American Journalist’s Astounding Ignorance about Russia

I live in Philadelphia. There was a time when I wrote book reviews and op-eds for the Philadelphia Inquirer. That period ended, however, thanks to the intemperate language I hurled at its editors for the far too many articles and columns they published that attempted to justify an invasion of Iraq. Subsequently, whenever I was moved by something in the Inquirer that was egregiously lousy, I would write an article about it. Some of these articles eventually were given the title, “Stinky Inky.”

Well, the “Stinky Inky” is at it again. Upset by events in Ukraine, Trudy Rubin is stinking up the Inky with her blatant anti-Putin propaganda. Beyond her inability to get her facts straight, Ms. Rubin has displayed a stunning ignorance of post-Soviet Russia.

For example, in her 23 March 2014 column titled, “A framework for a response to Putin,” Ms. Rubin began by misrepresenting what Secretary of State, John Kerry, meant, when he called Russia’s invasion of Crimea “a 19th-century act in the 21st century.” Mr. Kerry’s actual statement was: “Russia is engaged in a military act of aggression against another country, and it has huge risks, George. It’s a 19th century act in the 21st century.”

Mr. Kerry was much clearer when speaking to CBS. “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text.” But, presumably uncomfortable with Mr. Kerry’s poor choice of words – which conjured up memories of his support for President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, the most serious war crime of the 21st century — Ms. Rubin decided to bail out America’s Hypocrite of State by telling us what he really meant to say. “In other words, 21st-century rules of an interconnected world barred anything as atavistic as forceful seizure of European territory.” Changing Kerry’s words to mean “forceful seizure of European territory,” is something best left to a press secretary or an apologist, not an independent journalist.

Ms. Rubin also denounced Russia for threatening to use a gas cutoff as political leverage. Then, she hypocritically urged Western leaders to “brandish the energy weapon when they gather in Europe.” Finally, she also urged the West to provide weapons to Ukraine.

Now, it is true that many in the West thought that the collapse of the Soviet Union had brought “the end of history,” as Francis Fukuyama so memorably put it, and inaugurated what Ms. Rubin calls “21st-century rules of an interconnected world.” Democracy and markets had achieved their final triumph over ideology and geopolitical blocs. Now it was the fate of democracy and markets to complete their glorious and inexorable sweep across the rest of the world.

According to this conceit of Western triumphalism, the new liberal world order would render geopolitical considerations obsolete (except, of course, when the U.S. felt compelled to invade or bomb another sovereign state). Under the new liberal world order, the gentle penetration of sovereign states by the West’s free markets and democracy was natural and beneficial, even if such free markets and democratic institutions in the West had become pawns in the hands of the Western financial and corporate oligarchs known as the 1%.

(In a widely heralded scholarly study titled “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page concluded: “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts of U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” Thus, even the U.S. is not a democracy but an oligarchy.)

Nevertheless, any attempt to prevent the West’s gentle penetration was viewed as a violation of the natural and beneficial new liberal world order. And if such penetration in Europe brought benign NATO membership in its wake, so what?

However, what the cheerleaders for the new liberal world order have forgotten is the fact that both the United States and Germany – in the persons of Secretary of State James Baker and German Foreign Minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher — made a decidedly geopolitical promise to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. They promised not to extend NATO east of Germany in return for Soviet assistance in the peaceful reunification of Germany under NATO. The Soviet leaders upheld their end of the bargain, but the U.S. – in the person of President Clinton – reneged.

In post-Soviet Russia, the new liberal world order took the form of “shock therapy,” which transferred enormous wealth to the oligarchs and severely impoverished millions of Russians during the 1990s. As a result of their experience, many Russians began to associate free markets with outright theft.

Russia’s political elite never forgot Clinton’s “stab-in the-back” on NATO enlargement. Neither did they overlook NATO’s revision of its strategic concept that, by 1999, allowed it to undertake offensive military action, even if none of its members had suffered an attack.

Moreover, while the world was touting the new liberal world order of markets and democracy, in 1998 Zbigniew Brzezinski, a prominent Polish-American Russophobe, was waxing geopolitical: “Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.”

“However, if Moscow regains control over Ukraine, with its 52 million people and major resources as well as access to the Black Sea, Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia.”

Mr. Brzezinski’s views were echoed in 2004 by the obnoxious neoconservative jingoist Charles Krauthammer. Talking about Ukraine’s so-called Orange Revolution, Mr. Krauthammer asserted: “This is about Russia first, democracy only second…The West wants to finish the job begun with the fall of the Berlin Wall and continue Europe’s march to the east…. The great prize is Ukraine.”

