Is Christopher Caldwell a Russian asset? Or merely a sympathiser? Perhaps even a stooge?


Christopher Caldwell is an American journalist, and a former senior editor at The Weekly Standard, as well as a regular contributor to the Financial Times and Slate. He is a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute and contributing editor to the Claremont Review of Books. Wikipedia


In 2017 Christopher Caldwell, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, delivered an address to the Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar, entitled “How to Think About Vladimir Putin.” Hillsdale, for those who don’t know, is arguably the premier conservative college in America. It reprinted Caldwell’s remarks in Imprimis, a monthly digest that reaches more than five million Americans.







The @nytimes has published another opinion piece on Russia’s war against Ukraine and it’s pretty bad. Again written by somebody who is neither familiar with Russia nor Ukraine (although: you actually don’t have to be to understand what’s going on). 1/12

Author Christopher Caldwell implies that the uprising of Maidan 2013/14 against Yanukovich took place because he was “pro-Russian”. He was pro-Russian, yes, but more importantly he was corrupt and authoritarian. Caldwell dismisses his corruption, arguing that corruption is 2/12

the norm in Ukraine. Yes, there is a lot of corruption in Ukraine, but Yanukovich took it to a whole new level (and that’s saying something). He also had journalists beaten up and tried to violently disperse the protesters in November 2013, a lot of them students and even 3/12

pupils. After he did that more people came to Maidan, not because they were backed by the US, but because Yanukovich had “beaten our children” (see Andrew Wilson’s book). Caldwell then reproduces the narrative of Crimea as part of Russia, ignoring its long history of 4/ 12

multiethnicity and multireligiosity. Russian and Ukrainian speakers only came to dominate the peninsula after the violent deportations of Crimean Tatars in 1944 who are now again being targeted by Russian authorities. He doesn’t even mention the role of pro-Russian 5/12

propaganda leading up to the annexation, nor does he address the circumstances (Russian military presence) of the so-called “referendum” and its fake results. He then goes on to suggest that the reason for the low number of deaths in Crimea can be explained by the poor state 6/12

of the Ukrainian army, ignoring its resistance to Russia’s attack on Donbas. In line with this he argues that the reason for Ukraine’s fierce resistance in 2022 is basically due to American arm deliveries. The US certainly helped to modernize the Ukrainian army, but this was 7/12

only one factor. Which brings me to the most ridiculous claim in this article: that the war is turning so bloody and violent because of American arms. So American arms are responsible for Russifying efforts, mass rapes, forced deportations, the destruction of Ukrainian 8/12

cultural heritage sites, the persecution of elites? American arms are responsible for propagandists calling for genocide of the Ukrainians? Of course not, this dimension of the war is due to Putin’s basic premise shared at least by substantial parts of Russian society: 9/12

that Ukraine has no right to exist, that it should be Russian, that Ukrainians who resist Russification should be violently forced into submission, they are “Nazis” and “bandits”. Putin has said so openly, his propagandists have said it, the Russian army is trying to do it. 10/12

All this is actually quite obvious. Why do people keep ignoring it? My guess: they are not really that interested in Ukraine. They have a colonial view, unable to see that Ukrainians are actors it their own rights. They are interested in US-policy and its failures. 11/12

They are not even that interested in Russia. Because to understand this war you have to actually pay some attention to what has been going on in Russia for decades. It’s your choice not to care about Ukraine and Russia, but please then just stop commenting on the war. 12/12





Three years later, in a speech at the Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Phoenix, Arizona, Claremont Institute senior fellow Christopher Caldwell made the remarkable declaration that Putin “is a hero to populist conservatives around the world and anathema to progressives.” Interestingly, Caldwell acknowledged Putin’s likely connection to the murder of journalists and political opponents as well as his suppression of peaceful protests and other forms of dissent; but he also wrote that “if we were to use traditional measures for understanding leaders, which involve the defense of borders and national flourishing, Putin would count as the pre-eminent statesman of our time.” Putin, Caldwell concludes, “has become a symbol of national sovereignty in its battle with globalism.” Consciously or not, this line echoes the “sovereign democracy” doctrine that briefly became fashionable in Russia’s elite political circles in the late 2000s; its core idea was that Russia’s “democracy” had to be accepted as legitimate, whether or not it fit Western standards of democratic governance.

But the details of Caldwell’s acclamation are debatable and frequently tendentious. His claim that Putin rebuilt Russia’s military looks particularly unwise now that the army is apparently bogged down in Ukraine despite its superior numbers. He asserts that Putin “restrained the billionaires who were looting the country,” but it’s more accurate to say that the Kremlin strong-armed some of them into uncritical political allegiance and replaced the rest with cronies. Caldwell’s claim that Russians “revere” Putin must be weighed against the Putin regime’s concerted effort to fill the media space with nonstop agitprop and neutralize all possible political rivals, and also against polls showing that his popularity may be shallow and fragile. But what’s most remarkable about Caldwell’s essay is his obvious view that political leaders should be judged by standards that predate (and in many ways clash with) modern, Enlightenment-derived beliefs about liberty, self-government, and human rights.

While Caldwell focuses on national sovereignty above all, social conservatism is also a key theme in his essay; he sarcastically points out that Putin “is not the president of a feminist NGO [nor] a transgender-rights activist” and later mocks the West’s preoccupation with the ban on “gay propaganda” and the jailing of Pussy Riot, the feminist punk rockers prosecuted for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” over a protest performance in a Moscow cathedral. (Incidentally, Caldwell misstates the facts of the case, claiming that the young women “disrupted a religious service with obscene chants about God”; there was no service at the time, the cathedral was nearly empty, and the women’s “punk prayer” song was directed at Putin and at Patriarch Kirill, the pro-Putin leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.)


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2 Responses to Is Christopher Caldwell a Russian asset? Or merely a sympathiser? Perhaps even a stooge?

  1. Pingback: Opinion | The War in Ukraine May Be Impossible to Stop. And the U.S. Deserves Much of the Blame. – The New York Times | weehingthong

  2. Pingback: All posts related to Christopher Caldwell and his NYT op-ed, The War in Ukraine May Be Impossible to Stop. And the U.S. Deserves Much of the Blame | weehingthong

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