The far right has replaced the old left as Russia’s propaganda tool

During the 20th century, the American Communist Party and left-leaning journalists acted as conduits for the Soviet Union’s propaganda. At no time was this clearer than in August 1939, when the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a non-aggression pact. One week later World War II began when the Germans invaded Poland, followed by the Soviets shortly thereafter.

The American Communist Party, toeing the Moscow line, abandoned a decade of anti-fascism, supported the non-aggression pact, and opposed American aid to Britain, which was then fighting alone against Germany. That abruptly changed almost two years later, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. The American party, again following Moscow’s line, pivoted back to anti-fascism and demanded American military aid for the Soviet Union.

Fast forward to today’s conduits for Russian talking points — right-wing Republicans and journalists. In 2018, President Donald Trump endorsed Vladimir Putin’s denial that Russia interfered with the 2016 election, even though American intelligence had reached the opposite conclusion. The following year, in the Trump impeachment proceedings, House Republicans claimed that Ukraine had interfered with the 2016 election even though Fiona Hill, a former Trump national security council official on Russia, told them that this was a lie “propagated by the Russian security services themselves.” 

In their Biden impeachment inquiry, House Republicans pushed the claim by FBI informant Alexander Smirnov that a Ukrainian energy company had paid $5 million in bribes to President Biden and his son Hunter. The Department of Justice’s recent perjury indictment of Smirnov and subsequent filings revealed not only that Smirnov had fabricated those claims, but that he had been fed information by Russian intelligence services. Right wing media and politicians nonetheless continue to promote Smirnov’s apparent Russian-disseminated propaganda.

Tucker Carlson’s fawning interview of Russian President Vladimir Putin echoes the left-wing journalists of the 1920s and 1930s, who downplayed or otherwise covered up Stalin’s murder of millions of Soviet citizens. One was Walter Duranty, the New York Times’ chief Moscow correspondent. In return for interviews with Stalin, he made excuses for the Soviet dictator’s brutality as a necessary part of communist reform. ”You can’t make an omelet,” he wrote, “without breaking eggs.”

Putin, a mafia-style killer, murdered history in the Carlson interview by preposterously claiming that Poland started World War II. Carlson responded to this, “Of course.” A real journalist would have confronted Putin with the fact that World War II started when, pursuant to their non-aggression pact, Germany and the Soviet Union launched unprovoked attacks on Poland from west and east, respectively.

During Putin’s rambling, mythological history lecture on why Ukraine does not deserve sovereignty or independence, Carlson listened respectfully. He did not call Putin’s attention to Russia’s 1994 written guarantee of Ukraine’s sovereignty and “existing borders” in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. 

Carlson’s gushing praise for Moscow as superior to American cities echoes the “workers’ paradise” propaganda of the Soviet era. He might have mentioned that Russian life expectancy is six years shorter than in the U.S. (nine years shorter for men) and that the Russian suicide rate is one of the world’s highest. 

The Republican Party is not a monolith like the American Communist Party, but fewer and fewer House Republicans seem willing to say openly that Russia is a threat to be confronted. The retirement announcement by Rep. Michael Gallagher (R-Wisc.) puts an exclamation point on this problem. 

The right wing, through Republican Party control of the House and journalists like Tucker Carlson, has given Russia a foothold in the U.S. for propaganda and influence unlike anything the Soviets were able to build in their time. The refusal of House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) even to hold a vote on Ukraine military aid may hand Ukraine to Putin — and that’s before a possible Trump presidency and a Republican majority Senate.

The old Kremlin masters of the American Communist Party never dreamed they could accomplish anything like this.

Gregory J. Wallance was a federal prosecutor in the Carter and Reagan administrations and a member of the ABSCAM prosecution team, which convicted a U.S. senator and six representatives of bribery. He is the author of “Into Siberia: George Kennan’s Epic Journey Through the Brutal, Frozen Heart of Russia” (St. Martin’s Press).

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