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The Leftwing magazine, "The Nation," claims Timothy Snyder’s latest book is the apotheosis of liberal paranoia about Russia

Historians in the News
tags: Russia, Timothy Snyder



Sophie Pinkham is the author of Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine. She is completing a dissertation at Columbia University on contemporary Russia’s search for a national idea.

... The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America, marks the next phase in his transformation from academic historian to political commentator; it is also the apotheosis of a certain paranoid style that has emerged among liberals in Trump’s wake. The book’s cover comes complete with helpful directional indicators: “Russia > Europe > America”—the road to unfreedom is a one-way street. For Snyder [a professor of history at Yale], Russia is to blame for the growth of the “birther” conspiracy theory about Barack Obama, stoking the Scottish independence referendum, Brexit, the rise of the far right in various European countries, and the Syrian refugee crisis. Russia is also in cahoots with the National Rifle Association and has been sowing dissension in the United States by encouraging hostility between the police and African Americans. Putin’s “grandest campaign” of all, though, was his “cyberwar to destroy the United States of America” by “escorting” Trump to the American presidency.

Putin would no doubt love to play puppet master in American and European politics. He is certainly pleased by the international belief in his vast, malevolent power, which is helping him to create the illusion that Russia has regained its status as a global superpower, and that he is personally responsible for this restored prestige. But Snyder’s picture of Putin’s campaign to destroy America is unconvincing. Rather than building an argument based on evidence, he often cherry-picks news items to make a tendentious case, relying heavily on the kinds of leading phrases endemic to conspiratorial thinking—“Interestingly,” “It was no secret,” and “It was also noteworthy”—that serve as substitutes for genuine evidence of a causal relationship between two factors or incidents.

For instance, on refugees and the far right, Snyder tells us: “The German government announced that it planned to take half a million refugees per year. By no coincidence, Russia began bombing Syria three weeks later…. Russia would bomb Syria to generate refugees, then encourage Europeans to panic. This would help the AfD [Alternative für Deutschland, the right-wing German party], and thus make Europe more like Russia.” Snyder offers nothing to prove that Russia began bombing Syria because of the German government’s announcement, and a glance at the international news shows that Russia is far from the only country “generating refugees.” But here and elsewhere, Snyder uses coincidence to establish causation.

This kind of argumentation occurs throughout The Road to Unfreedom. “The first order of business for Russian foreign policy in the United Kingdom,” Snyder tells us at another point, “was actually Scottish separatism.” Again, he supplies no evidence whatsoever that the independence referendum was the product of Russian plotting; nor does he discuss why the Scots themselves may have conceived the idea of splitting from Great Britain. Instead, he details the Russian media’s false reports about the potential ill effects of Scotland remaining in the UK and describes Russia’s post-referendum attempts to promote the idea that the vote had been rigged. It is disturbing, of course, that Russia was trying to spread false information and sow doubt about the legitimacy of Scotland’s democratic processes; but the majority of Scottish voters rejected separatism, and the referendum results stand. ...

Read entire article at The Nation

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