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Big bad Vlad: the demonisation of Russia

The barrage of scaremongering by the British press before the football World Cup, painted the hosts Russia as a tyrannical country unsafe for tourists and football fans alike. But the reality has been very different. Visitors have taken to social media to explain that they’ve found Russia and her people hospitable and friendly. This wasn’t what they were told to expect.

So was this media onslaught just a mistake? Or was this the latest instalment of post Cold War rhetoric designed to malign Russia? With relations between the West and Russia at an all time low, where next for this relationship?

Joining us to discuss why both sides are locked in this frozen conflict is the writer and broadcaster, John Wight.

Why are we here? Why do we have this rhetoric persistently given about Russia, the demonisation of it? And why are we at such a low ebb between both the West and Russia?

Wight tells Renegade Inc. it is really very simple:

“It’s because of the refusal of the West and Western elites to let go of the old reality of hegemony and accept and recognise the new reality of multipolarity,” says Wight.

“This has been driving America’s bent toward Russia because it dares to assert its right to have an independent foreign policy.

“It dares to assert the right to have its own legitimate security interests which it is willing and able to defend autonomously, as it has done in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine since 2014.”

“It really stems from the conclusions that were drawn from the end of the Cold War and early 1990s, the disastrous conclusions that were drawn in Washington which was that not that the Cold War ended mutually between Gorbachev, the last premier of the Soviet Union, and George HW Bush, who was then US president, to the mutual advantage, but that the US won that war, and that Russia was and is a vanquished power.  

“Triumphalism reigned in Washington as a result of that. They thought it was the end of history. Francis Fukuyama’s infamous boast that liberal democracy had proved itself to be the one, the only social, economic and political system that’s coterminous with civilisation and human progress, and that has run right through the corridors of power in the US, and to the same extent, in the corridors of power of his western allies.”

What America and the Roman Empire have in common

It is because of that triumphalism that there’s a sense of surprise that Russia is now ‘back’ and therefore needs dealing with?

Surprise and also indignation,” says Wight. “How dare you recover. How dare you think you’re on the same level as we are. And where it’s led to is a mentality of Russia must be destroyed. It’s Rome vs Carthage.

“The very fact that Russia exists for these people, these neocons and liberal interventionists, is a dagger pointed at the heart of the US.

“And don’t forget there’s a massive machine behind this politics and behind this ideology. The network of think tanks, foundations, the arms industry. A vast machine. A vast amount of money is being made out of this. There’s a lot at stake for these people. And so this is driving it and the fact that they’re unable to bring Russia to heel and that Russia refuses to know its place is really bringing us to the brink of catastrophe.

“In fact, it has brought us to the brink of catastrophe. We had the US missile strike on the basis of the ‘alleged’ chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian government in Douma, in East Ghouta, in April. That’s the closest we’ve ever come to World War 3. It was chilling. I really thought we were very very close.

“Credit must go to the Russian government because it was willing to allow itself to be humiliated and back off and not retaliate and not draw a red line, which it certainly would have every right to do. So it’s a very very dangerous time. We’ve just commemorated the 55th anniversary of JFK’s famous peace speech:

 What kind of a peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek?,” JFK said. “Not a Pax Americana. Enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I’m talking about genuine peace. The kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living. The kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and build a better life for their children. Not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women. Not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.”

This is a conclusion he drew after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 along with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, his Soviet counterpart at that time, that we can never let things get this close again.

“JFK was a man of real standing, of intellectual heft, of a moral centre,” says Wight.

“There’s nothing like it in Washington today. Nothing like it within the corridors of power. Nothing like it within the White House.

“And because of that lack of quality, that lack of human quality within the Western leadership circles, it is a very, very dangerous time. More dangerous than any time in history, including the Cold War. This is worse than it’s ever been.”

White says we need to get back to the principles that were set out in the UN Charter: Respect for international law. Respect for national sovereignty. And respect for self-determination.

“Those have been abstracted and serviced to this neo conservative and liberal interventionist and the thing about this hegemony, this drive for hegemony in our time, is it’s rooted in exceptionalism and this is a very virulent species of nationalism.

