Putin’s anti-American rhetoric now persuades his harshest critics

By Nina Khrushcheva
July 29, 2014

People I know in Russia, members of the intelligentsia and professionals who have long been critical of President Vladimir Putin’s anti-Western stance, have suddenly turned into America-bashers. Many have been swept away by Putin’s arguments that the United States, not the Kremlin, is destabilizing Ukraine.

Since the current crisis broke in Ukraine over its efforts to side with the European Union rather than Russia, Putin has been at war with the United States. He seems intent on proving that a U.S.-centric world order is over and that Europe should decide on its own what its relations with Russia will be.

Putin’s big lie reached fever pitch after Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 went down over eastern Ukraine on July 17. Putin swiftly placed the blame on the Kiev government and its reputed U.S. masters — not even bothering to express proper condolences about the dead.

Instead, the Russian president disingenuously asked for transparency in the investigation into the downing of the plane. In his laconic statements, Putin promised cooperation but delivered little. He insisted issues of politics had to be kept out of the tragedy.

Such as the nature of autocratic propaganda: The lie has to be overwhelming.

Journalists work at a media centre as they cover Russian President Vladimir Putin's live broadcast nationwide phone-in, in MoscowIn his 14-plus years in power, Putin has honed this skill. In the Kremlin universe, when any conflict takes place around the globe, it is the West — particularly the United States — that is to blame. After hearing it repeatedly, this belief is now widely shared by the Russian public.

My friends in Moscow look at the current crisis in the Middle East and the turmoil created by the Arab Spring 0f 2011, particularly the unrest in Egypt after Hosni Mubarak was forced out and the lawlessness in Libya after Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was killed. “These were your American-supported revolutions,” they angrily reproach me. “Now it’s a mess. The U.S. has been wreaking havoc on our doorstep in Ukraine. They are out to get Russia.”

What has become clear under Putin is that so much of Russia remains the Soviet Union. Under the communist dictatorship, all problems were blamed on the enemies of the people or on Western imperialism.

Consider that in Moscow today the prevailing story, circulated by the pro-Putin media and pundits, is that the CIA actually loaded Malaysia Flight 17 with dead bodies in order to blame the Russians. Meanwhile, Russian TV networks and newspapers run photos of pro-eastern Ukraine demonstrations in Europe, with protesters demanding, “Stop U-S-A, the contractor of mass killings!”

Countries like Iran seem only too happy to help disseminate these anti-American conspiracies. Its Press TV, for example, talks about the Kiev “junta” and America’s wicked designs to take over the world.

Women inspect T-shirts, displaying images of Russia's President Vladimir Putin, which are on sale at GUM department store in central MoscowGiven the conspiratorial nature of the schemes attributed to Washington, these stories don’t seem even slightly believable to most in the West. But they serve to absolve Putin of any responsibility to provide facts that could support his version of the truth. When the West’s actions are presented by the Russian leadership in the grandiose, absolute terms of us versus them, questions as to “Why the missile was fired?” or “Who fired it?” begin to matter little.

A (now former) friend recently told me, “How dare you look for answers when Russia is under the attack of the ‘new colonialism,’ ” — a “threat” that Putin first spoke of in 2007.

The Kremlin is banking on this time-tested totalitarian propaganda technique: Use overwhelming patriotic fervor against an enemy. Then your people, even if skeptical of you, will not believe the words of other governments.

Russians have long been able to forgive domestic woes if an outside enemy is lurking. Why was Joseph Stalin’s network of Soviet gulags never fully probed? Because, as horrible as the mass purges were, the public still held to the conviction that communist interests against imperialism justified any means.

One of the best depictions of the Gulag mentality, Repentance by Georgian film director Tengis Abuladze, presents a chilling story about an anti-Stalinist who reports extravagantly exaggerated crimes against the state that were committed by hundreds of his friends. His reasoning is that the claims he makes are so outrageous that no one could believe them. Besides, he says, too many people would have to be arrested.

But all those he names were arrested — and shot.

