You would have thought the Brussels-based media would be salivating and all over the latest breaking story from Germany.
Media in the capital of Europe have just had a month of watching tumbleweed during August when everyone working for the European Union goes on their summer break, leaving the Brussels news scene moribund.
But revelations from a German investigation that “all evidence” suggests Ukraine blew up the undersea Nord Stream gas pipelines linking Russia to Europe has prompted a surprising — if not bizarre — lack of interest from the media establishment such as Politico and Euroactiv.
It’s a spy thriller that has the potential to change the course of international politics: A year ago, a secret commando blew up the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. Since then, investigators have been searching for the perpetrators. The leads… https://t.co/zDIvTVV5KV
— DER SPIEGEL (@derspiegel) August 25, 2023
“It was a catastrophic assault on energy supplies, a singular act of sabotage – an attack on Germany,” notes Der Spiegel.
A senior security official called the investigation mounted by German news outlets ZDF and Der Spiegel the “most important investigation of Germany’s postwar history because of its potential political implications”.
In short: A big deal. But apparently not big enough for most media in Brussels to engage with beyond previous short articles that, admittedly, addressed suspicions about who might be the culprit, but which left readers with a significant amount of uncertainty: was it the US, Russia or Ukraine… oh it’s just too complicated, nothing to see here, what better to Tweet out for “engagement”.
Now there is a firmer indication of what happened — a marked drop in coverage.
Is that because media deem there is still too much uncertainly? If so, wouldn’t that warrant coverage from that angle.
Or does the recalcitrance have more to do with how the latest news makes for an awkward situation. One that muddies the waters in terms of the narratives pushed by the EU and mainstream media depicting Ukraine versus Russia as solely being a case of the good guys versus the very bad guys, and the Ukrainian government and its plucky leader being exemplars of brave virtue.
“It is not a core EU policy story,” Pieter Cleppe, editor-in-chief of Brussels Report, tells Brussels Signal. “EU bubble media are not known for challenging what polite society thinks.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the EU has provided staunch support to Ukraine. That is not to be criticised in the face of Russian aggression and reports of war crimes.
But over the course of more than 500 days of war fighting the EU has stuck rigidly to only this approach: channelling billions of euros’ worth of weapons to Ukraine, backed up by a black and white narrative that Ukraine must defeat Russia at all costs, and which apparently brooks no diplomatic options despite the body count skyrocketing.
The cost of the Ukraine war to both sides in terms of blood, treasure and collective trauma has been catastrophic.
The lack of a defined “endgame” in Ukraine beyond one option that appears increasingly hard to achieve is an increasing dilemma for the EU with each day that passes, writes @jrfjeffrey.@RStatecraft | @TheGrayzoneNews | @TomasZdechovskyhttps://t.co/Chh6GIWnYV
— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) August 2, 2023
Yet many in the EU have remained remarkably comfortable at tolerating this based on the concept that the right side must win at all costs.
Even the Pope has called out the lack of “creative energy” around bringing the war to a peaceful end.
As the US writer Sohrab Ahmari describes in The dissident is dead, attempts during the earlier Cold War and post-9/11 eras to divide global politics “into camps of demons and angels” often didn’t work, nor reflected the more complicated reality, and sometimes even backfired.
But, of course, working with that more complicated reality and how there are always contradictions and fallibility built into the human condition and its endeavours — especially the likes of warfare — requires effort, time and concentration.
Far easier just to ignore and not engage with having to square the murky outcome that Ukraine, in the name of its valiant war effort, made a strategic call to attack a vital bit of infrastructure for an EU country and its people (the potential rationale behind the alleged Ukrainian action was to undermine the hold Moscow had over Germany last year, with the key EU Member State continuing to remain reliant upon Russian gas exports after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine).
“Everyone is shying away from the question of consequences,” one member of the German parliament representing a party that is a member of the government coalition told Der Spiegel about the politically sensitive findings of the investigation.
The revelation that Ukraine probably blew up the pipelines does not mean that country is no longer the victim of Russian aggression or shouldn’t be supported by the EU.
But it does make things less simple. It illustrates a range of possibilities, such as President Volodymyr Zelensky not being quite the clean-cut ally he is portrayed to be, to whether the Ukrainian military kept him in the dark about the plan.
EU leaders don’t appear great at working with such shade and tone these days. Neither does the media that “reports” on the EU and its handling of the war.
Instead, too many media rather than maintaining transparency have become a servant of those in power, adopting a journalistic priority to push whatever themes and narratives serve those holding the levers of power.
The latest lack of media engagement with potential Ukrainian double standards and skulduggery illustrates how partisan much of the press corps in Brussels have become.
It also emphasises how carefully you, the media recipient, should tread when consuming media.
It also highlights the necessity for discernment about which media you turn to if you want a chance of unbiased coverage. Or at least a fair effort made by editors and journalists to provide the facts of the matter best known at a particular moment in time.