Ukraine’s lightning counteroffensive and the rapid territorial advances it made in recent days have stunned the world and been an enormous boost to anyone who thinks launching genocidal wars of aggression against neighboring countries is completely unacceptable.
Of course, there are a number of Western commentators who think otherwise. Some are those who have pinned their entire careers on the notion that Russian President Vladimir Putin is in fact the good guy. Others seem quite content with the idea of an entire country being sacrificed to Russian imperialism if it means a quiet life for themselves.
Both of these stances require some stunning mental gymnastics. Below, we look at the top five attempts to spin Russia’s crushing defeat into anything but.
First, though, let us set the mood and rewind to Sept. 9, when Fox News host and Putin admirer Tucker Carlson aired an interview that gave a flavor of how he and other champions of Russia’s “special military operation” expected things to pan out.
Speaking to the most popular U.S. talk show host, alleged Russia-Ukraine war expert Douglas Macgregor said that by the time Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave a keynote speech to a defense industry trade group later that week, “this entire war may be over.”
“Right now things are going very, very badly, which is why the Ukrainians are so desperate,” he added.
“The last offensive down south failed miserably. … And this desperation is really dangerous right now because they’re losing once again just south of Kharkiv. … I think the Biden administration is now trying to retreat … from the dumb position they’ve taken up to this point. I don’t think they can do that very easily, do you?”
The events of the days following the interview showed Macgregor’s comments, unchallenged by Carlson, were in fact a direct inversion of the reality that played out. Ukraine liberated almost 3,500 square miles; the Russian front in Kharkiv collapsed and military personnel fled; and Putin is now trying to spin his way out of what some Western commentators are calling, slightly prematurely, the end of the Russian Federation.
Here’s a countdown of the top five attempts at spinning a Russian victory out of defeat.
5) Max Blumenthal’s “Russia is actually fighting the U.S.” spin:
At the more realistic end of the coping scale, people like Blumenthal, editor of pro-Russian website The Grayzone, actually acknowledged Russia had suffered a defeat. If this sounds like an odd thing to say, you’re in for a real treat as we work down this list.
There was, of course, some heavy spinning to ease the suffering of Russian pride, namely the claim that this was not actually a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but a U.S. proxy war.
One key thing this naive and simplistic worldview leaves out is the fact Ukraine is fighting for its very existence, in the face of an imperialist power whose Kremlin-backed media commentators openly call for the eradication of the Ukrainian people.
Blumenthal correctly points out that this would not be possible without weapons and intelligence from Western countries, particularly the U.S. However, when your entire career has been staked on the premise that the CIA’s shadowy hands are behind every evil and every major world event in order to benefit corrupt Western governments, you can’t really admit that fighting back against a genocidal authoritarian like Putin is actually a good thing without conceding your whole schtick is a conspiratorial shambles.
And so Blumenthal pounced on a couple of articles and highlighted them as evidence that Ukraine’s defense of its territorial sovereignty and reluctance to allow its citizens to face the well-documented horrors of living under Russian occupation were in fact nothing more than a larger U.S. plan for regime change in Russia and a number of countries in the region.
In a tweet, Blumenthal wrote: “Brian Whitmore of NATO’s Atlantic Council portrays Ukraine as a springboard for triggering regime change actions from Belarus to Georgia to South Ossetia, with the balkanization of Russia as an ultimate goal — ‘finishing the process that began in 1989.’”
Whitmore had actually written about how a defeated Russia could potentially lead to “a new liberation of Eastern Europe” and “a free Belarus combined with a truly independent, sovereign, and whole Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.”
New Lines asked Blumenthal what he found objectionable about four Eastern European countries enjoying the same democratic freedoms as he does himself in the U.S., but we have not yet received a reply.
4) Michael Tracey’s “Ukraine winning is actually Ukraine losing” spin:
Describing himself as a “roving journalist,” Tracey’s experience of covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine has mostly involved not actually going to Ukraine, which makes him undeniably qualified to post easily disprovable hot takes on Twitter.
His latest has been to argue in a series of tweets that Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive, aided by U.S. weapons and intelligence, was an “escalation,” and thus should have been avoided, as it takes Russia and Ukraine farther away from the negotiating table.
After being called out by a number of journalists for trying to equate “escalation” with “fighting back against an invading enemy,” Tracey then quoted Noam Chomsky, whose takes on Ukraine have been so numerous and so wildly wrong they have spurred a popular internet meme depicting the linguistics professor as pontificating about the evils of the U.S. to a Ukrainian who simply doesn’t want to be killed by Russia “for no reason.”
Here’s Chomsky’s quote:
“There are some simple facts that aren’t really controversial: there are two ways for the war to end. One way is for one side or the other to be basically destroyed. And the Russians are not going to be destroyed. So that means one way is for Ukraine to be destroyed. The other way is a negotiated settlement. If there’s a third way, no one’s ever figured it out.”
Not only has someone “figured it out,” but it’s been Ukraine’s strategy since day one — drive Russia out of Ukraine and then negotiate to keep them out.
In his tweet, Tracey refers to the “vastly preferable second option that Chomsky identifies,” which is only preferable to people who don’t know a single Ukrainian, don’t really care about a single Ukrainian and think that rewarding the imperialist expansionist ambitions of countries that launch unprovoked wars with vast swathes of conquered territory is no big deal, whatsoever.
