The very model of a modern useful stooge

We’ve been exploring the evolution (or, more properly, devolution) of former Czech president Václav Klaus, who, hailed only a couple of years ago as a “champion of liberty,” has since become a “slavish defender” of Vladimir Putin – in particular, of Putin’s aggression against Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and his Czech counterpart Vaclav Klaus smile as they shake hands during a meeting in Moscow's Kremlin on Friday, April 27, 2007. (AP Photo/ Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
Klaus and Putin at the Kremlin

As we saw yesterday, Klaus – by way of making a case for Russia’s claim to Ukraine – called Ukraine an “artificial entity” with “no historical tradition of statehood.” Andrei Illarionov and Dalibor Rohac of the Cato Institute refuted this “most extraordinary claim” with ease, citing previous incarnations of the independent Ukrainian state, going back to the Kievan Rus (882–1240) and the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia (1199–1243).

But Klaus doubled down. “For Russia,” he maintained, “the Ukraine is more than just its closest foreign country, more than e.g. Estonia, Tajikistan, or Azerbaijan. It is the historic cradle of its statehood and culture.” To which Illarionov and Rohac pointed out that “England is also the cradle of the modern United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. But…we doubt that Klaus would see that as a reason or a justification for any of those countries to claim English lands.”

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Anne Applebaum

Writing in the Washington Post on October 16 of this year, Anne Applebaum – the author of the definitive history of the Gulag – brought us up to date on the unsavory Klaus-Putin axis. Klaus, she noted, had spoken this year at the World Public Forum’s “Dialogue of Civilizations” – an event, sponsored by Putin intimate Vladimir Yakunin and featuring sizable contingents of Russian secret service agents, that annually brings together “people willing to endorse Russian views of the world.” At the forum, Klaus defended Putin’s actions in Syria, calling them “a logical step.”

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Klaus reviewing troops in Moscow, 2007

Noting that Klaus has “financial links to Moscow” (she didn’t go into detail), Applebaum compared the World Public Forum to the Soviet front groups of the Cold War era. Those groups, she recalled, “were run by ‘agents of influence’ — people who knowingly promoted the interests of the Soviet Union in the West — or ‘useful idiots,’ people who did the same thing, unconsciously, usually out of ideological naiveté.” But Klaus and other participants in the forum, she underscored, aren’t exactly idiots, spies, or traitors; they’re people who, for whatever reasons of their own, “seek openly to legitimize the anti-NATO, anti-European, anti-Western views of the Russian elite” and “to undermine Western security and support the spread of Russian authoritarianism in Eastern Europe as well as the Middle East.”

She concluded: “So what do we call them? We need a new vocabulary for a new era.” Which is precisely the reason why we coined the term “useful stooges.” How sad that Václav Klaus, once a hero of freedom, has become the very model of the modern useful stooge.

Not everybody is put off by the new Klaus. Tomorrow we’ll meet somebody who thinks his new political line is just plain terrific.

“More pro-Kremlin” than Stephen F. Cohen

Yesterday we were introduced to the American Committee for East-West Accord (ACEWA), which is yet another brainchild of NYU Kremlinologist Stephen F. Cohen and his heiress wife Katrina vanden Heuvel, and which is obviously meant to be a vehicle for spreading pro-Putin propaganda far and wide. We also met Gilbert Doctorow, who, with Cohen, is listed as the group’s co-founder, and who, as it turns out, is even more fervent an apologist for Putin than Cohen.

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Gilbert Doctorow

Since November, Doctorow has been writing regularly for a website called Russia Insider. His contributions, not to put too fine a point on it, read like Kremlin press releases. Last November, for example, he attributed the European Parliament’s overwhelming vote in favor of two resolutions condemning Russia to “a Cold War mentality that never faded since 1989.”

A week later, Doctorow blamed anti-Putin attitudes among left-wing U.S. peace activists on “years of denigration and information warfare coming from Washington,” including “propaganda about an authoritarian regime that allegedly jails dissent, about homophobia and about conservative family values of Russia’s silent majority, not to mention about greedy, raw capitalism.” Doctorow argued that Putin has in fact promoted “peace and international cooperation, justice and indeed human rights,” and is the only head of government on the planet who’s “directly challeng[ing] American global hegemony.” For these reasons, he argued, Putin should be treated by sensible stateside peace-lovers not as a bad guy but as a hero.  

