Many an insult has been hurled at Vladimir Putin since he invaded Ukraine a fortnight ago, causing chaos, heartbreak and death. A bloodstained aggressor. A 21st-century Stalin. A total fucking dickhead. Beelzebub.
“Look at the face of Putin. You will see the devil,” one US commentator opined on Wednesday as a maternity hospital was bombed in the city of Mariupol.
But for the Venezuelan pundit Alberto Aranguibel, Putin’s 24 February invasion was “la guerra necesaria” – the necessary war.
The Chinese academic Wang Shuo saw it as “a US-created crisis”. “The strategic selfishness of the US has brought more disasters to the world,” Wang grumbled on Wednesday in the state-run Global Times, blaming Washington’s “selfish and short-sighted action” for plunging Ukraine into war.
And for the editorial board at Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper, it was time to abandon the unhelpful fantasy that Putin’s “ambition and wickedness” was the sole culprit and face “the difficult truth” of how Nato’s eastward push had paved the way for disaster.
“The west’s horror at Putin’s actions should be placed in the context of the shameful history of western powers’ involvement in illegal wars,” said an article in the prominent South African newspaper the Daily Maverick, pondering South Africa’s perceived neutral position on the war.
“Has the west’s response to the Ukraine invasion been hypocritical? Unequivocally: yes,” the author argued, before also condemning Putin’s “unjustifiable and illegal onslaught on a sovereign state”.
Much of the coverage exploring western hypocrisy has come from predictable quarters: state-run media outlets in authoritarian Russia allies such as Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, Cuba and China, where pro-regime journalists have largely shunned the word “invasion”.
“When will they sanction the US for its crimes and invasions?” Telesur’s Venezuela correspondent, Madelein García, wondered this week after Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports.
The Chavista commentator Aranguibel painted Putin not as an aggressor but the victim of “the most brutal and intense demonisation campaign ever seen”. “[The campaign is] perhaps only comparable to the one that’s been waged against president Nicolás Maduro for at least a decade,” Aranguibel wrote in Últimas Noticias, a pro-government tabloid, although the anti-US tone in Venezuela’s pro-regime media appeared to soften after talks with Biden officials last Saturday.
China’s official news agency, Xinhua, calls the conflict “the Ukraine situation”. while North Korea’s state-run KCNA agency has called western sanctions an “abuse of power”.
“The root cause of the Ukraine crisis totally lies in the hegemonic policy of the US and the west, which enforce themselves in high-handedness and abuse of power against other countries,” KCNA quoted a foreign ministry official as saying.
In Taipei, meanwhile, media outlets pondered if Russia’s actions set a worrying precedent for Taiwan, where the threat of an invasion by China looms large. Headlines asked: “Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow?”
Granma, the mouthpiece for Cuba’s Communist party, slammed the “Yankee empire’s ruthless campaign” against Russia while downplaying the conflict as a “desacuerdo” (disagreement) between Moscow and Kyiv.
In Syria, state media have been fully behind Bashar al-Assad, who has backed Putin’s war from the outset after Russia helped him secure his own position in Syria over the last seven years.
But criticism of western double standards has not been limited to state media outlets in Russian allies.
An opinion article in the South African daily the Mail & Guardian called the conflict “soaked in contradictions”, criticising western media coverage and government responses that appeared to frame the war in Ukraine as worse than other conflicts outside Europe.
“Even as we deplore the violence and the loss of life in Ukraine resulting from the Russian intervention … it is valuable to step back and look at how the rest of the world may perceive this conflict,” it said.
“Fear of domination, potential enemies spur Russia’s invasion,” read a headline in the Guardian in Nigeria, reflecting widely held beliefs about perceived Nato expansionist aims in Europe being partially to blame.
Yan Boechat, a Brazilian journalist who is reporting on the humanitarian crisis from Kyiv, scoffed at the “cynical, hypocritical” tears being shed by the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, over victims of the Ukraine conflict, given the carnage his country’s military had caused in Iraq.
“Under Obama, the US was just as cruel in Mosul as Putin. Nobody was left to mourn the dead. US planes killed them all,” Boechat tweeted, recalling how he had stumbled over body parts while reporting from the devastated Iraqi city six months after the war there.
“Unfortunately, cruelty, barbarity and injustice aren’t unique to Putin and the Russians,” the Brazilian journalist concluded. “Victims are mourned depending on the aggressor. [But] they are all victims: civilians who are Ukrainian, Iraqi, Syrian, Afghan.”