This is the third part (of 5 ) of a paragraph by paragraph commentary on a recent article posing as journalism in the March 6, 2017 issue of The New Yorker. I hope to demonstrate that this article is basically a totally mendacious concoction of cold war US propaganda constructed out of unsubstantiated opinions expressed by US government officials and various journalists and others who are hostile to the current Russian government. There are a few paragraphs exempt from this characterization and they are duly noted. I have put a link to the article itself so that my commentary can be compared, paragraph by paragraph, to the original. However, the commentary can be read on its own. I contend it expresses the real meaning of the original paragraph and my evaluation of that meaning. The original is there for anyone to check to see if I have distorted rather than clarified what the paragraph’s actual meaning is. It is my position that this article is junk journalism which misrepresents the objective reality it purports to describe and that my commentary points out the misrepresentations and attempts to correct them. I hold that no self respecting journalist would write an article such as this New Yorker piece and palm it off on the public. My commentary is also an object lesson on how to distinguish between reportage that at least attempts to be unbiased and obvious nonobjective propaganda. You will know more about Trump, Putin and the New Cold War from the commentary than you will ever know from the original article.
Active measures were used by both sides throughout the Cold War. In the nineteen-sixties, … Evan Osnos joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2008, …
Section 3 “Putin’s World” — This section has thirty-one paragraphs:
‘Preface’ I am basically going to list the known facts in each paragraph and mostly ignore blatant speculation, value judgments , and ridiculous reportage (such as Putin’s inner mental states) except to point them out.
- Putin was born in Leningrad in 1952. In WWII the Nazis besieged the city for 900 days and mass starvation occurred. His father was wounded during the war. He joined the KGB when he was 23 in 1975 and ended up in the German Democratic Republic.
- When the Wall came down in 1989 Putin was in Dresden burning documents in a Soviet compound. Russia did not intervene to save the Wall.
- Putin went back to Russia and the Soviet Union dissolved and the eastern European socialist countries “went their own way.”
- In August 1991 Communists loyal to the USSR attempted a coup to preserve the Soviet Union — it failed.
- The fall of the USSR brought new rights to masses of people, but also tens of millions of Russian Soviet citizens now found themselves outside of Russia in newly independent former Soviet republics — many were anxious about the future.
- Putin’s speeches, etc., recall the 1990s as a period of social anarchy in which the Western powers tired to take advantage of Russia. The authors state that Putin overlooks some “stubborn facts” but only provide one, if any, and that is that Russia was allowed into the G7 which became the G8. What they don’t mention is that the US had promised not to expand NATO or try to include former Soviet allies in a new bigger NATO pressed up on the borders of Russia. The US then did just the opposite. The US and the West also connived to break up Yugoslavia and militarily attack Serbia a friend of Russia. Having incited violence in the Balkans the US then used the violence to justify Western intervention. The authors state that the expansion of NATO to the countries the US had promised not to was due to the fact that they “wanted protection.” But no one was threatening them!
- Strobe Talbott, President Clinton’s top advisor on Russia, justified not keeping the promise to Russia re NATO expansion on the grounds that it felt “unfair” to him not to let the former Soviet allies into NATO. Not to do so because Russia might be “frightened” by having the US push NATO right up to its borders “didn’t hold water.”
- In 1996 while visiting Russia Clinton tells Talbott that he doesn’t regret expanding NATO and intervening in the Balkans even though it was putting Yeltsin on the spot.
- Frank talk from Clinton to Talbot (a direct quote): “We keep telling ol’ Boris [Yeltsin] ‘O.K. now here’s what you’ve got to do next — here’s some more shit for you face.” It appears that the problems we have with Putin is that he won’t take our shit in his face.
- Earlier Yeltsin had complained to Talbott about the US’s superior attitude towards Russia. The counter-revolutionary transition from a socialist to a capitalist economy had disrupted Russian society but Yeltsin told Talbott “Russia will rise again” and he wanted “equal treatment” from the US. [Russia has nuclear weapons but as an economic power it just isn’t equal to the US. The US has caused a lot of unnecessary problems for all concerned by rubbing Russia’s nose in this fact.]
