Stories about the Russia you thought you knew

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Russia and the West: The Last Two Action-Packed Years 2017-2019, Tony Kevin, self-published, 2019.

Tony Kevin's latest work is actually a compilation of two essays (largely overlapping in subject matter — since they are both online elaborations of a lecture given to the Independent Scholars of Australia, Canberra branch) and an extended preface.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in August 2018. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)A casual reader, picking the work up without much background knowledge on the events which it covers, might assume that the work was alarmist conspiracy theory, so wildly is it at odds with the standard fare which one reads in the papers about Russia and contemporary politics in general.

Frighteningly, it is not. Its author is a respected diplomat who formerly served in Moscow, and a prize-winning author. Its central thesis — that the Western public have been systematically sold lies about Russia and about Western foreign policy in general — is held, not only by longstanding and serious Russia scholars like Stephen F. Cohen but also by other Western academics and diplomats such as Patrick Armstrong, Paul Robinson and Craig Murray, all of whom (like Kevin himself) have extensive experience and expertise in the post-Soviet space.

In his main essay, to make his case, Kevin begins by discussing the manufacturing of propaganda narratives and the demarcation of 'acceptable' worldviews beyond which no dissent is tolerated. As he points out, this is hardly a new phenomenon:

'People who work or have worked close to government — in departments, politics, the armed forces, or top universities — mostly accept whatever they understand at the time to be "the government view" of truth. Whether for reasons of organisational loyalty, career prudence or intellectual inertia, it is usually this way around governments. It is why moral issues like the Vietnam War and the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq were so distressing for people of conscience working in or close to government and military jobs in Canberra. They were expected to engage in "doublethink" as Orwell had described it ...'

Kevin then carefully dissects the stories about Russia and allies which we think we know: the Ukraine crisis, the sad story of the Skripals and the poison gas attacks by the Syrian government on civilians. In doing so, he exposes the gaping holes in the narratives which are obscured by the repetitive hammering of the official lines.

The value of Kevin's work is not in the debunking of the narratives. Others have done this before. Craig Murray, in particular, has done sterling work pointing out the multiple issues with the Skripal stories and its links to the lies about chemical weapons in Syria (two whistleblowers have reported on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons' suppression of reports unfavourable to the US version of events). Some of his points might be debatable by specialists — I would, for instance, question whether the turmoil in the Trump administration is entirely about Russia as Kevin seems to argue (without doubting that that is an element of it).

 

"Kevin shows how the media has ranged from supine to complicit in this potentially suicidal agenda which is seemingly shared by all the US's allies."

 

Where, however, Tony Kevin shines is in his analysis of the media's role in the sorry round of cover ups, their role as government stenographers, and the reinforcement of falsehood and ignorance needed to manufacture consent for the ongoing build-up of hostilities against Russia.

The existence of such hostilities is bizarre, especially given that the Cold War has already suggested to us what nuclear Armageddon looks like. One should not need a knowledge or appreciation of Russian history, language or culture to see that Mutually Assured Destruction means what it says (a quick rewatch of Dr Strangelove should be sufficient!). Whatever one might think of Russia, we have far less democratic countries as our allies, and war against a nuclear power should be unthinkable. Nevertheless, as Kevin makes clear, it is precisely what is on Western policy-makers' minds and openly defended by policy-makers in Western intelligence services:

'[Chris] Donnelly [director of the UK intelligence backed Integrity Initiative] spoke frankly on how the West is already at war with Russia, a "new kind of warfare", in which he said "everything becomes a weapon". He said that "disinformation is the issue which unites all the other weapons in this conflict and gives them a third dimension". He said the West "has to fight back, if it is to defend itself and to prevail".'

Building on open-source documents ranging from reports to the UK Parliament, documents leaked or dumped online by whistleblowers and hackers and a variety of media sources, Kevin shows how the media has ranged from supine to complicit in this potentially suicidal agenda which is seemingly shared by all the US's allies. More, his lengthy preface shows movingly how he himself has been affected (with books 'lost', appearances inexplicably cancelled and the voice of a once prominent diplomat and award winning author effectively silenced).

