When Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin launched a revolt against Vladimir Putin on June 23, Beltway pundits became euphoric, predicting Russia’s descent into a civil war and the potential end of Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum penned a hasty article in The Atlantic entitled: “Russia Slides Into Civil War: Is Putin facing his Czar Nicholas II moment?”
She was referring to the last Romanov czar who was overthrown in the Russian Revolution.
Both McFaul and Applebaum’s predictions, of course, proved to be false.
On the afternoon of June 24 news broke across the U.S. that Prigozhin had struck a deal with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to end his protest and go into exile. At the time, the Russian military was eviscerating Ukraine’s NATO-trained army after it had launched a much hyped counteroffensive, inflicting casualties at a 10-to-1 ratio.
Former UN Weapons inspector Scott Ritter wrote that “not a single military unit or officer, not a single politician, and not a single businessman—no one—rallied to Prigozhin’s cause; Russia had sided with its President, Vladimir Putin.”
McFaul and Applebaum’s commentaries were emblematic of an intellectual elite that has repeatedly misled the public while helping to mobilize public opinion against Russia by demonizing Putin and valorizing Ukraine, despite the strong influence of neo-Nazis there.
In May, Applebaum, a member of the the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA offshoot, predicted a decisive Ukrainian counteroffensive that would storm through Russian defenses, not only “liberating” Crimea but also encouraging regime change from Moscow to Venezuela.
Like her others, this prediction too has proven to be wrong. It does, however, fit a historical pattern by which government-connected intellectuals lend support for U.S. foreign policy objectives even if they are totally unrealistic.
One hundred years ago, Walter Lippmann and Charles Merz published a study of The New York Times’s coverage of the Russian Revolution, “A Test of the News.” Lippmann was a famous newspaper columnist and Merz was, ironically, the future editor of The New York Times.
The two concluded that the Times’s coverage was “almost always misleading” and that the reporters could “fairly be charged with boundless credulity, and an untiring readiness to be gulled, and on many occasions with a downright lack of common sense.”
Most egregious was the fact that the editors’ zealous opposition to the communists led the paper to report atrocities that never happened. They further predicted the imminent collapse of the Bolshevik regime no fewer than 91 times in three years.
This sounds familiar to our own times when Beltway pundits and other media have been blaming Russia for atrocities in the war that were committed by Ukraine, while reporting ceaselessly on Putin’s alleged megalomania and imminent demise.
In reality, Putin has sustained considerable support within Russia because of the transformation of its economy from the Wild West days of the 1990s, when Boris Yeltsin had opened the country to foreign economic plunder, and because of his ability to withstand sanctions through strengthening regional economic relations and build-up of local industry.
Polls show that most Russians support the Special Military Operation (SMO). They believe that it was necessitated by U.S. and Ukrainian policies, and is designed to save the beleaguered Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine, which came under attack following the U.S.-backed Maidan coup in February 2014.
Neo-conservative pundits like McFaul and Applebaum have long championed Alexei Navalny as Russia’s great liberal hope. But Navalny holds many reactionary political views and supports regional separatist movements that, if successful, would weaken the Russian Federation—just as the West wants.
The fawning media depictions of Navalny resemble the flattery that was bestowed a century ago on Alexander Kerensky, leader of the short-lived Russian Republic from late July to early November 1917. He was also favored in Western capitals but hated by the Russian people for keeping the nation in World War I and because he failed to satisfy a yearning for land reform and sweeping social change following the demise of Czar Nicholas II.
Like Kerensky, Navalny has very limited support within Russia. You would not know this, however, from reading The New York Times or other mainstream publications, or from listening to pundits like Applebaum and McFaul. They enjoy high public profiles despite almost always being wrong.
During the first three weeks of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, more than 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers were killed, along with hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles—many of which were just recently supplied to Ukraine—destroyed ↑
Scott Ritter, “Wagner, I Hardly Knew Ye,” Scott Ritter Extra, June 28, 2023, https://www.scottritterextra.com/p/wagner-i-hardly-knew-ye. Ritter suggests that Prigozhin was supported by British intelligence (MI-6). ↑
The regime actually lasted for over 70 years until 1991. ↑
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of five books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019), The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018), and Warmonger. How Clinton’s Malign Foreign Policy Launched the U.S. Trajectory From Bush II to Biden (Clarity Press, 2023).
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