In real life there was Leon Trotsky, among millions of others. This fiery revolutionary was on every Soviet patriotic poster. Until he was not. When Trotsky opposed Stalin’s version of totalitarian communism in 1928, he was suddenly the Soviet Union’s worst enemy. He was soon expelled and ultimately murdered in Mexico City 12 years later. Stalin had a very long reach.

nina -- stalinDespite all this, many Russians today continue to admire Stalin. They also admire, and even love Putin — because he has stood up to what they see as U.S. meddling in Russia’s backyard.

I was recently in Bulgaria, where I was told repeatedly that Bulgarians don’t approve of all that Putin is doing — but at least Russia, their Slavic brother, is now strong enough to curtail the actions of the United States. Mind you, Bulgaria is in the European Union.

Even Germany, the de facto leader of the European Union, has long been conflicted about a proper response to Putin’s actions in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian daily Izvestia, like newspapers in Soviet times, largely serves as a mouthpiece of the Kremlin, printing virtual propaganda that manipulates others’ discord to Moscow’s advantage. The paper called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, to make a choice between Russia and the United States. It touted Merkel’s good relations with Putin and cited her disdain for Washington after the National Security Agency eavesdropped on German intelligence and read her email.

Yet, on Tuesday many members of the Russian intelligentsia are calling for a congress in support of Ukraine and hundreds of luminaries have signed the petition. The are many others I spoke with in Russia who are also incensed by the Kremlin’s callousness about Flight 17. Thousands of handwritten notes have been placed at the entrance of the Dutch Embassy in Moscow. Many plead for forgiveness, saying, “We are not killers.”

In the eastern Ukrainian villages surrounding the crash site, local farmers tried to preserve the dignity of the deceased, holding vigils and prayer services.

Wreckage debris and mementos left by local residents are seen at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo), Donetsk regionNow, when many Russians may feel guilty about the crash (even though Putin seeks to absolve them of all blame), is the time to test the theory that Putin cannot afford to alienate the entire West. For he still talks about a “strategic partnership with Europe.” After all, not only does Europe get roughly 30 percent of Russia’s oil and gas, the European Union is Russia’s top trading partner. Moscow needs this money because capital flight has reached an estimated $50 billion to $200 billion this year, and the national economy has grown only around 1 percent. Moscow’s Central Bank has raised interest rates from 5 percent to 8 percent, which has also stifled growth.

Until this week, the Europe Union was reluctant to damage its economic ties with Russia, but now both the United States and Europe are ready to start targeting whole economic sectors, including Russia’s banking system, defense industry and energy production.

Anybody who knows Russia (and Germany’s Merkel certainly does) must ultimately realize that if Putin is not strongly challenged, he won’t divert from his efforts to “splinter” the Western alliance. He will continue to aim at U.S. power, since Washington has often been the only one calling him to task.

Putin has already said that Russians should be prepared to accept sacrifices in economic growth for the sake of his foreign-policy objectives. But let’s see what happens when sanctions dramatically increase, and Russians are unable to get their favorite Italian wine or French lingerie. Will they finally wake up to the consequences of supporting Putinism?


PHOTO (TOP): Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany in 1941 near memorials by the Kremlin walls in Moscow, June 22, 2014. REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

PHOTO (INSERT 1): Journalists work at a media center as they cover Russian President Vladimir Putin’s live broadcast nationwide phone-in, in Moscow, April 17, 2014.  REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

PHOTO INSERT 2): Women inspect T-shirts, displaying images of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, which are on sale at GUM department store in central Moscow, June 11, 2014. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

PHOTO (INSERT 3): Joseph Stalin at the Tehran Conference in 1943. WIKIPEDIA/Commons

PHOTO (INSERT 4): Wreckage debris and mementos left by local residents are seen at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo), Donetsk region, July 26, 2014. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Frankly, this article is garbage. But this is very typical of ex-communist oficials who race to come to America and become the propagandists for the Voice of America.

Posted by ofilha | Report as abusive

And Americans of course know who should lead Ukraine or Russia, except that they don’t know who should lead them.

