Reposting a thread by Neil Abrams @neil_abrams on Jeffrey Sachs and his interview with Isaac Chotiner


Neil A Abrams
University of California, Berkeley | UCB · Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science

Neil A Abrams does research in International Relations, Comparative Politics and Political Economy. His most recent publication is ‘Policies first, institutions second: Lessons from Estonia’s economic reforms.’


Jeffrey David Sachs is an American economist, academic, public policy analyst, and former director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, where he holds the title of University Professor. He is known for his work on sustainable development, economic development, and the fight to end poverty. Wikipedia

Isaac Chotiner is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he is the principal contributor to Q. & A., a series of interviews with public figures in politics, media, books, business, technology, and more. Before joining The New Yorker, Chotiner was a staff writer at Slate and the host of the podcast “I Have to Ask.” He has written for The New Yorker, the Times, The Atlantic, the Times Literary Supplement, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. After graduating from the University of California, Davis, Chotiner worked at The Washington Monthly before joining The New Republic, in 2006, as a reporter-researcher. He went on to run the magazine’s online books section and later became a senior editor.


It’s really been something to watch Jeffrey Sachs, a once-reputable albeit controversial economist, descend into the establishment equivalent of a Grayzone-addled reply-guy. So let’s pick apart his embarrassing interview with Isaac Chotiner.

For those unfamiliar with Sachs, Chotiner summarizes his bio here:

Sachs begins by treading through the standard litany of how the West supposedly forced Russia’s hand into launching its 2022 invasion: Kosovo, NATO expansion, NATO’s 2008 pledge to eventually admit Ukraine, etc., etc.

The view that NATO provoked Russia to invade is one I’ve addressed before. Its lazy vacuity is revealed by the fact that its proponents never grapple with the very obvious counterargument—that the war is primarily motivated by Russian imperialism.

The “NATO-provocation” argument might carry water had Russian forces not already been occupying chunks of Ukraine’s Donbas region since 2014. Why? Because as long as this situation persisted, NATO could not admit Ukraine without triggering WWIII. Putin well understood that.

Also, NATO’s 2022 decision to admit Sweden and Finland, set to expand its Russian border by 800 miles, elicited nary a peep from the Kremlin. Yet we’re supposed to believe the practically-impossible prospect of *Ukraine’s* accession warranted a full-scale invasion? Come on.

Are we also to believe that, absent NATO expansion, Russia would have accepted the humiliation of the Soviet collapse and its attendant loss of territory and population by suddenly becoming, for the first time in its history, a normal, non-imperialist nation-state?

Yet the most glaring problem with Sachs’s NATO-provocation thesis is that Russia’s state media, its entire political establishment, and Putin himself KEEP TELLING US the war is actually about Russia’s glorious reconquest of lost imperial lands. Receipts:

Asked to respond to Putin’s frequent and inconvenient reveals about Russia’s imperialist motives, Sachs has this to say: “I don’t like when he says these things.” Yeah, no kidding. It kind of undermines the idea that it was all NATO’s fault, doesn’t it?

Putin: BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL, I WILL SACK UKRAINE AND AVENGE PETER THE GREAT!!! Sachs: Please don’t say these things. I don’t like when you say these things.

Sachs’s codependent relationship with Putin isn’t the only notable feature of the interview. For we also get to see his penchant for haughtily invoking his high-ranking diplomatic contacts and grandiose sense of self-importance. Let’s take a look.

Chotiner: Are you really blaming the U.S. for Russia’s indiscriminate aerial bombings of Syrian civilians? Sachs: With years of focused study, my son, you too may one day come to know the things I know.

Chotiner: Aren’t you absolving Russia of any agency in these horrible things it has done? Sachs: I know so many famous, important people that if you really knew how famous and important they were it would make you shudder in reverence for me.

Chotiner: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You mean Assad was ready to make peace but the U.S. wouldn’t let him? How do you know that? Sachs: Trust me, bro.

Chotiner: But hasn’t Assad committed atrocities against his people? Sachs: I’m sorry, what part of “trust me, bro” don’t you understand?

In a different context, with saner answers to the same questions, someone—someone who is not me, but someone nonetheless—might be tempted to defer to Sachs’s imperious appeals to his exclusive access. After all, he does hobnob with some Very Important People.

But Sachs’s insistence that everyone defer to his unique insight falls flat when he tries to summarize recent Ukrainian history and completely shits the bed. In brief, whoever these “high-level sources” are, I’d like a word.

Sachs, while lecturing his imaginary understudy, Chotiner, rehashes the widely-debunked myth that the popular revolution which ousted kleptocratic dictator Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 was a “coup” by the U.S. This is a claim I tackled in an earlier thread:

As you probably know, Russia apologists love to paint the Euromaidan as a U.S.-Backed Coup. Even though I’ve debunked it elsewhere, it’s worth reviewing the various strands of this argument.

