An occupational hazard of suggesting that the US, NATO or Ukraine’s own government did things that made Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more likely is that you will be accused of being a “Putin apologist” or “stooge of the Kremlin”.
This is clearly an attempt to win the argument through name-calling (like claiming it’s “racist” to criticise Black Lives Matter). But that hasn’t stopped it becoming a standard debating tactic. Of course, there may be commentators who genuinely support Putin, in which case “Putin apologist” would be an accurate descriptor. But most do not.
The latest example of the ‘compare your opponent to Putin’ tactic is a list of individuals who “promote narratives consonant with Russian propaganda”, compiled by the Ukraine Government’s “Centre for Countering Disinformation”.
This has been described as a “blacklist” by some critics, although so far as I’m aware, it does not call for any sanctions against the individuals listed. It really is just name-calling. Specific quotes written in Ukrainian are listed next to each speaker, but no refutations or counter-arguments are provided.
So who’s included on the list? Although I didn’t recognise most of the names, some were familiar to me: Eric Zemmour, Tulsi Gabbard, Rand Paul, Steve Hanke, Jeffrey Sachs, Glenn Greenwald, John Mearsheimer, and a few others.
Of course, “promoting narratives consonant with Russian propaganda” isn’t necessarily name-calling, since some aspects of Russian propaganda might be true, and most of us want to “promote narratives” that are consonant with the truth. But it’s pretty obvious this isn’t what the compilers of the list hand in mind.
One name is notable by its absence: Pope Francis. He is about as prominent an individual as you get, and has claimed – not once but twice – that NATO may have “provoked” Russia’s invasion. When asked to clarify his remarks, the Pope explained that he is “against reducing complexity to the distinction between good guys and bad guys, without reasoning about roots and interests”.
Pope Francis was presumably left off the list for PR reasons (even though his view seems to be roughly the same as John Mearsheimer’s). There are a lot of Catholics in the countries supporting Ukraine, and they probably wouldn’t appreciate the head of their religion being accused of spreading Russian propaganda.
I can understand why Ukraine’s Government compiled the list. They’re trying to win a war, and they believe (with some justification) that the individuals included on the list make that more difficult. However, the move seems likely to backfire, as it will be seen – even by those who fully support Ukraine – as an attack on the free press.
“The Ukrainians have the absolute right to pursue whatever war policies they want,” wrote Glenn Greenwald (who did not appreciate having been included). “But when they start demanding that my country and my government use its resources to fuel their war effort, then I, along with other Americans, have the absolute right to question that policy or to point out its dangers or risks.”
Rather than compiling a list of supposed Russian propagandists, uploading a document that refutes their arguments would have been far more productive. I, and I suspect many others, would be genuinely interested to read that.