Posted by ofilha | Report as abusive

Well, I’ve noticed the same thing on Facebook. I’m an astronomer and had many stimulating interactions with Leonid Elenin, of comet fame, a Sukoy test pilot by day and astronomer by night. I was always impressed with his technical ability, knowledge and grace under pressure, even when conspiracy theorists were insisting he didn’t exist.

Then Flight 17 was shot down. Out of the blue he believes ever word Putin says and questions nothing. I tore him a new one and we went our ways. If there was ONE Russian that I thought would never stoop to that level… I think the author has noticed something valid.

Posted by KaFaraqGatri | Report as abusive


Posted by Skeeter2 | Report as abusive

And europe can also decide to pay for their own defense, which will probably be against Russian expansionism. I’m tired of being hated by the Western World that 1- we have given so much to, and 2 – have a better standard of living. Let them out from under the American umbrella. Go, please.

Posted by SeaWa | Report as abusive

Would Russians really prefer their favorite Italian wine and French lingerie to helping their brother Crimeans, for a short time, 2 million of whom were unemployed under the unstable Ukrainian government, a government that has recently passed a law that only pure Ukrainians can hold civil service jobs and a new form that all Jewish people must fill out registering themselves as Jewish with the Ukrainian government?? Is the Ukrainian government getting ready for an “ETHNIC CLEANSING,” or what?? Didn’t we learn anything from WWII?? I’d say the Ukrainian government,starring Svoboda, are the true Hitlers here!!

Posted by galations65 | Report as abusive

Russia has provoked war in Iraq, Arab Spring, fight in Afghanistan, Russia bombards Pakistan with drone bombers, Russia has provoked wars in Latin America and destabilise Venezuela. Russia’s war ships and aircraft carriers are in nearby Chinese waters. Russia leads the war against “terror” and bomb, bomb, bomb other countries. Russia, Putin and Russia – those evil Russians, idiots in Hollywood movies. Recently Russians threaten Hungarian president and impose sanctions agains an EU state – Hungary. Putin lies, – he stated in 2002 that Al Qaida is to blame for 11/9 and that Saddam has weapons of mass distraction. Putin created ISIS, Putin supported ISIS and arm islamists to fight Syrian government. Putin bombed Libya and Putin killed Gaddafi. Putin also, before he became lier, bombed another European nation, Serbs in 1995, 1999. Putin seceded part of Serbia and created largest Russian base in Kosovo and recognised that “Serbian province” as independent state. Putin’s firms, so called multinational companies – such as “7 sisters” dictate the world. That lier, Mr Putin – he seams to be very bad guy on this planet. Ups. I guess I wrote about America – what an evil state. With it’s ‘allies” – it can be called with ease Axis of Evil (EU and the USA) – unfortunately. They bomb, they kill and they destroy, all in the name of “democracy” AMIN

Posted by Govornik | Report as abusive

Today, French president visited, somewhat “quickly” Moscow and after refusing from his known reason to hand over Russian helicopter carrier build by French, what did Mr Holande expected? Warm welcome? There is no end of hypocrisy coming from the West.

Posted by Govornik | Report as abusive

It looks like the cold war between Russian Federation and the US is being recreated. The rhetoric and actions by each country is liable to increase many fold. The trick will be to see if all out nuclear war can be avoided? Putin continually, makes reference to using his nuclear capability, and in doing so, I believe that he has those intentions. Russia has never been a friend of the US, and even Russia’s actions in the American Civil War where for other purposes, than just helping the US government. Since that time, it has been a slam dunk realization that Russia can never be our friend. Yes, we will have better times in our relations, but friendship requires a solid footing, and that footing has never been part of our relationship.
Do I believe, that Russia and President Putin, is lying about the war in the Ukraine, and the killing of nearly 300 people on a civilian aircraft? Yes, I do, and so does much of the world. But, it doesn’t make any difference outside of Russia. Inside of Russia it has increased the nationalism by 10 fold, and I think that is a unexpected improvement with the people, and it’s government. President Putin is smart like a fox, but can he control the mechanism before it comes to all out war with Europe, and the US? NATO is not going to stand down and become subservient to Putin’s orders, so this is a lost cause. Now with Russia tactics in probing the defenses of Europe, and the US is this a preliminary planning stage in attacking the Europe and the US? Yes, it is the first elements of planning for a world war, and it is not just probing for effect. Russia is looking for ways into countries at their weakest point. The intention is clear that Russia, and their President intend to attack the free world. It is the intention of the free world to make this attraction less than win/win strategy for Russia. The US will have to make our defense become offensive, as we did in the previous period before 1985.
The big question in this mess, is how much time does the US, and NATO countries have before the next world war is started by Russia. The question is not if the war will start, but what is the time frame. President Putin has a strategy for conducting war for some time, and with questions being answered every day about the strengths and weaknesses of the US forces and their allies, then when will Putin place the order. Who is going to blink, and back-off, or will mankind be a another chapter in the history of our earth?

