Anti-Putin, anti-Russian “sleepers have captured the leadership of Russian science” according to Kremlin-friendly analysts quoted in the online Politnavigator posted on September 9.  

It quoted State Duma deputy Andrei Lugovoi, a fugitive KGB agent accused of murdering Aleksandr Litvinenko in London, demanding that the Russian Federation state prosecutor investigate the “Russophobia” displayed by leading university professors and researchers. He cited essays entitled “In the Face of Catastrophe” in the Academy of Sciences Institute of Philosophy, for example, by Nikolai Protnikov and his colleagues that supposedly discredited Russia’s army and top Kremlin leaders. This publication, Lugavoi urged, should be banned as a threat to national security.  

Why the alarm? The long-time director of Russia’s Institute for the Study of the USA and Canada, Valerii Garbuzov, published a long article on August 29 on Russian imperialism and propaganda in Nezavisimaia Gazeta, (Independent Newspaper), now posted online from Riga after being shut down in Russia in 2022. He was fired on September 1, just two days after it was posted.  

 “Today, in the wake of anti-Western sentiments in an atmosphere of pseudo-patriotic frenzy that has gripped the Russian population, which regularly listens to ‘old songs’, and which, with amazing ease, naively and thoughtlessly absorbs total state propaganda, new myths are being created and with them, the modern utopian consciousness is being formed.” Garbuzov added: “These myths are propagated day and night through the new generations of well-paid professional political manipulators and participants in numerous television talk shows.”  

The bulk of his essay summarized the relentless expansion of the Russian state, century by century, up to Soviet times and into the rule of Vladimir Putin. 

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Garbuzov’s ouster was endorsed by a series of commentators and TV personalities cited by Politnavigator. They claimed his Institute for the Study of the USA and Canada (abbreviated as ISK) was conceived in the mid-1960s, as a tool — in coordination with the KGB — to defeat the USA in the Cold War. Instead, state media commentators argued, it became a way to eke out trips to the enemy homeland where researchers could buy hard-to-find luxury items. Researchers became bohemians living off Russian and sometimes American largesse.   

I met and escorted many of these Russian experts around the United States from 1958 to 1990. When I met the founder of ISK, Dr. Georgii Arbatov, and showed him around Boston, I came to a very different conclusion. Like most Soviet academics I met, Arbatov tried to help the Soviets understand why Americans act the way they do. But when in the USA, by contrast, he criticized America and defended Soviet actions. When we drove through Boston’s Roxbury a week after the race riots, I stopped to look at colorful murals that suggested hope, but Arbatov focused on burnt-out buildings across the street.  

Georgii (who died in 2010 at age 87) and his son, Aleksei Arbatov, at the Institute for World Economic and International Relations, usually had to operate within the permitted boundaries of Kremlin orthodoxy. I met many such people in visits to Moscow1 and when former Soviet officials and scholars visited Harvard to analyze possible lessons from the Cuban missile crisis. Most of them operated with an open mind — a basic necessity if perennial adversaries were ever to coexist in peace.  

Like America’s Know-Nothing movement in the decade before the Civil War, those who now attack Russia’s Academy of Sciences seek to mobilize “authentic” citizens against alien conspiracies to subvert traditional values. America’s Know-Nothings did not answer key questions, while Russia has tried to stop deep questioning altogether. US Know-Nothings supplemented their xenophobic views with populist appeals, and so do Russia’s. 

A closed mind is now demanded by those who attack the Russian Academy of Sciences, which is a grim portent suggesting the attacks on Garbuzov are just the beginning. Many of the academy’s institutes and leaders, critics say, labor to sabotage the decisions of Russia’s supreme commander. The crackdown tendency therefore needs to root out present-day degeneracy and establish a revised system of education. 

A new series of History of Russia textbooks seeks to enlighten Russian youth in the new discipline of not thinking. The just-released volume aimed at 17-year-olds blames the United States for the war in Ukraine and quotes Putin’s claim that “Russia did not start any military actions but is trying to end them.” The books were edited by Vladimir Medinsky, an ultraconservative nationalist. Accused by colleagues of plagiarism and propaganda in his academic work, he served for years as Putin’s Minister of Culture — creating myths such as supposed Western efforts to minimize the decisive Soviet role in defeating Hitler. 

For now, the Know-Nothings in Moscow are winning. That’s grim news for Russia, Ukraine, and all the world.  

Walter Clemens is an associate at the Harvard University Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Boston University. His latest book is ‘Blood Debts: What Putin and Xi Owe Their Victims.’  

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Europe's Edge
CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America.
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