Mental escalators of violence in US policy and media makers – Part 4K. US “experts” display skills in creative fiction, but they fail in history, research, reading comprehension, and truth

False Bias #11: Putin Is a Deluded Man Seeking Empire Whose Interest in History Reveals His Ignorance, Backward Views, and Crazed Longing for a Mythological Past. We’ve been talking about some of the statements made by Damon Wilson, President of the National Endowment for “Democracy” (NED), and Derek Mitchell, President of the National Democratic Institute, a core institute of NED. Although Wilson and Mitchell are not here to defend or clarify their thinking, I’ve been explaining in these essays why their statements about Russia and about Putin seem entirely unsubstantiated.

But Wilson and Mitchell are not alone in their views. Whether due to groupthink or individual biases, their unwarranted claims are amplified by the words of journalists and writers who juxtapose their own biases on top of Putin’s every word, so that the meaning they attribute to his words is actually a reflection of their own minds rather than an accurate representation of Putin’s words. For example, the article, “Who Is Vladimir Putin’s Revisionist History For?” is written by a staff writer at The Atlantic, Yasmeen Serhan, but her words are heavily infused with her own prejudices and ignorance.[1]

To give a few examples, Serhan opens by describing President Putin as one whose behavior seems to change the message of a famous quote appreciated by President Obama, from “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice,” to “The arc of history is long, but it bends backwards.” Is she just looking for a quick laugh at someone’s expense and crowd popularity? You know, the usual way middle-school Americans make friends? What proof does she have to support her little twist on the quote? Does she realize she’s playing with fire, with possible WWIII?

Like other US experts, Serhan demonstrates black-and-white thinking about Putin as the bad guy and US presidents as the good guys. Keep in mind, we’re talking about Obama, the one who escalated the extrajudicial US drone war in the Mid-East, who made up kill lists with his team to determine who, without even a trial or defense lawyer, would be subject to die, and who vastly escalated US weapon sales abroad, no doubt winning even more approval and political support from General Dynamics and the Lester Crown family. Serhan, without a scrap of evidence and no apparent efforts at research, places Obama on the side of justice and Putin on the side of both injustice and backwardness.

Yet there is nothing backwards and unjust about the proposals Putin makes in his essay of July 2021 and his speeches of 2007 and 2022. His ideas about disarmament, preventing the militarization of space, honoring international law, and helping the poor without hypocritically requiring foreign “aid” for the poor to benefit donor nations’ wealthy corporations are infinitely more honorable, progressive, and just than anything US foreign policymakers have to offer. Instead, Serhan seems to conclude that since Putin makes remarks about Russian history and the historical development of Ukraine, his views about policy and life must be backwards. In other words, if you talk about long ago in history, your own aims are backwards.

She then describes Putin’s February 21, 2022 speech as a “rambling and ahistorical speech dismissing Ukraine’s right to exist.” Why she states it is ahistorical isn’t clear. She never explains what she means with any specific points. Is she calling it “rambling” because it’s too long for her to grasp? Or does it not fit in with the American mainstream media maximum word limit rules? Of course, those Americans trained to write and think in sound bites will find anything over 500 words to be too overwhelming to comprehend, thus the word “rambling” to hide their own deficiencies of comprehension.

Putin’s speech absolutely did not dismiss Ukraine’s right to exist. Serhan seems to be oddly parroting the phrase used against those who oppose Israel’s existence, said to deny “Israel’s right to exist.” But Putin does not deny Ukraine’s right to exist. Not at all. This is an example of unforgivably weak reading comprehension. Serhan then claims, “In his telling, if Ukraine had once been part of the Soviet sphere, it should be part of Russia.” Her claim is again false. It is shocking that such reporting can be considered journalism.

When Serhan refers to Putin’s statement in his July 2021 essay, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” that Ukrainians and Russians are “‘one people—a single whole,’” she totally misinterprets his meaning, suggesting that he wants the political divisions between Ukraine and Russia to disappear, even though he has implied in his July 2021 essay that the relationship Russia wishes to have with Ukraine is like that between the US and Canada. The “one people—a single whole” that he is speaking of refers to their historic, cultural, and blood ties, not the merging of two nations into one.[2] But Serhan, off in her own imaginative world, remarks that “only 36 percent” of Russians support using military force “as a means of forcing a reunification of the two countries,” as if this is something Putin even wishes to do, as when the US forcibly annexed the Kingdom of Hawaii. Putin has expressly stated that he is not interested in this, and, indeed, based on his statements of Russia’s legitimate international concerns, it makes no sense that this would be anything he’s seeking.

