From economist to Kremlin mouthpiece: The troubling transformation of Jeffrey Sachs (2024)

Three weeks ago, Tucker Carlsoninvited economist Jeffrey Sachs for an interview, that could claim second prize in the category of “Whitewashing Russian President Vladimir Putin for Republican audiences.”

First prize, of course, still belongs to Carlson himself for giving Russian dictator a two-hour interview, in which Putin embarrassed Carlson by offering events from 1,000 years ago as justification for Russia’s invasion in 2022.

Carlson’s interview with Putin was widely quoted but also widely fact-checked. So, I would like to fact-check the Sachs interview as well.

Sachs is well-known in the field of economics, considered one of the authors of the so-called “shock therapy” used on the economies of post-communist Poland and Russia. It is a shame to see this once-respected Columbia University professor stoop to the level of freelance Kremlin propagandist, promoting multiple pieces of Russian disinformation.

Sachs’ propaganda speech justifying Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is disguised among supposed “historical facts,” many of which don’t hold up under scrutiny.

Russian propaganda: The West has always wanted to destroy Russia

Jeffrey Sachs: “It all started 170 years ago, when Britain wanted to surround the Russian Empire and deprive it of its status as a great power in the Black Sea region and prevent it from having access to the Black Sea, and this policy was continued by Brzezinski.”

Fact-check: The Crimean War was started by the Russian Empire because of its adventurous dream of capturing the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. To this end, Russia even at one point sought to enter into an alliance with Great Britain. But when the Russian Empire invaded Moldova, it started a war against the Ottoman Empire and, by extension, its allies France and Britain.

Moreover, the victors in this war did not claim any of the Russian Empire’s ports on the Black Sea. They returned all the cities captured in Crimea to the tsar. This would be a strange way to “surround” the Russian Empire and limit its influence in the Black Sea region. In addition, no one planned to strengthen the Ottoman Empire at Russia’s expense.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, in his books “The Grand Chessboard” and “A Strategic View: America and the Global Crisis,” promoted a different strategy for Russia by involving it in global economic cooperation.

Russian propaganda: NATO promised Russia not to expand, and NATO expansion poses a threat to Russia’s existence.

Geoffrey Sachs: “In 2007, Putin made the right speech in Munich, where he said that [Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev was promised in 1990 that NATO would not expand, that U.S. Secretary of State [James] Baker promised that NATO would not move an inch east.”

Fact-check: Gorbachev and Baker did indeed hold talks on German reunification and the future of NATO in 1990, during which Baker repeatedly said that a united Germany would be part of NATO. In fact, he argued that this would be in the interest of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union, because “if Germany is not rooted in the existing security structure, then a state will emerge in the center of Europe that will be concerned with securing its security in a different way…by remaining in NATO, Germany can more easily give up nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities.”

The U.S. proposal was a united Germany, in NATO, with reduced military potential, and that no nuclear weapons or their carriers would be deployed in the former East Germany. This was eventually included in the treaty signed on September 12, 1990. Gorbachev would later confirm in his memoirs that both Germany and the U.S. exceeded their obligations.

As for the other states of the Warsaw Pact, there was were no discussions about NATO expanding to them in 1990, because the Warsaw Pact still existed and was not formally dissolved until July 1991.

Russian propaganda: Ukraine was a military threat to Russia

Jeffrey Sachs: “The U.S. leadership said it wanted to bring Ukraine to its side and put U.S. and NATO troops on the border with Russia….The U.S. was pumping Ukraine with weapons and building the largest army in Europe, paid for by the U.S.”

Fact check: Regarding the creation of the largest army in Europe in Ukraine at U.S. expense, this is inconsistent with the timeline. Prior to Russia’s February 2022 invasion, Ukraine had received only a small batch of Javelins and a few Island boats from the U.S. Annual U.S. defense assistance to Ukraine in 2020, for example, amounted to just $400 million, and Ukraine’s defense budget in 2021 amounted to less than $4.5 billion — and that’s after seven years of resisting a Russian-backed incursion into eastern Ukraine that had begun in 2014. In contrast, Russia’s annual military budget for 2021 was about $66 billion.

As for the claim of wanting to “put U.S. and NATO troops on the border with Russia” in Ukraine, there is no actual evidence of such intentions. This is, rather, evocative of Russian special services’ constant propaganda campaign to spread fear that the West wants to destroy Russia and take all of its resources.

Retired Russian FSO General Boris Ratnikov, for example, once claimed in an interview (and I am not making this up) to have used special technology in 1999 to “connect to the subconscious of Secretary of State Madeline Albright” remotely from Siberia. Albright, through her subconscious, is supposed to have said “that neither the Far East nor Siberia belongs to Russia.”

This bogus Albright quote has since been cited by secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev and even by Putin himself in a 2014 press conference. This illustrates the level of propaganda and brainwashing that goes on inside Russia, such that ludicrous claims can be aired in public and then laundered into credibility through a series of citations that shroud their origins.

The U.S. has always denied any interest in deploying military forces in Ukraine, especially on the Russian-Ukrainian border, and for good reason. Not only is there no appetite for such a thing in the U.S., but there wouldn’t be much of a military advantage. Lest we worry about Kremlin “misconceptions” leading to escalation, missiles take no longer to reach Moscow from Estonia (a NATO member) than they would from Kharkiv (in Ukraine, a non-NATO member).

Russian propaganda: The U.S. has deployed a NATO base in Kosovo.

Sachs: “The United States has placed a NATO base in Kosovo.”

Fact check: There is no NATO base in Kosovo. The only forces in Kosovo are those of KFOR, an international force created by UN Security Council Resolution 1244, for which Russia voted in favor. KFOR is led by NATO but also includes Russia, Ukraine, and eight other non-NATO countries.

Russian propaganda: Ukrainians are against their country’s accession to NATO.

Sachs: “[Former Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovych won the 2010 presidential election because Ukrainians did not support joining NATO.”

Fact check: Yanukovych was able to lead Ukraine at that time because of a series of conflicts within President Viktor Yushchenko’s ruling coalition. Only someone who knows nothing about Ukraine’s politics at all would attribute his rise to anything related to NATO.

To say that Yanukovych became president of Ukraine because of the population’s reluctance to join NATO is akin to saying that Barack Obama won the U.S. presidential race in 2008 because American voters had not supported NATO’s expansion to include Poland.

There are many such crazy propaganda ideas in Jeffrey Sachs’ interview with Tucker Carlson — about the fraudulent referendum that Russia put on to justify its annexation of Crimea; about the so-called “uprising” in Donbas (actually conducted under Russian leaders and with Russian weapons); and about the U.S. somehow being responsible for Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine.

For some reason, Sachs did not even notice the actual declaration of war on the West by Putin during his ultimatum to NATO countries in 2021.

It’s time for the once-respected economist to limp out of the limelight and stop serving as Putin’s unpaid stooge.

Oleg Dunda is a member of Ukraine’s parliament.

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From economist to Kremlin mouthpiece: The troubling transformation of Jeffrey Sachs (2024)
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