Phil Butler is a policy investigator, political analyst, and an expert on Eastern Europe. He’s the author of the recent book Putin’s Praetorians: Confessions of the Top Kremlin Trolls. Butler now lives on the Island of Crete in Greece.
JEA: Let’s start with your book, Putin’s Praetorians: Confessions of the Top Kremlin Trolls. In a chapter written by Charles Bausman, it states:
“Russia is an incomparably fascinating, deep, wonderful civilization, one of the great world civilizations, with a fantastic wealth of ideas, culture, and Christian spirituality. The truth is that it is, and was, routinely smeared by its enemies, and its true nature is barely understood in the West.”
Can you put some flesh in the bone of that statement for us?
PB: Charles has studied many years to gain a scholarly understanding of Russia and her culture. History verifies his apt reflections here, and I can only add this. Most people do not understand that Russia is still a vast empire in the geographic, cultural, and strategic sense. Like all great empires/civilizations she is also under constant internal and external stress, and subject to various expansion and contraction fluctuations.
It is because Russia is an empire, and because of the existent potential, that nations like Britain and the United States have sought to “contain” her. And since the fall of the Soviet Union the mission of the liberal order in the west has been to break up what remains of this empire.
JEA: Bausman again states:
“It is fair to say that the average Westerner, even the average highly-educated one, has a very faulty and slanted knowledge of Russia, tainted as it has been now for three centuries of outright hostility. I see it again and again when talking to highly educated and fair-minded people, especially older ones.”
Why is that? Would you attribute this to media disinformation?
PB: The media and information “bubble” that westerners live under is not an overnight construct. The “reality” created for the public is not simply a newspaper, radio or TV fabrication, either. Even at the local level, in the church or at the factory, the idea of exceptionalism permeates western societies.
It is the essence of this false exceptionalism that powers what you would call Russophobia. The same modus also powers ultra-capitalism and the unsustainable democracies we’ve created.
JEA: Bausman: “Perhaps we are on the cusp of a new era, when observers can write and think about Russia with a new eye, and begin to understand her majesty and promise, as Russia is only now beginning to do herself. She truly has much to offer the world, in knowledge, wisdom, and spirituality…”
One of the most cogent scholars who has been doing exactly that for the past ten years or so is Stephen F. Cohen. Yet he has been deliberately demonized as an intellectual outcast and the Kremlin’s puppet. Is the West ready to accept the truth about Russia?
PB: People in the west cannot deconstruct their existence so easily. The tidy, quaint, and safe little walled garden in which we Americans have lived for decades is the reality. People like the so-called “Kremlin trolls” in this book are so misunderstood. I can tell you that each of them has gone through this “deconstruct” in order to be able to see the truth of these matters. I know Charles Bausman has. I imagine that Stephen Cohen has. And I know for certain that I have.
For the west to embrace Russia as a friend and partner a transition is necessary. We saw this modern transition come to a halt when the hegemony began regime change in Libya, Ukraine, and then Syria. We saw the “preparation” for normality destroyed when the Sochi Olympics were trashed by the liberal world order in February 2014.
JEA: Have you stumbled upon the writing of Masha Gessen? She is one of the most dishonest people I have ever encountered when it comes to Russia. She also cannot put two coherent thoughts together. I have discussed some of her writings in the past.
PB: I wrote a story about Gessen, which is about to be published. Ordinarily, I shun harsh personal criticisms of such individuals, but this woman is an especially onerous and dangerous case. Suffice it to say she is “damaged goods”, or someone a psychologist might refer to as irrational or “unbalanced” – I would not consider anything she says credible.
Gessen’s agenda is entirely wrapped around her gayness and the LGBT empowerment agenda. Like the ousted Russia oligarchs, the western hegemons see her influence in this community as a weapon. This is the open book of Masha Gessen.
JEA: You are absolutely right on target here. What frustrates me most about these issues is that these people don’t seem to understand elementary logic. Let me give you one example. Gessen once posited the claim that “It’s a no brainer that gays have the right to marry.” In the very next breath, she magically asserted: “I also think equally that the institution of marriage should not exist.”
So, which is it? She found herself in a torrent of contradictions because she is operating under a wicked ideology which doesn’t allow her to clear her head. What’s your take here?
BP: Once again, if you examine Gessen’s narrative with an open mind you see she is one big contradiction. The woman has an identity crisis, a loyalty crisis, a sexual identity crisis, and a paranoid delusion the mainstream liberal media broadcasts like an air raid siren.
Gessen is presented as a “New Russia” authority on comedy shows, at the Council of Foreign Relations, on PBS, in the New York Times, as if she is the great Karnak of soothsaying Russia experts. She is actually nothing of the kind. She is a tool with a mission to help destroy the traditional values of Russia, and to assist in the completed destruction of western traditions such as the institution of marriage. Anyone who cannot see this is in danger of becoming damaged goods just like Gessen. This is my honest take.
JEA: I again completely agree with you here. I remember how she intellectually humiliated herself when she hopelessly tried to defend the Pussy Riot, the Trotskyite group whose purpose was to desensitize Russia. We’ll probably discuss this later, when your article on Gessen is published.