The New York Times reported this week that Russia is preparing its public for potential war with the United States.
Moscow is “promoting patriotism” by training high school students in history and military history, according to the Times, and that Russian media outlets are saying that the country considers itself to be “surrounded by enemies” and may be forced to defend itself “as it did against the Nazis.”
Going even further, the Times added that Russia had already “massed troops on the border with Ukraine,” a lie that has been perpetuated in the mainstream media all across the United States.
Where do we even begin to pick this story apart? I’m not a Russia expert. But if I learned anything at the C.I.A., it was critical thinking and the necessity for basing my conclusions on facts.
First, every country teaches its children history, including military history. Indeed, education in the United States is rich in military history. Every student learns about the the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Iran War, and Afghanistan, to name just a few of our “glorious campaigns.” (I put myself through graduate school by teaching high school history for two years.)
Second, anybody who has paid any attention to the news over the past five years knows that the U.S. media have accused Russia of all sorts of misdeeds without a lot of proof. It was Russia that “stole” the election in 2016 from Hillary Clinton through Wikileaks. It was Russia that pitted Americans against each other through social media advertising during the 2020 election. It was Russia that “invaded and occupied Ukraine” in violation of international law.
Third, according to the Times and other outlets, Russian troops are massed on the Ukraine border ready to invade at the drop of a hat. That’s simply not true. There are between 70,000 and 90,000 Russian troops on the border, the same number that have been there for the past eight years. An “invasion” would require at least 300,000 troops, according to military analysts. Around 100,000 Russian troops are in Yelnya, Russia, which is 160 miles from the Ukraine border and is closer to Belarus than it is to Ukraine. There is no imminent threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Fourth, the Russians actually are surrounded by enemies. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, and Poland, all former Soviet Russian allies, are all now members of NATO. Ukraine is begging to join NATO and is the recipient of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, also former Soviet republics, all host U.S. military bases. It should be no surprise to anybody that the Russians feel threatened militarily (after also being sanctioned and threatened constantly with “serious consequences.”)
Realpolitik aside, what bothers me most about this reporting is the Times’s focus on Russian patriotism, trying to convince us of how dangerous it is. Has nobody from The New York Times ever been to a baseball or football game?
As I noted in Consortium News last June, the Pentagon shelled out at least $6.8 million between 2012 and 2015 for Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and other sports leagues to “honor” troops with cheap stunts at sporting events. The details are listed in a Senate report.
The total tally may now top $10 million — and even reach $100 million, if you count the military’s marketing deals with NASCAR. For millions of your tax dollars, the Pentagon is buying things like ceremonial first pitches for recent veterans, club-level seats for vets at football games, and airport greetings for returning service members.
As I said, I’m the first to admit that I’m not an expert on Russia or Ukraine. But I am something of an expert on policy having spent 15 years at the C.I.A. and another two on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee senior staff. I can tell you that this policy is bunk. The New York Times, the Biden administration and Congress all need to back off.
The Russians don’t want war. And the U.S. shouldn’t either.
John Kiriakou is a former C.I.A. counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.