Since February, the world has witnessed a major military conflict taking place in eastern Ukraine. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed or wounded on both sides. In recent weeks, Russian and Donetsk/Luhansk forces have pushed further into the Donbas region. As the United States and the European Union have imposed increasingly onerous sanctions on Russia, the financial ripples have affected the entire global economy.
Those suffering the most appear to be regular people who have to deal with higher prices at the pump and in the grocery aisle. A number of countries have seen civil unrest and even riots related to economic woes. In this increasingly troubled time, the media’s power to either highlight or downplay situations has never been more pronounced.
Soviet-born financial consultant and CEO Eugene Plotkin shares a unique perspective on the media portrayal of this conflict and the nature of the average American’s understanding. He currently lives in New York City and heads the fintech startup TechWallet.
Americans Sending Aid
The US, which has been supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and security against Russia since the beginning of the war, recently provided $40 billion in aid to Ukraine. While this move was widely supported by Congress, Eugene Plotkin notes that most Americans are not clear on how these funds will be used.
“This is a massive amount of money,” Plotkin points out. “Consider that the entire GDP of Ukraine in 2021, before the conflict started, was $66 billion. So the United States is writing a check that is equal to two thirds of what it takes 40 million Ukrainians to produce in an entire year. This is a big deal.”
“A lot of Americans think that the entire amount is going to pay for additional military equipment that will be given to Ukraine but this is not the case,” Plotkin says. “The majority of the $40 billion is actually going for other needs, such as humanitarian assistance and to replenish the stocks of United States and European military equipment that has been depleted as a result of assistance already rendered to Ukraine.”
“The most surprising aspect of the aid package is the speed and significant bi-partisan support with which it was passed,” Plotkin opines. “Typically with a package of this size and a foreign war in a faraway locale we might expect to see more debate and stronger resistance from certain members of Congress. The minimal opposition in this case was due to many reasons, one of which could be the strong pro-Ukrainian coverage in western media outlets.”
Keeping People’s Attention
Military conflicts tend to capture the attention and the emotions of the world, especially a conflict that represents the largest military action in European World War II. Initially, the media coverage of what western media outlets called a “war of aggression” and Russia called a “special military operation” was extensive.
“Recently, we have seen a significant shift in the way the western media covers Ukraine,” Plotkin says. “It has been interesting to observe. In the initial months, Ukraine was the top story and the Russian government and military were presented as both callous and incompetent. However, as the Russian military has continued to make advances and the Russian economy has remained strong in the face of sanctions, the media has shifted its coverage.”
“The Ukraine conflict has started to fade away in the mainstream media,” Plotkin notes. “At the same time, the media has stepped back from calling for a Ukrainian military victory and has started to suggest that a negotiated solution with some level of territorial concessions may be the most viable option. This is a massive change.”
According to Eugene Plotkin, the economic impact of both sanctions and policies predating the Ukraine conflict is pulling people’s attention away from the situation on the front lines. “For the typical American, Ukraine is halfway around the world. It is a country many cannot find on a map, a country most will never visit. When folks are living paycheck to paycheck and worried about food and gas, it can be difficult to focus on something that is so far removed from their everyday reality.”
Media Narratives in the West
“News is big business,” Plotkin says. “CNN is owned by AT&T. CBS News is owned by Paramount Global. NBC News is owned by Comcast. Fox News is owned by Fox Corporation. These are multi-billion dollar enterprises and, as western companies, they will of course place relatively greater value on the perspective of the US and EU governments.”
“The same holds true anywhere you go in the world,” Plotkin explains. “Large Russian media organizations will push the Russian government’s perspective. Indian media organizations will support the Indian government’s perspective. Chinese media organizations will drive the Chinese government’s perspective. It is to be expected.”
Over the first three months of the war, western media coverage of the Ukraine conflict was almost universally supportive of the Ukraine government and strongly critical of the Russian government. Stories highlighting the reported plight of Ukrainian civilians, the perceived victories of the Ukrainian military, and the alleged atrocities of the Russian army predominated.
“The western media narrative was that the Ukrainians were good and the Russians were bad,” Plotkin says. “Reporters tended to focus on stories that supported that narrative and ignore stories that ran counter to that narrative.”
Finding a Balanced Perspective
What can a person living thousands of miles away from Ukraine do to find out the truth of what is really happening and how government decisions may be affecting their own economic livelihood? How can Americans and Europeans develop objective and informed opinions in a world of shifting narratives?
“There is no such thing as perfect information,” Plotkin says. “Even intelligence agencies do not have the whole picture. That is why they never stop gathering information. However, the internet has fundamentally altered the average person’s ability to access up-to-the-minute news. Information from around the globe is now just a click away.”
“Of course, the problem is figuring out which sources of information can be trusted,” Plotkin explains. “In my experience, there is no infallible source of information. Even the most ethical reporter can be wrong. That is why in my own research I try to find multiple different perspectives, not only from a range of outlets, but also from a range of countries and cultures.”
“In addition to US and European mainstream media outlets, there are English language sources in places like Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East where the media will often present a significantly different perspective,” Plotkin says. “All of those sources are online. In addition, there are alternative media sources in the US and Europe that pride themselves on providing a different perspective to the mainstream media.”
Eugene Plotkin’s parting message is that complex issues tend to have more nuance than a single story or perspective can possibly address. His advice is to be unafraid to seek out alternative viewpoints, even viewpoints with which a person may not agree, as informational openness is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy.
Eugene Plotkin is a seasoned financial professional and CEO. He believes that fintech has the power to transform personal finance on a broad scale. After years of investment banking, Plotkin has committed to his passion for fintech through his startup TechWallet, which was created to make financial literacy available to all.