Joe Biden’s off-the-cuff declaration on Saturday that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” almost immediately walked back by the White House, has dominated Western news coverage this weekend as it stepped on the message the president was trying to put out while giving a boost to the Kremlin’s fanatical propaganda claims about a “fifth column” supposedly working towards regime change in Russia.
But don’t let the wall-to-wall coverage of Biden’s “rhetorical escalation” distract you from the very literal, bloody escalations by Putin’s shock troops.
You may have heard about the six missiles Russia fired at the Ukrainian city of Lviv even as Biden was speaking just across the border.
But what about the reports of white phosphorus munitions being used by Russian troops on Saturday night—just as much of the Western world was in a tizzy over Biden’s assessment of Putin. Ukrainian forces in Avdiivka shared photos of the white phosphorus raining down, days after President Volodymyr Zelensky had warned the world that Russia was using “phosphorus bombs against peaceful people in Ukraine.”
Using a highly toxic chemical substance known for its ability to burn, as one chemical weapons expert put it, “very vigorously” through human flesh—that’s an escalation the whole world should be talking about.
Want another one?
The mayor of Slavutych on Saturday announced at least three civilian deaths as he said the northern city had been taken over by Russian troops. He said the decision to surrender was made to save civilian lives—and pleaded with relatives to come identify the bodies.
Imagine how many Ukrainians were agonizing over whether their missing loved ones were dead or alive while so many in the West focused on Biden’s speech, acting as if his comments might somehow drastically alter the trajectory of the war.
Their stories were pushed on the back burner as Western commentators speculated on how Russia might respond to Biden’s remark.
The story of survivors in Mariupol forced to bury their loved ones—or even complete strangers—in hastily dug graves in courtyards of apartment buildings.
The story of the funeral home there literally giving out empty coffins because there are so many dead bodies on the street.
“When burying the dead, put in the coffin at least some kind of information about the person,” the funeral home director, Nikolai Saparov, flatly advised on Facebook.
Ukrainians who said they’d made it out of Mariupol alive took to social media to vent about the nightmares they’d witnessed there playing on loop in their minds—and the fear that people in the West no longer want the realities of the war looping in their media feeds. That maybe it’s easier instead to nitpick over Biden’s remarks.
“Unfortunately, not many people want to hear about ripped off legs, fecal matter in buckets, and dead children with ashes instead of lungs,” one Twitter user wrote after she said she fled the devastated city.
It’s hard to look directly at what is happening in Ukraine for too long, and on some level people are probably getting tired hearing about all the dead children.
But don’t we owe it to the people standing up to Putin on behalf of the whole world to stay focused on what’s important there?
On the real escalation. On the war crimes. On the cities wiped off the face of the earth.
In case you missed it amid all the Biden-straight-talk-drama, Russian forces abducted hundreds of staff and sick patients from a Mariupol hospital on Saturday, according to local authorities.
The soldiers found the civilians taking shelter from the incessant bombing in the basement of the building, and snatched them “by force.” Sick people in need of urgent treatment. Taken away at gunpoint, presumably to somewhere in Russia.
But yes, by all means, let’s all keep bickering about the fallout over Biden pointing out that Putin’s a bad man.