This is a short read. It is not a comfortable one. If, however, you want to be truly informed about foreign policy in this most vital of areas, it is a necessary one.

 

Canberra launch: Paperchain Bookstore, Manuka, 19 November at 6 pm (with Ernst Willheim)

Melbourne launch: Readings Bookshop, Hawthorn, 25 November at 6 pm (with journalist Caitlin Johnstone)

Brisbane launch: Avid Reader Bookshop, West End, 27 November at 6 pm (with James O’Neill)

Sydney launch: Gleebooks , Glebe, 5 December at 6 pm (with Prof the Hon Bob Carr)

 

 

Justin GlynFr Justin Glyn SJ has a licentiate in canon law from St Paul University in Ottawa. Before entering the Society he practised law in South Africa and New Zealand and has a PhD in administrative and international law.

Main image: Russian President Vladimir Putin in August 2018. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Justin Glyn, Russia, Tony Kevin

 

 

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Existing comments

Propaganda has many faces and they are not always western.
john frawley | 07 November 2019


I thought I was alone in recognising the propaganda of these past years. Whilst the West invades ever more of the world, Russia has pretty much held fast and carried out border protection. Hollywood are the masters of propaganda and its no surprise that uneducated masses swallow whatever gets thrown at them by complicit media. In the meantime, China boldly gives the west two fingers and arrogantly projects its power outside f its borders. The USA and its allies would do well to realise that befriending Russia and working together is the only possibility of thwarting Chinas plan for global domination.
Gerard | 11 November 2019


I don’t think the Russians murdered in London would agree. Novichok and Polonium.
David | 14 November 2019


Gerard, the problem with that objective is that China and Russia have already recently entered a pact of solidarity against the USA and its allies. Both superpowers are now moving into the Antarctic territory to establish their rival surveillance and GPS equipment and are jointly exploring the reserves of gas, oil minerals and fishing stocks currently exploited by Japan. Despite the fact that the allies supported Russia and China during WW2 against Germany and Japan, neither superpower has any regard for the support they received when they needed it most. Both have sophisticated propaganda machines but China is a complete law unto itself.
Francis Armstrong | 14 November 2019


Thank you, Justin, for introducing Tony Kevin's book to those of us located beyond the Sydney-Melbourne axis. On the strength of your review I shall be there to listen as well as to support him at the Brisbane launch.
Michael Furtado | 14 November 2019


regarding the ongoing matter of the death of 38 Australians when MH17 was shot down over Ukraine in 2014, a great deal of misunderstanding could be cleared up if Russian authorities were more honest and transparent as to what really happened instead of playing the victim card and blaming it all on 'fake news'.
walter komarnicki | 15 November 2019


Useful idiots even after the end of the Soviet Empire. The US has annexed noone since the end of the Spanish American War well over a century ago. Who has annexed the Crimea and parts of the Ukraine very recently? Who is menacing the Baltic States and Sweden and Finland right now? The Russian Empire.
Bob | 17 November 2019


I read Tony's earlier book (March 2017) Return to Moscow - some time back - having initially found it difficult to locate. I thrilled to a story of his earlier time there - and of his return. My wife and passed across the length of the USSR by trains - from Nakhodka to the Finnish border during the early summer of 1976. There were resonances of that memory within the glow of his writing - and corrections to the way in which Russia was being cast by the time of my reading by current especially anglophone western narrative. If I can listen to the blather out of Canberra about China and Russia and note the hypocrisy of the finger-pointing from a land which has so appallingly treated asylum-seekers - continues its darkness on so many levels against First Nations peoples - especially in remote communities and in the NT Intervention continuance and deaths in custody, stealing of children - then I have to question the interpretation of the reality of where that finger is being pointed. No nation is perfect - but that land's human rights abuses reflect the mote in our own - I find. Thanks for the alert to this latest of Tony's writing - I am seeking it out right now!
Jim KABLE | 27 November 2019


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