What’s Wrong with the CBS Story about Military Aid to Ukraine

On August 4, the American TV channel CBS released a 20-minute documentary dedicated to the supply of weapons to Ukraine. The provocative title was “Why Military Aid to Ukraine Doesn’t Always Get to the Front Lines” and even cited the figures: “like 30% of it reaches its final destination.”

Four days later, the video version of the story was removed from the CBS website and YouTube channel. The editorial team promised to publish an updated version including “new information.” The text version of the material was also changed, and the mention of 30% was removed from the title.

These steps were taken in response to harsh criticism of the material. The biggest criticism was about the baseless statements that the future of Western aid to Ukraine is “unknown” and assumptions about it ending up on the “black market.” 

Adviser to the Office of the President of Ukraine Mykhailo Podoliak pointed out that the CBS story was largely aligned with the narratives of the Russian propaganda, which aims to undermine the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reprimanded CBS for spreading baseless claims aimed at discrediting military aid to a country defending itself against genocide. The head of the MFA urged the American channel to carry out an internal investigation. 

Even people featured in the story criticised it. For instance, Lithuanian volunteer Jonas Ohman expressed his disagreement with the way his words were used by the authors of the story. He emphasized that his assessment of the efficiency of Western aid in no way suggested that the support is being “sold on the black market” or “stolen.” Ohman pointed out that compared to early May, the situation had improved, the Western aid is very important for Ukraine’s defence, and the role of this aid will keep growing. The organisation Blue/Yellow for Ukraine headed by him published a similar statement.  

It was the statements of Ohman and his organisation that CBS cited explaining the need to correct the material.

Raising issues used by the Russian propaganda does not in itself mean collaborating with Russia. And there is no question that journalists have the right to (and even have to!) ask the government about how the taxpayers’ money is spent. But some decisions of the authors look questionable at best. Because of this, the end result can hardly be called objective and unbiased. 

That is why it became the perfect gift for the Russian propaganda. Here are just a few examples: 

The story was also received enthusiastically by some opponents of US President Joe Biden and his administration, who do not support military aid to Ukraine. This includes Representatives Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

The collection of anti-Biden memes has some new content.

So, what exactly is wrong with the story? 

The first questionable part is the line-up of speakers who comment on the issue of military aid to Ukraine. There is not a single person among them who could at least have access to this sensitive information. In addition, the experts who appear in the video are biased in their attitude towards Ukraine as a whole, not only regarding supplies of weapons.

For instance, Professor Charles Kupchan is quite vocal in his comments on the Russo-Ukrainian war. Before the full-scale invasion, he recommended that NATO should guarantee to the Kremlin that Ukraine would not become part of the organisation, and it would not become “a forward outpost of the West’s best weaponry.” 

Kupchan considers Russia one of the “great powers,” which have their areas of interest which cannot be disregarded. 

Kupchan’s other argument against military aid is that it only provokes an escalation of hostilities and does not contribute to the restoration of peace. A similar statement could be heard multiple times from Russian officials.

Another commenter, Amnesty International’s Donatella Rovera, complains about the lack of information about the further fate of Western weapons that crossed the Ukrainian border. But this expert’s position on military aid to Ukraine can also be considered biased and incorrect.

Of course, among other vectors, this organisation deals with the subject of weaponry: AI monitors illegal arms sales by governments, proliferation of anti-personnel mines, weapons of mass destruction, and some other specific types of weapons. AI consistently opposes the supply of weapons to all parties to the conflict in a war zone. But in this case, the expert fails to take into account that this is not an internal civil conflict or fighting among criminal groups. It is about Ukraine’s legitimate defence of its sovereignty against encroachment by the aggressor state. The global community is aware of significant evidence of war crimes committed by the Russian Federation against the Ukrainian civilian population. 

Interestingly, this same representative of Amnesty International does not recognize the shortcomings of the notorious report of its organisation, which blamed the Ukrainian Armed Forces for putting civilians in danger. Thus, the expert, who was also part of the team responsible for the report, essentially equates the victim and the perpetrator. 

Donatella Rovera researched conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, worked in Sudan, Libya, Syria, and the Gaza Strip. Therefore, assessing the risks of supplying arms to Ukraine, Rovera refers to the example of Iraq, where weapons provided by the US to government forces fell into the hands of the terrorists of the Islamic State.

Are these examples relevant for Ukraine? Not in the slightest: Ukraine is not in civil war, and Ukrainian citizens require help to protect their country and their lives from Russia’s external aggression. 

Rovera’s complaints about the lack of information about the supply of weapons also seem strange. Should this sensitive information be public, given the possibility of its use by the enemy? Or should the Ukrainian government report to anyone other than the donor states on the use of international aid? 

The answer is painfully obvious. Some information is classified, constitutes a state secret and cannot be provided to media or civil society organisations, even international ones. In addition, the Ukrainian government does not disclose certain information about the scope and nomenclature of the aid received specifically at the request of donors. 

Therefore, Donatella Rovera (and not only her) actually shouldn’t know where and how Western weapons received by Kyiv are used in Ukraine. This information is available only to representatives of designated government structures, the military command of Ukraine and donor states. But their comments are not part of the CBS story.

Moreover, assumptions about the embezzlement of military aid in Ukraine and its entry into the “black market” are presented in the material as an established fact. Without any evidence. 

In fact, the control over military aid to Ukraine by the partner countries is multilateral and multi-level. You can find out more in the article Weapons under Control. Eight points to prove that Western weapons are in good hands in Ukraine.

Thus, the CBS story was made without observing journalistic standards: a naturally restricted topic is discussed by speakers who do not have sufficient access to information. In addition, the impartiality of the speakers is questionable. At the same time, it fails to obtain comments from the primary stakeholders: the military and political command of Ukraine, the US or other countries. Hypothetical assumptions are presented by the authors of the story to their audience as established facts. 

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