The US and Russia: Beware of Neocons and Liberals Preaching Democracy Promotion

Reprinted with permission from Economics for Democratic and Open Societies.

Every week my e-mail box receives a steady stream of articles aimed at cultivating public animus to Russia. The articles are always wrapped in a narrative in which Russia is a threat to democracy in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere. The effect is to create public support for hardline action (economic and/or military) against Russia.

The insidious underside of this campaign is it paves the way for a scenario in which Ukraine provokes Russia, thereby drawing a Russian response that is then used as a pretext for US engagement. In such circumstances, the public would have been primed for action and would almost certainly fail to disentangle the truth.

What is terrifying is the scope of the stream, which spans the spectrum from mainstream right to center-left.

Here is a piece I received from the Neocon German Marshall Fund: Disquiet on the Eastern Front.

Here is another piece from Project Syndicate, a liberal leaning outlet funded by George Soros: Putin’s Last Gasp?

And here is a third piece I received from the social democratic American Prospect, this one aimed at sowing anti-Russian animus in Germany: The Biden-Scholz Connection

Given the range of opinions one might reasonably think the case is solid. But stop and consider the possibility that the above articles are either part of an organized campaign or simply reflect the prejudices of US journalism (after all, journalists are part of society and share society’s biases).

Three simple arguments questioning the official story line

Here are three simple arguments you will not hear which deflate the “Russia as villain” story line.

1) Russia has genuine security concerns about the Ukraine and eastward NATO expansion. The US has and continues to persistently attack and undermine Russian security, doing everything short of putting boots on the ground. All of this is in total violation of the protocols that were agreed at the end of the Cold War.

2) Russia has no need or wish to move further into Ukraine as long as the Ukrainians do not cross the line of contact in the Donbass. If they do, Russia will act, just as it did in South Ossetia in 2008. Ukraine as a whole is a black hole for Russia. Under current circumstances, it has no interest in occupying Western Ukraine. Moreover, Ukraine is a source of immigrants to Russia, which Russia needs.  

3) US actions are claimed to be in the name of “democracy promotion”. However, everything the US has done over the last twenty years has hurt democracy in Russia. By making the Russian government feel more insecure, it has provoked a defensive response that is anti-democratic. That is the way it often works with authoritarian regimes.

Conclusion: a time for dissent

To be clear, none of this is to defend the Putin regime. However, Russia’s political problems can only be solved by the Russians. Our actions are counter-productive re democracy. Not only have they setback democracy in Russia, they also lend support to aggressive militaristic political tendencies in our own society. But above all, the current course of action has a non-negligible chance of triggering an Armageddon sequence. This is a time when dissent is patriotic and needed.

Thomas Palley is an economist living in Washington DC. He holds a B.A. degree from Oxford University and a M.A. degree in International Relations and Ph.D. in Economics, both from Yale University. He currently runs Economics for Democratic & Open Societies. He has previously served as Senior Economic Adviser to the AFL-CIO and Chief Economist with the US – China Economic and Security Review Commission.