Tucker Carlson spouted more pro-Putin propaganda on his Fox News show this week, arguing that the “collision” between Ukraine and Russia was long coming and that it was provoked by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, with tacit approval from President Joe Biden.
Wait, I got that wrong. It wasn’t this week, and it wasn’t Tucker Carlson. It was The New York Times. My mistake!
The paper’s Moscow bureau chief, Anton Troianovski, made that exact case in an episode of the Times’ “The Daily” podcast on March 8. It’s apparently pro-Putin to say anything other than “I stand with Ukraine and Zelensky is hot,” but it’s worth recounting what Troianovski said: that Russia was initially hopeful of a cooperative relationship with Zelensky, but after Biden was elected, the Ukrainian president felt encouraged to take a more antagonistic position on Putin.
Troianovski said it was Ukraine’s rejection of a Covid vaccine developed by Russia in 2020 that first indicated Zelensky was “taking a pro-Western route and being skeptical, being cautious of getting too close to Russia.” And thereafter, Zelensky “became more outspoken” about Ukraine joining NATO, a notion that has always been treated by Russia as a security threat.
Troianovski said that then the transition from President Donald Trump, who was, at best, ambivalent toward Ukraine, to Biden, who had a heightened interest, created more tension. Biden, Troianovski said, “comes in, of course, with a message of much greater support for Ukraine to take a path that brings it closer to Western institutions and takes it farther away from Russia.”
For Zelensky, Biden’s inauguration was a green light, the reporter said. And just so there’s no mistake that these are the words of a high-level New York Times correspondent and not some Russia State television message I’m relaying on my own, here’s what Troianovski said in full:
“So what happens is just days after Biden is inaugurated, Zelensky cracks down on a business tycoon in Ukraine named Viktor Medvedchuk. And that’s important because Medvedchuk is basically the closest link remaining between Ukraine and the Kremlin. Putin is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter. Medvedchuk runs a political party that is fairly pro-Russian. He was running several TV channels that were pro-Russian, and early last year, Zelensky closes those TV channels, starts an investigation into Medvedchuk. Last May, Medvedchuk was put under house arrest under suspicion of treason. So Zelensky took all these steps that were very aggressive, and that was something that clearly annoyed Putin greatly and in retrospect was likely one of the factors that exacerbated the situation between Ukraine and Russia.”
When Zelensky closed down those TV channels just after Biden’s inauguration, he added insult to injury by tweeting at the time, “Ukraine strongly supports freedom of speech. Not propaganda financed by the aggressor country that undermines Ukraine on its way to the [European Union] and EuroAtlantic integration.”
Troianovski’s colleague Michael Barbaro summarized. “So Anton, you’re saying the shift in the U.S. presidency from Trump to Biden represented to Zelensky that he had more Western support,” Barbaro said, “and that basically he had some backup if he wanted to cross Putin and so it’s then that he starts taking more and more aggressive steps to move away from Russia.”
“Exactly,” Troianovski replied, “and as [Zelensky’s] presidency progressed, he found himself more and more on a collision course with Vladimir Putin.”
Blowing air in the face of a dog doesn’t mean you deserve to get your nose bitten off, but it’s a possibility easily avoided by keeping your mouth shut. Likewise, to acknowledge reality isn’t to say Russia is justified in declaring war on Ukraine. But maybe it was a mistake for Zelensky, under the impression that Biden’s America was eager to fight Ukraine’s battles, to flex on Putin.
And if the truth is considered pro-Russia propaganda, The New York Times has a lot to answer for.