In Background, Robert Parry, Russia

By Robert Parry, Consortium News, Dec. 19, 2014

Official Washington’s “group think” on the Ukraine crisis now has a totalitarian feel to it as “everyone who matters” joins in the ritualistic stoning of Russian President Putin and takes joy in Russia’s economic pain, with liberal economist Paul Krugman the latest to hoist a rock, reports Robert Parry.

When America’s opinion-making herd gets running, it’s hard for anyone to get in the way regardless of how erroneous or unfair the reason for the stampede. It’s much easier – and career-wise safer – to join the pack, which is what New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has done regarding Russia, Ukraine and Vladimir Putin.

Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, photo by David Shankbone

Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, photo by David Shankbone

In the latest example of the New York Times’ endless Putin-bashing, Krugman begins his Friday column with what you might call a “negative endorsement” of the Russian president by claiming that ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has “an embarrassing crush on the swaggering statesman.”

But Krugman misleads his readers. Giuliani wasn’t really praising Putin when he said “that is what you call a leader” in commenting on Putin’s decisiveness. Some liberal defenders of President Barack Obama simply cherry-picked the quote to counter Giuliani’s attempt to disparage Obama by comparing Obama’s chronic indecisiveness to Putin’s forcefulness.

In the fuller context, Giuliani was not expressing a fondness for Putin at all. Indeed, he disparaged the Russian leader as “a bully” and urged a tough-guy response to Putin over Ukraine. “Instead of him pushing us around, we push him around,” Giuliani said in the Fox News interview. “That’s the only thing a bully understands.”

So, why did Krugman begin his Putin-bashing column by misrepresenting what Giuliani was saying? It may have been a form of “negative endorsement.” Since many American liberals hate Giuliani, Giuliani’s praise is supposed to translate into liberal hatred for Putin.

But “negative endorsements” are inherently unfair. Just because Josef Stalin might have liked Franklin Roosevelt and because we may hate Stalin, that doesn’t mean we should hate Roosevelt, too. The use of “negative endorsement” is akin to guilt by association. And, in this case, Krugman was playing fast and loose with the facts as well

Krugman also opts for some of the most hyperbolic language that has been used in the U.S. mainstream media to distort events in Ukraine. For instance, Krugman claims that “Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine without debate or deliberation.” But that really isn’t true either.

The Ukraine crisis is far more complicated and nuanced than that, as Krugman must know. If he doesn’t, he should consult with fellow Princeton professor Stephen F. Cohen, who has bravely challenged the prevailing “group think” on both Ukraine and Russia.

Cohen, one of America’s premier Russia experts, has even warned that “American media coverage of Vladimir Putin … has so demonized him that the result may be to endanger U.S. national security. …

“[M]ainstream press reporting, editorials and op-ed articles have increasingly portrayed Putin as a czar-like ‘autocrat,’ or alternatively a ‘KGB thug,’ who imposed a ‘rollback of democratic reforms’ under way in Russia when he succeeded Boris Yeltsin as president in 2000. He installed instead a ‘venal regime’ that has permitted ‘corruptionism,’ encouraged the assassination of a ‘growing number’ of journalists and carried out the ‘killing of political opponents.’ Not infrequently, Putin is compared to Saddam Hussein and even Stalin.”

Yet, Cohen said, “there is no evidence that any of these allegations against him are true, or at least entirely true. Most seem to have originated with Putin’s personal enemies, particularly Yeltsin-era oligarchs who found themselves in foreign exile as a result of his policies – or, in the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in prison. Nonetheless, U.S. media, with little investigation of their own, have woven the allegations into a near-consensus narrative of ‘Putin’s Russia.’” [For details from Cohen’s article, click here.]

‘Shock Therapy’

Indeed, much of what Krugman finds so offensive about Putin’s Russia actually stemmed from the Yeltsin era following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 when the so-called Harvard Boys flew to Moscow to apply free-market “shock therapy” which translated into a small number of well-connected thieves plundering Russia’s industry and resources, making themselves billionaires while leaving average Russians near starvation.

When Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin in 2000, Putin challenged some of the oligarchs and pushed others out of the political arena, while also moderating some of the extreme policies and thus making life somewhat better for the average Russian, thus explaining Putin’s broad popularity. Putin could be fairly criticized for not going further, but economist Krugman must surely know this history regarding how the Russian “kleptocracy” got started.

Yet, Krugman slides into the now common demonization of Putin. “Mr. Putin never had the resources to back his swagger,” Krugman smugly writes.

“It’s quite a comedown for Mr. Putin. And his swaggering strongman act helped set the stage for the disaster. A more open, accountable regime — one that wouldn’t have impressed Mr. Giuliani so much — would have been less corrupt, would probably have run up less debt, and would have been better placed to ride out falling oil prices. Macho posturing, it turns out, makes for bad economies.”

In other words, Krugman buys into the “group think” that blames Putin’s “macho posturing” over Ukraine for the current financial crisis in Russia, which has resulted from falling oil prices as well as the U.S.-led sanctions punishing Russia for its alleged “aggression” in Ukraine.

