Marking the one-year anniversary

As a news junkie, I’ve been on a seven-day high. As Friday saw the one-year anniversary of the start of the war in Ukraine, reviewing the year and predicting what is to come has dominated the news cycle. There was also a spattering of this weeks’ events featuring Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine, Putin’s speech about a parallel universe with Ukrainian nazis attacking Russians and scenes of support rallies and vigils starring the familiar blue and yellow flag.

What have I learned from this week of international newspapers, podcasts, radio, television and magazines? President Zelensky is still the master craftsperson of public relations. Despite that, he’s not likely to get the full military support he craves for reasons to do with geopolitics and the practicalities of transporting and using these machines of war. It’s also not likely this war will end anytime soon as both sides are far from the negotiating table. One pundit predicted that this could last a generation.

The most thought-provoking commentaries came from the weekend papers. The Observer editorial put a spotlight on the results of this week’s UN resolution to condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine and demand an unconditional withdrawal. The resolution was supported by 141 countries, voted against by 7 and had 32 abstentions:

‘Worrying, even dismaying, is the realisation that important regional powers such as India, South Africa, Ethiopia and Algeria continue to sit on the fence. Foremost among them is China. Beijing is becoming, or already is, a global economic and military superpower. But with power must come responsibility – and its refusal to condemn, sanction or publicly criticise Russia is inexcusably irresponsible.’

Patrick Cockburn in the I Paper offered a sobering thought for us news addicts:

‘Biased reporting is inevitable in any war, but in this case the partisan news coverage has tended to over-focus on the military conflict in Ukraine and under-report the risks stemming from a growing confrontation between a confident America and a weakened Russia.’

Maybe I binged a bit too much on this news cycle as another take away from the week has been a feeling of worried ambivalence – if that’s not a contradiction in terms. This came to me as I was walking down the streets of Cambridge as part of a march and rally for Ukraine. Noting that fewer than 500 people showed up in this thriving student town made me think that this war is starting to drift from the collective consciousness – that was the worrying part. At the same time, I was growing detached from the event as the message wasn’t clear and at times made me feel ill at ease. This march was devoid of peace signs and the main message seemed to be that we are ‘standing with Ukraine.’ Are we standing with them as they fight, as this war is escalating and as more countries become involved? I agree with this in principle but feel uncomfortably militaristic with their application. I also didn’t see any signs or hear any chants or even casual talk about the thousands of Ukrainian children being taken by Russian troops to Russia to be re-educated – Putin is playing the long game by creating the next generation of pro-Russian nationalists.

My head spins with these thoughts, and I’m not really one to shut down and become ambivalent. Like a typical addict, I deal with these doubts and confusions by taking more of the drug that started it. Back to a podcast…

Watching the Bear

I’ve been receiving the New York Times daily newsletters on the war in Ukraine. In the early days, I was reading every item, every report, every commentary. This was on top of other reports from television, radio, papers (The Observer, I Paper) and magazines (The New Yorker, The Atlantic). As the days turned into weeks and now months, I’ve been skimming the reports and reading only the commentaries, looking for predictions of when and how the war will end. By skimming, I’m left with something like a word cloud in my mind. This week’s reports look like this:

As for the predictions, I’m reminded of lines from Robert Frost’s famous poem:

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

Today, the New York Times announced that it was ending the daily newsletter: ‘The pace of news has changed from the initial furious days of the war. And so, we’re changing too. Beginning next week, we’ll be landing in your inbox three times per week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday.’ With this, the NYT is admitting that the war is dragging on and is less newsworthy given the international financial crisis, the pandemic fallout and climate change. In Britain, the news this week has been dominated by rising fuel prices and the shooting death of a nine-year old girl in Liverpool. The Ukrainian war seems further than the 1,500 miles between London and Kiev.

This concerns me. Other recent wars have continued for years and petered out of our collected consciousness in the West, such as in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Official conflicts over, they seem to leave behind anti-western sentiments and percolating terrorists’ cells. But these are problems western governments deal with, experiencing mixed results among peaks and troughs of public interest. The situation with Russia is different. In Putin we see an unpredictable leader, who conducts cyberattacks on foreign powers, imprisons and poisons his personal enemies and makes strategic military mistakes, which are covered up by propaganda. Above all else, Putin’s government, which doesn’t look like it’s crumbling down any time soon, has nuclear weapons – even the smallest ground missiles can destroy crops and cause illnesses well-beyond Ukraine – and Putin’s Russia could damage and is currently circling nuclear power stations in Ukraine.

This is where I’m at after continuing to read the commentaries. I’m afraid the word cloud has been replaced by a mushroom cloud.