By Patrick Lawrence / Original to ScheerPost
It is never very easy to understand what is going on in the world if you depend on The New York Times for an accounting of daily events. This is especially so in all matters to do with Russia, China, or any other nation The Times has on its blacklist because the policy cliques in Washington have these countries on their blacklist. Rely on The Times for its reporting in these cases and you are by definition in the dark. No exceptions. This is what the once-but-no-longer newspaper of record has done to itself and to its readers over, I would say, the past 20–odd years. It is now nothing more than an instrument of the imperial ideology emanating from our nation’s capital.
It follows that we must always take care to read The Times, odious as we may find it, in the same way millions of Soviet citizens over many decades made it a point to read Pravda. As noted severally in these commentaries, it is important to know what we are supposed to think happened on a given day before going in search of what happened.
Never were these assertions truer than they were as 2022 turned to 2023. On December 30, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping gathered by video for one of their regular summits. The Russian and Chinese presidents have now met, in person or electronically, 40–odd times by my count. A day later Putin delivered his customary New Year’s address to the Russian people. These were momentous events by any measure. They declared Moscow’s and Beijing’s historic commitment to constructing nothing less than a new world order. The world turned in 2022, to put the point another way. But you could not possibly know this if you read The Times’s accounts and nothing more.
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Here I must single out the reporting of Anton Troianovski. While I do not approve of attacking a journalist in ad hominem fashion, it is meet and just, as the New Testament would put it, to single out Troianovski as the worst Moscow bureau chief The Times has had in place at least since Andrew Higgins, Troianovski’s immediate predecessor, who was in turn the worst bureau chief since Neil MacFarquhar, who preceded Higgins and was worse than his predecessor, and let us leave it there, as this list of worse-than-the-worst extends back many years.
In the method just outlined, I read first of the Putin–Xi summit, which was unusually long and pointed, in a piece Troianovski filed afterward from Moscow. I then read the detailed readouts issued by the Chinese and Russian governments, which are respectively here and here. Then I was astonished to discover the sheer irresponsibility of Troianovski and his employer. Even correspondents who serve more or less openly as propagandists can sink lower than what you thought was their low point, I had to remind myself.
Let us bridge the vast divide between what we are supposed to think happened on December 30 and 31—between what The Times published under Troianovski’s byline after the summit and Putin’s New Year’s address and what was actually said on these two occasions.
Here are a few passages from the post-summit readout issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry:
President Xi noted that… the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era has grown more mature and resilient, with the internal impetus and special value of bilateral cooperation further brought out. In the first 11 months of this year, two-way trade volume reached a record high. Investment cooperation has been improved and integrated. Energy cooperation continues to serve as an anchor. And cooperation projects in key areas are moving forward steadily…. In a changing and turbulent international environment, it is important that China and Russia remain true to the original aspiration of cooperation, maintain strategic focus, enhance strategic coordination, continue to be each other’s development opportunity and global partner, and strive to bring more benefits to the two peoples and greater stability to the world.
President Xi emphasized that the world has now come to another historical crossroads. To revert to a Cold War mentality, provoke division and antagonism, and stoke confrontation between blocs, or to act out of the common good of humanity to promote equality, mutual respect and win-win cooperation—the tug of war between these two trends is testing the wisdom of statesmen in major countries as well as the reason of the entire humanity. Facts have repeatedly proven that containment and suppression is unpopular, and sanction and interference is doomed to fail.
And, following the above:
China stands ready to join hands with Russia and all other progressive forces around the world who oppose hegemony and power politics, to reject any unilateralism, protectionism and bullying, firmly safeguard the sovereignty, security and development interests of the two countries and uphold international fairness and justice. The two sides need to maintain close coordination and collaboration in international affairs, uphold the authority of the United Nations and the status of international law, stand for true multilateralism, and fulfill their responsibilities as major countries and lead by example on such issues as protecting global food and energy security.
And, toward the conclusion:
The two presidents exchanged views on the Ukraine crisis. President Xi stressed that China has noted Russia’s statement that it has never refused to resolve the conflict through diplomatic negotiations and China commends that. The path of peace talks will not be a smooth one, but as long as parties do not give up, there will always be prospect for peace. China will continue to hold an objective and impartial position, work to build synergy in the international community and play a constructive role toward peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis.
It is not difficult to understand what Xi was conveying in these summarized remarks. He was describing the leading role China and Russia have assumed in the construction of a new world order wherein non–Western nations achieve parity with the West, wherein the latter’s presumption of superiority is a thing of the past, wherein international law and the authority of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations are sovereign. Not least, Xi placed the Ukraine crisis in the context of this larger project.
In my read, the year end summit was intended to confirm the determination the two sides voiced last February 4, three weeks before Russia began its intervention in Ukraine. This was the date Putin and Xi issued their Joint Declaration on International Relations Entering a New Era and Global Sustainable Development. As I noted at the time, I count that the single most important document advanced so far in our new century, one that defines just what it says, a new era.