That we are an exceptional nation. We are the one indispensable nation. This is a refrain. This is the indoctrination that goes on within the US. This dominates the dominant cultural values that we are an exceptional nation, the one indispensable nation. And this is what drives them to believe that no country has the right, the moral right or a civilisational right, to stand up to the US and what it represents. The lack of ability to transcend that is what has given as a present crisis.”

The indispensable nation

American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian and social critic Noam Chomsky tells Renegade Inc. that the events of the Cold War were overwhelmingly a US attack on movements of independence in its own domains, on the pretext that the Russians are coming, and Russian actions against its own satellites on the pretext that the Americans are coming.

“There is almost a tacit compact in which each power, the huge superpower and the minor one, use the pretext of the other to control their own domains,” he says. “And it’s striking that when the Cold War ended, if you take a look at US policy, it’s the first thing you look at if you try to figure out what the Cold War was about. George Bush the first was President. Right after the fall of the Berlin Wall they announced a new national security strategy, a defence budget and so on, which were very revealing.

“What they said is everything is going to remain the same except for pretexts. So we still need a huge military system, but not because the Russians are coming, because they’re not. Because of the technological sophistication of third world powers. They said that and hoped people wouldn’t laugh that we’re right.

“They said we still have to sustain the defence industrial base. That’s the standard euphemism for high tech industry. So we have to make sure that the rich can be supported by the nanny state. And crucially they said we have to maintain intervention forces directed at the Middle East. And then comes a nice phrase, where the serious threats to our interests could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.

“So in other words, ‘sorry folks we’ve been lying to you for 50 years but now clouds have lifted’. So we have to say: yeah we have to prevent what’s called ‘radical nationalism’, meaning independence.

“So nothing changed except pretexts and of course tactics are modified. And if you look closely, that’s what you find.”

Living in a post-western world

Wight mentions a multipolar world. How do multipolar worlds come about?

The unofficial declaration of the new multipolar world was given by Vladimir Putin during his address to the United Nations, the 70th General Assembly United Nations in 2015, in September the 28th,” he says. “It was less an address and more of a rap sheet that he delivered to the assembled delegates for the benefit of the world but directed at Western powers articulating all the disasters that they’ve been involved in, in pursuit of hegemony or in pursuit of the unipolarity that they had enjoyed up to that point after the demise of the Soviet Union, about the disaster of Iraq, disaster of Libya, what was going on in Syria and only creating this phenomenon of international terrorism that was a threat to their people and the Russian people.”

Russian President, Vladimir Putin told the UN general Assembly that problems have been piling up in this region for a long time:

“And the people there wanted changes, naturally,” he said. “But how did it actually turn out? Rather than bringing about reforms, aggressive foreign interference has resulted in the destruction of national institutions and the lifestyle itself.

“Instead of democracy and progress we have violence, poverty and social disaster. But nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.

“I can’t help asking those who’ve caused this situation: do you realise now what you’ve done?”

White says we’re living in not an anti western world but a post-Western world. We’ve transcended the unipolarity led by Washington.

“That multipolarity is here to stay,” he says.

When you talk about post or pre Douma, apparently Mr Assad using chemicals on his own people, the two words ‘international law’ were seldom mentioned in the British press. If we’re going to take the UN seriously why are we so short-sighted as not to refer back to those principles that they’ve set up?

“It used to be said that we had an establishment with its own media,” he says. “I think it’s quite arguable now that we have an establishment media with its own political class because in many ways they are setting the tone.

“If you consider after the Skripal poisoning, from the very moment that that crime took place, the right wing press, the establishment press in the UK, the right wing and liberal press, was asserting blame at Russia’s door. It was Russia. And then Theresa May was bounced, I think, to making that statement in the Parliament given that she’s mired in a Brexit crisis that she cannot afford to look any weaker than she already is.

“The media bounced her. Rupert Murdoch’s press. The media. The Barclay brothers. They are running the show. They wield such a disproportionate malign influence on our democracy and in our political class. And so this was a trajectory of the Skripal case and where we are now with that. Without any evidence, without any investigation, it was Russia.