That puts Krugman in the same camp as the neocons who have pushed the bogus narrative that the megalomaniacal Putin is trying to reconstitute the Russian Empire. The actual facts, however, disprove that narrative. [See’s “The Crazy US ‘Group Think’ on Russia.”]

Putin himself has a much better understanding of recent Russian history – and what Official Washington’s goals are regarding him and Russia – as he explained in an end-of-year news conference on Thursday.

Asked if the economic pain was the price for accepting Crimea back into Russia, Putin responded: “No. This is not the price we have to pay for Crimea. … This is actually the price we have to pay for our natural aspiration to preserve ourselves as a nation, as a civilization, as a state. …

“I gave an example of our most recognizable symbol. It is a bear protecting his taiga. … [M]aybe it would be best if our bear just sat still. Maybe he should stop chasing pigs and boars around the taiga but start picking berries and eating honey. Maybe then he will be left alone.

“But no, he won’t be! Because someone will always try to chain him up. As soon as he’s chained they will tear out his teeth and claws. In this analogy, I am referring to the power of nuclear deterrence. As soon as – God forbid – it happens and they no longer need the bear, the taiga will be taken over. … And then, when all the teeth and claws are torn out, the bear will be of no use at all. Perhaps they’ll stuff it and that’s all.

“So, it is not about Crimea but about us protecting our independence, our sovereignty and our right to exist. That is what we should all realize.”

The Neo-Nazi Reality

There is another unpleasant reality about Ukraine that Krugman ignores — its neo-Nazi element — apparently not wanting to be out of step with his New York Times colleagues who have studiously looked the other way. Again, Krugman could learn something from his fellow Princeton professor Cohen, who has recounted the grim facts about neo-Nazism in Ukraine, facts that would put Putin’s supposed “invasion” in defense of Ukraine’s ethnic Russians in a different light.

In an article for The Nation magazine, Cohen wrote: “Independent Western scholars have documented the fascist origins, contemporary ideology and declarative symbols of Svoboda and its fellow-traveling Right Sector. Both movements glorify Ukraine’s murderous Nazi collaborators in World War II as inspirational ancestors. Both, to quote Svoboda’s leader Oleh Tyahnybok, call for an ethnically pure nation purged of the ‘Moscow-Jewish mafia’ and ‘other scum,’ including homosexuals, feminists and political leftists.

“And both hailed the Odessa massacre [on May 2 when ethnic Russian protesters were trapped in the Trade Union building and burned alive]. According to the website of Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh, it was ‘another bright day in our national history.’ A Svoboda parliamentary deputy added, ‘Bravo, Odessa…. Let the Devils burn in hell.’

“If more evidence is needed, in December 2012, the European Parliament decried Svoboda’s ‘racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views [that] go against the EU’s fundamental values and principles.’ In 2013, the World Jewish Congress denounced Svoboda as ‘neo-Nazi.’ Still worse, observers agree that Right Sector is even more extremist. …

“In December 2012, a Svoboda parliamentary leader anathematized the Ukrainian-born American actress Mila Kunis as ‘a dirty kike.’ Since 2013, pro-Kiev mobs and militias have routinely denigrated ethnic Russians as insects (‘Colorado beetles,’ whose colors resemble a sacred Russia ornament). More recently, the US-picked prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, referred to resisters in the Southeast as ‘subhumans.’ His defense minister proposed putting them in ‘filtration camps,’ pending deportation, and raising fears of ethnic cleansing.

“Yulia Tymoshenko — a former prime minister, titular head of Yatsenyuk’s party and runner-up in the May presidential election — was overheard wishing she could ‘exterminate them all [Ukrainian Russians] with atomic weapons.’ ‘Sterilization’ is among the less apocalyptic official musings on the pursuit of a purified Ukraine.”

By leaving out this troubling context, it’s much easier to mislead Americans about what is actually happening in Ukraine. Instead of understanding Russia’s interest in protecting ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine from these brutal neo-Nazis, the crisis can simply be presented as Putin’s “aggression” or – as Krugman says – how “Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine.” [For an earlier case of Krugman’s distortions on Ukraine, click here.]

More fitting Krugman’s expertise about the dangers of free-market extremism, he might do better looking at the consequences of those strategies on both Russia and Ukraine, where corrupt oligarchs also took power and have now moved to the center of Ukraine’s U.S.-backed regime.

And, if Krugman wants some current example of cronyism, he might look at the curious case of Natalie Jaresko, a former U.S. diplomat who parlayed $150 million in U.S. AID funds designed to help Ukraine develop an investment-based economy into a personal fortune and now into the post of Ukraine’s new Finance Minister.

According to corporate records, the U.S. government-funded investment project for Ukraine involved substantial insider dealings by Jaresko, including $1 million-plus fees to a management company that she also controlled. Meanwhile, the $150 million stake provided by the U.S. taxpayers appears to have dwindled to less than $100 million. [See’s “Ukraine’s Made-in-the-USA Finance Minister.”]

But critical reporting about the U.S.-backed Ukrainian regime would violate Official Washington’s narrative that prefers the Kiev authorities to be dressed in white hats while Vladimir Putin wears the black hat.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.


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