Of course, Serhan isn’t the only journalist, “think” tank thinker, and policymaker to voice this false statement about Putin’s essay. Examples of those caught up in this groupthink are numerous. Isaac Chotiner, for example, writing in the New Yorker, claims like so many others in the herd that “Putin has made clear that he believes Ukraine has no historical claim to independent statehood.”

What Chotiner is getting at here isn’t clear. In fact, in his February 21, 2022 speech, Putin states, “. . . modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik, Communist Russia. This process started practically right after the 1917 revolution. . . .”[3]

In his July 2021 essay, Putin writes:

At a meeting on 10 January 1918, the head of the Ukrainian delegation read out a note proclaiming the independence of Ukraine. Subsequently, the Central Rada proclaimed Ukraine independent in its Fourth Universal. . . .

. . . In autumn 1918, Ukrainian nationalists proclaimed the West Ukrainian People’ Republic (WUPR) and, in January 1919, announced its unification with the Ukrainian People’s Republic. In July 1919, Ukrainian forces were crushed by Polish troops, and the territory of the former WUPR came under the Polish rule.

Putin also explains how:

. . . in early 1918, the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic was proclaimed and asked Moscow to incorporate it into Soviet Russia. This was met with a refusal. During a meeting with the republic’s leaders, Vladimir Lenin insisted that they act as part of Soviet Ukraine.”[4]

Now, we can compare Putin’s dates of Ukraine’s official independence with a few other sources. In An Atlas of World History, by Gerald Danzer, the very earliest appearance of Ukraine in the historical maps of Europe is one that shows Ukraine and states “1917-1922,” implying the years of its independent existence.[5] According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica online, Ukraine had a brief period of independence from 1918 to 1920.

So for what precisely is Chotiner criticizing Putin? It seems clear that Ukraine’s first record of official statehood was in 1918, at the time the Bolsheviks were in power. This seems to be their only “historical claim to independent statehood.” Does Chotiner find something wrong with this? Is he saying that Putin, the atlas, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica are all wrong? Is he suggesting that Ukraine was actually an independent state prior to 1917? Or is he upset that Putin is explaining the Bolsheviks’ role in creating the political boundaries of Ukraine?

Putin writes:

In the 1920’s–1930’s, the Bolsheviks actively promoted the “localization policy,” which took the form of Ukrainization in the Ukrainian SSR. . . .

The localization policy undoubtedly played a major role in the development and consolidation of the Ukrainian culture, language and identity. At the same time, under the guise of combating the so-called Russian great-power chauvinism, Ukrainization was often imposed on those who did not see themselves as Ukrainians. . . .

. . . In 1954, the Crimean Region of the RSFSR was given to the Ukrainian SSR, in gross violation of legal norms that were in force at the time. . . .

Therefore, modern Ukraine is entirely the product of the Soviet era. We know and remember well that it was shaped—for a significant part—on the lands of historical Russia. To make sure of that, it is enough to look at the boundaries of the lands reunited with the Russian state in the 17th century and the territory of the Ukrainian SSR when it left the Soviet Union.[6]

I’m just trying to understand why this is upsetting to Chotiner. Does he feel that Putin is implying that Ukraine, therefore, should now be a part of Russia, within its political national borders? But Putin never said anything like this! Putin is not saying, “And therefore it has no right to independence now.” After all, Donetsk and Lugansk also have no historical claim to independent statehood, and Putin is not saying they have no right to exist now.

Putin was simply telling the story of Ukraine’s history. And he’s right. If you look at any historical maps, the land north of the Black Sea, the land that is now Ukraine, was, in the past, part of Russia. But this is just a fact of history and geography. Putin is not saying that Ukraine has no right to exist or should become melded within Russia.

