The Problem with “Russian Experts” – A Book Review

Recently I began reading the most recent book by the veteran respected journalist Malvin Kalb entitled “Imperial Gamble” published by the Brookings Institution. I did not have to read much to realize that I as a reader was being indoctrinated with Russian disinformation and that the author was wittingly or not, its messenger. On the book’s front flap the following appears: “Marvin Kalb brings to life the geography, power politics, and history of Ukraine – once known as Kievan Rus`, or the `First Russia.`” On the subject of Crimea in the introduction Mr. Kalb provides his own opinion: “Actually Crimea has been in and out of Russian hands for more than a thousand years”.

On those two points alone I decided to write to Mr. Kalb:

“Dear Mr. Kalb:
I am reading your latest book. Kindly explain how Kyivan Rus` was the First Russia. Then explain what connection over a thousand years did Russia have with Crimea which it essentially occupied for the first time in 1783. I look forward to your response. Thank you.
Respectfully,
Askold S. Lozynskyj”

Mr. Kalb answered:

“Dear Sir:
Delighted you are reading Imperial Gamble, all of it. The reference to the First Russia was made many times by historians of Russia, historians from all over the world. The reference has rarely been accepted b y Ukrainians or Poles, but it has historical validity. Re Crimea–Russians have been in and out of Crimea since the 10th century. Wasn’t Vladimir Christianized there? They gained control there, as you said, in the late 18th century.
Sincerely,
Marvin Kalb”

In fact in his introduction Mr. Kalb characterizes these historians as “responsible historians”. I suspect that Mr. Kalb includes Vladimir Putin within this list of “responsible historians.” On page 25 he quotes Vladimir Putin:

“We are not simply close neighbors, but, as I have said many times already, we are one people. Kiev is the mother of Russian cities. Ancient Rus` is our common source, and we cannot live without each other.”

This statement by Putin is entirely self-serving and inaccurate. By assuming as its own Ukrainian history as Russia subjugated Ukrainian territory, Putin and his predecessors attempted to steal three hundred years of history, culture and religious tradition which simply had no relationship with Muscovy and to include almost 50 million people who are not Russian, nor do do they have any desire to be Russian. In fact Russia’s imperialistic behavior has resulted in an overwhelming choice by Ukrainians not to have anything to do with Russians.

Regarding Crimea, in order to support his own fallacious position of Russian thousand year connection, Mr. Kalb proposes a single argument that Prince Volodymyr of Kyiv was baptized in Chersonesos, a Greek colony in Crimea in the X century. But Prince Volodymyr of Kyiv had no connection with Russia. He was the ruler of Kyivan Rus`which did not include Muscovy or the territory of today’s Russia. In fact the city or state of Muscovy did not exist until some two hundred years later and the term Russia did not exist until several more centuries later.

The book is replete with historical inaccuracies and distortions. Authority for much of what is presented as factual information comes from Russian writings. Kalb quotes Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and the like. Perhaps to feign “responsibility” Mr. Kalb does provide some balance with real facts and legitimate authority. Unfortunately, the thrust is misplaced.

I choose to believe that Mr. Kalb is not a willing participant in Russian disinformation. However that, unfortunately, does not clear his name. Otherwise, he is a “useful idiot”. And while publishers are not always responsible for the content of their publications, Mr. Kalb in his introduction makes it quite clear that his book was commissioned by the Brookings Institution. I choose also not to include Brookings in the list of willing participants in Russian disinformation, but deem them “useful idiots” as well. But that is only part of the problem.

In his introduction Mr. Kalb bemoans the fact that today’s U.S. government lacks the necessary “Russian experts”. He writes “During the cold war, Western governments benefited from the advice of `Russian experts` who were consulted on policy choices. No longer…”

Mr. Kalb concludes his book with the following advice purportedly as a “Russian expert” himself since he reminds the reader in the book that in the early 1950’s he was a PhD candidate in Russian history at Harvard:

“The United States has other problems that demand its attention, directly affecting its vital national security interests, and Ukraine at the moment is not one of these. Declaring Ukraine to be such an interest would – inevitably—mean that the United States will slide into a confrontation with Russia.”

The notorious Russian propaganda machine like “Russia Today” or Vladimir Putin himself could not have provided more damning advice than this “Russian expert” for Ukraine and global security. Through disinformation, outright lies and “useful idiots” Russia continues to be a global security menace.

August 28, 2016

Askold S. Lozynskyj

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