Hello Stalin! US media frets over 'foreign agents' amid reports on mythical 'Russian Atlantis'

Dmitry Babich
Dmitry Babich was born in Moscow, in 1970. He has worked for various media outlets for 25 years, including The Moscow News and RIA Novosti news agency. He is currently working as a political analyst at Sputnik International, and is a frequent guest on BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN commenting on international affairs and history.
Hello Stalin! US media frets over 'foreign agents' amid reports on mythical 'Russian Atlantis'
Soviet Stalinism, denounced so many times for encouraging 'vigilant' citizens to report on the other, less vigilant ones, is now being reborn in many media and political circles in the United States and Western Europe.

History repeats itself, and it is capricious enough not to repeat itself in just a single country. Don’t believe me? Look at the recent article in The Washington Examiner about Marcus Papadopoulos, RT’s frequent interlocutor, meeting the Labor’s candidate for British premiership, Jeremy Corbyn. The article carries the sensationalized and Stalinized headline, 'Jeremy Corbyn Just Met With a Russian Agent.'  

The author, a young British-born American citizen named Tom Rogan, is an active journalist, churning out some 2-3 articles about Russian conspiracies per day in his most fruitful periods. So, Rogan bluntly declares British citizen Marcus Papadopoulos a Russian agent and voices a “strong opinion” that the mere fact of having a lunch with such an “agent” makes Jeremy Corbyn “unsuited to hold Britain’s highest elected office.”    

Born in 1986, Rogan may have no idea just how similar his article is to the numerous reports which Soviet citizens in the Stalin period wrote against their enemies or simply unwanted persons, or presumed adversaries. Even the severely flawed reasoning is strikingly similar: Tom Rogan is certain that Papadopoulos is a Russian agent simply because Papadopoulos is a “frequent guest on Russian propaganda news outlets, such as RT.” 

Indeed, under Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin, having an unauthorized publication in a foreign media outlet was dangerous and sometimes led to the author being declared a “foreign agent.” This practice was no longer so pervasive even under the rule of Leonid Brezhnev (1964-1982), when a number of Soviet citizens got published abroad and stayed alive. And of course, collaboration with a foreign publication led to an investigation, with foreign money (dollars were an illegal currency in the Soviet Union) seen as a corpus delicti, proof that a crime actually took place.

Rogan follows the very same logic: “Were U.K. authorities more interested in countering Russian espionage operations in Britain,” Rogan writes, “they might dig into its (Papadopoulos’s think tank’s) funding sources. I suspect Russian money lurks close to the surface,” Rogan concludes.

Well, with last year’s meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer becoming the top story in the mainstream media, one may have no doubt that “Russian money” and other “Russian conspiracies” will be uncovered, at least on the US media’s pages and screens.

Just like in Stalin’s Soviet Union, Trump Jr.'s interlocutor in June 2016, Natalya Veselnitskaya, has been labeled a “foreign agent” by the American mainstream media. She was called that derogatory name, even though that same mainstream media and the State Department since 2012 had been lecturing Russia about the inadmissibility of the very term “foreign agent” for Russian legislation (The law on the need for Russian NGOs to identify themselves as 'foreign agents' if they are financed from abroad and involved in political activities – this law was passed in 2012). In other words, it is perfectly fine for the US to brand Russians as 'foreign agents,' but when Russia follows suit it is chastised.

Even Russian Atlantis criticized 

The US feels itself qualified to pass judgment on other countries’ legislation and institutions, even though the competence of the American diplomats leaves much to be desired. The latest gaffe by the State Department that gave all of Russia a hearty chuckle, was contained in its recent report headlined, 'Trafficking in Persons in Russia.' It was published by US diplomats in June and purported to describe the plight of Russian beggars and prostitutes from the years 2016-2017.

In that report, the Americans blasted the Russian government for not providing financial aid to a certain “homeless shelter run by the Russian Orthodox Church in Kitezh.” There is just one glaring problem here. Kitezh is a mythical, legendary town from Russian folk tales, which presumably - in pure Atlantis style - disappeared under the water right before the Mongol invasion in the 13th century. Kitezh is described in folk literature as a happy and affluent place even under water. Having the pleasure to live in Kitezh has been a dream of Russian peasants for centuries, even though the archaeologists despaired of finding that elusive Russian Atlantis, even after searching for it in vain in several Russian lakes and rivers. So, the US State Department, by its untimely report on an even more untimely mentioning of Kitezh, made itself the laughing stock of Russia.

After several days of roaring laughter around the fruit of their labors, the US diplomats finally removed any mention of 'Kitezh' from their report. But the damage was done. 

The incompetence of the American diplomatic service revealed itself to such a degree in the Kitezh episode, that it is very doubtful that Russians will be able to trust Western diplomats and their reports after that story.

There is a deeper problem, however, lurking behind the shameful and aggressive gaffes, such as Rogan’s printed report against Papadopoulos or the whole Kitezh episode. The US media, by its quasi-Stalinist practices and sheer incompetence, has lost all respect in Russia. And this speaks for something, since just a few years ago, in the beginning of the 1990s, respect for Western practices (including Western media) was extremely high in Russia.

The price for the modern tendency of the US State Department to ram through its decisions with the obsequious support from the US media (take Iraq, Libya and Ukraine as just a few examples) was nothing less then Russian public opinion. Today, even the most pro-American, so-called 'liberal' part of Russian public opinion is turning away from the US. And for very good reason, one would add.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.