Does Chotiner think that Putin, by stating the Bolsheviks’ role in Ukraine’s creation, is denying the fact that a separate, unique Ukrainian culture and language existed well prior to that, independent of the Bolsheviks? But Putin is not saying that! If he were, why would he even say in his essay, “We respect the Ukrainian language and traditions.”[7] When Putin speaks of the Bolsheviks’ forming of Ukraine, he is primarily speaking of political boundaries! He is not saying the Bolsheviks gave birth to the Ukrainians or formed their culture with their own hands! They helped, as he said, “develop and consolidate” Ukrainian culture, but the Ukrainians already existed as one of the three sub-groups of the Eastern Slavs. Putin discusses all of that in the essay.

Putin describes how “Many centuries of fragmentation and living within different states naturally brought about regional language peculiarities, resulting in the emergence of dialects.” He describes how “the south-western lands of the Russian Empire. . . developed as ethnically and religiously diverse entities.” He even reports, not with pride, on how laws of 1863 and 1876 “restricted the publication and importation of religious and socio-political literature in the Ukrainian language.” Though this, he feels, was probably done in the historical context of Poland’s attempt “to exploit the ‘Ukrainian issue’ to their own advantage.”

Putin describes how Poland and Austria-Hungary each tried to use the concept of Ukrainians as separate from Russia, not to help Ukrainians, but in order to jack up their own power in relation to Russia and in relation to each other. It’s not unlike how the US, under Theodore Roosevelt, helped bring about the Panamanian Revolution to separate Panama from Colombia, not to help Panamanians, but to gain control over development and operation of the Panama Canal. This exploitative role of Poland and Austria-Hungary in pushing for sharp Ukrainian separation from Russia is important to understand, not only to understand the past, but to understand the present. Even when Ukraine first declared its independence in 1918, “The declared sovereignty did not last long.”

Putin explains how only a few weeks later, Germany and Austria-Hungary, in need of

Ukrainian bread and raw materials. . . obtained consent for sending their troops and technical staff to the UPR. In fact this was used as a pretext for occupation.

For those who have today given up the full control of Ukraine to external forces, it would be instructive to remember that, back in 1918, such a decision proved fatal for the ruling regime in Kiev. With the direct involvement of the occupying forces, the Central Rada was overthrown and Hetman Pavlo Skoropadskyi was brought to power, proclaiming instead of the UPR the Ukrainian State, which was essentially under German protectorate.[8]

Putin clearly recognizes the development of Ukrainian culture, which was referred to historically as “Malorussian” (Little Russian), as a unique culture from that of the Velikorussians (Great Russians) and Belorussians (White Russians). “There is objective evidence that the Russian Empire was witnessing an active process of development of the Malorussian cultural identity within the Russian nation, which united the Velikorussians, the Malorussians and the Belorussians.”

Putin is not using Ukraine’s historical lack of official borders as proof that it should be dissolved. He is suggesting that some areas should be renegotiated since the 1991 dissolution of the USSR suddenly left people in nations that were separate from Russia, even people who felt closely tied with Russia, such as Russians.

Of course, inside the USSR, borders between republics were never seen as state borders; they were nominal within a single country, which, while featuring all the attributes of a federation, was highly centralized—this again was secured by CPSU’s [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] leading role. But in 1991, all those territories, and, which is more important, people, found themselves abroad overnight, taken away, this time indeed, from their historical motherland.

What can be said to this? Things change: countries and communities are no exception. Of course, some part of a people in the process of its development, influenced by a number of reasons and historical circumstances, can become aware of itself as a separate nation at a certain moment. How should we treat that? There is only one answer: with respect!

. . . The Russian Federation recognized the new geopolitical realities: and not only recognized, but, indeed, did a lot for Ukraine to establish itself as an independent country. Throughout the difficult 1990’s and the new millennium, we have provided considerable support to Ukraine.”[9]

 At most, Putin is saying that certain relatively small parts of Ukraine—Donetsk, Lugansk, and Crimea—have a right to independence from Ukraine, especially given their higher Russian ethnicity during this time of anti-Russian policies of the post-coup Ukrainian government. Again, if Putin thought Ukrainians and Russians were the exact same ethnicity, why would he be referring to policies within Ukraine that are opposed to Russian Ukrainians? He recognizes that Ukrainians and Russians are ethnically different, yet also ethnically bonded.