In December 2004, America’s Richard Holbrooke asserted that “NATO virtually defines our core zone of security in half the world, and danger lurks to the south and east.” He added, “Ukraine, as part of the greatest peacetime military alliance…, gives added comfort and stability to the eastern tier of NATO nations.” He then advocated for Ukraine’s admission to NATO by 2007.

Thus, in a profound misreading of Russia’s existential ties to Ukraine – the type that leads to war — Mr. Holbrooke not only arrogantly placed Ukraine in America’s “core zone of security,” he assured his readers that, because previous rounds of NATO expansion had not destroyed relations with Russia, there was no reason to believe that the addition of Ukraine would do so.

Russia’s political elites were sensitive to such threats. In fact, they fumed when political leaders in the West paid absolutely no attention to their increasingly vehement objections to NATO interminable expansion, seemingly aimed at Russia’s geopolitical encirclement.

Then, in Georgia in 2008, Russia finally fired a shot across the bow of the United States, Europe, and NATO. Russia used Georgia’s massive shelling of Russian peacekeepers and others living in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, as sufficient reason to invade and split off pieces of Georgia.

Russia’s invasion shocked the new liberal world order folks in the U.S. and Europe. But in their many fulminations about so-called “Russian aggression” (usually followed by the words, “which will not stand”) nobody understood that Russia was telling both Georgia and NATO that Georgia would not be joining NATO, not unless both wanted war. Soon after Russia’s dismemberment of Georgia, Dmitri Medvedev asserted: “We will not tolerate any more humiliation, and we are not joking.”

In March 2014, precisely because the new liberal world order folks didn’t learn their lesson in Georgia, Russia was compelled to fire another shot across the bow of the economic imperialists in the U.S. and Europe. It occurred after protesters in Kiev rejected a comprise agreement – reached by Yanukovych and the opposition parties on 21 February 2013 under the auspices of the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Poland – in favor of the violent overthrow of Yanukovych’s democratically elected government.

(I’m not pleased with anything that has occurred. But, pleased or not, for Russia, the prospect of Ukraine in NATO is an existential red line.)

Consequently, after Western diplomats recklessly cavorted with anti-Russia protesters in Kiev, and after those emboldened protesters (probably hijacked by Pravy Sektor) staged a coup, Russia simultaneously secured its Black Sea Fleet and smacked the West and Ukraine across the face by annexing the Crimea. Now, there will be no NATO in Ukraine, except, perhaps in area surrounding Lviv, the capital of Banderastan.

Unfortunately, you’ll find none of this in any column about Ukraine recently written by Trudy Rubin. Whether out of ignorance or malice Ms. Rubin does not acknowledge that Russia, like any other sovereign state, has national interests. Instead, out of ignorance or malice, Ms. Rubin simplistically makes Ukraine all about Vladimir Putin.

Out of ignorance or malice, Ms. Rubin’s column of 17 April 2014 was riddled with hysterical gibberish. Consider her inane assertion that “Putin can’t afford to attack NATO countries.” It’s a red herring, born out of hysteria.

Or, consider her prediction that Russia’s “power will wane when Russia’s gas income drops.” Virtually everyone familiar with Russia knew that it was negotiating a massive gas deal with China. Price was the only issue delaying agreement. Fittingly, a mere month after Ms. Rubin wrote her nonsense, the New York Times reported, “China and Russia signed a $400 billion gas deal on Wednesday, giving Moscow a megamarket for its leading export and linking two major powers that, despite a rocky history of alliances and rivalries, have drawn closer to counter the clout of the United States and Europe.”

(In fact, the Associated Press reported on May 21st that “China’s president also called for an Asian security arrangement that would include Russia and Iran and exclude the United States.”)

Other nonsensical assertions by Ms. Rubin in her 17 April 2014 opinion column prompted me to write a letter to the editor – which, obviously, the Stinky Inky failed to publish. My letter reads as follows:

“Russia is engaging in a massive propaganda campaign about events in Ukraine, as Trudy Rubin notes.

But the West is engaging in a similarly massive propaganda campaign. Simply read NATO’s extremely biased 14 April rebuttal of Russia’s allegations. Unfortunately, Ms. Rubin also is spreading anti-Russian propaganda.

She is wrong to assert, Yanukovych’s ‘government fell not because of a plot, but because special Ukrainian forces, with advisers from Moscow, killed dozens of demonstrators.’ She appears to be unaware that ARD German television found evidence that much of the murderous sniper fire came from the Hotel Ukraina, which was tightly controlled by Kiev’s protesters.

