This Is Not About Russian Propaganda – This Is About Our Own

(TFC) – When Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, was asked about her family history, she knowingly pulled Canadians into the Russian scare craze that is currently permeating US politics. During a press conference Freeland was questioned about her maternal grandfather Michael Chomiak, a Nazi collaborator, and her response was, “I think that it is also public knowledge that there have been efforts, as U.S. intelligence forces have said, by Russia to destabilize the U.S. political system.” She continued, “I think that Canadians, and indeed other Western countries, should be prepared for similar efforts to be directed at us. I am confident in our country’s democracy, and I am confident that we can stand up to and see through those efforts.”


This story isn’t about Russian propaganda, this is about our own.


By making such a claim, this government official attempts to latch on to a major government and media trend that is dominating current events, Russian interference and propaganda efforts to manipulate a US election, thus insinuating that interference by Russian forces is now occurring in Canada. Considering that no evidence to support those claims has been provided, the response should be extreme criticism to Freeland’s statement, but it hasn’t. Many Canadian media pundits and outlets propagated her message and ensured that the Russian Propaganda should continue.


Linking the often anonymous and unverified reports coming from US media pundits and intelligence agencies about Russian interference, the climate of suspicion and fear has permeated the media and political landscape. Russia is now the prime villain, responsible for all things nefarious. Certainly, anyone connected to Trump, or who is a supporter of Trump is now a Russian actor. Further, anyone criticizing Hilary Clinton and/or the DNC is a Russian stooge and/or unwitting pawn – so the propaganda goes. All of these allegations and strategies have been employed thus far in response to Trump. A hugely anticipated Office of the Director of Intelligence report (DNI) – combined assessments from the FBI, CIA, NSA, and others – attempted to support claims of Russian interference, which would bolster the propaganda, but failed to provide hard evidence. Even the New York Times commented critically of it. The rise of neo-McCarthy era hysteria has become evident and the single most used tactic that is accepted as a response to combating a new Trump White House.


A VICE News article noted that Freeland’s story was sent to them ”by someone in the Russian embassy in January”, and the source hoped to have Freeland questioned about her grandfather’s work. The Russian embassy declined to speak with VICE News for the story. The article identified through an interview with John-Paul Himka, a professor at the University of Alberta who is related by marriage to both Freeland (his niece) and Michael Chomiak (his father-in-law). Himka defended Freeland by saying, “It was a newspaper that had to collaborate with the Germans and had certain areas of ideological kinship […] He wrote nothing for the paper. He was largely a figurehead, a liaison with the German censors and a guy to call on the carpet when a whipping boy was needed”.


Other articles here and here provided comments from Ukrainian public figures and former intelligence members to build a denial narrative with official authenticity. The Globe and Mail noted, “It is the continued Russian modus operandi that they have. Fake news, disinformation and targeting different individuals,” said Paul Grod, president of the Canadian Ukrainian Congress. “It is just so outlandish when you hear some of these allegations – whether they are directed at minister Freeland or others.” The Macleans articles were especially alarmist and predictable “The smear job on Chrystia Freeland is only the start. Why Canada is a logical next target in Moscow’s desperate clandestine war” and then wrote later “It was a hoax, we would all admit, if we were capable of resisting the inclination to double-down on the preposterous claims and dirty insinuations that have been allowed to muddy the significance of what has really happened here. It was a hoax, perpetrated on the Canadian public, in service of Vladimir Putin’s gangland regime in Moscow.”


While utilizing former intelligence members and Canadian Congress officials or by using family members to support official claims, most of these articles paid little or no attention to the actual claims, while at the same time identifying that the sources where “pro-Russia”. Anything overtly attacking a member official of our government must obviously be propaganda and untrue, but is it?


Canada’s Foreign Minister conveniently cloaked herself within this conspiratorial narrative. Then hoped by doing so would urge Canadians to become active participants in the national repudiation of “Russia propaganda”, of which boosts support for state efforts abroad, specifically – Ukraine. Then as a natural result have herself exonerated by not being honest with the public about her grandfather’s past, one that has been verified as true (read more here), but could have easily been put to rest with open honesty and transparency. Her reaction to these initial questions was dodging and posing this “Russian influence/propaganda” narrative.


Anna Tsukanova wrote in Consortium News “Freeland’s op-ed appeared at about the same time as her ideological ally, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, was caught on an insecure phone line discussing with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt who the new leaders of Ukraine should be. Yats is the guy,’ Nuland said about Arseniy Yatsenyuk while dismissing the E.U.’s less aggressive approach to the crisis with the pithy remark, ‘Fuck the E.U.’ Nuland and Pyatt then pondered how to ‘glue this thing’ and ‘midwife this thing.’”


Leonid Bershidsky wrote, “Freeland can’t be responsible for her grandfather. There would be no dishonor for her in talking about his role in the Nazi propaganda effort and the compromises Ukrainian nationalists made with Nazis at the time. The history of Ukrainian nationalism is hardly rosy. Today’s Ukrainian leaders attempt to fashion it into a heroic past in much the same way as Putin’s Russia continues the Soviet tradition of ignoring the Stalin-era crimes that helped the Bloodlands earn that name.”


So while Russian boogeymen are around every corner, and claims of Russian interference abound, US interference is ignored, and blatantly. Canada is an active participant in these operations as we publically denounce enemy “tyrants” and “thugs”; yet rarely, if ever, criticize our own actions and their damaging consequences. Freeland was very friendly with Ukraine’s new government, meeting often and from very early accounts of her tenure as Foreign Affairs Minister, her position on Ukraine and Russia was quite public and clear. What has followed from a Russian reaction should be understandable. Given the facts that regime change events in Ukraine occurred with Western intervention and episodes of instability and violence are happening right along the Russian border, and not the Mexico border. Russia should be concerned and it would be expected that had similar events happened on borders and nations next one’s own, we, in turn, should react as predictably.


Image Source: NichoDesign, Flickr, Creative Commons

Freeland’s inability to be honest about her grandfather’s past only further inflames and exacerbates already dangerous tensions with another state, while adding fuel to the already blazing propaganda fire. It should be noted that out of all the insanity created by Trump and his policies, if we can even tell what they are; his position on relaxing tensions with Russia is actually very reasonable and should be supported by the Canadian government. If we compare this with Trump’s ruling to dismantle the EPA, which has not been denounced by Canada in any way so far, and constitutes a much more grievous and dangerous result, friendly relations with Russia does not seem so bad.


Perhaps if Canada took it’s own less aggressive role against Russia and looked to de-escalate rather than escalate tensions, we could assist in working towards the aims of nuclear nonproliferation amongst the nuclear states. Would this be in Canada’s national interest? Surely, yet we are expected to react by supporting unquestionably, unverified and anonymous claims about something completely unproven. This could have disastrous consequences. Who knows, we could soon see proven evidence of Russian intervention, official documents detailing hard evidence, but until then we should remain skeptical. The lessons of Bush’s lies about Iraqi WMDs should be the most recent reminder. With America’s most unpredictable regime able to wield awesome military might, including a nuclear response, we might do better by responding ourselves with transparency and honesty, hoping to lead with better examples, rather than succumbing to herd mentality, ‘group think’, and our own propaganda.