Russophobia as U.S. Foreign Policy and Media Culture
A few days before Tucker Carlson was dismissed from Fox News, Fox News 9:00 PM host Sean Hannity began his evening show with a statement something like, “We know Putin is evil.” Soon thereafter, Fox News host and contributor Mark Levin chimed in with a few phrases condemning and demonizing Putin. Do we know Putin is evil or is it that we are constantly told by Deepstate politicians and their captive media that Putin is evil? What is the objective basis of such a statement? Would the assumed facts hold up to cross examination and analysis? Given the establishment media’s failure to make the obvious connections between the February 24, 2022, Russian invasion and the February 2014 U.S. State Department-backed coup and regime change in Ukraine, reasonable people have formidable cause to doubt the wisdom and factual basis of such careless and inflammatory language. Moreover, the resulting eight years of continuing war and cultural genocide perpetrated by the new coup-based Ukrainian government against the large Russian ethnic population concentrated in eastern and southern Ukraine gives us a righteous discomfort with such defamation. Both Hannity and Levin also engaged in an episode of this sort of Putin demonizing in February of this year. Moreover, in two previous interviews with President Trump, Hannity had pressed Trump very hard to condemn Putin. Trump, to his credit, refused to engage in such dangerous rhetoric. First of all, Trump is strong enough to maintain his objectivity, and second, smart enough not to make statements that would wreck any possibilities of future negotiations with Putin or the Russian Federation on Ukraine or any other issue.
Just two days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, conservative Hoover Institute Scholar and frequent Fox News commentator, Victor Davis Hanson, warned President Biden to stop demonizing Putin. Demonization of adversaries severely limits diplomatic alternatives for future peace. It is thoughtless, arrogant, and stupid, and could result in the unnecessary loss of many lives.
Russian scholar and former Princeton and New York University professor, Stephen F. Cohen, recently warned:
“The personal vilification of Russia’s president is propelling the new Cold War toward hot war, poisoning American politics, and degrading US media.”
Putin first came into national power in the Russian Federation as Prime Minister in 1999 under President Boris Yeltsin, who became the first Russian Federation President in 1991after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin became Acting President in January 2000, when Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned. Putin was elected President on the first round of voting in March 2000 with 53 percent of the vote. He was re-elected to a second term in March 2004 with 71 percent of the vote. In 2008, he became President Dmitry Medvedev’s Prime Minister and was elected President again in 2012 with 65 percent of the vote. The Russian Federation’s economy was largely controlled by corrupt industrial oligarchs during Yeltsin’s presidency and had collapsed 50% from 1991 to 2000. Putin, an economic and political reformer, managed to deport many of the oligarchs and bring growing economic prosperity to Russia. His polling has remained very strong since then. He won his 2018 reelection with 78 percent of the vote and is eligible for election in 2024. His current polling runs close to 83 percent. His polls tend to surge under Western criticism, especially on the Crimea issue. Crimea has always been predominantly Russian and voted over 78 percent for the pro-Russian Presidential candidate, Viktor Yanukovych. in the 2010 Ukrainian Presidential Election. Crimea had requested annexation by Russia after the 2014 Ukrainian coup that forced out Yanukovych. Ukrainian Army resistance in Crimea collapsed, most of them deserting to the Russian side.
Since 2008, the U.S. political-media establishment has engaged in an ongoing and increasing demonization campaign against Russian President Vladimir Putin. This coincided with NATO’s Bucharest Summit on April 3, 2008, welcoming Ukraine and Georgia’s aspirations to become NATO members. This was a Redline threat to Russian Federation national security. U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, William J. Burns, had already warned President Bush in February 2008 that “Nyet means Nyet.”—that Putin and Medvedev had indicated this was a serious existential threat to Russian national security that could result in placement of NATO missiles dangerously close to Moscow and other important NATO targets. Russia also had its major leased Black Sea naval base on Crimea. The CIA was also engaged in activities to defeat Medvedev and Putin in the 2008 elections. The political atmosphere in Georgia and Ukraine had already been heated in 2003-2005 by George Soros funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) “Color Revolutions” orchestrated by the CIA. In August 2008, there was a short war between Georgia and Russia involving South Ossetia. Color Revolutions are basically outside funded and orchestrated regime changes. These have been a common signature of American Foreign Policy since 2000.
The Bucharest Summit was also viewed by the Russians as a betrayal of the agreement to unify East and West Germany. Putin claims that Secretary of State James Baker, with the approval of President George HW Bush, on February 9, 1990, promised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand to the east if Russia accepted Germany’s reunification. This promise was affirmed verbally to Gorbachev by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on the next day. The promise was repeated in a speech by the NATO Secretary General on May 17. This was supposedly a verbal commitment implicit in the September 12, 1990, treaty. Gorbachev described these assurances in his in his memoirs.
Putin mentioned this broken promise in his famous February 2007 speech in Munich. For much of the 30 minute speech he accused the United States of creating a unipolar world “in which there is one master, one sovereign…at the end of the day this is pernicious.” This may be the spark that lit a relentless desire to destroy Putin and weaken Russia in the American Deepstate and its political allies.
A relentless stream of vicious accusations against Putin began to pour into the mainstream media. According to the media, he was a “KGB thug,” a ruthless autocratic “Czar,” who permitted corruption, and encouraged the imprisonment and assassination of journalists and political opposition. He is frequently compared to Hitler and Stalin.
