Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Newsweek's odd take on Ukraine

If you've read some of the posts here you probably have gotten the idea that I'm usually disappointed with the way the US media covers events in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union. The latest issue of Newsweek hasn't changed my mind on that feeling.

Under the headline "How the West Won Ukraine" authors Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova talk about the current state of affairs in Ukraine (you can check the article out here, it's pretty short), I have a few problems with their take on things. For starters the article never makes the case that the West has "won" Ukraine, the first paragraph even states that support for joining NATO (one of the symbols of "Westerness" for former Soviet states) is actually waning among Ukrainians. The whole thrust of the article is that Ukraine is looking more towards the European Union rather than towards Moscow today, but this is far from saying the West has won.

Second the article doesn't even talk about Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, arguably the most popular politician in Ukraine today; instead it focuses on the solidly pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, who also has approval ratings in the single digits. Could that be because Tymoshenko's balanced approach to relations with Moscow and the EU (she thinks Ukraine needs to be on good terms with both) doesn't support the premise of the article that the West has won Ukraine?

Finally, the article says that Ukraine shares basic "European values—including respect for its Russian ethnic minority", though just three paragraphs earlier it describes how Pres. Yushchenko barred Ukrainian schools from teaching in languages other than Ukrainian, even though the eastern portion of Ukraine is heavily populated by ethnic Russians and how he tried to get Ukrainian cable networks from carrying Russian-language television stations. Doesn't really sound like respect for minority rights to me...

This Newsweek article is another example of a too common story in the US press today - reporters looking at the situation in a part of the world (this time the former-Soviet part) and reporting the story they want to tell instead of the one that actually exists.
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