So, what did Russian people think of the RussiaGate investigation? Some of us here at The Duran live and work in Moscow, but we are usually Americans, and not Russians ourselves. This makes us able to listen and opine, but only as foreigners and not as people that are really, heart and soul, affected by the news and allegations that RussiaGate did to their country.
In other words, it ain’t personal for us, at least not in the same way.
But on March 29th, The New York Times performed a random act of journalistic integrity (though after the fact, as media outlets continue to feign a self-inventory of what drove them to pursue such a poorly verified story to the American public for two years), and they published an op=ed from a Russian citizen.
While it is not possible to say that what is contained here reflects the point of view of all Russians (I know this personally because I talk to so many of them here), it does reflect exactly what its writer, Alexey Kovalev, thinks. We present his thoughts to you here, with some added emphasis. At the end we offer some closing thoughts, but here is Mr. Kovalev’s piece:
Russians weren’t waiting for Robert Mueller’s report with quite the same excitement as Americans.
Russian state media’s coverage of Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency has vacillated between breathless adoration, mockery and outrage, but one thing has been consistent: The idea of Russia electing and controlling an American president has always been deemed absurd. Most references to the Mueller inquiry and the Trump-Russia story in state media are preceded by a qualifier: “the so-called Russia investigation,” as the prominent TV host Dmitry Kiselyov puts it.
It’s not just the state media that has rejected the idea that Mr. Trump colluded with Russia. Even liberals and opponents of President Vladimir Putin have been deeply skeptical, pointing out that Russia’s ruling circles are barely competent enough to prop themselves up, let alone manipulate a superpower.
When the news broke last week that Mr. Mueller had finished his report, Moscow’s political and media circles reacted with a mixture of contempt and derision. Far from being a top news story, it was practically forgotten after a few angry comments from state officials. Coverage focused far more on the coming election in Ukraine.
Alexey Pushkov, a former diplomat and a political analyst, tweeted to his 360,000 followers on Tuesday, following the release of Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the report: “The results of Mueller’s investigations are a disgrace to the U.S. and their political elite. It’s now confirmed that all their allegations have been plucked out of thin air. The media have played a shameful role of lie-mongers in a campaign built on lies. The adherents of this conspiracy theory are discredited. Only an idiot can believe them now.”
To the Kremlin and its supporters, Russia is the aggrieved party here, and the government’s consistent denials of interfering in America’s internal affairs have been fully vindicated. Appearing on the Russian talk show “60 Minutes,” Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, said the ministry was preparing a report to name and shame the “brigade of propagandists” — pointing at, among others, Fareed Zakaria — who tried to tie Mr. Trump to Russia. She added that “apologies are expected.”
These commentaries conveniently focused on the portions of Mr. Barr’s summary of the report that ruled out the Trump team’s coordination with Russian operatives, and they disregarded the fact that the full report has not been released. Other important portions of the report, which reached the unequivocal conclusion — also supported by independent investigations, including in Russian media — that there were, indeed, Russian efforts to influence the 2016 American election, went completely ignored.
But while government officials and state media tell one-sided stories and revel in “I-told-you-sos,” liberal Russians like myself and many of the people I know are less joyous. Online and in private conversations, it becomes clear that whatever the outcome of the Mueller investigation, our relationship with America has changed.
We interrupt Mr. Kovalev’s piece to reaffirm this last point he just said. Observations here on the ground in Moscow with many Russian people show that the relationship with America has changed. I have personally seen my dearest friends here, and my own wife, who is Russian, erupt with anger and bitterness over the treatment that their homeland receives – unjustly, from their American partners.
The fact is that for much of the time since the 2014 Olympics, and especially since the 2016 elections, Russia has been handed what amounts to an excrement sandwich over and over again from the American media and very prominent people within the American government.
Sadly, this includes President Trump himself at times, though he still gives open spaces that the media seems to (thankfully) miss, and President Vladimir Putin’s own relative silence on the latest in the tense relations (about the US, Russia and Venezuela) seems to be a signal that there remain some behind the scenes efforts to at least not escalate matters further.
Still, the bitterness and sense of frustration has caused many Russian people to give up on hopes for a better relationship with the American nation. They are mixed emotionally, because they do not hate Americans, but they often ask me to explain why the US policy decisions are going the way they are going.
The Russians are hardy people, and they are honestly quite used to their country being assailed and assaulted. But they are people too, and it is discouraging and maddening for them to see their amazing efforts to show who they really are as a nation (pro-life, pro-Christian, pro-traditional values) be simply blocked and ignored by the West.
Mr. Kovalev continues:
We’ve seen anti-Russian xenophobia spread into the American mainstream. Etched in our minds are comments like the one James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, made in an interview when he said that Russians are “almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever.”
“To those of us who paid attention to American media and politics over the past two years, it quickly became clear that too many in the United States know nothing about our country.
This climate hasn’t just offended us; it’s making our ability to communicate and share experiences with Americans more difficult. Take the example of Leonid Volkov, an opposition political operative who went to the United States last year as part of the Yale World Fellows program. In a blog post he wrote while there, he described his frustration while trying to monitor the midterm elections to gain insight for his own campaigns in Russia. The very idea of a Russian volunteering for an American political campaign is today so toxic, Mr. Volkov wrote, that he had to abandon his plan.
In the atmosphere where “contacts with Russians” has become cause for suspicion, every bank transaction and visa application faces extra scrutiny. I’ve heard from people I know about how exchange programs, conferences and businesses are suffering.
To those of us who paid attention to American media and politics over the past two years, it quickly became clear that too many in the United States know nothing about our country. Ominous images of onion-shaped domes taking over the White House baffled us; St. Basil’s Cathedral is not part of the Kremlin complex and has no political connotation. The ubiquity of hammers and sickles in visuals accompanying Trump-Russia reports seemed likewise absurd. Our country hasn’t been Communist for about 30 years.
We have few illusions about our own government, its dirty dealings abroad or our own toxic media. But we expected better of America.
Oleg Kashin, a prominent Russian journalist, wrote in a 2017 op-ed essay that “every time a Russian television network or pro-Kremlin newspaper reaches a new low, it was once commonplace among independent thinkers to say that the Western media giants never allowed themselves such mistakes.” That’s much harder to do now.
The end of the Mueller investigation and the conclusion that the Trump campaign didn’t collude with Russia may allow Washington and Moscow to begin to try to fix diplomatic and business relations. I’d be glad to see that. But my perception of the United States’ politics and media might have suffered irreparable damage as a result of #Russiagate, and I’m afraid that’s the case for many people like me. Robert Mueller can’t fix that.
It is truly remarkable that The New York Times ran this piece at all. Perhaps it was part of their mea culpa to try to save face after two solid years of deliberate false reporting designed to remove President Trump from office.
It is unlikely that we will ever get an honest admission. But Mr. Kovalev’s words are certainly honest from his point of view, and his thoughts and perceptions are a solid match for what we personally observe in Moscow and elsewhere in the Russian Federation. As an American, it is difficult to feel proud of what our country’s media and political elíte has done here.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.