The Russian-Ukrainian political journalism world was stunned, but not particularly surprised, yesterday when a well known pro-Kremlin propaganda outlet published a lengthy anti-Semitic manifesto proclaiming that it was time to “drop the Jew taboo.” Russia Insider, an English language publication with a crankish history of publishing nonsense and propaganda, published the manifesto, which contained a comprehensive litany of the most vile accusations against Jews dating back more than one hundred years. “The unreasonable hostility towards Putin’s Russia, particularly coming from the US and the UK, is very much a Jewish phenomenon, and has been for centuries” the essay stipulated. It contains hundreds more sentences like that in a fourteen point manifesto which seems to have been ripped straight out of the 1930s.
The site`s stock in trade since it began publishing in the autumn of 2014 as part of a Russian government sponsored assault on the cohesion of the Western narrative is a melange of ultra-left, ultra-right, anti-Western and anti-NATO conspiracy theories, some of them going off fairly deep into the woods. Amusingly enough, the website has spent the past three years disseminating alarmist criticism of American and European support for pro- Western reforms by the Kyiv government and vociferously attacking Ukraine for supposedly having been captured by a Neo-Nazi cabal. The site`s content was regularly a shining and egregious example of the recent innovation in this conflict of outright fascists accusing other people of fascism. Such criticism included a 2014 article attacking the veracity of my own work reporting in Ukraine, which could no longer be found on the site as of press time.
The five-thousand-word long hate manifesto was penned by Charles Bausman, the founder of Russia Insider, who is widely known in Russia/Ukraine policy circles as an individual who is often to be found pontificating in the studios of Russia Today. Bausman has been linked by Anton Shekhovtsov, a preeminent expert on Russian state support for extreme right wing groups in Europe, to the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, who is known for his reactionary ultra-Orthodox views and ties to Kremlin operatives and for providing financial assistance to Russian led separatists and covert operations in Eastern Ukraine.
The arguments of the piece go very much against the grain of Moscow`s carefully calibrated philo-Semitic positions.
The article, which numerous Ukrainian commentators have remarked makes the standard insanity of Russian propaganda and disinformation press look sane, concludes with a call to action for more anti-Semitic contributions to the site, coupled with the sad admission that the bile would have to be provided on an enthusiastically voluntary basis as the outlet would not be able to pay for it. The call for contributions intimated that even the most vociferous pro-Kremlin propagandists would think twice about going down this route, with so called alt-right contributors being welcome the article concludes. Dozens of Jewish writers and journalists are attacked in the piece, notably with the only kind words being directed at Glenn Greenwald.
Still, veteran journalists who have worked on Russia and Ukrainian issues for years were left stunned by a ferocious alt-Right turn which many deemed to be bizarre even by the standards of the magazine`s own reputation as a haven for the most outlandish conspiracy mongering. CNN`s Michael Weiss tweeted that “I know irony is dead and we’re living in a post-truth Mad Max hellscape, but do realize that Russia Insider was selling the claim that Ukraine had been taken over by neo-Nazis and that this was a bad thing.” A Western journalist active in Kyiv, who requested that his name not be used, mused to me that “it makes you wonder whether it was prompted or sanctioned from the Kremlin side somewhere—these guys have been at the wild edges of the information war for the past few years, driving the hardest narratives. But I was genuinely stunned by this departure, which is pure madness.”
Vladislav Davidzon is Tablet’s European culture correspondent and a Russian-American writer, translator, and critic. He is the Chief Editor of The Odessa Review and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council. He was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and lives in Paris.