She fails to mention the European Union-mediated agreement struck between the opposition and Yanukovych, only to be rejected by protesters led by extreme right-wing members of Svoboda and Pravy Sektor. Highly respected sociologist, Volodymyr Ishchenko — an expert in civil disturbances in Ukraine — claimed that the far right had hijacked the protest.

Russia responded to the coup by taking Crimea.”

Dr. Anton Shekhovtsov, an expert on Ukraine and right-wing parties in Europe says this about Pravy Sektor (Right Sector). “What is frightening, however, with Pravy Sektor itself is that it comprises many groups that I would call neo-Nazi. Fortunately, they also constitute a minor element of Pravy Sektor, but they are there. Dmitro Yarosh, who is the leader of the Trident, of Trizub-it’s the name of the organization — it may be not racist itself, but it cooperates with the real nasty people who are part of the Pravy Sektor, like Patriot of Ukraine.”1

Nevertheless, in a column titled, “A veiled threat to Ukrainian Jews” Ms. Rubin goes to great lengths, admittedly without any proof, to blame Russia for the obviously fake fliers – requiring Jews to register with the Donetsk People’s Republic — distributed outside a synagogue in Donetsk. But she whitewashes the anti-Semitism of the genuine neo-Nazis who led the protesters in their violent coup against a democratically elected government.

Yes, admits Ms. Rubin, Svoboda was denounced as “neo-Nazi” by the World Jewish Congress. But it “appears to be moderating its positions.” In the one sentence she devotes to Pravy Sector, Ms. Rubin simply notes that “Its leaders publicly insist the group is not anti-Semitic.” Well, that settles it then. Doesn’t it?

In her most recent opinion column on 21 May 2014, titled “Ukraine’s pivotal revolution,” Ms. Rubin spouts more propaganda. Once again it was a largely peaceful revolution lead by heroic protesters seeking the new liberal world order for Ukraine, not a protest transformed into a violent anti-Russia coup led by Pravy Sektor (Right Sector). Once again it was all about Putin, “with his bare-chested machismo, his homophobia, his odes to tradition and religious orthodoxy, and his disdain for the West.” Once again, Ms. Rubin failed to utter a single word about Russia’s legitimate national interests.

Once again there was her unwarranted certainty that “the violence of the revolution’s last days sparked by a pro-Russian government’s murder of demonstrators, was only a coda to months of peaceful protests.” In fact, a definitive conclusion has yet to be reached on the matter of the murder of demonstrators. However, Ms. Rubin, as well as readers seeking information that challenges her blatant propaganda, are advised to read an article by Yulia Latynina titled “The Rise and Fall of Right Sector.”

Ms. Latynina is a fierce critic of President Putin, but she makes a few observations about Right Sector and its leader, Dmitry Yarosh, that challenge Ms. Rubin’s propaganda. First, she assists in the demolition of Ms. Rubin’s canard about months of peaceful protests by claiming that Right Sector figured prominently in the heavy fighting on Hrushevsky Street on Jan. 19.” (Even the New York Times reported the use of stun grenades by protesters as early as 1 December 2013.) Ms. Rubin, wake up!

Second, she speculates that “someone close to Yanukovych gave Right Sector money so they would stop fighting.” But, “like a true revolutionary, Yarosh took the money, bought weapons with it and continued to fight.”

Third, Ms. Latynina notes that on February 20th, the center of Kiev “was closed off, no cars moved and people were dropping like flies under a hail of snipers’ bullets.” Yet, to get and from his meeting at the presidential residence “Yarosh would have had to pass through the gauntlet of sniper fire. What guarantee did he have that snipers would not shoot at him, or that he would manage to return alive from that meeting?

Fourth, Ms. Latynina notes that “not a single Right Sector member was among the 100 Maidan protesters who died.”

Finally, Ms. Latynina suspects that President Putin “sincerely believed that the European Union is financing Right Sector.” Then, she concludes by observing, “Obviously, the EU is not financing Right Sector, but the organization definitely did receive a large sum of money from someone.”

There was a time when I thought Trudy Rubin was a thoughtful voice on world affairs and a credit to an often abysmally poor Stinky Inky. However, after Russia’s annexation of the Crimea – which shocked the new liberal world order people to their core – Ms. Rubin seems to have degenerated into yet another anti-Putin mainstream media crank.

  1. Crisis in Ukraine: The Role and Responsibility of the West.” Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, February 7, 2014. []

Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including Dissident Voice, The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA). He can be reached at: waltuhler@aol.com. Read other articles by Walter C., or visit Walter C.'s website.