stories

Russia’s Senate released a report accusing the U.S. of meddling in foreign countries. Its sources are a Stalinist pseudo-historian, Wikipedia, and an American postgraduate

Meduza
02:01, 6 march 2018

Left: Senator Andrey Klishas, chairman of the Federation Council’s Commission on Constitutional Law. Right: Senator Andrey Klimov, chairman of the Federation Council’s Commission for the Protection of State Sovereignty. March 5, 2018

Russia’s Federation Council

The Russian Federation Council’s Commission on Protecting State Sovereignty and Preventing Foreign Interference published its first major report on Monday, March 5. Much of the 83-page document is a digressive look at America’s history of meddling in various countries’ domestic affairs over the past half century. In their introduction, the commission members write that this study is an “objective analysis based on reliable data.” Meduza took a closer look at the report and found that a significant part of its data was taken from an article written by a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University in September 2016, with some additional excerpts copied from a book by the Stalinist pseudo-historian Igor Pykhalov, plus a bit lifted from Wikipedia.

The main source of the report’s data

The Federation Council’s report states that the U.S. “committed more than 100 clear acts of deliberate and gross interference in the affairs of more than 60 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America from 1946 to 2000.”

In September 2016, the Conflict Management and Peace Science academic journal published a paper by Dov H. Levin titled, “Partisan Electoral Interventions by the Great Powers: Introducing the PEIG Dataset.” Using the same timeframe as Russia’s Senate, Levin devised his own methodology to determine that the United States was responsible for 117 interventions and the USSR/Russian Federation was responsible for 36.

In a story published on February 17, 2018, days before the Russian Senate commission concluded its study, The New York Times cited Levin’s article and summarized his findings. The Federation Council says the newspaper's story is evidence that the American establishment hoped to preempt the commission’s findings. In the report, Russian senators argued that “the commission’s work is followed closely in the United States,” including its “rigorous analysis of outside interference in the sovereign affairs of UN members.” According to their report, this is precisely why The New York Times “acknowledges up to 80 percent of the cases of U.S. interference in other countries’ affairs already identified by the Russian commission.” The senators claim to have found 100 examples of American interference abroad, whereas “the overseas media” recognized only 80.

More likely, the commission members (who previously offered far smaller numbers when describing American foreign meddling) seized on The New York Times’s story, without actually reading the source material written by Dov H. Levin. For instance, the senators accuse the newspaper of attributing Soviet interventions in foreign countries to the Russian Federation. If the commission members had actually read Levin’s study, however, they’d know that he accounts for the collapse of the USSR, and that his dataset includes three examples of post-Soviet Russian meddling in democracies abroad.

It’s noteworthy that the Federation Council’s report says the U.S. has meddled abroad “more than 100 times,” but the document only specifies a couple dozen “typical examples.” At no point in the study does the commission list every American intervention. On Levin’s website, meanwhile, you can download a complete list of “all known U.S. and Soviet/Russian partisan electoral interventions.”

Other sources

Even a cursory examination of the Federation Council’s report raises questions about the senators’ strange approach to sourcing their research. For example, several of the footnotes are copied largely from Wikipedia, though the document’s authors try to pass off some of the information as material from the English-language book: “Robert J. Griffits [sic]. U.S. Security Cooperation with Africa: Political and Policy Challenges. ISBN-10: 041553237X.p.74 etc.” The text before the citation, however, is virtually identical to the first three paragraphs of the Russian Wikipedia article for the 1960-1965 Congo Crisis.

Writing about America’s role in the Guatemalan coup, the Senate commission’s authors apparently lifted excerpts from Igor Pykhalov’s book “The CIA and Other U.S. Intelligence Agencies,” without ever citing him. In some places, the Federation Council’s report apparently revises Pykhalov’s text, but there are also nearly unchanged passages:

In Pykhalov’s book:

“Having become the dictator of Guatemala, Castillo Armas started massacring dissidents. Ten thousand people were slaughtered, and 8,000 were locked away in prisons and concentration camps. On August 25, 1954, the country’s new ruler issued a law ‘to defend democracy,’ prohibiting ‘any opposition activity even indirectly against the government.’ At the same time, he canceled a ban on American oil companies in Guatemala and in January 1955 Armas signed an agreement with United Fruit, returning not only nationalized lands but also granting the company new privileges.”

In the commission’s report:

“But their protege Castillo Armas immediately started ‘democratizing’ Guatemala, slaughtering 8,000 fellow citizens and throwing about 8,000 dissidents in prison. In the end, the dictator Armas issued a law on August 25, 1954, ‘to defend democracy,’ prohibiting ‘any opposition activity even indirectly against the government.’ At the same time, he canceled a ban on American oil companies in Guatemala and in January 1955 Armas signed an agreement with United Fruit, not only returning the previously nationalized lands to the Americans, but also granting them new privileges.”

Curiously, Pykhalov offers no citations for this section of his book, but the Russian Senate’s report does attach footnotes to this passage — though even here the authors managed to screw up again, misspelling the title of one source as “The Foreign of the American Empire” (instead of “The Forging of the American Empire”), and sharing a hyperlink to a speech by John Dulles on March 4, 1954, when the text describes a speech on June 16.

Igor Pykhalov, it so happens, is best known for his books glorifying Joseph Stalin. He is the author of such works as “The Great Defamed Leader: Lies and Truth about Stalin,” “The USSR Without Stalin: The Road to Catastrophe,” “The Foulest Myths About Stalin: To Those Who Defame the Leader,” “Stalin Without Lies: The Antidote to ‘Liberal’ Infection,” and his bestseller “The Great Defamed War,” which has be republished in several editions. In the Russian media, Pykhalov is often described as a historian, but that’s a generous characterization, to put it mildly. According to his biography on the Eksmo publishing company’s website, Pykhalov has an undergraduate degree in aerospace instrumentation and work experience as a programmer. In the early 2000s, he started writing books. In academia, nobody cites his work.

According to reporters, Pykhalov fought with pro-Russian separatists in Luhansk, Ukraine, in 2014. Two years later, a video appeared online showing him apologizing to the Ingush people for his defense of Stalin’s deportation of the North Caucasian peoples.

Story by Alexander Borzenko and Denis Dmitriev, translation by Kevin Rothrock