The American press has been in the business of keeping readers ignorant since the Cold War—its most essential responsibility turned upside-down—and in our time it gets worse, not better.
By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News
Vladimir Putin’s annual state-of-the-nation speech, delivered before the Federal Assembly in Moscow last Wednesday, is an occasion we must not miss for its very considerable import. The Russian president confirmed in maximally explicit terms that we have entered a new era in U.S.–Russian relations. It’s more dangerous than one would wish, but is an interim through which we must pass on the way to achieving our century’s primary imperative, global parity between the West and non–West.
Putin’s remarks to the assembly comprised of the Duma and the Federation Council (the lower and upper houses of the national legislature) struck an interesting balance. Three-quarters or more of the speech was devoted to domestic affairs—infrastructure budgeting, climate emissions, prices and family incomes, subsidies for everything from single mothers and “sick pay” to cultural centers and university places for those in underdeveloped regions, and so on through a long list.
Holding together a nation with a sharp urban-rural divide and all the associated imbalances was, per usual with Putin, a major theme. “The country is developing and moving forward,” he said, “but this is only taking place when the regions of the Russian Federation are developing.”
This is a man who spends most of his time looking inward, still preoccupied with remedying the mess Boris Yeltsin and savage brigades of Western venture and vulture capitalists handed to him 21 years ago.
Putin’s comments on Russian foreign policy and global affairs came last in his speech and are to be understood in this context. They were nothing if not forthright, a refreshing respite from the Newspeak President Joe Biden and his national-security lieutenants serve up incessantly.
Here are a few of the more compelling passages:
“Unfortunately, everyone in the world seems to be used to the practice of politically motivated, illegal economic sanctions and to certain actors’ brutal attempts to impose their will on others by force. But today, this practice is degenerating into something even more dangerous—I am referring to the recently exposed direct interference in Belarus in an attempt to orchestrate a coup d’état and assassinate the President of that country. At the same time, it is typical that even such flagrant actions have not been condemned by the so-called collective West. Nobody seemed to notice. Everyone pretends nothing is happening. …
Some countries have taken up an unseemly routine where they pick on Russia for any reason, most often, for no reason at all. It is some kind of new sport of who shouts the loudest.
In this regard, we behave in an extremely restrained manner, I would even say, modestly, and I am saying this without irony. Often, we prefer not to respond at all, not just to unfriendly moves, but even to outright rudeness. We want to maintain good relations with everyone who participates in the international dialogue. But we see what is happening in real life. As I said, every now and then they are picking on Russia, for no reason. And of course, all sorts of petty Tabaquis are running around them like Tabaqui ran around Shere Khan— everything is like in Kipling’s book – howling along in order to make their sovereign happy. Kipling was a great writer.”
Tabaqui, of course, was the sly, conniving jackal in The Jungle Book, who curried favor with Shere Khan, the tiger who held law and custom in contempt and whose exploits were the pretext for imperial interventions in the name of civilizing others in conformity with the standards of Western colonizers.
“We really want to maintain good relations with all those engaged in international communication, including, by the way, those with whom we have not been getting along lately, to put it mildly. We really do not want to burn bridges. But if someone mistakes our good intentions for indifference or weakness and intends to burn or even blow up these bridges, they must know that Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, swift and tough.
Those behind provocations that threaten the core interests of our security will regret what they have done in a way they have not regretted anything for a long time.
At the same time, I just have to make it clear, we have enough patience, responsibility, professionalism, self-confidence and certainty in our cause, as well as common sense, when making a decision of any kind. But I hope that no one will think about crossing the ‘red line’ with regard to Russia. We ourselves will determine in each specific case where it will be drawn.”
Agree or disagree with Putin or Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the ablest diplomat around, they are both literate, thoroughly versed in history and its significance for the present, and capable of discriminating analyses that take account of the perspectives of others. Next to them, those who pass as our statesmen—Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, Sen. Tom Cotton, and other such Scheisse Köpfe—are simply boobs, albeit dangerous boobs.
I quote Putin at length because you will gain no useful understanding of what he had to say from our “allies and partners”— this endearing phrase Blinken loves to death — in The New York Times and other mainstream media. In the Times account, Putin’s address was “replete with threats against the West” and intended to “fan nationalist flames” because he is “facing an increasingly angry and desperate opposition.”
Hopeless. The American press has been in the business of keeping readers ignorant since the Cold War—its most essential responsibility turned upside-down—and in our time it gets worse, not better.
The trope here is as old as our republic. The Mexicans provoked the Polk administration in 1845–46, and we had to go to war. We had to draw the Iron Curtain to stop the “Soviet menace.” We had to depose Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala because he was a Communist threat on our doorstep. So was Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam—had to go in.
We are always the innocent, the respondent, the done-to, acting ever in self-defense. We never aggress. This is central to our American creed, our self-image. And let us be mindful: This is what we witness now in our relations with Russia, this is what our most powerful newspapers foist upon us.
It is perfectly plain what Putin said and meant when one reads his remarks without the fallacious mediations of our media. Russia remains open to cooperative ties but, as Patrick Armstrong put it the other day, it “has had enough.”
Had Enough of What?
It is plain that Biden and the over-his-head Blinken have made a mess of things in the three short months they have been in office. The former has called Putin a killer, while the two of them have imposed new sanctions and expelled more Russian diplomats on pretexts that are straight-in-your-face disproven. Putin obliquely referred to these things. But we must go back further into the U.S.–Russian story to understand our moment adequately.
The Russian leader mentioned the U.S.–cultivated coup bringing down Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s corrupt but nonetheless legitimate president, in 2014. Russia re-annexed Crimea within two months. He did not mention by name Washington’s overtly covert—or do I mean covertly overt?—intervention against the Assad government in Damascus, but he may as well have. At Syria’s request, Russian bombers responded, alert readers will recall, by beginning sustained sorties against U.S.–backed jihadists on the last day of September 2015—a development that left the policy cliques in Washington reeling. One could practically hear a collective, “Whaaa?”
Your columnist has argued since these events that they bore an import beyond Ukraine and Syria. Without saying so, Moscow had put Washington on notice all those years ago that the era of unchallenged coups and violent interventions on the side of reaction would no longer go without responses. This was a bold challenge to decades of American misconduct. What we heard in Putin’s speech last Wednesday is very simple: He has now said what, since 2014 and 2015, has been left unsaid.
It is a pity that Biden, who carried the Ukraine portfolio for Barack Obama, and those around him did not understand these developments, as even a middling statesman could have. One does not want to bang on unduly about stupidity in Washington, but—it comes down to this—they are simply not smart enough for this.
And so we enter upon our new era. Tumultuous—almost certainly. Dangerous—it is hard to say but probably. Uncertain—without doubt. But it will lead, in the best outcome, to a new time, when Shere Khan is dead and all the petty Tabaquis learn to find their own ways.
Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. Follow him on Twitter @thefloutist. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.