Posted by framefiller | Report as abusive

Utter propaganda from start to finish! You would think this woman got her entire script from the Head of US Foreign Policy….writers like this eventually start to believe the crap they write, in a form of suggestive self-hypnosis..

Posted by Collinator89 | Report as abusive

No one hates communist principles more than I do. HOWEVER, we cannot whitewash our own activity by saying “the U.S. is not perfect, but Putin is a lying, thieving SOB”. Let’s say the election in Crimea was “illegal”. Nevertheless, they voted overwhelmingly to go back to Russia. Ukraine is a sorely awkward country – the eastern half are Russian speaking and associate with Russia. Ukraine went into a conniption when an area representing only 10% of the land mass, sharing a border with Russia, preferred to switch associations to Russia. We should always encourage people in a land area who the majority want to defect from one country to another to do so. That’s how America got started.

That said, communism has not, does not, and will not work. It is oppression. Unfortunately, almost every country has some form of socialism built into its government structure. They don’t want to call it that – witness the German Social Democrats Party changing its name from the Socialist Workers Party in 1890 – but there is socialism everywhere. They call themselves left wing, progressive, social democrats, center-left, but they avoid the name socialism but cannot distinguish themselves from Russian socialists. They weakly say “Well, we don’t believe in Stalinist socialism.”

Posted by fazsha1 | Report as abusive

The lie must be overwhelming to be convincing. That was what Hitler said in his book “Mein Kampf”.

Posted by pbgd | Report as abusive

Hi Nina, great article for a book, but not news worthy.

Posted by YAF | Report as abusive

How blatantly one sided. What has become of the New School? Oh dear!

Posted by masterantre | Report as abusive

Geez, Nina; I guess that this article just proves that a person can make a very good living, (maybe even with healthcare!) by offering up such tripe as this article in American academia and the media.
If you happen to also have the name Khrushchev, it is priceless! :-)

Posted by Lavrentii | Report as abusive

He’s got a bad case of tiny-penis disease.

Posted by Factoidz | Report as abusive

comparisons of Putin with Stalin are weak. Stalin is stigmatized for some 100 million deaths, a Gulag Terror State of endless horrible repressions. read more at taboogenocide.com

here you will find how the West backed the Bolsheviks through famine and war in building up a client state to wage war with Hitler at a cost of some 25 Russian lives.

Its about the money, world power, and strategic geopolitical dominance; Khruschev was a Stalin kingpin, who is also responsible for Holodomor deaths of millions in the Ukraine in the Thirties Terror Famine.


enjoy the freedom of unrestricted access

Posted by krisdietrich | Report as abusive


“But let’s see what happens when sanctions dramatically increase, and Russians are unable to get their favorite Italian wine or French lingerie. Will they finally wake up to the consequences of supporting Putinism?”

You mean Russians will be deprived of French lingerie and Italian wine??? Oh God the humanity of it!!!

Posted by xprs | Report as abusive

Add to the propaganda list the RT network that broadcasts outside Russia. . RT America reaches me, with rat Thom Hartmann giving it a veneer of respectability as journalist graduate hires quickly find out it is worthless as a job reference.

RT,com website is 90% America/West bashing, 10% Kremlin outlet.
The latest: “US seeks to overthrow political leadership in Russia – Foreign Ministry”
December 08, 2014

Posted by cirrus7 | Report as abusive