New Lines asked Tracey why he doesn’t recognize Ukraine’s right to fight back as legitimate. No reply has yet been received.
Tracey has since tried to defend himself from the inevitable backlash by tweeting a list of “notable figures/groups who ‘whined’ between 1938-1941 about escalating U.S. entanglement in the war,” thus making the argument that he is in the vaunted intellectual and moral company of people who would have preferred to let Nazi Germany win World War II.
3) Scott Ritter’s “everything is fine, dude” spin:
Channeling the energy of a personal trainer trying to get one more push-up out of their visibly fatigued client, convicted child sex offender and far-left media darling Ritter started off so well.
Speaking of the Ukrainian counteroffensive and the training and equipment provided to Kyiv by NATO countries, he said: “The Ukrainians … came in with new tactics, a new operational approach, better intelligence support, better electronic warfare support, better training, decisive actions on contact, things Ukrainians had not demonstrated before — this is a completely different military that the Russians weren’t prepared to fight and as a result the Russians found themselves outclassed on the battlefield.”
Seems rather reasonable so far, right?
But he continues: “This prompted a, umm … it wasn’t a retreat. It was a withdrawal. It was organized. It was disciplined. They did have to abandon equipment but the one thing the Russians didn’t do was lose a lot of guys. They killed a lot of Ukrainians, but they didn’t lose a lot of guys.
“Russia maintained its greatest asset which is its military manpower.”
There are two points that should be made here. The first is that there has not been confirmation from either side about losses sustained during the counteroffensive, so Ritter is essentially guessing when he talks about casualties.
The second is that Russia is currently trying to recruit mercenaries from its own prisons, which suggests he may need to slightly refine his guesswork.
2) Partisan Girl and Armchair Warlord’s “IT’S A TRAP!” spin:
At the very least, you need to praise not only the optimism of self-described “analysts” Partisan Girl and Armchair Warlord, but also their indefatigable commitment to being consistently wrong.
For those unfamiliar with the above-mentioned, Partisan Girl made her name defending Syria’s Assad regime against well-documented accusations of torture, murder and chemical weapons use, while Armchair Warlord rose to prominence back in March when he claimed Russia’s failed attempt to take Kyiv was a “feint.”
So what do these two have to say about the Ukrainian counteroffensive? Well, they both appear to have come to a similar conclusion.
In a tweet posted on Sept. 10, Partisan Girl said: “The speed at which they ALLOWED the Ukrainians to move into these territories should make it obvious that it’s a trap.”
One can only assume the Russians left so much of their equipment behind to give Ukraine a chance to repel their counterattack, which is yet to materialize.
When asked by New Lines if she stood by her analysis, Partisan Girl replied, in a tweet: “Yes, I still stand by my analysis, the Russians are clearly creating a void to be filled by Ukraine and judging by the lack of success by the Ukrainian forces in Lyman and crossing the river, it seems the Russian intention is to ‘fold in’ the AFU [Armed Forces of Ukraine].”
“But 4 days is still too early,” she continued.
When asked when we should expect the closing of this trap, Partisan Girl said: “I’m an analyst, not a soothsayer. It could be winter till the trap is sprung. Depending on how the Ukrainians move, this could end up like the Battle of the Bulge.”
Speaking of which, here is Armchair Warlord’s analysis: “This latest Ukrainian offensive north of Izium is their Battle of the Bulge — [a] desperate lunge with their last combat-capable units that will, in the end, result in little more than the destruction of those units and the substantial weakening of their operational situation.”
Posted on Sept. 10 on Twitter, it has not been possible to see if Armchair Warlord stands by this analysis. He has, in a similar vein to the army in which he places so much faith, since retreated and closed his Twitter account.
1) The Kremlin’s spin:
The Kremlin was silent as news of Russia’s hasty retreat in Ukraine spread around the world. But over the last few days, its coping strategy has started to circulate and, unsurprisingly, it has no basis in reality.
Responding to a recent interview in which Zelenskyy said now was not the time to negotiate with Moscow, former president and now deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, spoke as if he hadn’t even been briefed on the counteroffensive.
“The current ‘ultimatums’ are a warm-up for kids,” Medvedev said, “a preview of demands to be made in the future. He knows them: the total surrender of the Kyiv regime on Russia’s terms.”
Elsewhere, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has engaged in damage control designed to fend off possible accusations from Ukraine once the full extent of Russia’s actions in recently liberated areas of the country become known.
On Sept. 15, she issued a plea to international organizations to stop Ukraine “butchering, torturing, beating and shooting civilians.” She also claimed Ukrainian militants had been video recording their crimes and were planning to pin them on Russia.
A special shout out goes to Kirill Stremousov, a Russian proxy official who said Ukrainians were planning to come to Russian-occupied territories and eat Russian children.
The closest the Kremlin has come to acknowledging the defeat is a tweet from the Foreign Ministry on Sept. 15, which spun a similar line to Blumenthal, asserting that Russia was not fighting Ukraine but the “collective West” intent on the destruction of Russia, and a statement from the Ministry of Defense that the Russian army was “regrouping,” not retreating.
What about the big man himself? Putin finally broke his silence on Sept. 16, saying: “There’s no change to the plan … the liberation of the whole Donbas. … Despite [the] attempted counteroffensive by Ukraine’s army, [Russia’s] offensive in Donbas continues. We’re gradually occupying more and more territory.”