Understanding Conflicts in Ukraine

I recommend a 2015 – but still quite relevant – book on the international political situation in Ukraine by Menon and Rumer.* The authors provide a very accessible background on the history of Ukraine, and the evolution of contemporary relationships both within the country and internationally, with Russia, the US, and Germany, France, the UK and the EU. They help clarify a number of over-simplified views, such as any sharp East-West divide within the nation. They describe the recent crisis with Russia, in relation to Crimea and the Luhansk-Donetsk region in Eastern Ukraine, concluding that all of the supporters of Ukraine, such as the US and EU, see their own self-interest at stake in how this evolves, but not strongly enough to intervene or take a more active role, ‘leaving Ukraine to tackle its challenges largely on its own’ (p. 155). And that is where things stand today.

Ethnic majorities throughout Ukraine via Menon and Rumer, 2015

If you would like to better understand the political dynamics of this conflict in Ukraine, I recommend Menon and Rumer’s book. In hindsight, they were exactly right in their view of the prospects, and remain on target.

*Rajan Menon and Eugene Rumer, Conflict in Ukraine: The Unwinding of the Post-Cold War Order. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

The War on Information and the Fifth Estate

Peter Pomerantsev, speaking about the role of the mass media in Russia, coined a valuable phrase, arguing that President Putin was not involved in an information war, as much as a ‘war on information’.* This is certainly seems to me to be an apt characterization of the Russian President’s strategy in debates over Ukraine. His book, entitled Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, was published in 2014 (NY: Public Affairs). It now seems to be rightfully receiving a good deal of media coverage.

You can see the impact of this strategy on many within the Western media, who seem to be unable to say anything definitive about the conflict in the Ukraine – completely at a loss over basic issues, such as whether Russian troops and arms have crossed the border, when continually denied by President Putin and other spokesmen for the regime.

In such wars on information, the sourcing of information by netizens becomes ever more valuable. Rather than confusing the realities on the ground, netizens – the Fifth Estate – become ever more valuable and trusted sources of what is actually happening. Somehow, the elite press have put themselves in a position where claims and counter-claims disable them as they are kept from the actual fields of the conflict. Their responsible journalistic practices seem to have become easy prey in the war on information. For months, the NYT seemed unable to speak definitely about Russian incursions into Ukraine, although recent articles in the NYT increasingly make this observation.

We need networked individuals sourcing their own material, and we need networks of individuals working to synthesize and communicate this collective intelligence to a global community of those interested in making their own sense of conflicts sources of information.

Of course, I would certainly welcome thoughts on how to best cope and respond to this ‘war on information’ and whether it is indeed a useful perspective on the current illustration of being lost in information about Russia and Ukraine.

*Castle, S. ‘A Russian TV Insider Describes a Modern Propaganda Machine’, NYT, 14 Feb 2015: A6. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/14/world/europe/russian-tv-insider-says-putin-is-running-the-show-in-ukraine.html?_r=0

 

Also, see: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/01/putin-russia-tv-113960.html#.VN-PlSn2wQQ