A May 7, 2012, article in The Nation, Stop the Pointless Demonization of Putin, by Stephen Cohen, as well-informed a source as can be found on Putin and Russia stated:
“There is no evidence that any of these allegations against him are true, or at least entirely true. Most seem to have originated with Putin’s personal enemies, particularly Yeltsin-era oligarchs who found themselves in foreign exile as a result of his policies – or, in the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in prison. Nonetheless, U.S. media, with little investigation of their own, have woven the allegations into a near-consensus narrative of “Putin’s Russia.”
“The exceptionally vilifying charge that Putin has been behind the killing of journalists and political opponents focuses mainly on two victims – the investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot to death in Moscow in 2006; and a reputed KGB defector, Aleksandr Litvinenko, who died of radiation poisoning in London, also in 2006.”
“Not a shred of evidence or an element of logic points to Putin in either case.” Even the editors of Politkovskaya’s newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, believe her killing was ordered by Chechen leaders, whose human-rights abuses were one of her focuses. And there is no conclusive proof that Litvinenko’s poisoning was at the hands of the KGB. Significantly, Scotland Yard has still not released the required autopsy. The KGB, which was replaced by the FSB, in 1991, had a death penalty for double-agents, but Putin does not favor the death penalty in criminal courts. Connecting Litvinenko’s death to Putin is a far stretch.
The Bucha Massacre carried out on April 3, 2022, was claimed by the Ukrainian General Staff to have been perpetrated by the Russian Army and to have executed as many as 400 civilians. My latest article on Bucha, A Second Look at the Bucha Massacre, in the April 23, 2023, Times Examiner, leans toward more detailed research and articles by Jeremy Kuzmarov in May 2022 and Scott Ritter in October 2022. According to both, the Ukrainian Security Service Azov Battalion entered Bucha on Saturday, April 2, and took vengeance the next day on several dozen Ukrainians who had accepted aid or traded food provisions with Russian soldiers.
A research oriented website called MoonofAlabama.org has made some interesting statistical refutations of the media tendency to blame everything on the Russians. A large number of news sources were reporting Russian hacking. Investigation revealed that all or nearly all these were based on anonymous officials or “experts” and rebutted within days or weeks. Few corrections were announced.
On a July 22, 2022, post, MoonofAlabama.org tracked down 50 published rumors of Vladimir Putin’s serious health problems. Many of these health questions first appeared in British tabloids but worked their way up the chain of literary prestige. Most of this disinformation originated from British MI6 Intelligence Services. Finally, CIA Director William Burns, former Ambassador to the Kremlin, posted in Euronews on July 21, 2022, that “Vladimir Putin was entirely too healthy.”
It is noteworthy that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) as reported as of February 24, 2023, counted Ukrainian civilian casualties at 8,574 killed and 14,441 injured. Although all deaths in war are tragic, less than 9,000 Ukrainian civilians killed is a strong indicator that the Russians are not pursuing a total war policy targeting civilians. Putin instructed his officers from the beginning not to target Ukrainian civilians. “They are fellow Slavs and Orthodox Christians.” However, more than 5,000 Russian ethnic civilians in the Donetsk Oblast alone have been killed by Ukrainian artillery since 2014. (Should the US Support Ethnic Cleansing in Ukraine? Mike Scruggs. Times Examiner, January 27, 2023)
It will probably be a surprise to those who have been flooded with a firehose of demonizing lies about Putin for many years that Vladimir Putin seems to take his Russian Orthodox Christianity seriously. He participates in church traditions and frequently quotes three favorite Russian Christian authors—Ivan Ilyin, Nikolai Berdyaev, and Vladimir Solovyov—in important speeches. He encourages others to read them. Christianity and especially the Russian Orthodox Church have thrived since the fall of the Soviet Union and especially under Putin. According to his family, close friends, and closest associates, he takes truth, basic moral values, and loyalty seriously. He has strong feelings but controls them and is considered by family and friends to be a stable pilar of strength. He believes moral strength and integrity are important not only for individuals and families but also for nations. He is a hard worker, faithful physical fitness devotee, and Judo expert. He seldom drinks, and prefers casual to business dress, and sometimes wears a cross. He attributes many narrow escapes, overcoming difficulties, and blessings in his life to God’s gracious favor. He is, of course, a strong Russian nationalist.
In a November 2, 2016, article in The Nation, entitled, The Imperative of De-Demonizing Vladimir Putin, Stephen Cohen warns of five highly destructive developments resulting from the stream of character assassinating lies about Putin flowing from the Western political-media establishment.
Demonizing Putin is demonizing Russia and the Russian people, creating resentment and fuel for a dangerous and devastating new Cold War.
Treating Putin as a rogue leader and outlaw precludes reasonable negotiation with one of the most powerful and resource-rich nations in the world. Continuing to demonize Putin and Russia could eliminate the alternative of peaceful resolution to the Ukraine War. [Moreover, Ukraine is being destroyed, and optimistic projections of Ukrainian victory are unwarranted.]
By promoting anti-Putin allegations for which there are few, if any, verifiable facts, leading US mainstream media outlets, such as the New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN, and others, are degrading their purported journalistic standards and integrity. [I would add ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and now Fox to this list.]
Demonizing Putin prevents badly needed rethinking of American Foreign Policy.
It has inspired a disgraceful impediment to free speech and promoted politically correct shackles and poisonous cancel-culture.
In addition, I will add a sixth, which follows from the above five,
The demonization of Vladimir Putin and the Russians has helped drive the Russian Federation into an economic and military alliance with China, which has changed the Balance of Power unfavorably with respect to the United States and its allies.
Demonization and lies, purposeful or careless, are the wrong course for any nation that aspires to freedom, justice, and prosperity.