In Other News – Russia Escalates Battle Against the Ukraine Even As Atrocities are Verified – 4/14/2022

April 14, 2022

Russia is escalating the battle against Ukraine even as atrocities are surfacing and verified. This week, Putin stated his intention to keep the war in Ukraine going at full force, and the Ukrainians are now preparing for arduous battles on the Eastern front. At the same time, the UN-partnered security body Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has determined Russia broke international humanitarian law and committed war crimes in Mariupol, and President Biden classified Russia’s actions as a “genocide.” Meanwhile, the war continues to have an indisputable impact on food and energy prices and availability on the global level, which could lead to lashing out at the ballot box.

Recognizing this, President Zelenskyy has recently made efforts to engage with leaders in Africa and other countries in the global south, explaining his nation’s perspective on the conflict and the need for a negotiated outcome. Western diplomats are personally taking their appeals with images from Bucha to India, Israel and other Middle Eastern states to make the case for supporting efforts to isolate Russia. Ukraine is also making a concerted online effort to make the Russian public aware of the true nature of this war and the cost to Russia of Putin’s campaign. As the battle continues, and the whole world feels the impact, these efforts to surface injustice and control the narrative will help determine whether Kyiv can generate and maintain the international support it needs to counter Russia.

Putin is framing the battle with Ukraine as a proxy war between Moscow and Washington ‒ a narrative that serves the interests of Russia and China. As the atrocities in Ukraine continue, and the United States pledges more funding and defense equipment to Ukraine, Putin is now pushing the view that the fight against Ukraine is a proxy war between the United States and Russia. In reality, Russia made an unprovoked attack against a smaller state as Washington was trying to focus on domestic policies and China. But the proxy war framing is gaining more traction than warranted and bolsters Putin’s victim narrative. Painting the United States as the opponent evokes an existential threat to Russia that Ukraine never presented, and it could serve to unite the Russians behind the war effort despite conflicting narratives and economic penalty. The proxy-war framing also allows Beijing to pin the United States as the aggressor and amplify the Chinese state media portrayal of Washington as the instigator of violent conflict.

Further, casting the conflict as a proxy war between the United States and Russia narrows the playing field and could weaken the resolve of some European nations to isolate Putin and deliver critical support for Ukraine. We’re already seeing signs of wavering among some states, as demonstrated by the current French elections, and it’s likely to only get more difficult as the energy crisis deepens. But most importantly perhaps, framing the war as a US-Russia proxy battle undermines the nation of Ukraine: a recognized, autonomous, democratic country that makes its own policy decisions and is defending itself on its own volition.