Could a dangerous campaign against Russia spin out of control?
President Obama meets with Russian President Putin in Northern Ireland, in June 2013. Evan Vucci | AP

The announcement by the Obama administration of new sanctions against Russia this week for its alleged attack on America’s democratic election process adds wood to a very dangerous fire. This fire that threatens to burn out of control is modern-day Russophobia that seeks to blame “the Russians” for many of the problems we face here at home and abroad.

It’s starting to feel for me a little like the bad old days of the 1950s when we were forced to hide under our school desks to practice for an impending Russian attack.

Today’s Russia under Putin is hardly the same as Russia in the days of the Soviet Union when that country backed on a world scale much of what progressives in the U.S. were fighting for – nuclear disarmament, peace, the anti-apartheid movement, and anti-colonialism.

Like the hysterical anti-Sovietism of that era, however, the new Russophobia has the immediate effect of harming the chance to end conflicts around the world that are killing people by the hundreds of thousands. And it has the same potential for planetary catastrophe when we consider that between them, Russia and the U.S. have 98 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.

Also, like the old anti-Sovietism, it has the same potential to be used by demagogic right-wing politicians who seek to turn the U.S. public’s attention away from major domestic problems, directing it instead to the alleged Russian threat. Likewise, as in the days of the old anti-Sovietism, liberals are tempted to jump on the bandwagon, sometimes outdoing Republicans in their attacks on Russia when they feel it helps them prove their patriotism. Or, as is the case today, when they believe it serves to make Trump look bad.

When it comes to the issue of America’s democratic processes, the anti-Russia campaign is already misdirecting the attention of the public. The problem is not that right wingers gerrymandered district lines to ensure Republican elections, it’s not that hundreds of thousands of citizens were cut off the voter rolls, it’s not that the media allowed Trump to go unchallenged with his lies, his racism and misogyny, it’s not that the FBI director announced new phony investigations of Clinton just prior to Election Day, it’s not that the woman who had nearly 3 million votes more than Trump doesn’t get to enter the White House, it’s not that after the Democrat got elected governor in North Carolina the Republicans convened to strip him of all his power. No, it’s not all those things, folks: The attack on America’s democratic processes is coming from Russia!

Minutes after President Obama announced the sanctions, unaccompanied by any facts proving actual Russian hacking, House Majority Leader Paul Ryan endorsed them, albeit as “too little too late.” Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were, at the time of the announcement, on a provocative tour of Ukraine and Georgia, two right-wing nations both part of the former Soviet Union, now right on Russia’s doorstep. The duo endorsed the Obama sanctions but said they would have to be made “much stronger” by special congressional “select” committees next year.

Not to be left off the rolling anti-Russia bandwagon, Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer chimed in with his support. “We’ve got to hit the Russians and we’ve got to hit them hard,” he declared. “An attack on our democracy will not be tolerated.”

Even Trump seemed to back off a bit from his own earlier boasts about how he is uniquely qualified to improve relations with Russia, saying simply he will be briefed by intelligence sources so he can get the facts.

The claim that Russia has attacked the very foundation of American democracy is, of course, only the latest in many provocative moves by the U.S. against that country.

Called to task for “invading” Ukraine

Russia was called to task for “invading” Ukraine and “annexing” Crimea, for example. Russia’s move into Crimea followed a bold right-wing coup in Ukraine that was backed by the U.S. The democratically elected president of Ukraine was forced to flee for the crime of beginning negotiations for further economic cooperation with Russia after he refused to buckle to the U.S. and EU-backed austerity demands. Corporate media in the U.S. never explained the threat the right-wing power grab in Ukraine posed not just to Russia but to the world. Russia’s only warm water port and its nuclear military base were located in Crimea. The base had always remained, by treaty, under Russia’s control. Would the world have preferred that a nuclear base fall into the hands of the openly pro-Nazi Ukrainian government?

The Russians are threatening the three Baltic states, it is claimed. The reality: NATO has spread out to the very borders of Russia, staging frequent, regular military maneuvers right at the edge of Russian territory. In a recent interview with PW, a leader of Latvia’s Socialist Party, described how NATO tanks and jeeps, including American soldiers, often enact war games in her country. “In Latvia it is illegal,” she said, “to even say or write anything positive about the period of the Soviet Union.” U.S. support for democracy in her country is as shallow as it is for democracy in Ukraine. Yet it is Russia, we are told, that poses the threat to these countries.

Called to task for “war crimes” in Syria

We are being told too, every day, that Russia is committing war crimes in Syria. Never mind, everyone, the century-long legacy of Western imperialism in the region and the millions of deaths it has caused, decade after decade — all to keep control over the rich oil resources of the region.

There’s no space here to deal with that issue in detail, so a few remarks will have to suffice: On the same day that President Obama announced the sanctions, it was announced that Russia, Turkey, and Iran had successfully brokered a cease-fire in Syria. The U.S. was not part of the agreement and had, in fact, said several weeks ago that its absence would mean the talks probably wouldn’t succeed — a strange reaction indeed from a country whose leaders have continually said the solution to problems in the Middle East should be brokered by countries in the region.

This development actually follows another serious attack Russia has suffered recently – the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey in Ankara.

After the Syrian army, with the aid of Russia and the forces of Hezbollah, succeeded in driving ISIS and other terrorists out of Eastern Aleppo, Turkey agreed to join Russia and Iran in negotiations for a truce in Syria.

“The U.S. naturally became nervous about this,” Navid Shomali, the international secretary of Iran’s Tudeh Party, told People’s World this week. “It is certainly not a leap in reasoning to say the forces behind the assassination of the Russian ambassador wanted to break up this Russo-Turkish cooperation. The finger points to U.S. foreign intelligence services and pro-U.S. elements in Turkey being behind this assassination.”

Although Shomali offered no hard evidence, he noted that the circumstances of the assassin’s death were suspicious: There was no gun battle, the assassin didn’t fire shots at police and yet he was shot to death, according to some reports, as he simply walked out of the building. The death of the assassin, of course, makes it that much harder to prove who was behind the murder.

Shomali notes that statements by both Turkey and Russia that they would not allow the murder to hurt their new cooperation are “important.”

Endured right-wing coup on its doorstep

More to the point, however, it is Russia that has endured right-wing coups on its doorstep, trips to its border by right-wing U.S. senators, NATO military maneuvers right up to its western borders, the assassination of its ambassador in Turkey, a downed planeload of its civilian musical artists, and a steady negative propaganda campaign coming from the United States.

Even if it were proven, hacking into computers and enabling the release of actually truthful information would seem, if anything, like a disproportionately small response.

The real problem is the continuing Russophobic campaign by leaders of both political parties in the U.S. If history teaches us anything it should teach us that when America’s leaders whip up hysteria against Russia they are cooking up a brew that will not end well for us or for the world.

At the very least, it will thwart the development of U.S -Russia cooperation so critical to the world today. Both countries face enormous challenges with their economies (closing big wealth gaps, for example), the environment, and the costs — both economic and in human terms — of regional conflicts. It will make agreements like the nuclear arms deal with Iran impossible.

At its worst, the campaign against Russia can lead to a world in which the United States and Russia, along with most of the rest of the planet, no longer exist.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.