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Anne Applebaum

In January, Doctorow penned a column that was one long, drawn-out sneer. The topic: a book called Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? by Karen Dawisha. He smeared Russia expert Anne Applebaum, author of the magisterial, Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag: A History, as a “blowhard” for the crime of favorably reviewing Dawisha’s book in the Washington Post. And he made a mocking reference to “the saintly Khodorkovsky” – meaning human-rights activist and former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whom Putin robbed of billions of dollars and then tossed into prison on trumped-up charges. Doctorow lamented that once reliably left-wing American media, such as the New York Review of Books and PBS, have now “join[ed] the jackals” who engage in “Putin bashing.” 

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Moscow Victory Day Parade, 9 May 2015

And on and on it goes. In May, after attending the Moscow parade marking the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II, Doctorow gushed exuberantly over what he described as Putin’s ascent to the very “heights of statesmanship”: by allowing ordinary citizens to march in the parade while holding up photographs of their relatives who’d died in the war, the Russian leader had driven home “the point that this is a day for every Russian family and not just a pompous show of military capability for the high and mighty to strut on the stage.”

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Sochi Olympics opening ceremony, 7 February 2014

If at the Sochi Olympics, enthused Doctorow, Vlad had sent a message “that Russia has its own traditions of both popular and high culture but is open to the world and hospitable to all,” in Moscow, his people had pulled off the parade at “a supremely professional level” and shown “very great respect for the spectators, both those on the Square and the others watching it on their television as I did.”

Ugh. It’s the kind of cringeworthy bootlicking that’s rarely found outside of the propaganda organs of totalitarian states. And it raises certain questions. Such as: can this guy really be such a convinced disciple of Putin? Or is he on the payroll? Have Stephen F. Cohen of NYU and Princeton, Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation, her rich dad, Bill Bradley, and others in fact chosen to hitch their wagons to a paid Kremlin operative?

We don’t know the answers to these questions. But we can say one thing, for which we’ll provide more evidence tomorrow: when it comes to propagandizing for Putin, Doctorow churns it out as naturally as a slug leaves a slime trail.

Putin’s Labour honcho

On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrated his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’ve spent the last few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: Britain’s new Labour Party leader.

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Corbyn not singing “God Save the Queen”

There’s a lot that can be said about Jeremy Corbyn, the politician from Islington whose recent ascent to the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party has sparked (to put it mildly) immense controversy. After his election to the top post on September 12, he proudly belted out “The Red Flag” – a dusty old Commie tune, long popular among politically active and revolutionary-minded workers, that Tony Blair and New Labour tried to shelve back in the 1990s because of its radical-left associations – but, attending a Battle of Britain memorial service shortly after his election, Corbyn famously refused to sing “God Save the Queen.” The Economist, in a commentary headlined “Backwards, comrades!”, called his rise to power “a grave misfortune” for Britain; Michael Gove, Britain’s Secretary of State for Justice, wrote that if Corbyn were to become Prime Minister, it would represent “a direct threat to the security of our country, the security of our economy and the security of every family….The country would face economic chaos.”

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Vladimir Putin

That’s not all. He’s also a big Putin fan. An August 12 headline at the International Business Times website didn’t pull punches: “Is Jeremy Corbyn Putin’s latest ‘useful idiot’ in Europe?” Reporter Tom Porter noted that Corbyn, writing in March 2014, had “oppose[d] providing Ukraine with military support in the wake of the Maidan revolution, and echoe[d] Russian claims that it was Nato scheming that lay at the heart of the crisis.” In comments that might have been written by Putin himself, Corbyn complained that Ukraine had been “put under enormous pressure to come into the EU and Nato military orbit” and sought to paint the Maidan revolution as “far-right and racist.” Instead of acknowledging Putin’s own saber-rattling, Corbyn acted as if NATO was the aggressor: “Nato has sought to expand since the end of the Cold War. It has increased its military capability and expenditure. It operates way beyond its original 1948 area and its attempt to encircle Russia is one of the big threats of our time.”

jeremy-corbyn-poll-lead“To any viewers of Kremlin-owned news and propaganda outlet Russia Today (RT),” observed Porter dryly, “these views will be familiar.” Indeed, as Porter pointed out, “Corbyn has appeared as a guest on RT, and in a tweet urged followers to watch the station, arguing it provides a more ‘objective’ coverage of world affairs than Western media.” A few days before Porter’s column came out, Anne Applebaum, the brilliant historian of Soviet Communism and author of the sobering and meticulous Gulag: A History, said straight-out that Corbyn is a useful idiot, “one of many on the European far-left as well as the far-right who appears to have swallowed wholesale Russia’s lie that war in Ukraine has been created by Nato, rather than by the ‘separatists’ who have invaded eastern Ukraine and are paid, trained and organised by Russia itself.”

