Ukraine War: Proxies, Profits & Propaganda
Ukraine is at the center of a proxy war between decades-long rivals and two competing economic systems, and opportunistic weapons manufacturers are cashing in.
News Beat is a multi-award-winning podcast that melds hard-hitting journalism with hip-hop to inform, educate, and inspire. In this episode, we examine how the Russian invasion of Ukraine has morphed into a proxy war between two military superpowers and how weapons manufacturers are profiting from the bloodshed.
It’s been five months since Vladimir Putin’s Russia invaded Ukraine, setting off the first ground war in Europe since World War II. The brutal campaign has led to the deaths of thousands upon thousands of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers and civilians. Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes for safety in other parts of the country or outside its borders. Globally, the war has been a source of great concern and political maneuvering—bringing Russia and NATO dangerously close to confrontation.
Aside from the potential military risks, the war is also causing food shortages and contributing to rising energy prices. An emboldened NATO is primed to add two new member states—Finland and Sweden—to the 73-year-old, post-WWII military alliance. In response, Russia is busy trying to forge its own partnerships with western-skeptical nations, such as China and Iran, amid heavy rounds of U.S.-led economic sanctions.
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Why We Covered This Topic
Since many of these issues have been covered by the media, and rightfully so, we’ve decided to go in a different direction. This episode is effectively the third in a series about the bloody connections between unfettered capitalism and war.
The first examined how corporations profited off of the 20-year-war in Afghanistan, and the second, “Disaster Capitalism,” similarly analyzed how elites capitalize on destruction. In this installment, we look deeper into the Ukraine conflict and what it means for weapons manufacturers, in particular.
The story of Ukraine, as told by the corporate media, is one that has been pretty easy for Americans to digest. The narrative has essentially gone like this: Russia, the great bogeyman and ever-present threat to America, instigated and launched an unprovoked attack on neighboring Ukraine following a weeks-long build-up along their shared border. Its mercurial leader, Putin, wants to retake Ukraine and restore the Soviet Union back to power. (Putin’s own remarks in the spring were pretty telling.)
Yet, as with most things, the story is a bit more complicated than that. Context, unfortunately, has fallen victim to Cold War hysteria, the corporate media’s servitude to the military, the appeal of a good ol’ David vs. Goliath story, and recriminations from people who consider critical analysis of America’s role de facto Putin propaganda. Of course, the Ukrainian people should be lauded for fending off Putin’s imperialist, brutal, and illegal crusade, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t scrutinize how tensions escalated, nor America’s role in this conflict.
After all, it wasn’t so long ago that the media helped push the fictional Iraq-WMD narrative propagated by the Bush administration, which had devastating implications and cost untold innocent lives.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
This is by all measures a proxy war between two nuclear superpowers. One is trying to preserve military and economic hegemony, while the other is blatantly seeking to restore greatness.
The conflict was preceded by what essentially amounts to a U.S.-backed coup of Ukraine’s democratically elected government in 2014. Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych, rebuffed a U.S.-friendly trade deal with the European Union in favor of one with Russia, leading to massive protests, known colloquially as “Maidan.” The most chilling moment came on Feb. 20, when dozens of anti-government protesters and four law enforcement officers were killed at Maidan Square. Yanukovych then fled Kyiv for Russia, where he remains in exile. While the protests were widely covered, less known is the story of the Obama administration’s role in hand-picking the successor government, which our guest Jennifer Briney, host of the ‘Congressional Dish’ podcast, lays out in great detail. Among the underreported details of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship is the fact that the United States has invested heavily in building up the Ukrainian military since 2014, to defend the very government it helped install. In the podcast, Briney puts that number at $6 billion. Shortly after we interviewed her, the U.S. State Department said it had spent “more than $10 billion in security assistance for training and equipment to help Ukraine preserve its territorial integrity, secure its borders, and improve interoperability with NATO” during that time.
This isn’t just an ideological proxy war between long-time military rivals. As Briney explains, the conflict is also about two competing economic systems. “One of the things that I think the American public isn't quite aware of is the reason we have our military all over the world,” she says. “And what we are doing, is that we are trying to create a global economic system that is housed in the World Trade Organization. This has been happening for a very long time. It started in the wake of World War II in the late 1940s. And our country, both Democrats and Republicans, are devoted to making this a global system.”
This is also a story about capitalism. Much of the money approved by Congress to support Ukraine, including the $40 billion package approved in May, will go toward replenishing the stockpiles of weapons we’re contributing to the war effort. This is great news for weapons manufacturers, such as Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman, among others. As Briney puts it, the bipartisan aid package “really is a welfare program for them” because the law doesn’t include a cap on profits or requirements to sell the weapons at a discount. “They can charge whatever they please,” she says.
Here’s more from Briney:
Who We Interviewed & What They Said
Jennifer Briney is the host of the fantastic podcast ‘Congressional Dish.’ She also hast an irrefutable gift for explaining complex political issues—especially those involving Congress. Briney tirelessly pores over proposed legislation to help Americans better understand what our elected “leaders” are doing in our names and with our money. That’s exactly what she did with the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, helping us piece together how all that money is being spent.
“What I can tell you big picture is that when we spend money on our military, there are many studies now that are showing half of it goes to contractors… We're not doing a lot in-house anymore. So that can give you an estimate of how much is going into shareholder pockets.”
Sam Ratner is the policy director of the nonprofit Win Without War, which advocates for progressive foreign policy. He spoke in length with us about the personal enrichment and incestuous greed of members of Congress, including those who bought stock in weapons manufacturers just prior to Russia’s invasion.
“The thing to know about how these bills are made is that they are made largely in a black box. The administration’s request for funding comes in, and Congress deliberates behind closed doors on these things… The combination of that level of opacity and the outcomes that we see creates a situation where it's really hard to avoid the conclusion that effectively votes are getting bought.”
Definitely listen to Briney’s ‘Congressional Dish’ episode on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s among the most revealing reports on the war and U.S. policy to date. Check it out here (or search for it on your favorite podcast app).
Want to dive into the details of the $40 billion Ukraine aid package? Read it for yourself.
Speaking of the billions flowing to weapons manufacturers! This is a must-read report on how members of Congress are personally benefiting from contracts being handed out to defense contractors.
Learn more, support, and become involved with the nonprofit Win Without War network’s many initiatives to radically shift U.S. foreign policy away from its historically “violence-first” approach.
When will the war end? Well, the United States has plans to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, according to President Biden.
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News Beat is a multi-award-winning podcast brought to you by Morey Creative Studios and Manny Faces Media.
Audio Editor/Sound Designer/Producer/Host: Manny Faces
Editor-In-Chief/Producer: Christopher Twarowski
Managing Editor/Producer: Rashed Mian
Episode Art: Jeff Main
Executive Producer: Jed Morey