Bill Keller, editorialist for the NY Times and former executive editor of the paper, has recently penned a strong attack on Vladimir Putin arguing that Putin’s leadership “deliberately distances Russia from the socially and culturally liberal West”, describing the Kremlin’s policies as “laws giving official sanction to the terrorizing of gays and lesbians, the jailing of members of a punk protest group for offenses against the Russian Orthodox Church, the demonizing of Western-backed pro-democracy organizations as ‘foreign agents’, expansive new laws on treason, limits on foreign adoptions.”
Keller, who during his tenure as executive editor of the NY Times argued for the invasion of Iraq and wrote glowingly of Paul Wolfowitz, makes no mention of Moscow’s diplomatic maneuvers that successfully avoided a US military intervention in Syria or the Russian asylum given to Eric Snowden. Keller, who had supported the US intervention in Syria by writing, “but in Syria, I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy,” also made no mention of Seymour Hersh’s stinging dissection of the Obama administration’s misinformation campaign regarding the sarin attacks in Syria. Hersh’s piece, which drives grave doubts into the case against Assad actually having carried out the attacks, was not published in the New Yorker or in the Washington Post, publications that regularly run his work.
Keller focuses on a Russian law that bans the promotion of gay lifestyles in Russia, a far cry from “giving official sanction to the terrorizing of gays and lesbians”, while failing to mention that according to his own paper, 88% of Russians support the law.
Putin did expel the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from Russia, cutting off the $50 million in aid, most of which went to pro-democracy and anti-corruption groups. The Kremlin believed that much of this money wound up supporting the protest movement against Putin that emerged in 2011. If Russian funding had been suspected in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, would the New York Times have supported Putin for promoting social equality in the US? If the punk band Pussy Riot had broken into a prominent Jewish temple in New York, instead of a Moscow cathedral, and defamed it to call attention to the millions of Palestinians living in refugee camps, would the young ladies have done some time? And if so, would they have received support from all corners of stardom?
The European Model
Quoting Dmitri Trenin, Keller argues that Putin sees Europe in decline, “it’s national sovereignty… is superseded by supranational institutions.” Is Putin mistaken in his assumption? Maybe ask the people of Greece, Spain, or Ireland. Keller also mentions “limits on foreign adoptions” but fails to mention the cause, the Magnitsky Act, which imposed “visa and banking restrictions on Russian officials implicated in human rights abuses.” The Kremlin saw this law as the perfect example of US meddling in internal Russian affairs.
The heart of the Magnistsky saga was the death in Russia, while under custody, of an attorney for Hermitage Capital, a hedge fund run by a British citizen William Browder, who renounced his US citizenship. Browder made billions in Russia before running afoul of Russian authorities. His Hermitage Capital was funded by the Lebanese national Edmond Safra and eventually claimed to have lost $300 million after having moved billions out of Russia. Browder lobbied hard in Washington to have the Magnitsky Act passed. Why was the US involved in passing a law to protect Lebanese and British capital and a Russian prisoner? America hasn’t enough trouble with its own prison system that it needs to legislate on the Russian penal system? Are there no American politicians who have been implicated in human rights abuses?
Keller’s final point is that Putin is being heavy handed over the Ukrainian/EU integration crisis, but Keller avoids discussing the deep historic and ethnic links between Russia and Ukraine. Most Americans would agree that Russia should stay out of NAFTA negotiations, seeing North America as clearly not within the Russian sphere of influence. Ukrainians are deeply divided over the integration with Europe, so why not let the Ukrainians and Russians work out their trade relations without the American government getting involved?
Probably more than any other topic, the NY Times has repeatedly published articles in defense of the long imprisoned and recently freed Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a man whose rise to power was filled with unsavory schemes to appropriate businesses which were once the property of the Russian people. The NY Times Sabrina Tavernese wrote in 2001 that he had “orchestrated a series a flagrant corporate abuses of minority shareholders unparalleled in the short history of modern Russian capitalism.”
Khdorkovsky eventually wound up the billionaire owner of Yukos Oil, which he planned to sell to Exxon Mobil. Khdorkovsky also had political ambitions, creating the Open Russian Foundation and putting Henry Kissinger and Lord Jacob Rothschild on the board of directors. He was clearly eyeing political power by making close ties with the West, even being named to the Advisory Board of the Carlyle Group, all of which made him a potential threat to the Kremlin.
The Khodorovsky affair was a complex battle for power in Russia with Khodorkovsky playing the Western powers against the strongly nationalistic Putin. But at the NY Times editorialist Joe Nocera in four pieces on Khodorkovsky never delves into the complexities of Putin’s strategy to keep Western interests at bay, preferring to present a black and white scenario of ‘western liberal’ rule of law against the ‘authoritarian’ Putin.
