The Washington Post is a noisily anti-Russian newspaper which every weekday by email produces for subscribers (of whom I am one) the Daily 202 (“Power Post—Intelligence for Leaders”) which covers US politics, a little international stuff, and a section called “There’s a Bear in the Woods” aimed at denigrating, belittling and generally insulting Russia.
The Post is intent on convincing citizens of the United States and the world in general that nothing good is ever done by, in or with the government of Russia, and a favourite target is President Putin. A typical Editorial was headed “Trump just colluded with Russia. Openly” and dealt savagely with the Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki last year. Much of the world believes that such discussions between nations’ leaders are better than hostile rhetoric, and most reasonable people are pleased and even relieved when meetings take place. They prefer amicable dialogue to venomous confrontation.
But the Post ended its comment on the meeting by asserting that “Mr Trump in fact was openly colluding with the criminal leader of a hostile power.”
That’s the ‘hostile power’ that has cooperated for twenty years with the United States in operating the International Space Station.
The Post doesn’t like such news as “[Russian space agency] Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin and Bill Gerstenmaier, head of NASA’s human explorations and operations, said after a conference marking the 20th anniversary of the International Space Station that their agencies plan to collaborate on developing a moon orbiting outpost. Russia is working on a heavy booster rocket and a new spacecraft to complement American projects intended for a future moon mission, Rogozin said. ‘We absolutely trust each other, and political winds haven’t touched us.’ Gerstenmaier spoke in kind, noting that partnership in space exploration could be ‘an example to the outside world. It has been a blessing that our governments have both seen the wisdom of what we are doing and both our governments have avoided placing sanctions on us or getting us caught up in the political things.’”
It is most gratifying that the United States and Russia can cooperate so closely on such an important endeavour. As noted by CNN, “since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011 the US has depended on Roscosmos to transport astronauts to the space station.” In other words, the space station could not exist without Russia’s no-strings collaboration.
But most western media play down, ignore or deplore such instances of harmony and amity. The UK’s Daily Telegraph, for example, is entirely negative, and grudgingly reported last December that the most recent “launch of the MS-11 ship was a closely watched test for Russia’s space industry, which has suffered several high-profile failures in recent years but remains the only reliable way to deliver crew to the orbiting station.” There had been an accident in the course of a previous launch but, to the regret of many in the West, Russia’s emergency procedures were flawless and there was no loss of life.
In spite of this example of outstandingly successful bilateral cooperation, a meeting scheduled for February between the space professionals of Russia and the United States was cancelled “after mounting pressure from Capitol Hill.” Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin had hosted his NASA counterpart, Jim Bridenstine, in October last year, so his February visit was to be a combination of practicality and courtesy—but this isn’t the way the US Senate sees or does things.
Senator Bob Menendez of the Foreign Relations Committee declared that “to welcome Mr Rogozin to the United States and provide him a platform to speak is an affront to our sanctions regime and will further undermine the Trump Administration’s limited credibility on Russia policy,” and Senator Jeanne Shaheen of the Senate panel that funds NASA said the planned meeting “undermines the United States’ core national security objectives” and “weakens the US’s global standing by demonstrating the ease by which Russian officials can get around transatlantic sanctions.”
The Senate’s pressure on NASA is part of the campaign of petulant and spiteful attacks on Russia which show that Washington is intent on destruction of even the slightest efforts to bring the US and Russia closer.
Which brings us back to the Washington Post which distinguished itself by getting just a little mixed up during one of its anti-Russia forays when it enthusiastically seized on a faulty piece in the New York Times.
It all started when the Times breathlessly revealed that during the 2016 election campaign, Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort “and his Russian associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, discussed a plan for peace in Ukraine.” This dastardly anti-America, pro-Russia activity could not be tolerated by the US mainstream media which reported that one of Mr Manafort’s menacing machinations involved sharing “political polling data with a business associate tied to Russian intelligence.”
(As an aside, it is difficult to believe that notification of political polling data is in some fashion a national security risk. Most of us know that poll results can be made public without release conditions. Every foreign mission in Washington analysed them.)
The Times continued, in a version of the report that has been deleted, that Manafort wanted the data passed on to “Oleg V Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to the Kremlin,” and in its ‘202’ the Washington Post went to town about this supposedly sinister character. It began by stating that “several experts said the Deripaska connection makes this news a huge deal” and quoted Steven Hall, a former head of Russia operations at the CIA, as tweeting “Remember, the polling info Manafort passed to Kilimnik was headed to Deripaska, who is close to Putin . . . The margins the Russians needed to change in key states during the 2016 elections [were] pretty small. Now we know how they were able to be so precise: Paul Manafort was providing polling data to Russia.” Shock! Horror!
Another expert shaken by such disclosures was Post columnist Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who declared “This is potentially very significant evidence of collusion . . . Why would Manafort share polling data with the Russians unless it was to help them target their pro-Trump social media campaign?”
On it went for over 400 words recounting how the dastardly Deripaska was up to his ears in conspiracy, although a cautionary note was sounded by former ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul who like a good diplomat injected the phrase “if proven” in his tweet before agreeing “this is serious.”
Yes, it was serious. But not as serious as the downplayed low-profile admission by the Washington Post that its chatter allegations were not “proven.” The Post noted that “the New York Times corrected a story we included in yesterday’s 202: ‘A previous version of this article misidentified the people to whom Paul Manafort wanted a Russian associate to send polling data. Mr. Manafort wanted the data sent to two Ukrainian oligarchs, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, not to Oleg V Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to the Kremlin.’”
So much for the Washington Post’s Bear in the Woods, but a sad indicator of how determined are some of the US media to help destroy any movement towards rapprochement with Russia. Fortunately, in spite of their malevolent efforts and the spiteful Senate shenanigans, the International Space Station cooperation will continue, which shows, thank goodness, that there are still some grown-ups in the woods.
This article originally appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal.
Brian Cloughley is a British and Australian armies’ veteran, former deputy head of the UN military mission in Kashmir and Australian defense attaché in Pakistan.