One year after the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Putin threatens the West with nuclear aggression – Screen Shot
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One year after the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Putin threatens the West with nuclear aggression

Over the past 20 years, Vladamir Putin has strengthened his global autonomy as premier of Russia, solidifying his international reputation as a prickly President and a ruthless and narcissistic Dictator. And, at the beginning of 2021, in what was one of his most diabolical acts of power, Putin spearheaded an unjustified and uncouth crusade against the neighbouring Ukraine.

Now, one year after the war began, the Russian leader has taken things that bit further—by actively considering and promoting the idea of nuclear aggression against the West.

In a speech to the Russian Parliament on 21 February 2023, Putin declared that the nation would be suspending its participation in the New START Treaty. This agreement was the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty between Russia and the US. It limits the nuclear arsenals of the two countries—and now Putin officially wants out.

According to the BBC, the Russian president announced that he had signed a decree on “putting new ground-based strategic complexes on combat standby duty.” He warned that Russia was ready to resume nuclear weapons testing, noting: “of course, we will not do it first. But if the US conducts tests, we will do it as well.”

Putin wants to show the US that he’s prepared to take Ukraine with extreme force, and that more western involvement will plunge the world further into crisis.

As depicted by a timeline created by the North Atlantic Treaty Association (NATO), Putin has pursued a very clear mandate from the moment he entered office—one of political aggression, unfounded conflict, and serious international trepidation when it comes to Western powers.

As is practically customary at this point, US President Biden held his own public debriefing on 21 February—almost certainly in response to Putin’s earlier conference. In his own speech, Biden reaffirmed the US’s allegiance to the Ukrainian effort, stating: “Our support for Ukraine will not waver, NATO will not be divided, and we will not tire.”

He continued: “President Putin’s craven lust for land and power will fail.  And the Ukrainian people’s love for their country will prevail.”

What does Putin’s speech mean for the state of international relations?

SCREENSHOT spoke with Campbell Craig, Professor of International Relations at Cardiff University, about how Putin’s recent comments regarding nuclear warfare might impact the state of global diplomacy.

Craig stated: “Putin has suspended Russian participation in the START talks, clearly as a retaliation against US support for Ukraine in the ongoing war. This is probably nothing more than a gesture, since Putin has very few other means at his disposal of hurting the US. Should the war conclude in a way that allows Putin to save face, it is likely that he will rejoin the talks and there will have been no harm done.”

The professor continued: “It’s another example of diplomatic initiatives reflecting rather than driving the larger state of relations between adversaries. Putin did not, as far as I am aware, leave the START talks because he has changed his opinion about their worth; rather, it is all about the Ukraine war and what Putin can do to stick two fingers up against Washington.”

It’s true that Putin has always had a petty side. Among a seemingly endless list of other thuggish behaviours, the Russian president has stolen a Super Bowl ring from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, allegedly abused his ex-wife, and spearheaded a number of highly problematic and illegal scams in his hometown of Saint Petersburg, as reported by Insider.

Pettiness aside, it’s definitely clear that the war in Ukraine has created a fraught political landscape—one that’s resulted in over 21,000 civilian casualties and counting. What’s worse, is that there’s no signs it’s going to start slowing down any time soon.

In regard to what might happen next, Craig concluded: “All of this said, it will be important that the talks resume at some point in order to avoid another pointless nuclear arms race, as we saw repeatedly during the Cold War. In the absence of arms control processes like these, nuclear danger increases. But the tension between the two countries over Ukraine is the underlying source of this danger: the suspension of the talks, only a symptom.”

Amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine comes an unsettling social media trend: video warcore

The horrors surrounding the Russian invasion of Ukraine are hard to miss—as the tragedies rise, so do the views on TikTok videos. Amid the trauma of this war comes a form of ‘warcore’ content we have never experienced before. Beginning as a defining term for a fashion trend, it appears that the aestheticisation of war now comes in video format.

Fashion’s problematic warcore movement

Initially coined by Vogue as a response to the menswear shows of 2019, ‘warcore’ was used as a term to describe fashion’s reaction, or perhaps reflection, of the events of the wider world. In the midst of a year that had the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a deepening humanitarian crisis in Yemen, a worsening Trump presidency, a global #Metoo movement and troubling climate change impact, it’s safe to say there was a lot going on—and fashion followed suit.

“Arguably, this strain of warcore clothing is reflective of the violence, chaos, and widespread anxiety in the world at large. Athleisure, gorpcore, workwear and streetwear are all obvious antecedents, what’s new is the sense of survivalism,” Vogue writer Steff Yotka explained. With such a statement, one must wonder who such ‘survivalism’ is for. Fashion’s ‘reflection’ of the times may actually just be a co-option of a struggle and an aestheticisation of war.

