Retired broadcast journalist Corey Flintoff shared his insights into the Russia-Ukraine War with a local audience in the Utah Theatre on Feb. 16. Flintoff’s opinions were based on his experiences during a four-year stint as Moscow bureau chief for National Public Radio (Image courtesy of Facebook).
LOGAN – In a public forum here, National Public Radio’s former Moscow correspondent Corey Flintoff explained to a local audience why the ongoing conflict in the Ukraine should matter to all Americans.
The event – hosted by Utah Public Radio — was held Thursday, Feb. 16 at the Utah Theatre, attracting an interested crowd of around 150 people.
Flintoff explained that he has closely followed the on-again, off-again war in Ukraine from afar since 2014, when Russia illegally invaded and annexed that country’s Crimean peninsula.
A year ago, after inciting tensions in the quasi-independent Lubansk and Donetsk regions, Russian forces again invaded Ukraine.
That military action has caused tens of thousands of deaths on both sides and sparked Europe’s largest refugee crisis since the Second World War.
About 8 million Ukrainians have been displaced by the conflict within their own country. As of February 2023, another 8 million refugees have flooded into the countries of Eastern Europe.
The war in Ukraine is important, Flintoff says, because Russian President Vladimir Putin is “empire-building.”
Flintoff gained that insight from his own personal experience in Russia and reports from friends still living there.
A native of Alaska, Flintoff is a retired journalist. He began his career as a broadcaster there and eventually found work reporting news for the Alaska Public Radio Network.
In 1990, he joined National Public Radio (NPR) where he covered topics as diverse as pirates in Somalia, earthquake damage in Haiti and Egypt during the Arab Spring.
During a four-year stint as NPR bureau chief in Moscow, Flintoff reported on life in an environment where the national government under Putin heavily influenced all internal media.
Having used his former role in the KGB and the power of the Russian presidency to acquire both power and personal wealth, Flintoff said that he feels that Putin is now thinking about his historic legacy.
In answer to a question from the audience, the former newsman branded Putin “… a tsarist.”
“I believe that he dreams of recreating the Russian empire,” he said.
To do that, however, Putin would have to re-acquire the former Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe, including the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Poland and Ukraine.
The rub, of course, is that Poland and Baltic states are already members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), along with two dozen other members, including the United States.
Ukraine was under consideration for admission to that alliance when Russian began its aggression eight years ago.
The NATO countries initially responded to the Russian provocation with strict economic sanctions. But Flintoff said those rules are not terribly effective in the former Soviet Union, which is largely sanction-proof.
Most people in Russia live a third-world existence, he said, where trade restrictions have little impact on their lives.
The sanctions may also have the effect of reinforcing the “big lie” that Russia’s state controlled media has been selling to its population for decades, he added.
Like many Russians, Putin grew up in the post-war era believing the myth that the Soviet Union won World War II without much assistance from its American and British allies. They saw the Cold War as a betrayal, with the West denying the Russian people the fruits of the victory that they sacrificed more than 20 million of their countrymen to obtain.
“Most Russians get their information – or disinformation, if you prefer – from state-run television,” Flintoff said, “rather than the Internet.
“So the government’s propaganda efforts are pervasive and highly effective.”
Since the Russian invasion of February 2022, many NATO countries responded by sending military hardware to Ukrainians. Although Ukraine is strictly limited to using that equipment within its own borders, the Russian military offensive has largely stalled.
To the outside world, Flintoff added, the losses that the Russians suffered at the hands of defending Ukrainians in the past year have clearly signaled that their military has been weakened by corruption and mismanagement.
But those losses haven’t been apparent to the Russian public until the body bags began returning home for funerals, he said.
“I’d guess that it will take at least two generations for Russia to recover from the black-eye its military is now receiving in Ukraine,” Flintoff estimated.
The former newsman’s appearance at the Utah Theatre was hosted by UPR was a benefit for its Corey B. Flintoff Student Internship Endowment.
Utah Public Radio is an NPR-member radio station and a service of Utah State University.
UPR broadcasts public radio content, mixing information and fine arts programming, 24 hours a day across Utah and southern Idaho.
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