What The Media's Getting Wrong About Ukraine

Western media outlets have largely portrayed the conflict as one between East and West, reminiscent of the Cold War, but it's more nuanced than that.

What The Media's Getting Wrong About Ukraine
The New York Times / Sergey Ponomarev

If you've been paying attention to what's going on in Ukraine, you've probably heard a few Cold War comparisons by now.

"Shades of the Cold War are returning here." (Via MSNBC)

"Is the U.S. fighting a new Cold War with Russia?" (Via CNN

"Many don't think the Cold War is over at all." (Via Fox News)

"This seems to be a repeat of the Cold War in many ways." (Via NBC

Okay, a lot of Cold War comparisons. American media have largely painted the conflict as one between East and West — with Ukraine's president a puppet of Russia and a majority of Ukrainians ready to splinter off and join the rest of Western Europe.  

​But has the media taken the Cold War comparisons too far? New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman says the analogy doesn't work here. 

FRIEDMAN: "The Cold War was a very specific thing. That was two nuclear-armed powers and competing ideologies, truly playing on a global chess board." (Via ABC

There are echoes of the Cold War, certainly. For proof, look no further than this video of protesters toppling a statue of Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin in December. (Via RT

Russia, of course, has interests in Ukraine. It's Ukraine's biggest economic partner, not to mention one of its largest military bases is located in Ukraine. (Via ITN

​Washington had sided with the opposition, whose protests were triggered, in part, by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's refusal to sign an agreement with the European Union. (Via Euronews

But viewing the crisis through a Cold War lens offers a pretty one-dimensional view. Consider this — despite all the talk of a pro-E.U., pro-democracy movement, only 43 percent of Ukrainians wanted the E.U. deal, according to recent poll from a Kiev-based think tank. 

Which would suggest there's more at play here. As this video put together by a group of Ukrainian journalists explains, most Ukrainians are just tired of a corrupt government and poor living standards, and that is what led them to protest. (Via YouTube / Oksana Sorzhulenko)

Forbes contributor Greg Satell looks at it this way: "This is not a matter of ideology or even of geography, but one of corruption and human rights."

So we're left with two competing narratives — one that pits angry Ukrainians against their corrupt president and another more geopolitical storyline. As for which is right, The Washington Post's Max Fisher says both can be. 

​"When it comes to understanding something as complicated as Ukraine's political crisis, sometimes you need to be able to hold two competing ideas in your head at the same time to make sense of things."