In 2019, Troy Patterson wrote about the trend in The New Yorker where he pointed to the 1996 work of critic Suzy Menkes in The New York Times in which she noted “the linkage of fashion with war [as] problematic” and suggested that the industry’s “raiding of blood-soaked references” may appear “crassly exploitative.” Such analysis can be applicable beyond the realm of warcore fashion into the current cultural reactions to war, or more accurately the Russian invasion of Ukraine, online. It is where performative activism, an obsession with graphic content and ‘aesthetic’ converge to create a TikTok-like warcore.

Patterson’s words ring as true today as they did in 2019, “Now, in a time of endless war, heedless consumption, and great social stratification, all bets are off.”

The rise of video warcore on TikTok

SCREENSHOT spoke to one Ukrainian citizen on the day the current immediate offence began—24 February—and revealed her views on the sinister “reality show” element of the war on her people. “The last two weeks became especially tensive. People are different all over the world so there were diverse reactions to the situation,” she said. At the time, she went on to share that she felt “doomed” by the situation, wishing for more to be done to help the country.

“I feel like the whole world is watching, empathising and can’t do anything. It reminds me of times when everyone was watching Squid Game. We are like the next reality show to people.”

And a reality show it seems to be. In the strange dystopian-like world we live in, the biggest war to hit a European nation since World War II is being watched on TikTok. This is, of course, not the first time social media has been used in times of war; made clear by writer Gugulethu Khumalo for SCREENSHOT in her piece Following the Tigray genocide, here’s how the African youth is redefining politics on TikTok, both TikTok’s role in Africa and Facebook’s use in the Arab Spring were citied. The arguments of social media’s positive use in spreading information to the masses are without doubt valid and true—it helps cut through the censorship of some major news organisations or governments to show people evident on-the-ground reality. However, what is surfacing today has become a little more than just that.

The ‘aesthetics’ of war have reached beyond the menial realms of clothing and have developed into a deeply intriguing, as well as ultimately tragic, cultural phenomenon online. Away from the typical content we have witnessed surface among times of war on social media comes a movement that edits gruelling, painfully traumatic and violent moments into music dominated, short trailers of sorts.

🙏🏽🇺🇦 #Ukraine Spread awareness!

♬ bringing the era back yall - chuuyas gf

Perhaps made with good intention at heart, and possibly even a motivating or encouraging element for those affected by the horrors of this invasion, such clips fit the bill. It is a strange part of the emotional discourse online that rightly aims to spread as much support for Ukraine as possible, however, there is something insidious to be said about individuals editing real horrific events into a punchy montage.

These are real Ukrainians with real trauma who are having their lives movie-fied for likes into a, much like SCREENSHOT’s Ukrainian source cited, Squid Gamelike “reality show.” Speaking of Squid Game, in an article by Jack Ramage titled Why are we all so damn obsessed with death game TV? which seeks to address the immense popularity of the genre, the writer largely explained that there is very little research out there to better understand such phenomena but stated “horror can be a satisfying experience of ‘unrealism’—the enjoyment of knowing, for a fact, that it’s all fake anyway.”

This time, however, it’s not fake, it’s real. But it appears that large pools of social media users have yet to understand this. Users have been using footage from other crises, like that of a Palestinian girl, and wrongfully labelled it as being from Ukraine—with nearly a million likes on the video, that is cause for some serious concern. Instead, TikTok users have turned legitimate blood-shed into a romanticised Call of Dutylike (COD) game they play on TikTok with the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ as their choice player.

It is ironic that I wrote such a statement alluding to COD before stumbling upon a comment on the above video, with over 30,000 likes, that writes, “There is no way this doesn’t become a COD mission.” Yes, that’s a real comment.

Our society’s worrying infatuation with being an observer to murder, war and violence has perhaps played its role in our overall desensitisation to war itself and its impact on human beings—especially for those of colour, in the Middle East and Africa, whose similar experiences with war are not met with the same support, empathy or respect.

Not to mention there are real dangers in finding yourself immersed in the warcore side of the internet. It’s not just those well-meaning videos aiming to share the news or rightly advocate for Ukraine and its freedom, others with ulterior motives have access to such tools too. Reports have surfaced that Russian powers are also pushing their own tactics in this ‘digital war’ by using fake Ukrainian social media profiles to promote its propaganda. Despite some pushback from social media platforms that have aimed to block Russian activity, these trailer-filled trenches online run deep.