- The 1996 presidential election in Russia. The US imposed “shock therapy” caused millions of of people economic hardships. It looked like the Communist Party would win the election. The authors write that with the help of the newly created oligarchs [Kremlin insiders who high jacked state property during the transition and became millionaires and billionaires almost overnight] and the IMF (International Money Fund i.e., the US) Yeltsin was able “to eke out a victory.” [The authors don’t mention that during the vote count the trend was indicating the Communists were winning and the count was stopped for 24 hours due to computer “malfunction.” When the count resumed Yeltsin was ahead. This was the Russian introduction to “democracy American style.”]
- New Years 1996. Yeltsin resigns and apologizes for the mess the transition to capitalism has caused.
- Yeltsin then appointed Vladimir Putin “his successor.” The people running the Russian government had decided Putin was the most capable person to handle the problems they were encountering or, in the neutral terminology of objective New Yorker journalism, he had proved himself “loyal to his bosses.”
- Putin, as did Ford with Nixon, arranged that Yeltsin would not be prosecuted in the future for any crimes committed while he was in office. Off to good start. Andrei Kozyrev, a representative of the kleptocracy and oligarchic takeover of the Soviet economy under Yeltsin, he was foreign minister 1990-96, says Putin finalized a reconsolidation of the “old order.” This is nonsense as that would entail the resocialization of the economy and the Communist Party’s return to power, which was prevented by the rigging of 1996 election. Kozyrev said “the inability to complete the economic and political reforms” caused Russia to slip back “into confrontation with the West and NATO.” In other words, the breaking of the promise not to expand NATO to the Russian border wasn’t the cause of the confrontation but Putin’s stopping the virtual give away of the the economy to the oligarchs and his making economic reforms that befitted the majority of the Russian people instead of the Yeltsin clique that allied itself with the West and US “shock therapy” was the cause. It’s all Putin’s fault.
- When Putin took over he found a “barely functional state.” He replaced Yeltsin loyalists with his own people and brought “every aspect of the country’s political life, including the media” under “the ‘Vertical of power’ that he constructed.” This is a ridiculous overstatement as there is a large and active Communist Party in Russia with its own press and there are still independent papers and journalists at work in the Russian Federation even if television has been brought under state supervision. Putin has many authoritarian tendencies but they pale in comparison with those of some US NATO allies such as Turkey.
- When first in office, Putin tried to be friendly with the West.
- Bush then invaded Iraq [on trumped up charges revealing an aggressive warlike US]. in 2007 Putin stated the US has “overstepped its national borders in every area.” He also claimed the expansion of NATO was directed at Russia. Robert Gates reported, re Putin’s claim, “people were inclined to pass it off as a one-off.” [Ignoring Russia’s concerns and not taking them seriously was bound to have negative reactions; it was the typical behavior of big power arrogance.]
- Many speculations on Putin’s inner mental states, intentions, etc. but the facts are: In 2012 he became president for the third time. Marxism-Leninism was no longer the state doctrine. Putin began appealing to Russian nationalism, traditional patriotism, and long standing Russian moral and ethical customs some of which predated the Communists. [The authors fail to mention his promotion of the reactionary Russian Orthodox church, the seat of some horrible, backward disgusting “values” such as misogyny, intolerance, and sexual phobias]. His restrictions on gay rights was a ploy for popular support from the unenlightened masses [sadly, it was supported by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation which displayed inexcusable backwardness on this issue.]
- Putin has rejected as official policy the atheism of the Soviet State. He supports what he calls “Christian” values which form the basis of Western Civilization. [Whether supporting “Christian” values, Christians can’t seem to agree on what they are, is the same as being a “Christian” is questionable.]
- A very long paragraph full of all kinds of absurd postulations, mostly about what was going on in Putin’s mind in relation to Obama’s “embrace” of the “uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.” In fact the US was a long time supporter of both dictators and was lukewarm at best when confronted with their overthrow. Putin condemned the failure of “his protégé” President Medvedev (Putin was PM at the time after two terms, as president, sitting out a term so he would eligible to run for a third term) for not vetoing a US UN resolution authorizing military intervention in Libya. [It does not appear that Putin was the all powerful authoritarian this article tries to portray: he can’t even get his “protégé” to follow his script!] The authors then quote an independent Russian, journalist, Mikhail Zygar who amazingly knows what Putin “absorbed” regarding the violent end of Qaddafi. The lesson he learned was that when Qaddafi was a “pariah” (i.e., seen as anti Western) he was “safe”, but when he tried to be more accommodating to the US and its allies he was killed like a dog by a mob. We have gone from bad journalism to low fiction. Putin is not a middle eastern dictator nor is the Russian Federation Libya. Putin is not standing up to the US and NATO because he fears a howling mob of Muscovites will drag him out of the Kremlin and summarily dispatch him. Neither Zygar nor the authors have any idea what Putin “absorbed” beyond a possible contempt for Western diplomatic hypocrisy which he probably had learned anyway many years ago.