“We have a very poisonous and toxic media when it comes to representing so-called Western values, which are really their values, the values that they are indoctrinated with and inculcated with at Eton and Harrow and Oxford, which I maintain are our madrassas.”

“These institutions are hotbeds of extremism.”

But surely you can’t compare our universities to a madrassa in Pakistan.

“Oh yes you can,” says Wight. “In fact it’s worse given the damage that we’ve done around the world compared to what’s come out of those madrassas in Pakistan. These are the places where succeeding generations of the ruling class are inculcated with this right to rule, born to rule ethos which has brought so much damage around the world. Tony Blair went to Fettes, an elite school, where he spent his formative educational years. In Edinburgh. This is where it starts. I walk past it every single day and I look at it and I think of all the crimes they’ve issued from that building. Same with Oxbridge.”

When Wight says crimes he means foreign interventions in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya etc. 

“Look at what they’ve been doing in Syria,” he says. “Trying to undermine a secular government that represents a non-sectarian society in which minority communities can trace their existence back a millennium and more. On the side, and a de facto basis at least, perhaps even directly, of extremist head chopping fanatics. There’s no other way to describe them. Coterminous with what took place in Cambodia in the 1970s, in similar conditions of chaos which were then created again by the West, the US bombing of Cambodia in service to the Vietnam War and in service to the Cold War nostrums obtained then.

“So there is a pattern that runs right through our history, certainly since the Second World War, of blunding around like a control juggernaut, not on the basis of international law, not on the basis of any moral principle. The only principle is domination and hegemony.

“Eight hundred military bases in over 70 countries around the world.

“Do you think they are there to make the world safe for democracy? Well, only if you believe anything they tell you.

“They are there to make the world safe for the ability of Western global corporations to rampage around the planet, unfettered, exploiting the world’s human and natural resources. And the economic roots of this are actually important because neoliberalism is an economic model which is no respecter of borders, no respecter of sovereignty, no respecter of culture. It’s a world market. And that market is being fashioned in the image of America.”

White says the neo liberal agenda ultimately stops at nothing to achieve its goals.

“Well, I’m being very subjective with crime,” says Wight. “I think Iraq was. Most people around the world consider it to have been a crime, given the events that led up to that, the faulty intelligence and so forth.  In terms of my ideological prism, these are crimes. These crimes committed by rich countries against poor countries for no other reason than wealth for rich, for material gain and to cement this ideology of domination. Imperialism. It’s imperialism in red, in tooth and claw. Of course there’s a massive amount of embroidery that goes to try and mystify the process. Democracy and human rights and all these humanitarian intervention and right to protect but it’s imperialism. It was imperialism in the 19th century and it’s imperialism in the 21st century.”

The Renegade Inc. index

Let’s have a look at what you’ve been tweeting about in this week’s Renegade Inc index. First up from James Rogers:

“I first went to the USSR as a student in 1987, as a journalist in 1991. I lived in Moscow for many years. I can’t remember a time when relations between UK and Russia were so bad, but good to see recognition of our country’s shared history. World Cup Russia 2018.”

One of the interesting things here is that people have gone to the World Cup and they heard so much negative press and they’ve been pleasantly surprised because it’s been an absolute shock. Turns out Russia is nothing like it’s depicted in the press.

“There was a concerted campaign to try and subvert that World Cup before it began,” says Wight. “Talked about boycott. Boris Johnson, British Foreign Secretary’s outrageous statement comparing the World Cup in Russia to the Olympic Games in Germany in 1936.

“Hitler’s games, the Nazi Games. It really has been revelatory the extent to which the veil has been lifted and this is to the great discredit of these liberal, propagandists. They’re not genuine journalist, they are ideologically driven foot soldiers on the side of an establishment seething with anti Russia sentiment.”

Next tweet is from Neil Clark: “Neocon loses it big time after BBC’s Dan Walker speaks positively about Russia’s hosting of the World Cup. These people can’t give it a break.”

