The sensationalist press are predictably overreacting to a comment Russian President Vladimir Putin made during a recent interview with the US network NBC. During the interview, host Megyn Kelly asked the Russian President what he felt about the US indictment of 13 “Russians” regarding their internet activities surrounding the 2016 US Presidential Election. The internet activities of the 13 “Russians” is thought by some to represent a failed attempt to influence US voters prior to 2016’s election. Putin responded in the following way,
“So what if they’re Russians?” There are 146 million Russians. … I couldn’t care less. … They do not represent the interests of the Russian state. Maybe they’re not even Russians. Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship. Even that needs to be checked. Maybe they have dual citizenship. Or maybe a green card. Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don’t know”.
The point that Putin was making is clear enough to anyone who knows the difference between an ethnic Russian, former Soviet citizen, Russian expat and Russian speaking non-Russian, with or without Russian citizenship. If all it takes to convince the US media that “Russians meddled in the 2016 election”, is the ability of accused individuals to speak Russian, this is an incredibly tenuous connection to the Russian state. In this sense, if an ethnic Russian, living in Russia and with Russian citizenship did something of his own volition without the government’s knowledge or permission, this would not be “Russian meddling” but the Russian version of Edward Snowden. Taking things a step further, if a Russian speaking Ukrainian citizen living in New Jersey or a Russian speaking Jew living in Tel Aviv did something to “meddle” in the US election, such an individual’s activity does not even have a connection to Russian soil, let alone to the jurisdiction of Russian authorities. This is all Vladimir Putin was saying.
In the wider English speaking world, there are people who speak English in Australia and then move to Sweden and then Britain, like Julian Assange. This does not mean that their online activities have anything to do with the United States. In the case of Assange, the opposite is true.
Likewise, because the Russian speaking world has always been diverse and because today, Russians live in an ever diverse set of nations, this means that Russian speakers with any combination of citizenship(s) are as capable of doing with the web what the English speaking, German and Finnish citizen Kim Dotcom is capable of doing from his current home in New Zealand.
For a country such as the US that played a large part in encouraging the break up of the Soviet Union which led to the creation of many new citizneships which were shared by Russian speakers and self-identifying Russians, it is somewhat ironic that the US mainstream media is struggling to come to terms with the fact that a Russian individual in the 21st century, isn’t necessarily someone who lives in Russia, has ever been to Russia or has a passport from the Russian Federation.
In the modern world, there are English speaking Americans throughout the world, English speaking non-Americans throughout the world, Muslims of Arabic backgrounds outside of the Arab world, Jews of Russian backgrounds who speak Russian but do not live in Russia, Ukrainian citizens who live in Russia, ethnic Russians born in Ukraine etc. To classify people based on monolithic stereotypes that do not always correspond to the reality of individual peoples’ circumstance is a gross simplification that Putin said ought to be understood.
This is why it beggars belief that a group called the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has called on the Russian President to clarify his remarks, in spite of the fact that they are already abundantly clear. They are simply pointing out basic facts that anyone, anywhere with a computer and the most tenuous connection to the Russian language or contemporary Russian state, could have posted anything on-line.
President Putin suggesting that Russian Federation minorities, be they Ukrainian, Tatar, or Jewish, were behind U.S. election meddling is eerily reminiscent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He should clarify his comments at the earliest opportunity. https://t.co/NsG1qFSlWq
— AJC (@AJCGlobal) March 10, 2018
Looking at it another way, being the clever politician that he is, Vladimir Putin may well have intended his remarks to be totally misconstrued by western elites. In this sense, such a strategy would serve to highlight the fact that the most anodyne and unemotional of statements made by the Russian head of state, can be twisted into something that bears no relationship to the content of the original statement, nor the context of the original discussion. Only Putin knows whether this was part of his thinking, but in either case, it proves a very valuable point about western criticisms of Russia.
Such criticisms are based on a combination of outright lies, misinterpretations of the truth and a the imposing of artificial contexts upon the words and actions of prominent figures in the Russian Federation. In this case the following lies were made:
1. Putin is an antisemitic
False. Just months ago, Putin hosted the Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar and the Head of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, Alexander Boroda, in his office and offered the following congratulatory statement:
2. Putin is anti-Tatar
False. Putin’s government is building the largest mosque in Crimean history for local Tatars and many Tatars are involved in its construction
3. Putin is anti-Ukrainian
False. Putin has stated on numerous occasions that he is opposed to the current regime in Kiev and not to those who identify as Ukrainian, including the millions of self-identified Ukrainians living and working peacefully in Russia.
4. Putin is blaming others for online activity relating to the US election
True. Vladimir Putin is saying that his government had nothing to do with any online or other subversive activities relating to the 2016 US Presidential election and that whatever online activity the US thinks is objectionable has to do with the activities of others who may or may not be Russian.
In an objective sense, the mainstream media and their supporters have just proved an excellent point about Vladimir Putin. No matter what he says, his meaning will be misconstrued to suit an anti-Moscow narrative. Ironically, the more time that passes since the 2016 US Presidential election, the more absurd the untruths regarding Putin and Russia become.
In 2018, one witnesses a mainstream media that wants to portray Putin as everything that elite western institutions dislike, while many in alt-media attempt to portray Putin as the embodiment of everything they do like, which is typically the opposite of the mainstream western value system. In reality, Putin is neither of these things. He is anti-ideological and anti-sectarian in both his domestic policies and diplomat posture.
Russia is happy to be a partner with any nation ranging from the US to China, Syria to Saudi Arabia, Iran to Israel, India to Pakistan. In fact, Russia has good relations with all of the aforementioned places except the US and when it comes to the US, Russia has always said that the door to respectful modern relations remains open. The same is true in domestic matters. Putin’s government has struck a healthy balance between maintaining majoritarian institutions while legally protecting the rights of any and all minority groups.
In this sense, both those who cling on to the mainstream media and alt-media narratives about Putin are going to be incredibly disappointed, as he is the antithesis to the dogmas valued by both.