Curiously, the NY Times doesn’t seem so interested in Harvard’s Russia Project which ended in disgrace and professor Andrei Shleifer, Larry Summers protege, being forced to pay a $2 million fine for enriching himself under the guise of a USAID program where he was to ‘teach’ Russians about capitalism. He gave them an interesting lesson, yet was not forced to resign his post at Harvard, possibly due to his close relationship with Summers. Nocera hasn’t written one article on that scandal which is much more relevant to Americans and their iconic institutions, but which also might make him a few enemies closer to home.
Putin and American Values
Most Americans see Eric Snowden as whistleblower and not a traitor, yet the NY Times star editorialist, Thomas Friedman, isn’t so sure, “The fact is, he dumped his data and fled to countries that are hostile to us,” though he doesn’t elaborate on why Russia is a ‘hostile’ nation and he advises Snowden to come home and face the music if he’s truly a patriot, “It would mean risking a lengthy jail term, but also trusting the fair-mindedness of the American people.”
Putin is a social conservative and a fierce patriot who, like many Americans, opposes regime change in the name of democracy. The American people, after failed interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, agree with him — both Putin and Americans, unlike the NY Times, vehemently opposed a US intervention in Syria. It seems Putin has more in common with the opinions of Americans than does the NY Times, which begs the question, why is the NY Times so hell bent on demonizing the President of the Russian Federation when he’s supported by more than 60% of the Russian people?
The New York Times has written extensively about the gay rights issue in Russia but 45% of Americans still think that homosexuality is a sin and as the ‘Duck Dynasty’ controversy has revealed, homosexuality in America is still a very divisive issue. Is the prohibition against publicly speaking in favor of gay lifestyles in Russia such an important stumbling block to ties between the two nations when the vast majority of Russians support the law?
Americans probably don’t approve of roads where members of one religion can drive while members of another religion must walk, as occurs in Hebron and reported on by Ynet, “Jewish residents are allowed to cross the road by vehicle, but Palestinians are now only permitted to cross by foot or by bicycle.” They probably wouldn’t look fondly on back of the bus seating for women, yet in spite of this type of segregation in a country that claims to be democratic, the NY Times doesn’t feel compelled to demonize Mr. Netanyahu and his ‘socially conservative’ Likud party.
The Interests of the American People
Just as the NY Times despises Putin and Russia, it’s equally enamored with Israel. Imagine if the millions of Palestinian refugees were not in camps because of their mother’s religion but instead because they were LGBT? What if Netanyahu were held to the same standard as Mr. Putin? How many millions of Palestinian Khodorkovsky’s are languishing in refugee camps in their own country? It seems that Mr. Keller, Mr. Friedman and Mr. Nocera are much more interested in the rights of Khodorkovsky and William Browder than they are in the rights of Palestinian children living in squalor under an Israeli blockade in Gaza.
Saudi Arabia and Israel, the latter through its surrogate AIPAC, lobbied hard for war in Syria and both supposed allies are furiously attempting to undermine peace talks with Iran. The government Putin leads brokered the deal to avoid US involvement in Syria, played an important role in the Iranian peace initiative and also allowed Americans a glimpse into the massive surveillance program the NSA has hoisted upon them by giving refuge to Eric Snowden.
Just as Americans would not look fondly at the Kremlin interfering in domestic American politics, so the Kremlin pushes back when it see US interference in it’s internal affairs, a good example being American aid to opposition groups during the 2011 Moscow protests against Putin. If the US can accept serious human rights violations by supposed allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, can’t it also accept that Russia has its own way of governing itself, based on its own history and culture?
The NY Times does not represent the best interests of most Americans, nor does it use its powerful voice to protect the millions persecuted within the realms of so called allies. The NY Times represents a small sector of US power, bent on propagating special interests at the expense of the vast majority of Americans.
Mr. Putin certainly acts in the best interests of Russia, but curiously enough, by working in his own interest, he has done more to protect the 4th Amendment than the constitutional law professor currently occupying the White House. In Syria he was protecting Russian interests, but by doing so he kept the US out of an intervention that could have easily developed into a major war. If it had been up to the NY Times, we would have intervened in Syria and Snowden would be behind bars awaiting the mercy of the Obama Administration.
So who is a better friend of the American people? There are no doubts that the NY Times is a better friend of the Khodorkovsky’s and William Browder’s of the world but Americans might actually be better off if their government listened more to Putin and less to the Grey Lady.