- Another long paragraph about Putin’s reservations concerning US policies( labeled by the authors as “grievances against the West” — they often use the term “West” when they refer to US government policies. As usual the assessments of Putin’s inner mental states are provided by either anti-Putin Russians or US government officials. In this paragraph we get the opinions of Obama’s former national security advisor, Tom Donilon. He tells us Putin thought the anti-government demonstrations of 2011 were a prelude supported by foreigners to weaken or get rid of him. In Donilon’s opinion Putin became more actively hostile against the US and the West. This is illustrated by the fact that Obama cancelled a summit meeting with Putin because Russia, which has no mutual extradition treaty with the US, refused to hand over Edward Snowden to the tender mercies of the the US “justice” system. In other words, if you don’t follow American demands you are “hostile.” Donilon also remarks that Putin “works with” a small group of advisors who are former intelligence officials. So what?
- We are told that in Russia dissent is “marginalized,” opposition candidates are not treated fairly, and so called human-rights groups funded “from abroad” have to be registered as “foreign agents.” Russian television media [like our own] tends to reflect official government views.
- In Putin’s Russia we find out prison camps are not filled with his enemies, but he has made a few “chilling” examples [as has the US]. Russian TV, as described in the article, looks a lot like American TV. Comparing the description of the Russian mass media to that given by Bernie Sanders in his book “Our Revolution” one doesn’t see much difference. The ruling elites in both countries pretty much dominate what the masses watch but there are outlets for critical views on Facebook and Web sites, and oppositional magazines and books are available.
The authors point out that “even” in the internet age more that 80% of Russians get their news from TV [the corresponding number of Americans is 90% according the Sanders]. The authors also assert that Putin’s popularity ratings are the result of “manipulation” of TV coverage (it’s a “crucial factor”). [Didn’t American TV go out of the way to give coverage to Trump to boost their ratings and profits while basically ignoring Bernie Sanders — no manipulation of coverage there!] I’m beginning to think Rupert Murdoch is a secret partner of The New Yorkers’ parent company (Condé Nast a subsidiary of Advance Publications).
- On Putin’s 60th birthday (2012) Russian TV ran a flattering documentary about him and a TV commentator favorably compared him to Stalin. [For reasons non-Russians in the West don’t understand Stalin is still fairly popular with many Russians and others in the former Soviet Union and many millions of peasants and working people in the Third World]. The authors also repeat, without any evidence, the allegations made by some “well-informed critics” that Putin is worth “tens of billions of dollars.” It seems that any comment by Putin’s critics, as long as it is negative, has its place in this article.
- Masha Lipman, editor of “Counterpoint” criticizes Russian TV’s coverage of Putin as, in her bitter opinon,“not just the ultimate boss but the embodiment of Russian statehood.”
- We get a few sentences from a 2015 Russian documentary about Putin where he opines sentiments similar to Mao’s political power grows from the barrel of a gun or TR’s walk softly but carry a big stick. The host of the documentary then says Putin is the leader of “the conservative part of both European and American society.” [This really is Russian over reach as Putin represents conservative Russian nationalism; the Europeans have their own nationalisms and he certainly isn’t a leader of any group of American conservatives as both Liberals and Conservatives in the US are anti-Russian and pro Western and don’t see Russia as basically “Western.”]
- Putin says the elites of foreign countries only like Russia when it is weak and don’t like it when “we start talking about our interests.” They don’t like feeling there is competition.
- In February 2014 a Western supported coup drove the elected president of the Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych, from office. The authors follow the CIA line in explaining what happened next (they quote the former deputy director Michael Morell.) The CIA is famous for wire tapping, but Morell can do better. He can tap Putin’s brain and tell us what he was thinking when Yanukovych was driven from office. Putin was thinking “Yikes, this could happen to me! I have to crush these upstart Ukrainians.”
