Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 1 March 2022


Threat to Europe is real: Zelensky


In the interview with Reuters and CNN, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia represents a real threat to Europe.

“It is very important to know that if Ukraine falls, then all these (Russian) troops will be on the borders of your NATO member countries .... and you will be facing the same question there,” Zelensky said.

He rued that Europe and the United States had ignored Kyiv’s pleas for pre-emptive sanctions before the war started, but welcomed the impact they were now having on Russia.

Zelensky said that Ukraine’s allies had offered financing to prop it up during the war, but urged them to act quickly.

The president has remained in Kyiv to rally his people against the Russian invasion, now in its sixth day, posting social media videos and constantly reassuring the population that neither he, his family or closest officials have left.

Asked about his daily regime, he replied: “I work and I sleep.” He appeared emotional as he added that he had not seen his children for two days.

Asked how long his country would hold out, Zelensky said: “We do not hold out, we fight, and our nation will fight to the end. This is our home, we are protecting out land, our homes. For the sake of our children’s future.”

Children were dying, he said.

“We have something to defend, we are defending our right to live. And what are they (Russians) doing here? They don’t understand our people, our state, our philosophy... They don’t know anything here, they were sent here to kill and to die. Therefore we are stronger on our own land, and we will be stronger.”

Ukrainians use social media to humiliate the Russians

The Washington Post

Ukrainians and their supporters have used social media to bruise, belittle and humiliate the Russians, seeking to boost citizens’ spirits and sap invaders’ morale during the most Internet-accessible war in history.

A flood of real-time videos across Facebook, Telegram, TikTok and Twitter has blunted Kremlin propaganda and rallied the world to Ukraine’s side as it fights to defend its democracy from a military behemoth.

It has also potentially saved lives: Ukrainians have raced to disseminate defensive strategies, plot escape routes and document the brutality of a raging clash. Some expect that the phone footage recorded in recent days could play a critical role in investigating war crimes after the combat ends.

Russia has long been fabled as the Internet’s most wily mischief-maker, and the nation’s propaganda machine has for years used social and state-backed media to deceive and disempower its enemies.

But Ukraine has in many ways begun to beat Russia at its own game, using constant, colourful communication to foment a digital resistance and expose its aggression on a global stage.

The tactics reveal how social media has opened a new dimension of modern war, showing how the internet has become not only a territory to fight over but a tactic for real-world conquest.

It has also helped Ukrainians feel they can contribute to the fight. Solomiia Shalaiska, a Kyiv-based motion designer, said she felt helpless until she started posting pro-Ukraine rally images on an Instagram page she previously used for art and design.

One image - a David-and-Goliath-style map of both countries titled “Realize the Scale of Ukrainian Heroism” - has been “liked” more than 100,000 times in the last day. Shalaiska said she has joined the nation’s nascent “IT army” of volunteer hackers and hell-raisers, who have worked to counter Russian psychological operations by overwhelming their websites and flooding their intelligence officers with spam. (Shalaiska said she has helped mostly by spreading information and reporting bots.)

“It’s very important to [strengthen] the national spirit in Ukraine, that’s why people are doing memes and encouraging images,” she said in an Instagram message. People “should have sources where they can find not only Russian propaganda”.

The videos helped mobilise antiwar sentiment in the earliest hours of the invasion, when a woman was recorded admonishing Russian soldiers to carry seeds “so at least sunflowers will grow here when you die.” In another Facebook photo, a funeral wreath with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s name on it was captioned: “In Ukraine, the Russian army is greeted with flowers.”

In the days since, videos have helped transform local stories of bravery into viral legends - and exposed a war Russia has fought to keep concealed. Ukrainians have posted videos of themselves thwarting tanks, guarding villages, making molotov cocktails and using them to turn Russian vehicles into fireballs.

As Russia’s troubled blitz has smashed against a defiant resistance, some Ukrainian fighters have tactically trolled the enemy. In one video, a camouflaged soldier talks into the camera at his Russian opponents while screwing a silencer onto a rifle. “Dudes, you are f---ed,” he says with a smirk. “We have tanks. We’ve got everything. . . . Why don’t you f---ing surrender while you still have the chance?”

Ukrainians have also used social media to spur on fellow civilian defenders. Kira Rudik, a member of Parliament, posted a photo of herself barefoot and holding a Kalashnikov rifle to Instagram and Twitter, saying, “Our #women will protect our soil the same way as our #men.” The Ukrainian rock star Andriy Khlyvnyuk and a former Miss Ukraine, Anastasiia Lenna, also posted photos of themselves with guns in hand.

The posts have highlighted Russia’s most embarrassing tactical and logistical errors, puncturing the nation’s carefully crafted image of military supremacy with videos of grungy vehicles and an inexperienced fighting force.

In one video, a Ukrainian man ridicules Russian soldiers stranded after their tank ran out of fuel. In another, a tractor driver appears to tow a Russian armored personnel carrier down the road.

US looking closely at possible war crimes in Ukraine


The United States is looking closely at whether war crimes were committed during the Russian invasion of Ukraine and engaging with partners around the world on the issue, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.

There have been “a range of reports that are horrifying about barbaric tactics, whether it’s cluster bombs or other tactics that we’ve seen that could be classified as a war crime”, Psaki said in an interview with Fox News Channel. “We will be closely watching and assessing exactly that question.”

Separately, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday that Russian “crimes” in Ukraine are mounting by the hour, with strikes hitting hospitals, schools and residential buildings with civilians.

Antony Blinken Getty Images

Moscow faced increasing isolation on Tuesday as President Vladimir Putin showed no sign of stopping an invasion of Ukraine, where fierce fighting and Russian bombardment have killed dozens and sparked a refugee crisis.

“Russian strikes are hitting schools, hospitals, and residential building,” Blinken said in a video message to the Geneva forum. “Reports of Russia’s human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law mount by the hour.”

Blinken said that the council’s urgent debate on Ukraine scheduled for Thursday, where a resolution brought by Kyiv and allies would set up an international probe into violations, is an “important step toward ensuring documentation and accountability”.

“We must send a resolute and unified message that President (Vladimir) Putin should unconditionally stop this,” he said.

“We must reject Russia’s attempts to falsely justify this attack as a defence of human rights – misappropriating terms that we reserve for the worst atrocities and disrespecting every victim of those crimes,” he said.

Uzra Zeya, US Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, told reporters in Geneva after the speech that Russia’s invasion was “resulting in a human rights and humanitarian catastrophe”.

Blinken’s speech marked Washington’s return as a voting member to the top UN human rights body which the Trump administration quit in 2018 over what it called chronic bias against Israel and a lack of reform.

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