Vladimir Putin, “moderate”

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James Carden

We’ve recently discussed James Carden, the Nation contributor and Putin apologist (excuse the redundancy) who in an epically long May article smeared a thoroughgoing report on pro-Putin propaganda in the West. What has Carden been up to since? Well, in early July, a video was posted online in which Carden and three other admirers of the Kremlin honcho had, or pretended to have, a conversation in which they addressed the question: “Is the invitation for Ukraine to join Europe’s economic association a means to expand NATO’s jurisdiction?” The conversation could not be called a debate, because all four were in total agreement on every major point, and in fact the word conversation is probably not the best choice, either, given that the video, a rather slick production, was obviously edited and also bore traces of being at least partly scripted, coached, or planned. In other words, it had the feel not of a free-wheeling, spontaneous discussion but of a well-packaged piece of propaganda.

About the videotape. It was recorded at the offices of Verso Books, the self-described “radical” publishing house that was founded in 1970 by the staff of the New Left Review. It was posted at therealnews.com, a radical “news” website that calls itself “the missing link in the global media landscape” (one of its directors is Danny Glover, whose useful stoogery we’ll get around to in the next few days). The Nation itself appears to have had something to do with putting it together. And the person identified as the moderator of the discussion, Alexander Reed Kelly, is an editor at truthdig.com, another radical “news” site that describes itself as “drilling beneath the headlines.” In short, a far-left perfect storm.

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Michael Hudson

Along with Carden and Kelly, the participants in this discussion were Michael Hudson, an economics professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and Jeffrey Sommers, a professor of political economy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Hudson and Sommers are something of a pro-Putin, anti-capitalist tag team who have collaborated on articles in which they’ve (for example) compared the Koch brothers to “Russia’s oligarchs.”

The description of the chat furnished at the Real News website added helpfully that the four men “explain why Russia may not be able to tolerate a foreign military alliance along its western border.” Make of that wording what you will; we found it interesting, especially given that at no point did any of these men betray the remotest interest in the question of why the free nations along that border – among them not only the Baltic republics, Poland, and Ukraine, but also, let’s not forget, Norway and Finland – should be expected to tolerate an increasingly aggressive and increasingly dictatorial power along their borders without choosing to enter voluntarily into a defensive alliance with one another as well as with other free nations willing to help protect them from invasion.

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Alexander Reed Kelly

But then again, Carden and his three colleagues claim not to consider NATO a defensive alliance. Not anymore, anyway. The crisis between Russia and the West, Carden insisted, “is being driven by the desire to put Ukraine into NATO,” which, he said, no longer has anything to do with mutual defense. “We’re a long way from that now,” he maintained, and then served up this interesting assertion: “There’s something very wrong with the idea that NATO and the European Union have to expand to include nearly the entirety of the former Soviet space.” Pause, if you will, over those last four words: “the former Soviet space.” This seems a curious way to refer to those countries that were freed from the Kremlin yoke. Carden can fairly be read here, it seems to us, as implying some kind of lingering right, on the part of the Kremlin, to have a say in what goes on in that “space.”

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The “moderate” of the Kremlin

When Kelly suggested that there was an “understanding” after the fall of Soviet Union that NATO wouldn’t ever expand eastward, Sommers agreed, and opined that it’s “foolish” for NATO to be “taking former Soviet territory” – a formulation that leaves little doubt that Sommers, at least, believes that Moscow should indeed have something resembling a veto right over what happens in “former Soviet territory.” This eastward expansion by NATO, Sommers added, has given “the Russian leadership…tremendous pause regarding the United States’ intentions,” as if it were at all reasonable to think that Putin & co. really believe NATO has any designs on their turf. Sommers then expressed a tender regard for Russian concern about “the military advance of an alliance up to its borders,” citing past invasions of Russia from the west (by Napoleon, in 1812, and Hitler, in 1941) as reasons for that concern; needless to say, Sommers showed no similar regard for the concerns of the Baltic republics and other Eastern European countries, which have been brutally violated by Russia on multiple occasions over the centuries, and all of which have been under the Russian boot within living memory, with Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 experiencing Soviet incursions that cruelly crushed efforts at democratic reform within their borders.

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Jeffrey Sommers

Hudson chimed in by saying that “today the aim of NATO is to make Europe insecure against the Soviet [sic!] threat” and that “it is as if the Americans were trying to prod Putin into doing something intemperate.” In short, NATO is “restarting the Cold War.” Sommers concurred: “NATO is a force for instability and its increasing the possibility for military conflict.” He rejected the idea that Putin’s an aggressor, claiming that good ol’ Vlad is actually “somewhat of a moderate” when it comes to having imperial designs on former Soviet states, and that, indeed, he’s “a restraining force” against other top Kremlin figures who, given their druthers, wouch take over the whole Ukraine tomorrow. Carden echoed this assessment: Putin’s a “moderate” who’s “surrounded by hawks.” All of which is kind of like saying to an Italian in the 1930s: “Be grateful you’re living under Mussolini; you could be living under Hitler.”

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?

Doubling down at The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel , Stephen F. Cohen

We’ve spent a good deal of time on this website in the company of the Boris and Natasha of Kremlin buffs, veteran Ivy League Sovietologist Stephen F. Cohen and his sweet little hausfrau Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher and editor-in-chief of Pravda – sorry, The Nation. Most recently, we’ve seen how more and more folks in the media and academy have come to recognize that Cohen is nothing more or less than a shill for Vladimir Putin. His wife, plainly understanding that the jig is perilously close to being up, has reacted in accordance with longtime Nation habits by doubling down on the disinformation. So it was that readers of the radical rag were treated on May 20 to a ridiculously long piece in which James Carden savaged a new report on pro-Russian propaganda in the West.

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James Carden

The report, which Carden slammed as a “highly polemical manifesto,” was, he charged, essentially “a publicity stunt by two journalists attempting to cash in on the Russophobia so in vogue among American pundits.” He proceeded to smear one of the report’s authors, Michael Weiss, for his background at the Henry Jackson Society – a first-rate think tank in London that Carden dismissed as “a London-based bastion of neoconservatism” and maligned as “anti-Muslim” for its gutsy, cogent critiques of Islam. Carden also went after Weiss’s co-author, Peter Pomerantsev, as an “assiduous self-promoter” (a type, of course, unfamiliar to the folks at The Nation) and for his ties to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former billionaire whom Putin unceremoniously jailed, tortured, and relieved of the bulk of his assets.

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Vladimir Putin

In what has become a standard ploy of Putin apologists, Carden besmirched Khodorkovsky – “it should not be forgotten that the oil tycoon made his fortune in a spectacularly corrupt and sometimes violent fashion,” etc., etc. – as a means of distraction from the epic corruption and violence of Putin, who, after all, unlike the former businessman and current human-rights activist Khodorkovsky, is the saber-rattling, gay-oppressing, opponent-murdering head of a nuclear power.

borisnatashacohen-natashaPlease do come back tomorrow: we’re not quite done with Mr. Carden’s jeremiad – or, needless to say, with his shifty, Kremlin-loving paymasters, the American left’s own Boris and Natasha.