Wight says people like Mr Montgomerie see themselves as gatekeepers. “They are the ones who dictate how people are to view Russia,” he says. “And if anyone deviates, and certainly anyone within the media such as Dan Walker did and his praise for Russia’s hosting of the World Cup and the organisation and so forth, then the forces of hell will be unleashed. And that’s what Neil Clark is referring to with that tweet.”

And finally from Cal Sorensen: “Is Europe too brainwash to normalise relations with Russia? Perhaps war would be less of a threat if Russia simply disengage from the West and focused on integration with the East. Sooner or later Europe would come courting” – Paul Craig Roberts.

Wight says this gets to the heart of the matter because what we’re talking about is the catastrophic handling of relations between the West and Russia after the demise of the Soviet Union and after that dark period of the 1990s where the Russian people were subjected to a free market experiment in human despair.

“For that is what it was,” he says.

“Russia experienced something that was many times worse than the Great Depression in that decade. People have to understand that in 1989, in what is know the Russian Federation, two million people were living in poverty. In 1998, that figure had gone up to 70 million. That’s a verifiable fact.

“The country was on the edge of an abyss and that has fed Russia’s understanding of the West and its understanding of what a subordinate status would look like.

“It would forever be forced to pay the price, according to Western elites, of the Soviet Union’s existence, purely because the Soviet Union represented an alternative social and economic model which threatened their social and economic model.

“Vladimir Putin, when he came to power in 2000 he went out of his way to try and form a positive relations with the West. It is a matter of historical record that he even contemplated the possibility with Bill Clinton, in 2000, of Russia joining NATO. He also went out of his way to help the United States after 9/11.”

So who is the barrier to progress? If Putin as you say has gone out there and tried to become part of NATO, tried to build bridges, do all this diplomacy, provide this infrastructure. Where is the barrier to progress in all this? What’s stopping this happening? Why isn’t this partnership thriving and blossoming?

“Ideology,” says Wight. “The indoctrination with this born to rule Western exceptionalism, this focus on liberal democracy as the only game in town when it comes to running the world’s affairs. They want to reshape the world, refashion the world in their own image and they by in large have. It’s an interesting phenomenon and dynamic which I think help you explain how this works in reality.

Trump & the curse of Western exceptionalism

Donald Trump came on the scene in 2016 with none of the ideological baggage of the other past or present presidential candidates. He had no prior political experience. He was a swashbuckling businessman, or certainly liked to present himself as one.

“I have no candle for Donald Trump,” says Wight.  “Don’t get me wrong. But when he started talking about resetting relations with Russia, about moving away from confrontation, about accepting Russia as a partner in the fight against ISIS or Daesh and try to roll back from foreign policy adventure, from war in the Middle East, from this overarching huge commitment of US military power around the world, US subsidisation of NATO and so on and so forth. There was a cri du coeur issued in Washington amongst all these liberal interventionists and neocons and this is, I think, what’s been feeding this Robert Mueller investigation, to try and bring him back into line.”

Coming  back to Wight’s theory of Oxbridge and the Ivy League, Trump hasn’t been, in a sense, inculcated in the same way.

“Donald Trump didn’t come with any of that kind of baggage, any of that ideological drivers,” says Wight. “He wanted to sort out a mess that he felt had been left behind by his predecessor. Business man, he wanted to make deals, he wanted to sort problems out. He sees himself as a problem solver. Whether you think he’s good at that or not, that’s another discussion. And I think he brought that to the table and he realised quickly that he was not gonna be allowed to, because his administration, regardless of what you think of him.

“I think he’s an awful man in many ways, but his administration was placed under a veritable siege in the interest of an alliance against international global terrorism. He got rid of Steve Bannon for different reasons and he’s had to bring in John Bolton.  Mike Pompeo. These guys are part of the war machine.”

So where does this end?

Well I’m a great believer in referencing history to give us an understanding of where we are today and I see many parallels between the dying days of the Roman Empire,” Wight says. 