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Anne Applebaum

Journalist James Bloodworth agreed, describing Corbyn as “remarkably good at proffering apologetics for dictatorship and tyranny,” including that of Vladimir Putin. Writing in the Telegraph, also in August, political editor Michael Wilkinson and Russia correspondent Roland Oliphant quoted Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, who is “considered very close to the Russian foreign ministry,” as saying that “Russia would certainly be pleased to see [Corbyn] as the head of either major party.”

Indeed, after Corbyn’s election, this remarkable sentence appeared in the Huffington Post: “The Russian embassy has given Jeremy Corbyn its support amid the Conservative Party attacking the new Labour leader over being a threat to national security.” Does one laugh or cry?

James Carden, mud-slinger

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James Carden

We’ve been looking at a recent piece in The Nation in which one James Carden spent page after page slinging mud at a report on pro-Putin propaganda in the West. His chief objective, plainly, was to try to salvage as much as possible of the reputation of the West’s #1 pro-Putin propagandist, Stephen F. Cohen, who just happens to be married to The Nation‘s editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel.

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Peter Pomerantsev

As we mentioned, Carden smeared Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former billionaire imprisoned by Putin, as “corrupt” and “violent” – an apparent effort to distract our attention from the fact that Putin’s own corruption and violence put everyone else in his realm in the shade. That accomplished, Carden moved on to another now-routine pro-Putin maneuver: comparing the critics of Putin, and of his apologists, to Senator Joe McCarthy. Then, just as in the good old days when The Nation was happily flacking for Stalin, Carden pulled out the moral-equivalency card, maintaining that whether or not the Kremlin is actually engaging in disinformation, well, so are the Ukrainians. So there!

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Michael Weiss

The “real goal” of the report’s authors, Michael Weiss and Peter Pomerantsev, Carden averred, 

is not to fight Russian “disinformation” but to stigmatize and marginalize—even exclude from American discourse—anyone with a more nuanced view of Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis. They are waging this war against enemies real and imagined, and by doing so they are helping to create an atmosphere in which dissenting opinion on US policy toward Russia becomes impermissible.

An interesting allegation, given that it was Carden himself who, rather than addressing the actual contents of Weiss and Pomerantsev’s report, kept busy throughout his piece serving up distractions, playing guilt-by-association games, and engaging in pure name-calling.

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Vladimir Putin

After he was done slandering Weiss and Pomerantsev, Carden moved on to other critics of Putin and his Western apologists. Once again – just in case we’d already forgotten – Carden reminded us that all these people who are daring to reprove Putin’s apologists are practitioners of a brand of “neo-McCarthyism” that reeks “of a barely concealed attempt to censor and intimidate.” Needless to say, none of these Putin critics – unlike Putin himself – have the slightest power to censor or intimidate anybody. All they’re doing is putting their ideas out there, accompanied by evidence and argument – none of which, again, Carden ever deigned to seriously address. Perhaps Carden’s nerviest move of all was his attempt to defile the incomparable Anne Applebaum, one of the most brilliant, best-informed, and ethically unassailable critics of the Putin regime. (Not incidentally, Applebaum has been an outspoken supporter of Weiss and Pomerantsev’s report.)