To begin with, Sachs’s statement below is wrong; Yanukovych was negotiating a trade deal. The Sevastopol agreement was concluded in 2010.

Sachs also tries to argue that the N.E.D. somehow manufactured the Euromaidan. But survey data reveals a full 20% of Ukraine’s population—8.5 million people—took part in the protests to remove Yanukovych. Sorry, that ain’t a coup. It’s a revolution.

I don’t care how much crank Victoria Nuland laced into those cookies; there’s no way anyone can *make* eight million people rise up and overthrow a president unless they genuinely want to do so.

Speaking of Nuland, Russia apologists also point to a leaked conversation between the U.S. ambassador and herself which supposedly shows them plotting a coup against Yanukovych. The transcript plainly shows otherwise.

Nuland and Pyatt are not talking about replacing Yanukovych. They’re discussing a 1/25/14 proposal for a power-sharing deal, one which *Yanukovych himself* advanced, whereby he’d remain president alongside a new prime minister chosen from the opposition.

Yanukovych would eventually sign a similar agreement brokered by the E.U. But he promptly fled to Russia because he was scared of the protesters—this despite being safely ensconced in his luxurious, heavily-fortified mansion miles outside of town.

After Yanukovych fled, Ukraine’s parliament voted to formally remove him. The vote? 328-0. Now, Russia apologists complain—as would Sachs himself, if he were even aware of it—that the 328 votes amounted to only 73% of deputies, not the full 75% the constitution requires.

“Illegal coup!” shriek the tankies, upon learning the vote to remove Yanukovych fell short by a whopping 2%. In a functioning democracy, they’d have a point. But Ukraine was no longer a functioning democracy. And the blame for that lay squarely with Yanukovych.

Though duly elected in 2010, Yanukovych, once in office, moved to unlawfully consolidate power in his hands. First, he packed the Constitutional Court. He then had his loyalists on the Court rubber-stamp into force a new constitution granting more powers to the president.

Yanukovych also imprisoned and tried on trumped-up charges his main opponent from the 2010 election.

Then, during the Euromaidan, Yanukovych further eviscerated his legitimacy by bloodying up the protesters and imposing new laws granting himself dictatorial powers. Yes, the protesters turned violent too, but mostly in response to Yanukovych’s repression.

Sorry, but complaints about Ukraine’s parliament failing to religiously follow constitutional procedure when it removed Yanukovych ring hollow when one considers Yanukovych’s far more egregious violations of the same constitution.

Legitimacy isn’t about popularity but adherence to constitutional rules. Break the rules, lose your legitimacy. What exactly are these people trying to say? That everyone else had a duty to adhere to the constitution even after Yanukovych had torn it to shreds?


Nor is that all. Despite his super-special high-level access, Sachs also appears to be unfamiliar with basic details about the events that followed the Euromaidan—namely, Russia’s invasion of the Donbas.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I get the distinct impression that Sachs is unaware of what the Donbas war was. It wasn’t a localized conflict over language rights. It was a bona fide invasion—you know, by the ACTUAL RUSSIAN ARMY.

After Yanukovych fled, the Kremlin tried to spark a popular rebellion in the Donbas. That failed. It then tried to manufacture a fake one. That also failed. Finally, Putin said “fuck it, send in the troops.” Thus began the Donbas war. Receipts

In sum, Sachs pompously asserts his superior inside knowledge of Russia’s 2022 invasion and the Syrian civil war. But it’s a little hard to take him seriously considering his obliviousness about other subjects like the Euromaidan and Russia’s 2014 invasion of the Donbas.

Moreover, when one examines the rest of Sachs’s interview, what might have remained some isolated warning signs about his credibility become a full-on bat-signal blaring forth his dishonesty and unwarranted hubris.

At one point, Sachs denies Assad’s well-documented responsibility for atrocities. Worse, when Chotiner challenges him on it, he tries to pull rank. Sorry, this is not a serious person.

Next, Chotiner asks Sachs to explain why he’d meet with Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian autocrat with a proclivity for conspiratorial attacks on Jews and the LGTBQ+ community. Instead of answering the question, Sachs threatens to end the interview.

When Chotiner inquires about Sachs’s dubious past statements about China’s crackdown in Xinjiang, he dismisses the question and—again—threatens to end the interview.

Finally, in response to Chotiner’s query about his apparent endorsement of noted wack-job JFK Jr. and his anti-vax conspiracy theories, Sachs again refuses to explain himself—because, let’s face it, he can’t.

Some might find my tone impolite. I do not care. Why? Because of shit like this . Either Sachs is unaware of the inevitable atrocities that will follow a “territorial division” or he is not. Either way, he’s got no business talking about Ukraine.

In sum, Sachs, despite his eminent reputation, has become a crank. But unlike most cranks, his prominent position lends him unwarranted authority to speak on any issue he pleases. With this interview, he is telling us not to take him seriously. I say we heed his advice. /end


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s