- The road to Kiev lies through Damascus. This is an unimaginable paragraph once it is deconstructed. It maintains that Russia intervened in Syria not because it intended to defend its national interests (its alliance with Syria and its Mediterranean naval bases) but because Putin wanted to prevent the overthrow of “dictators.” The Russians wanted “to halt a trend which started with the invasion of Iraq and continued through the downfall of dictators in Egypt and Libya.” This is a completely imaginary trend. Iraq wasn’t invaded to get rid of a dictator but to try and get control of its oil and to assert American imperial interests in the region and lies about its WMDs and nuclear intentions were offered as the excuse. The country was virtually destroyed and has been in a state of war and turmoil ever since due to the incompetence of the US military’s handling of the situation created by the Bush and Obama administrations. The same goes for Libya and Afghanistan. The trend is one of the US overthrowing governments and leaving anarchy and mayhem behind (the excuse in Libya was a fictional plot to massacre civilians). Egypt was an entirely different situation. A non violent uprising by the Egyptians themselves, without outside intervention, to get rid of an American supported dictator. The US did not approve and only grudgingly supported the movement after the fact. Egypt is now run by a fully supported dictator who has reimposed the previous military regime. In another case of mind reading an anonymous US official reveals that Putin thought the US was behind all the governmental changes “right through Libya” and was determined to stop this trend in Syria. Sergey Shoigu, the Russian Defense Minister is quoted as saying the Russian intervention put an end to the US backing of “color revolutions.” There is no room here to go over the history of “color revolutions” but suffice it to say unlike genuine popular “revolutions” such as in Tunisia and Egypt, or wars of aggression as in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, “color revolutions” are uprisings whose success depends on outside funding and support by US imperialist interests. The paragraph ends with some hypocritical musings about the battle to rid Aleppo of jihadists with no mention of the similar abuses of the US sponsored attempt to rid Mosul of its jihadists. One thing both battles have in common is that they are the result, in the last analysis, of US policies and interventions in the Middle East.
- This paragraph deals with “contentions” between the Pentagon and the White House over “what to do about Russia.” Since we are not supposed to be a military dictatorship and the President is the commander in chief, there shouldn’t be any “contentions” over in the Pentagon about how the “White House” decides to deal with Russia. The generals wanted to send “advanced weaponry” to the Ukraine and the President didn’t. Somewhere in this discussion the issue may have been what were the risks of turning the Ukraine into another Syria since Russia would certainly see to it that the Russian speaking population in the Ukraine, fighting for autonomy and the preservations of its rights that the new nationalist government in Kiev threatened, would not be out weaponed by US intervention. The issue, however, was not the well being of the Ukraine but the maintenance of US control of the “international order” and the unwritten principle that only the US and its surrogates had the right to militarily interfere in other countries. Here is a the quote from Evelyn Farkas, the Pentagon’s “most senior policy officer for Russia,” to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: she wanted more American force in Ukraine because Russia’s behavior was “an affront to the international order that we and our allies have worked to build since the end of the Cold War.” The fact that this order is an American creation that does not benefit the vast majority of humanity [endless wars, destruction of the climate and environment, increases in military expenditures, relief and preventions of famines and plagues as well as the aftermaths of natural disasters not adequately planned for and funded] is beside the point. Any country that resists this American order must be militarily confronted if diplomacy fails to ensure compliance. The “White House” was not necessarily questioning this doctrine, only that the timeline had not reached this point yet and that sanctions might still induce the Russians to cooperate.
- Obama thinks, “with considerable justification,” that escalating the military conflict in Ukraine won’t make the Russians backdown and will ultimately hurt Ukraine. Farkas doesn’t agree, can’t change Obama’s mind, and resigns and joins the Clinton campaign as “a policy advisor.” Clinton, as clueless as Farkas with regard to the likely hood of a disastrous military confrontation with Russia, “sometimes favored the use of military force when Obama did not.” [Fresh from her success in getting a military intervention in Libya, HRC was now advocating a no-fly zone in Syria and potential conflict with the Russian air force. Happy days are here again]. Farkas liked HRC because “she got it on Russia.” [Whatever domestic disasters we may have to endure, Clinton’s defeat in November may well have saved the world a major and unthinkable war: our election was really a choice between a rock and a hard place!]
This is the end of part three. From reading part three of The New Yorker Article you will not have learned anything at all about whether or not the Russian government or Putin had anything to do with the “hacking” of the DNC or if they interfered with our elections. Maybe we will learn something in part four.
Thomas Riggins is the former associate editor of Political Affairs online and a university philosophy lecturer in New York City.