03 October 2017
How I ended up on the RT “Top Ten Russophobes” list
The Kremlin-funded broadcaster RT’s list of the top ten Russophobes was an odd collection, mixing institutions (NATO and Buzzfeed, in second and ninth place) with individuals, including me and my friend Anne Applebaum—the prize-winning historian of Soviet crimes—tied for fifth place. The list omitted Bill Browder, the billionaire campaigner behind the Magnitsky sanctions, which aim to punish top Russians for the 2009 killing of Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky. It also left out some true giants: Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Moscow; authors Masha Gessen and David Satter; and historian Timothy Snyder.
The list was slapdash in other ways too. RT got the name of my think tank, CEPA, wrong and says Applebaum works there, too: she doesn’t. I have asked RT to amend these errors, but with no response (failure to print corrections or clarifications, incidentally, is a sure sign that a “news outlet” is nothing of the kind).
RT’s reasoning was flawed as well. “Paranoia and political agendas have paved the way for a culture of fear and mistrust of Moscow,” it explained. “The ‘knee-jerk Russophobia’ is being propelled by a furious few, some of them making a very good living from it, thank you very much.”
For a start, that overstates our propellant abilities. My warnings about Russia were ignored for about 25 years before the West finally started getting jittery. The Kremlin’s 2007 attack on Estonia, its 2008 war in Georgia, the menacing Zapad exercises of 2009 and the 2014 war in Ukraine all strengthened my argument. Moreover, having created a domestic political system which is fueled by explicit anti-Westernism, it is odd for Russia to complain that the targets of its ire are behaving coldly.
I don’t deny there is a bit of an anti-Kremlin bandwagon rolling, especially in the United States. Two of the places on the RT list that might have gone to Browder or other heavyweights went instead to Hollywood stars whose zeal for investigating Russia is recent, to put it mildly. I regularly criticize these newly born Putin critics for focusing too much on Russia’s recent U.S. election interference. The problem is much wider than that, and goes back a lot longer.
Some anti-Kremlin campaigners may indeed now be able scrape a living from think tanks and consulting. But the real gravy is on another train—the one where the motives are self-interest and the catering comes direct from Moscow. Accountants, bankers, consultants, lawyers and the rest of the pin-striped “hurrah chorus” have been feasting on succulently sautéed principles and crispy-fried conscience for more than two decades.
A bigger problem is equating anti-Kremlin sentiment with Russophobia. This is a convenient trick; dismissing your opponents’ views as personal prejudice spares you the difficulty of engaging with their facts and arguments.
But if one must hunt Russophobes, the people running Russia would seem the best quarry. They loot their own country—more than a trillion dollars has disappeared offshore since the Putin regime took power. They brutally silence their critics. They have failed to use the bonanza of high energy prices for lasting modernization of infrastructure and institutions. They fear and despise their own people.
I feel Russians deserve better than the Kremlin’s bombast and banditry. Indeed if pushed, I would claim to be a Russophile, in that I speak Russian, read it for fun, and find the music, art and literature bewitching.
But fundamentally, “Russophobe” and “Russophile” are the kind of binary labels that autocrats like and democrats should shun. Life is too complicated to be reduced to such simplistic categories—let alone to “top ten” lists
Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or Center for European Policy Analysis.