Cold War time warp in Ukraine coverage

The ominous story in the Los Angeles Times today, "Russia tests missiles as Ukraine militants defy call for vote delay," opens, without explanation: "A day after claiming to have withdrawn thousands of Russian troops from Ukraine's border, Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin presided over East bloc military maneuvers Thursday that included tests of Russia’s nuclear forces and live firing of intercontinental ballistic missiles." Excuse us? "East bloc"? What "East bloc"? The Warsaw Pact has been defunct since 1991, as the LA Times could easily glean from goddam Wikipedia. There isn't a clue in the text of the article as to what they mean by "East bloc," or whether any countries other than Russia participated in the maneuvers. The whiff of Cold War nostalgia around the Ukraine crisis is getting out of hand.

The next paragraph informs us: "NATO leaders said they had yet to see any evidence of Russia having moved the 40,000-plus troops amassed on Ukraine's border. And despite Putin's claim that Thursday's exercises had been planned since November, the unexpected display of the former Soviet empire's surviving destructive powers was likely to ratchet up tensions in the region." Yes, scary. But note the phrase "former Soviet empire." There is no more "East bloc." 

In a tentative sign of de-escalation, BBC News reports that Putin called Ukraine's scheduled May 25 presidential election a step "in the right direction," although they "will not decide anything if all the citizens of Ukraine fail to understand how their rights are protected after the elections are held." he also suggested that Kiev's military operation in eastern Ukraine could be halted in exchange for a postponement of the referendum on secession scheduled to take place in several areas this weekend. But Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Putin of "talking through his hat," because the scheduled referndum was not orgaized by the legitimate Ukrian government. (iFocus)

If you are feeling sanguine about the improbability of a Cold War-style confrontation between Russia and the West, note that NATO just sent a special delegation to Ukraine to assess the safety of nuclear power plants, gas pipelines, hydro-electric dams and other critical infrastructure amid the growing violence. Ukraine, scene of the world's worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986, still has 15 nuclear reactors in operation, accounting for nearly 44% of its electricity production in 2013, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. A NATO official confirmed that a small team of civilian experts from the alliance visited Kiev last month "to advise the Ukrainian authorities on their national civil contingency plans and safety measures in the context of possible threats to critical energy infrastructure." (Reuters, May 8)

Meanwhile, Putin is clamping down on protesters and dissidents at home, this week signing laws that impose restrictions on bloggers, up the prison time for those arrested in riots, and instate life sentences for various "terrorist" crimes. "All this tightening will be applied only for political ends," said Dmitry Gudkov, a member of parliament who helped organize rallies against Putin in several cities in the winter of 2011-2. (Reuters, May 6) 

OK, the sense of deja vu is inevitable. But sloppy reportage that baselessly revives Cold War terminology is only contributing to the race towards unparalleled catastrophe

  1. Russia calls for dialogue with Ukraine separatists

    The referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk went ahead, claiming a vote of about 90% in favor of forming their own sovereign nations, with leaders also expressing interest in joining the Russian federation. But Moscow is reacting far more cautiously than it did in Crimea, stopping short of recognizing the new "republics," and instead calling on Kiev to negotiate. (Jurist, May 12) Are we back from the brink, or is Putin just buying time, gambling (probably rightly) that Kiev won't legitimize the separatists with dialogue? 

  2. Leak at Ukraine nuclear plant?

    Ukraine was forced to shut down a reactor at its biggest nuclear power plant Dec. 28 following an 'electrical malfunction', the second such incident in the space of a month.One of six reactors at the Zaporizhia power station in the south-east of the country was automatically disconnected by the plant's "internal defense mechanism." Earlier in December, another of Zaporizhia's reactors was taken off-line after it suffered a short-circuit leading to widespread blackouts. (Daily Mail) But Ukrainian authorities denied a report in pro-Kremlin media that a radioactive leak had taken place at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant, Europe's largest. (Kyiv Post)