“We’re talking about a US empire that has many of the same qualities as the Roman empire.

“People going out of the way to try and live there and get citizenship. It controls the world with its huge military, presents itself as a model of civilisation, and that any other rival state or bloc or power has to be destroyed, because two things can’t occupy the same space at the same time.

Wight see how this ends depends on how China and Russia manage the decline of the US.

“This is their priority and I think the Russian and Chinese governments understand that priority,” he says. 

And have they got a leadership role now because actually what Wight is saying is that this is an empire out of control, in its death throes, it doesn’t really know what it’s doing. One of the facets of a dying empire is an undisciplined, out of control military.

Well this is what we’re seeing,” says Wight. “What we’re seeing is being wielded in a very uncontrolled, ill disciplined way around the world and these disastrous wars, one after the other. They’re only deepening instability, not restoring stability.

China and Russia have a massive role to play. Let me make clear. When I say it’s in decline I don’t mean it’s in decline like in a decade, I’m talking many many years, but the trajectory is there and I think this is why there’s an overemphasis now being placed on military power and hard power.

“Diplomacy has been taken off the table as a way, increasingly in Washington, to deal with international affairs or international issues or conflicts.

“And it’s almost like diplomacy is considered to be for wimps.

“And this gets to the heart of the national myths which sustains America. This rugged, individualist power that fears no one and that will protect its interests in a way that no one else can. This muscular idea of itself on the world stage. This is reflected in the polarisation of US society. The plethora of gun crimes, mass shootings, police violence.

“And this is fed by and this feeds, in turn, foreign policy and America’s engagement with the world. It’s a circular relationship.

“A foreign policy that is driven by imperialism is based on foundations of social and economic injustice at home.

“And that’s what we’re seeing. Malcolm X came out with a quote which I put great store by. He said: ‘You can’t understand what is going on in Mississippi if you don’t understand what is going on in the Congo’ And I think that translates to today. You can’t understand what’s going on in South Central LA or Charlottesville if you don’t understand what is going on in Syria and Libya and Iraq.

“There’s a circular relationship between foreign policy and domestic policy. One feeds the other because it’s based on the same ideology of domination.  Huge violence been unleashed against the poor at home and against the poor overseas or poor countries overseas. It’s a hatred of the other. Racism, white supremacy. White supremacy not only as a racial construct, but also as an ideological construct.

“Barack Obama was a white supremacist. That might sound controversial to people watching this, but he served the machine that rests on foundations of white supremacy. 

“If anyone works for the government in the States or works for its federal government, or works for the police, they are serving the interests of white supremacy, whether they’re conscious of it or not.

“Ignorance is increasingly a choice in our world. We are blessed with a plethora of media now that we didn’t have even 15 years ago. It’s a very hopeful situation. Information is power. This foreign policy requires is public support and if public support is not there they are limited in what they can do.

“Let me put it more honestly: They are limited in the damage that they can do. And so if we had RT, if we had Al Jazeera which came on stream around the time of Iraq. If we had TRT world, if we had the plethora of international publications like the Latin American channel, TeleSUR. If we had all these different multiple international media platforms that were accessible to the general public, it would have been far more difficult for Tony Blair and George W Bush to make the case for the war in Iraq, far more difficult. Even though they may still have ignored, given there were two million people on the streets of London, on February 15th 2003. It certainly would have been much more difficult, I think, for them to make a convincing argument, because then they still controlled the news narrative by in large in a way that they do not now. Hence the demonisation of RT. Hence the demonisation of Russian media. Because they see Russian media as a threat on the level of ideas and news information to that narrative, which is required in order to try and shape public consensus about who our official enemies are.”

So in an emerging multipolar world the public, the people watching this have a duty to graze not just on the domestic media but to get their news sources from different places and also, when you have that knowledge, hold your elected officials to account.

“Absolutely,” says Wight. “That’s how it works. We still do live in a democracy albeit a very truncated one, in my view. But that democracy gives us space to make those arguments, and to make our voices heard, and to change direction. And we should use that opportunity because all our futures and the future of our children really do depend on it.”

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