After a day of frustrated attempts to get Russia to bend its stance on Ukraine, the U.S. turned from diplomacy to ridicule in offering a catalog of the ways it says Russian President Vladimir Putin bends the truth.
“The world has not seen such startling Russian fiction since Dostoyevsky wrote, ‘The formula ‘two plus two equals five’ is not without its attractions,’” the State Department said in a statement yesterday titled, “President Putin’s Fiction: 10 False Claims About Ukraine.”
The State Department, which has been known to describe a hammer-and-tongs dispute as a “full and frank exchange of views,” eschewed euphemism for a Top 10 list reminiscent of those offered by late-night American comedian David Letterman.
The list said Putin has distorted the facts about Russian troops in Crimea, Ukraine’s interim government and threats to ethnic Russians. It also revealed the Obama administration’s rising frustration with the Kremlin, according to Clifford Gaddy, a Putin biographer.
“Putin has really got the goat of the Obama crowd, it seems,” said Gaddy, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a public policy research group in Washington. While they’re aiming gibes at Putin, “he’ll never deign to personally engage with a bunch of nobodies at State.”
Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, made clear that the State Department’s digs at Putin had White House support. Yesterday, she tweeted a link to the list to her 362,000 followers on Twitter Inc.
“Enough is enough with the Russian spin,” Rice wrote. “Important we focus on the facts.”
The list was released at the end of a day during which Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris and failed to persuade him to sit down with his Ukrainian counterpart.
The meeting was the first face-to-face encounter between Kerry and Lavrov since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country during a popular uprising last month. Russia has accused the West of supporting a coup against Yanukovych.
Many of the claims that the State Department rejected were made by Putin in an hour-long press conference on March 4 in Moscow, where he said that the troops wearing no insignias that are now spread across the Crimean peninsula aren’t Russian.
“Strong evidence suggests that members of Russian security services are at the heart of the highly organized anti-Ukraine forces in Crimea,” the State Department countered in its first item on the list.
Matthew Rojanksy, who directs the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center, a Washington policy group, described the list as “a very strange sort of statement to come from the U.S. government.”
“Almost in a way dignifying the Russian propaganda by engaging with it,” Rojansky said. “That said, it is basically correct.”
On issues such as items No. 7 (“Mr. Putin says: Russian bases are under threat”) and No. 10 (“Mr. Putin says: The Rada is under the influence of extremists or terrorists”), Rojanksy said that “perceptions matter more than reality and there are some significant reasons why the Russians would see it this way.”
The State Department’s frustrations with Putin are being echoed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In remarks yesterday at the University of California, Los Angeles, Clinton described Putin as a tough guy with a thin skin, the Associated Press reported. She also said she didn’t intend a direct comparison of Putin’s actions to those of Adolf Hitler in comments the previous day.
At a March 4 event in Long Beach, California, Clinton likened Russia’s takeover of Crimea to Nazi Germany’s actions in Czechoslovakia and Romania during the 1930s, ostensibly to protect ethnic Germans, the Long Beach Press Telegram reported.