ukraine, and that the conflict is simply ‘Putin’s unprovoked war.’ On this last deception, it should be noted that the Kremlin had ‘seen this movie before’: the time – the mid-2000s, the place – Georgia. At that time, as in Ukraine 2014-2022, the US and the West helped a pro-Western and anti-Russian opposition force to overthrow an existing neutral ruling group, trained and armed (Train and Equip program) the Georgian army, and was intimately involved in the state and military when it threatened pro-Russian minority groups located in semi-autonomous regions bordering Russia. Indeed, in the Georgian case the Mikheil Saakashvili regime brutally attacked civilian areas in North Ossetiya’s capitol with hundreds of inaccurate GRAD missiles killing 19 Russian peacekeeping soldiers). The NYT and other Western media then as now portrayed these events as an unprovoked Russian invasion.
We can use a recent NYT article as an example of subtle and not so subtle distortions of the truth regarding Ukraine’s always hopless counteroffensive (www.nytimes.com/2023/09/18/briefing/ukraine-counteroffensive-russia.html). On September 18th, the NYT published a piece containing the following statements, ones that can be easily exposed as dissimulation in the best traditions of fake journalism and our simulacra century. For example, the article noted: “Ukraine and its allies, including the U.S., may have set their expectations for the counteroffensive too high. Ukraine is fighting one of the world’s strongest militaries.” The fact is that Western and Ukraine’s publics were deliberately misled. There was no chance that, given the equipment and insufficient training afforded to Ukraine’s forces that they could have pierced Russia’s massive three lines of defense in the south to ‘retake Crimea’ and other such fantasies. In reality, the West is using a strategy of ‘attrition and wait’ till something changes on the Russian side and Russia’s war machine and/or regime collapse. The attrition and wait strategy involves mobilizing publics through fear, exaggeration of Russian goals and ‘war crimes’ (which are fewer than Ukraine’s), and false hopes. All this is used to facilitate continued expenditures and economic dislocation in the West in order to drag out the war and hope attrition, fatigue, accidents of history, something upsets the Russian juggernaut that is improving and building for a major counteroffensive once Kiev’s own peters out.
This brings up the second sentence in the quote cited above about the quality of Russia’s military. Up until recently, during the period of Ukrainian and Western bravado, NYT and other Western media were telling us that the Russian military was filled with stupid generals, unmotivated soldiers tricked into fighting and going to Ukraine, and an economy and society unable to support an effective military of such a stature: Burkino Faso with nuclear weapons, etc., etc. Now when Ukrainian casualties have reached a new high, Western weapons lie burned out on the battlefield, and Russian forces hold the line across a long front, now we are told that Russia has one of the most powerful armies in the world. Odd that. This is similar to the West’s claims before the war that NATO expansion posed no threat to Russia and that the threat was conjured up by Putin to facilitate his ‘fantasy of imperial revival’. But as soon as discussion turns to Putin’s ‘failed policy of aggression’ and evidence of its ostensible failure, Western officials bring up the greater threat to Russia posed by a NATO with Finland and Sweden as members.
Reading on we meet the following: “The types of routs that let Ukraine retake thousands of square miles in the northeast last year are rare.” This is a complete fabrication. There were no routs of the Russian army during the Kharkov retreat. In reality, Russian forces carried out a rapid, effective withdrawal after a brief conflict in which there were few casualties. The withdrawal included little combat.
Next: “(N)ow Ukraine has advanced and could quickly make more progress. They pierced Russia’s first line of defense in the southeast and recaptured small towns along the way.” First, in actuality, Ukrainian forces have not broken Russia’s first line of defense; they have not even engaged it, though they have approached it. If and when they reach it in something beyond a photo op and in any force, the fighting and losses will make those so far pale in significance. The New York Times is not the only Western mainstream outlet peddling this falsehood (www.economist.com/ europe/2023/09/17/an- interview-with-the-head-of- ukraines-defence-intelligence). The Wall Street Journal went so far as to call the line supposedly pierced, Russia’s “main” defense line (www.wsj.com/world/ europe/ukraines-next- battlefield-foe-bad-weather- 212a5f94).
That Ukraine’s forces have only approached Russia’s first defense line can be seen from the three maps showing what are really in some places — for example, leading from Zaporozhe to the Crimean peninsula — four Russian defense lines. The first map shows all three to four defense lines. The second map shows the first two Russian defense lines and the western half of the third line in the bottom left corner. The third is a closer look at the first and second lines.
Second, it is true that Ukrainian forces have pushed Russian forces to pull out of four unpopulated villages: Rabotino and Staromajorsk in the south and Kleshcheevka and Andreevka in the east. I reiterate: villages. Each is in fact a village, even hamlet, having a population of several hundred before the war—hardly amounting to ‘towns’. Rabotino, for example, had a population of under 500. Each village was destroyed in part when the Russians first moved in and in full as the Ukrainians moved them out. In Rabotino and Staromayorsk, much of each village is actually in the gray zone, so Ukraine does not hold the village. When Ukrainian forces move into the village’s gray zone, they get smashed by Russian artillery and ever ubiquitous drones, since there are no longer any structures standing to function as cover. In the two eastern villages, it still remains unclear if there are gray zones or not. This is not an advance much worth talking about, but worse still is the price of perhaps tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers expended to achieve these miniscule gains. It is instructive that Russia took an actual city a few months ago: Bakhmut. Even though its taking led to its being raxed to the ground, the great Ukrainian counteroffensive has not been able to reach the city, and if it did its retaking would result in massive Ukrainian casualties even greater than those Kiev’s forces took in defending the city. Of course, while the NYT makes something of taking small villages, it argued Bakhmut was strategically insignificant once it was clear it would fall to the Russians.
But the NYT attempts to CYA the unimpressive gains and falsifies the levels of Ukrainian casualties in doing so in this excerpt: “The gains exemplify the often grinding pace of war. Working through minefields without major casualties and wearing down Russia’s defenses with artillery simply takes time. It looked like very little happened for months because the battle lines stayed the same. But now Ukraine has advanced, and could quickly make more progress.” This excerpt is filled with gems of simulacra and prevarication. Now the difficulty in making these ‘gains’ are chalked up to the ‘grinding pace of war.’ Are all wars of ‘grinding pace’? Are there no successful blitzkriegs or rapid advances in the history of war? Why can Ukraine take several little villages unless the Russians wisely withdraw in the face of superior force as it they did in Kharkov and Kherson last year.
The article then returns to the ‘pierced’ Russian defense lines: “Russia may also have put its strongest forces on the front line, and Ukraine could break through the other lines more easily.” First, again, they have not reached the first defense line, and, second, there is no evidence that the first line of defense is the strongest of the three. This is included in the piece to keep hopes alive. Presumably, if Ukrainian forces pierced there toughest line, then breaking through the two weaker lines is a piece of cake, not forgetting, of course, the ‘grinding pace of war.’
EUROPE BOOKS, 2022
MCFARLAND BOOKS, 2021
MCFARLAND BOOKS, 2018
About the Author –
Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, www.canalyt.com. Websites: Russian and Eurasian Politics, gordonhahn.com and gordonhahn.academia.edu
Dr. Hahn is the author of the new book: Russian Tselostnost’: Wholeness in Russian Thought, Culture, History, and Politics (Europe Books, 2022). He has authored five previous, well-received books: The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021); Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and was a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group.