I conducted an experiment on Saturday and it worked according to plan – which has left me somewhat dismayed as we try to piece together fact and fiction in search of truth concerning the war in Ukraine.
Bias In The Ukraine War And Why Travel Is Necessary
You see a lot of so-called “clickbait” on Live and Let’s Fly, but it is almost always concerning in-flight disturbances. When it comes to more serious matters, I prefer a less sensational approach. But on Saturday I ran with a story on Russian President Vladimir Putin ordering his family into a bunker amid reports that he had ordered nuclear drills. I also focused on the Russian doomsday plane, a “flying Kremlin” that can support the continuance of government in the event of a nuclear attack. I also cited western intelligence sources that Putin appears to be increasingly unstable.
I wouldn’t call it my Orson Welles moment, but “doomsday plane” is clickbait gold and the post was well-trafficked, as expected. However commenters, some Russian trolls and others more regular readers, noted the sourcing for the story was sketchy. Indeed, it was (even though Putin did oversee nuclear drills last month). And yet give anyone a piece of truth with some potential exaggeration and people are prone to believe it.
I’m not anti-Russian: I wish the Russian people would rise up against their corrupt leader. I question whether harsh sanctions and flight bans do more harm than help, even as I note that any change in Russia must be internal.
But I do have friends and contacts in Ukraine. The war is real. The destruction is real. Many have lost all their material possessions. Families have been separated. There is no evidence that Ukrainians were conducing ethnic cleansing in eastern Ukraine such that a Russian invasion was justified.
Sure, Russian concerns over NATO knocking at its door were not wholly unreasonable. After all, can you imagine Russian forces amassing in Mexico? It would be a no-go for the USA. Yet Ukraine had rejected NATO and was only drawn further West by hostility from Russia. Putin’s paranoia exacerbated tensions greatly, creating ties between Ukraine and the West that otherwise would no have existed prior to the invasion of Crimea in 2014.
And yet I’ve listened and read news over the last few weeks that is overtly pro-Ukraine. That’s propaganda too, even if it happens to support the side I am rooting for. It reminded me of the non-critical early U.S. coverage of the Iraq war.
I had a friend recently who visited Moscow. Western media reported that credit cards no longer worked, but his worked fine. Western media reported that the Kremlin had blocked Facebook, but it was not blocked, even without a VPN. Sometimes the West is just as guilty as Moscow in weaving together a narrative that we want rather than the narrative that actually captures the reality that exists. He reported that Moscow was surprisingly calm…as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
We see the destruction in Ukraine – those pictures don’t lie. And it strikes me as beyond belief that Ukraine would destroy its own infrastructure. Thus, placing the blame on Russia for its wanton destruction fully discredits its self-description as liberators.
And we have seen over and over how dissent is punished in Russia (just ask Alexei Navalny). Putin himself sent a chilling message to dissidents last week:
“Any people, and especially the Russian people, will always be able to distinguish the true patriots from the scum and the traitors, and just to spit them out like a midge that accidentally flew into their mouths.”
But even so, let’s not give up on questioning news and performing our own due diligence.
Travel remains as important as ever in breaking down barriers and better understanding people. Indeed, travel would give me a better understanding of the situation in Ukraine – something I desperately seek. More broadly, travel might show Russians that the Kremlin is lying about “nazi” behavior in Ukraine but also show us here in the West that most Russians are just trying to survive like we are.
Is Putin considering using nuclear weapons? I think that’s reasonable considering some of his recent statements. I’d also like to think he is still a rational actor and that if he does go crazy, an internal coup will stop him from destroying the world. But I’ve come to realize that as repugnant as I find Putin, we’re often getting sensationalized propaganda fed to us as well. That’s regrettable. That’s why I travel – I want to see things for myself.