Chotiner then interviews Serhii Plokhy, a professor from Harvard, a university also entangled with the social and business circles dominating our foreign policymaking. Plokhy falsely claims that Putin has “a very imperial idea of the Russian nation, consisting of Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians. The last two groups don’t have a right to exist as separate nations.” He adds, “Putin. . . says that Ukraine has no legitimacy as a nation.”[10]

This Harvard professor’s statement is false. Again, these “experts” are incapable of reading or comprehending with precision. Russians, Belorussians, and Ukrainians are all part of the Eastern Slavic branch of Slavs, as evidenced by their language similarities. Just look at any language tree to see how they’re connected. These nations have a common history that first developed around Kiev. While the Southern Slavs migrated to the south, to places such as the former Yugoslavia, and the Western Slavs migrated west, such as to the former Czechoslovakia, the Eastern Slavs centered around Kiev.

Putin refers to this Eastern Slavic group when he states in his essay, “Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe.”[11] Putin is not saying that these three nations should politically merge and dissolve their borders! At most, he is saying that these people have a common history, common blood, and common culture, and it is exceedingly unnatural for the EU and NATO to be trying to pull these nations apart from one another and sunder their ties by promoting anti-Russian hatred and the severance of economic ties with Russia! How frustrating for a person such as Putin who is capable of precise thinking and writing and who has an interest in history to have to deal with readers who lump everything together and then shape it according to their own brains.

It is also extraordinarily obvious that Serhan, Chotiner, and Plokhy—at least in the articles I read—are absolutely avoiding discussion of US policymakers’ use of NATO as a tool for its own purposes, the US/NATO interest in establishing a base on the Black Sea—which helped precipitate Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and of US corporate economic interests in the Black Sea, Russia’s fossil fuels, and in Europe’s energy market. Instead, they all chalk up Russia’s behavior to Putin’s alleged quest for a remake of imperial Russia and Putin’s alleged threatened feelings from Ukrainian identity and language, a false claim we’ll return to in a later essay.

Serhan wraps up Putin’s statements as “whitewashing uncomfortable legacies and seeking to cultivate a politics of historic grievance.” It is not at all clear what she’s talking about, for it makes no sense whatsoever. Even though her own article is delusional, Serhan claims that “Putin’s ahistoricism has bordered on delusion.”

Despite Putin’s clear knowledge of history, more than you would ever see in a US president, Serhan refers to it as “Putin’s semi-mythological view of history.” What in God’s name is she talking about? Putin makes no mention of deities, demi-gods, magic powers, myths, or legends. Did she read words such as “Ancient Rus,” “tribes,” and the “Prince of Novgorod” and then jump to the conclusion that Putin was speaking of legend or crafting his own mythology? But these are facts! There is nothing semi-mythological about it! Perhaps Serhan ought to study Russian history before she makes these judgments.

At the end of her article she quotes Keir Giles, who, as a UK “expert” with all the biases of one trained to focus on the USSR/Russia as a security threat, wrote a book, Moscow Rules: What Drives Russia to Confront the West. Like so many US “experts” who like to describe Putin as a lunatic, Giles states that Putin’s views have become “‘more and more extreme over time and have few points of contact with history. . . . He’s operating in a different plane of reality and in a different century.’”

It’s not clear what Giles means by “few points of contact with history.” He seems to be suggesting that Putin is losing his mind and increasingly so and is not actually knowledgeable of history. But which actual historical points that Putin has made does Giles disagree with? Putin’s discussion of history—the history of the East Slavs centering around Kiev, the invading Mongols, antagonistic relations with Catholic Lithuania and Poland, the role of the Orthodox faith, the origin of the Cossacks, wars with the Ottoman Empire, the February and November 1917 Revolutions, occupation by Germany and Austria-Hungary, and formation of the USSR—all are common historical knowledge.

What Putin writes is not disputed material. As Putin explains in his essay, “When working on this article, I relied on open-source documents that contain well-known facts rather than on some secret records.” So is Giles suggesting that these well-known facts are actually wrong? If so, we’d better alert quite a number of publishers to recall their history books and encyclopedias off the shelves because Giles has said they all have “few points of contact with history” and obviously Giles knows more than anyone else. How, incidentally, did Giles learn what he apparently feels is the real truth?

