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To absolutely no one’s surprise, Russia is now threatening American journalists.
While many left Moscow after Vladimir Putin ordered up a draconian law that could expose them to 15-year prison terms, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman called those remaining to a meeting.
She told the American correspondents that “Russian journalists in the United States had faced problems with visa renewals, harassment by U.S. intelligence agencies and blocked bank accounts.” The story was first reported by Reuters.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the administration is still issuing visas to qualified Russian journalists, adding: “Threatening professional journalists for simply trying to do their jobs and seeking to seal off Russia’s population from any foreign information illustrates the flimsiness and the fragility of the Russian government’s narrative.” But Treasury has slapped sanctions on three media outlets said to be owned or linked to the Russian regime.
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With American attention focused on the January 6 hearings, rising prices, the baby formula crisis, COVID-19, the midterms and other matters, Putin’s brutal invasion has slipped to second-tier status on the media landscape. This is understandable, given that the war has dragged on for more than 100 days, even as brave western reporters continue to risk their lives in covering it.
Yet in some ways that is precisely what Putin is counting on, that six months from now, a year or two from now, the U.S. and its allies will lose interest in Ukraine, aid will decline and his military will be able to bite off a sizable chunk of the country.
After all, public fatigue with the Iraq war finally led to our withdrawal after several years. And the Afghans waited two decades before this administration, facing Taliban gains and dwindling public backing, withdrew in particularly humiliating fashion.
It was a sobering moment when Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Russians now control 20% of his country, and that he is losing dozens of soldiers each day. I think Putin’s spectacular failure to quickly subdue Ukraine, and the abysmal performance of his military, fueled an overly optimistic tone in the American coverage. The Ukrainian fighters were so brave that surely they could continue to resist the Kremlin’s forces.
But for Russia to concentrate its sustained firepower on the eastern region has been an incredibly bloody affair for the Ukrainians. And while some more sophisticated defensive weapons have arrived, the New York Times reports, Ukraine’s soldiers don’t know how to use them and are resorting to Google Translate to try to crack the instructions.
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With the government estimating that 40,000 Ukrainians have been killed or wounded in the war – and another 3 million living under Russian occupation – Zelenskyy faces many agonizing choices.
So what is the end game?
Conservative columnist Ross Douthat says the most likely scenario is that the war becomes a stalemate and Putin remains in power. “Our plan cannot be to keep writing countless checks while tiptoeing modestly around the Ukrainians and letting them dictate the ends to which our guns and weaponry are used.”
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The U.S. faces other global threats and is “an internally divided country led by an unpopular president whose majorities may be poised for political collapse. So if Kyiv and Moscow are headed for a multi-year or even multi-decade frozen conflict, we will need to push Ukraine toward its most realistic rather than its most ambitious military strategy.”
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And yet when the Times editorial board raised such questions, “the response from many Ukraine hawks was a furious how dare you.”
Of course I’d like to see Ukraine regain every inch of its territory. Of course Putin shouldn’t be rewarded in any way for his unprovoked invasion and growing list of war crimes.
But to say there may eventually need to be a negotiated settlement is simply to add a dose of reality.