News Release

Ukraine War: Is Media Misreporting Facilitating Escalation?

JOHN “PAT” WILLERTON, jpw@email.arizona.edu
Willerton is a professor of political science in the School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Arizona focusing on Russia. See his TEDx Talk, “The Russian Soul” from 2013.

Much media coverage is filled with claims of overwhelming Russian defeat, seeming to justify further NATO intervention. But Willerton states: “While the Kharkov advance by Ukrainian forces, following the withdrawal of the breakaway regions’ militias, with relatively few Russian troops in the area, was a big psychological boost for Kiev, it did not signify an important military change. The Russians simultaneously completely repelled a big Kiev-Ukraine push in the south, in Kherson, while in the third and most important battle front, the Donbas, the Russians continued to make grinding but significant gains. The Western media description is completely misleading, exaggerating the significance of Kharkov region advances, while ignoring Ukrainian setbacks in Kherson and Donbas. Also, Western media completely ignore the profound casualties inflicted on Ukrainian forces, when the Russian allies suffered relatively few losses. On all of these fronts, Ukraine may have suffered 35,000 killed and wounded, while Russia and allies perhaps suffered 5,000 killed and wounded.”

Willerton has argued that there are severe biases at play in Biden administration policies, including a “profound Russophobia that has yielded bad policy choices.”

He also points to inaccurate depictions geopolitically: “The Samarkand Summit bolstered Russia’s position significantly, important deals were cut with various states, and China and India have appeared to give the nod for Russia to move forward to complete this conflict.”

Willerton warns that the refusal to pursue a negotiated settlement may well lead to further escalation: “Everything was altered as Russia announced a partial mobilization with 300,000 troops, and the holding of referenda in a number of eastern regions for these regions to join Russia. When the referenda are completed, the eastern Ukrainians have voted to join Russia (these are overwhelmingly pro-Russian regions, long evident since post-Soviet independent Ukraine emerged in 1992), the Russian parliament approves bringing these regions into the Russian Federation, and President Putin signs the formal documents, the logic of the fighting in those regions will profoundly change.”