There's More to Russia than Meets the Eye

While I have only a concerned citizen's knowledge of foreign affairs, I am baffled by the hysterical Russophobia of the MSM and the Democratic Party since the 2016 election.

As far as I can tell, there should be no real issues between Russia and the U.S.  Ukraine or Crimea is freighted with questions of local ethnicity and brutal history and should be sorted out by the parties, or at most by Europe.  We have no stake.  As for the defense of Europe, it is not credible that Russia has designs on an entity that so outweighs it in population and wealth.  Trump was right to point out that the Europeans themselves do not believe in the threat, since they are happy to shortchange defense while relying on Russia for natural gas.  Why would the Russians send tanks when shutting a valve would cripple Germany?

I do not really understand why either nation is in Syria, and any Russian intervention in the 2016 election was trivial.  In any case, of course the Russians want to influence our elections.  We are the world's 800-pound gorilla (or bull in the china shop), so everyone wants to influence our elections, and who can blame these people?  People all over the world live and die depending on the self-centered whims of whoever holds power in the U.S. – just ask Moammar Gaddafi ("we came, we saw, he died").  Saudis, Israelis, Europeans, Brits, and many others have been meddling for decades and will continue to do so.  So grow up, MSM.

Irritated by the repetitive triviality of the press, I began searching for sources that would broaden and deepen my perspective.  Indeed, I found an avalanche of web material that rarely makes it through the gatekeepers in the U.S.  The quality and honesty of these varies greatly, but, to help out readers who share my unease about the information they are getting from the MSM, or even from many U.S. conservative sites, I will list a few that are worth your attention because, in my estimation, they are intelligent observers who know what they are talking about and who are trying to tell their readers the truth as they see it.

Russia Observer is the site of Patrick Armstrong, a former analyst in the Canadian Department of National Defense.  He writes a column on some current issue every week or so, plus a useful biweekly "SitRep" covering many issues in terse style.  His orientation as follows:

[T]he predominant theme of my career was that we had a great opportunity when the USSR disappeared to make a more cooperative world.  Instead, we have steadily turned Russia into an enemy – and a much more capable one than we casually assumed in the 1990s.

So here we are today.  Paying for our arrogance, incompetence and maybe worse.

But I haven't given up hope.

Everything Armstrong does is first-rate.  His work also appears at Strategic Culture, a Russophile site that publishes dozens of authors of multifarious perspectives, but with a commonality that none is a fan of the U.S.

Irrussianality is the work of Paul Robinson, another Canadian, who teaches at the University of Ottawa.  He writes every few days on "the relationship between Russia and the West; and the apparently irrational decision making processes which dominate much of international relations."  Again, everything he does is worthwhile.  He also has an interesting blog roll, which I have only begun to explore.

Stephen F. Cohen is professor emeritus of Russian Studies at NYU and Princeton.  He has been working the Russian beat at The Nation for several years, warning that something has gone seriously askew, and his new book of columns, War with Russia: From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate, demands attention.  To recommend the lefty Nation seems a bit droll, but virtue is where you find it.

What will you learn from these?  Not long ago, Patrick Armstrong said, in Back to the USSR: How to Read Western News:

[H]as any Western news outlet reported, say, these ten true statements?

  1. People in Crimea are pretty happy to be in Russia.
  2. The US and its minions have given an enormous amount of weapons to jihadists.
  3. Elections in Russia reflect popular opinion polling.
  4. There really are a frightening number of well-armed nazis in Ukraine.
  5. Assad is pretty popular in Syria.
  6. The US and its minions smashed Raqqa to bits.
  7. The official Skripal story makes very little sense.
  8. Ukraine is much worse off, by any measurement, now than before Maidan.
  9. Russia actually had several thousand troops in Crimea before Maidan.
  10. There's a documentary that exposes Browder that he keeps people from seeing.

I typed these out as they occurred to me. I could come up with another ten pretty easily. There's some tiny coverage, far in the back pages, so that objectivity can be pretended, but most Western media consumers would answer they aren't; didn't; don't; aren't; isn't; where?; does; not; what?; never heard of it.

Recently, at "The Blob Strikes Back," Paul Robinson discussed Trump's plan to withdraw from Syria:

The most recent [defense policy story] ... could be well titled 'The Blob Strikes Back' – the 'Blob' being a derogatory term for the American security establishment, an amorphous being which defies easy definition and is decidedly hard to pin down, but which exerts enormous power and which seems to be impervious to outside realities, continuing along its chosen path regardless of all the disasters it confronts, and causes, along the way. ... Starting wars is something the American security establishment can cope with; ending them is something which causes it real difficulties. 

Stephen Cohen's most recent column asks, "Do Russiagate Promotors Prefer Impeaching Trump to Avoiding War with Russia?":

In large part due to ... media malpractice, and despite the escalating dangers in US-Russian relations, in 2018 there continued to be no significant anti-Cold War opposition anywhere in mainstream American political life – not in Congress, the major political parties, think tanks, or on college campuses, only a very few individual dissenters.  Accordingly, the policy of détente with Russia, or what Trump has repeatedly called "cooperation with Russia," still found no significant supporters in mainstream politics, even though it was the policy of other Republican presidents, notably Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan.  Trump has tried, but he has been thwarted, repeatedly again in 2018.

Agree or disagree, the points made by these authors are serious, and they deserve attention and discussion, not oblivion.  They are not made in the MSM.

For those who wish to delve, here is one more recommendation.

Vladimir Putin has a website that prints English transcripts of his torrent of speeches, communiqués, and meetings.  Putin is quite available; he meets frequently with groups of all stripes and holds news conferences that last for three or four hours.  As with all politicians, total candor is improbable, but, on the other hand, he must use these events to communicate with Russia's many constituencies, so one learns at least what he wants people to think he thinks, whether or not it is what he really thinks.

The Putin of these materials is not at all the thug of the MSM.  One can read his remarks at the 2017 dedication of the Wall of Sorrow, a memorial to the victims of political repression, which, with other statements, expresses a clear understanding of need to keep green the memory of the Bolshevik tragedy.

Here one can read his 2018 Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.  Like a U.S. State of the Union address, it genuflects to multifarious interest groups, but it also places great emphasis on the importance of civil society.  Putin is on the same page as the American conservatives who keep saying politics is downstream from culture.  The speech also contains Putin's view of the military balance, explaining why he thinks Russia can forestall any aggression by the U.S. while spending a tenth as much.

As stated above, agree or disagree, but it is better to read Putin's own words than to have his thoughts filtered through the MSM.  His speeches are far more substantive than what one gets from our own politicians.  (In any case, whom are you going to believe – Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi or Vladimir Putin?  It's not even close.)

Like Patrick Armstrong, I am appalled at the direction taken by Russian-American relations, but neither have I given up hope.  Reading Armstrong and his confreres may help lead to a path out of this potentially deadly slough of misinformation.

James V DeLong is a retired lawyer, government official, and think-tank analyst.