The way I see it, US experts have very few points of contact with history, if any at all. They certainly seem to have zero knowledge of the history of CIA interventions abroad. Meanwhile, Putin displays much interest and knowledge of history, with multiple “points of contact” with history. Yet Serhan snaps, “If there’s one audience this revisionist history is designed for, it’s Putin himself.”[12] What exactly is revisionist about Putin’s description of Russia’s history? By using the term “revisionist,” is she suggesting that he changed the historical record? Which of his facts does Serhan disagree with precisely, or does she herself not know?

And why is she saying Putin’s audience is only himself? Perhaps because US “experts” are incapable of reading more than 500 words? That could be it. But there are others in the world besides US experts who might read and comprehend what he’s saying. Again, her comment is yet another meaningless, incoherent remark that suggests she and Giles are both in a very “different plane of reality.”

Serhan makes no mention of Putin’s fears that Ukraine’s government is a puppet of the US, that Ukraine is corrupt, that its sovereignty has been violated behind the scenes by the US and others of the West, that the US has no interest in disarmament, and that the US repeatedly refuses to listen to Russia’s requests regarding ceasing the expansion of the military monster, NATO.  She makes no mention of a single one of Putin’s fears stated in his February 21, 2022 speech about the missiles and possible nuclear warheads capable of reaching Moscow within a few minutes of firing. He describes these threats in detail and summarizes them as being “like a knife to the throat.”[13] But empathy, like reading comprehension, is not a strong point of US experts.

Not one of Putin’s fine remarks is reported by Serhan with honor. Whenever she quotes his material, she does so with disdain and gross misunderstanding. She has zero capacity to understand a single one of his numerous reasonable remarks, remarks which many Americans would support. Such journalism and journal management are irresponsible to the highest degree, for journalistic falsehood only serves to unnecessarily widen the gulf between Americans and Russians, putting the entire planet in danger of nuclear war.

The current crisis places in bold highlighting numerous US “experts” who belong neither in the field of journalism nor in the career of policymaking. The ignorance, deceitfulness, and prejudiced psychological patterns of their minds are much too dangerous and irresponsible to allow them to have free license to report to the American public and the world on such a dangerous, critical topic as the current crisis in Ukraine.

Kristin Christman has been independently researching US foreign policy and peace since 9/11. Her channel focuses on US-Russian relations at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuNEw9-10lk-CwU-5vAElcg. Kristin graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College with a BA in Russian, and she holds Master’s degrees in Slavic languages from Brown University and public administration from SUNY Albany. She has been a guest with former UNSCOM weapons inspector Scott Ritter and UNAC coordinator Joe Lombardo on Cynthia Pooler’s program, Issues that Matter, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDlaLNJih7U. Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice recently published her article on suicide, culture, and peace in their special edition on suicide, Vol. 33 No. 4.  kristinchristman956@gmail.com

Notes

[1] Yasmeen Serhan, “Who Is Vladimir Putin’s Revisionist History For?” Atlantic, Feb. 27, 2022, https://www.theatlantic.com.

[2] Vladimir Putin, “Article by Vladimir Putin: ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” July 12, 2021, Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, https://russiaun.ru.

[3] Vladimir Putin, “Address to the People of Russia on the Donbas Problem and the Situation in Ukraine,” American Rhetoric Online Speech Bank, Feb. 21, 2022, https://www.americanrhetoric.com.

[4] Putin, “On the Historical Unity.”

[5] Gerald A. Danzer, An Atlas of World History (London, Borders Group, 2000), 115.

[6] Putin, “On the Historical Unity.”

[7] Putin, “On the Historical Unity.”

[8] Putin, “On the Historical Unity.”

[9] Putin, “On the Historical Unity.”

[10] Isaac Chotiner, “Vladimir Putin’s Revisionist History of Russia and Ukraine,” New Yorker, Feb. 23, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com.

[11] Putin, “On the Historical Unity.”

[12] Serhan, “Who Is Vladimir Putin’s Revisionist History For?”

[13] Putin, “Address to the People of Russia,” Feb. 21, 2022.


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