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Katrina vanden Heuvel, Stephen F. Cohen

Carden saved the real objective of his article – namely, to try to rescue the shriveling reputation of his editor’s husband – for his closing paragraphs. “For much of the past year,” he wrote, “Princeton and New York University professor emeritus Stephen F. Cohen, a leading scholar of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia and a Nation contributing editor, has been routinely castigated in The New Republic, the Daily Beast, The Boston Globe, New York, and Slate as ‘a toady,’ ‘Putin’s best friend,’ and a ‘Putin apologist.’” Yet again, however, instead of examining the actual content of Cohen’s writings on the subject of Putin or the substance of his critics’ charges, Carden simply repeated the tired claim that Cohen’s critics are out to “marginalize” him. No, worse: they’re carrying out “a frontal attack on the core tenets of free speech” – an accusation that could only be made in any sincerity by somebody who doesn’t understand the core tenets of free speech. (But of course, sincerity has nothing to do with Carden’s rhetorical methods.)

cohen-natashaMoreover, charged Carden, they’re following a “policy of belligerence toward Russia” – an interesting formulation, given that the creep for whom Carden, Cohen, and vanden Heuvel are providing cover here, Vladimir Putin, is guilty of real belligerence, using guns and bullets, against his own subjects and the innocent citizens of a neighboring country.

All in all, a disgraceful, dishonest screed. But what else could you expect from a magazine that spent decades spreading Stalinist propaganda?

They’re getting wise to Stephen F. Cohen

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Stephen F. Cohen

It’s a pleasure to report that in recent weeks, awareness of Professor Stephen F. Cohen‘s role as an ardent Putin apologist seems to have risen, at least in certain circles. In an April 28 New York Times op-ed, Polish sociologist Slawomir Sierakowski slammed Cohen’s view that Ukraine is part of Russia’s sphere of influence, pointing out that Cohen

overlooks the question of whether the countries that fall within [that sphere] are there by choice or coercion. Ukraine is willing to be in the Western sphere of influence because it receives support for civil society, the economy and national defense — and Russia does nothing of the kind.

Also, added Sierakowski, “Cohen and others don’t just defend Russia; they attack the pro-democracy activists in Ukraine.”

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Vladimir Putin

A week later, at the website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Carl Schreck weighed in, noting that “[e]ven respected Russia specialists who, like Cohen, advocate for a U.S.-Russian relationship based on realism say Cohen is essentially defending the Kremlin’s agenda in the West.” Schreck quoted Lynn Lubamersky, an associate professor of history at Boise State University, as calling Cohen “a mouthpiece for a mass murderer.”

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Anne Applebaum

Schreck also cited a recent debate with Garry Kasparov and Anne Applebaum – two of the sharpest and best-informed critics of Putin’s Russia alive today – at which Cohen had “accused the West of provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin with NATO expansion, stoking potential war with Moscow, and failing to acknowledge its responsibility for what has happened in Ukraine in the last 15 months” – a line of argument, Schreck pointed out, that largely “dovetailed with a narrative pushed by the Kremlin, which portrays its seizure of Crimea as a response to Western meddling in Ukraine.” Denying in an interview with Schreck that he’s a fan of Putin, Cohen insisted that, on the contrary, he’s a “patriot of American national security,” while those who criticize him – including, apparently, Kasparov and Applebaum – are not.

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Paul Craig Roberts: such a loyal Putin defender that he deserves his own stamp

A key point about Schreck’s piece is that he didn’t attack Cohen – not in the slightest. He reported on the plain fact that many people, including a number of Cohen’s fellow Russia experts, consider the guy a Putin apologist; also, Schreck interviewed Cohen, got his side of the story, and presented it at considerable length – and with apparent fairness. This is called proper journalistic conduct. But it was too much for economist Paul Craig Roberts, who savaged Schreck – and Radio Liberty – at the website of Pravda, itself an institution not widely known for its fealty to proper journalistic conduct. 

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Roberts appears frequently on Russian TV

As we’ve discussed previously, Roberts, a former Wall Street Journal editor and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan, has become “a hard-core propagandist” for Putin, “serving up breathtaking, bald-faced claims that are almost always the very antithesis of the truth.” At the Pravda site, Roberts rechristened Radio Liberty as “Radio Gestapo Amerika” and accused it of attacking “distinguished Americans who are known and respected for their allegiance to the truth.” In addition to calling Schreck a “propagandist” for “Washington’s agendas,” Roberts took on Lubamersky, denying her charge that Putin is a mass murderer and adding that “[t]he mass murderers of our time are George W. Bush and Obama, and clearly Cohen is not a mouthpiece for them.”

Another Putin apologist whom we’ve mentioned before, Robert Parry, also tore into Schreck. We’ll look at him tomorrow.