As a Russian commentator remarked in an analysis of the December 31 summit, “2022 has been a year which has significant consequences for the future of global geopolitics and will be remembered as such in the history books. It marked the closing of three decades of American unipolarity, which had begun with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and forced through a new multipolar world consisting of numerous competing great powers.”
To be clear at this point, it is not a question of approving or disapproving of the new realities that arrived in the course of the year gone by. It is a question only of grasping them, like them or not.
Usefully enough, the Kremlin’s readout of the Putin–Xi on-screen summit was a transcript. Here are a couple of snippets from it:
In the context of growing geopolitical tensions, the importance of the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership as a stability factor is growing. Our relations have passed all the tests, demonstrating their maturity and stability, and they continue to grow dynamically. As both of us pointed out, our current relations are enjoying the best period in their history and can be regarded as a model of cooperation between major powers in the 21st century.
Moscow and Beijing’s coordination on the international arena, including at the U.N. Security Council, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa], and the G–20, serves to create a fair world order based on international law. We share the same views on the causes, course, and logic of the ongoing transformation of the global geopolitical landscape. In the face of unprecedented pressure and provocations from the West, we defend our principled positions and protect not only our own interests, but also the interests of all those who stand for a truly democratic world order and the right of countries to freely determine their destiny.
Mature, stable, dynamic relations. The transformation of the global geopolitical landscape. The right of countries to freely determine their destiny–this last including the Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine, whose political rights were highjacked with the U.S.-cultivated coup nine years ago and in whose name Russia intervened not quite a year ago. Risking conjecture, maybe this is something readers of The New York Times would do well to know about.
Ditto Putin’s year-end message. It was a specifically Russian take on what was said during the Russian leader’s summit with Xi, so I will not go long on it:
The year 2022 is drawing to a close. It was a year of difficult but necessary decisions, of important steps towards Russia’s full sovereignty…
It was a year that put many things in their place, and drew a clear line between courage and heroism, on the one hand, and betrayal and cowardice on the other…
The outgoing year has brought great and dramatic changes to our country and to the world. It was filled with uncertainty, anxiety and worry…. For years, Western elites hypocritically assured us of their peaceful intentions… But… the West lied to us about peace while preparing for aggression, and to cynically use Ukraine and its people as a means to weaken and divide Russia. We have never allowed anyone to do this and we will not allow it now.
I have quoted at some length two men capable of reading history’s clock. It is pointless, to repeat a thought shared earlier, to protest against what clocks tell us. Clocks will simply keep ticking, their hands moving inexorably forward.
There is, of course, the alternative of not looking at the clock and pretending it is not ticking. This is a pretty good way to describe what Anton Troianovski’s coverage of the events just reviewed urges New York Times readers to do.
Troianovski’s piece on the Putin–Xi summit appeared under the headline, “Xi and Putin Meet Again, Two Strongmen in a Weak Moment,” and it earns every bit of the naked dishonesty of those 11 words. They are “in positions of weakness,” they are “encumbered by geopolitical and economic threats,” they are “isolated,” they struggle “to maintain a semblance of diplomatic and financial stability.”
Let me be blunt, as I am in no mood to waste a lot of linage on this appalling turkey: None of these statements is an accurate representation of the truth. Far down in the piece, as is the practice among Times correspondents, we can read a few swift, blurred mentions of what actually transpired between Xi and Putin, as not even The Times can pretend indefinitely, but by then Times readers are well prepared to think night is day, black white, and the sky not blue. Nowhere but nowhere does Troianovski give any indication of the gravity and significance of the global transformation the two leaders dwelt upon at length. To read his piece is to come away thinking their summit consisted of piffle exchanged between two crippled, cornered desperados whose knees knock.
As to Putin’s New Year’s address, Troianovski gave it one paragraph of two sentences’ length. “Mr. Putin vowed to continue his onslaught against Ukraine,” he wrote, “asserting that ‘moral and historical righteousness is on our side.’” That’s it. The rest of the piece went to the messages a few detained dissidents, Alexei Navalny high among them, sent out to their followers. I do not know the merits or otherwise of any case against any Russian dissident. But to neglect the significance of what the Russian leader had to say to his nation so fully as Troianovski has done is hopelessly poor journalism to put the point too mildly.
You don’t get good journalism out of The Times’s Moscow bureau. It has long been as simple as that. The weight of ideology, as transmitted through their employers and editors, bears too heavily upon those who staff it. In Troianovski’s Russia, nothing good ever happens. All is misery and repression. He stops just short of giving us Russians shuffling through the snow with downcast eyes, sunken cheeks, and their feet bound in rags. Never does our Anton mention Putin’s 80 percent approval rating, to say nothing of explaining it—which I would appreciate a correspondent doing.
These things being as they are, it nonetheless seems to me a step too far to obscure the import of the latest Putin–Xi summit and the former’s remarks to Russians to the extent Troianovski has done. Given the significance of the year gone by, this is too a bold betrayal of his profession and his readers to let go by without notice.
Do you think the cultivation of ignorance in this fashion is a sign of a society’s health—a restorative, a source of strength? Or is it the opposite, one cause among many of the palpable decline in our public discourse, the tearing of our social fabric, the rampant confusion among us, the absence of purpose with which so many of us must live?