‘Sensationalism sells’ might as well be the most fundamental doctrine of any media outlet which works for profit; one which comes across evidently in almost all stories published. This week’s major national concern is not exempt from this rule: Once again we see Russia reminding the West of its presence as a self-styled dangerous international player; this time by flying two Bear Bomber military aircraft within close proximity to the Cornish Coast. Britain’s sensibly pacified response was to scramble RAF jets and monitor the situation from a distance. Despite appearances, the Russian planes failed in any way to violate the sanctity of our sovereign airspace. No international rules were broken, and even the Prime Minister himself stated that it was an act failing to warrant response; although you would not believe the legality of such an act by simply reading the papers, whose angle on this rather unassuming occurrence is one of undignified severity. This, coupled with the rash remarks made by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon who heeded warning as to suspicions that Russia is seeking to exert power and influence over the Baltic States (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia); has provided ample ammunition for a media who are ever gleefully embarking upon a campaign of systematic scaremongering.
In a standalone sense, this event is most definitely not to worry about. To protest against Russia embarking upon such long-distance drills for its aircraft would be downright hypocritical: given that NATO has of late been undertaking similar symbolic ventures along Russia’s Western border with Europe, it would omit an image of severe weakness had the government responded with anything other than indifference; despite being called to do so by a minority of nationalistic commentators.
That is not to say that harbouring a degree of concern for the bigger picture is unwise. Vladimir Putin and the Russian administration are, in both domestic and international affairs, displaying signs of chronic governing megalomania; obsessed with establishing power and hegemony akin to that enjoyed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Aside from its obvious involvement in the Ukrainian conflict the clearest sign of this has been Russia’s attempt at politicising the Eurasian Economic Union. This organisation, consisting also of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and – soon to be member – Kyrgyzstan; has since 2010 developed to include relatively piecemeal features such as a single market and a Central Bank. But Russia wants to take this a step further. Putin continues to vocally call for the support of other members in handing the Union supranational powers, similar to those enjoyed by the European Union, by which nations would be legally bound to support and maintain the existence of such a body. Russia, being by far the largest and most significant member, would naturally declare itself the de-facto leader of this bureaucratic hydra; much as Germany has done within the EU. Provocative and bellicose policies typical of present Russian foreign policy direction could thus be formally implemented on a far larger and more serious scale, manifest through a broad range of initiatives: a common Eurasian defence policy, a permanent standing army, vast investment into military development. Each would serve to concurrently strengthen Russia’s global position and undermine the ability of the West to exert influence via the threat of military capacity alone.
It troubles me greatly that this has gone completely unnoticed by the media, despite its potentially explosive fallout; whilst the story with a greater initial ‘wow factor’ yet little clear substance makes the news. Overall this forms part of a broader deeply embedded problem concerning the integrity of journalism: we now find ourselves served by a media much more willing to focus upon celebrity breast reductions than current affairs. It paints us a picture of the world built upon half-truths and aggrandizement rather than coherence and rationality.
Very little of our national discourse has called for calm over clamour. Many commentators have failed to emphasize how the current weakness of the Russian economy, whilst being primarily a causal factor of Putin’s boisterousness; also serves to limit any threat he poses to the West. Undoubtedly Russian participation in sustaining the rebel forces in Eastern Ukraine is a desperate attempt to divert national attention away from the depravity of the economy and toward a cause for which his people can be proud of; the mirage of Russia as a great power once again. But sooner or later this smokescreen will clear. Currently, with oil prices steadily falling and investment dwindling, the rouble is being hopelessly propped up by the Russian National Bank at a cost during 2014 of $76bn and $5.4bn. Western sanctions as hoped have done much to exacerbate this, increasing the pressure upon Putin to finally turn his attention inward and to leave behind his focus upon foreign forays.
Over time the West will prevail: liberal democracies always do when between them they share a concise plan and common foe. The problem remains however of attempting to predict what shall happen in the meantime. Should the wider scope of the situation change, such as an actual Russian military intervention in Ukraine or the establishment of a Eurasian political bloc; then widespread hysteria will be justified. But for now, whilst the largest threat to the West remains dormant in non-existence, we must refuse all conformance to the intended media desire for public fear generated by shameless sensationalism.