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Open Source: A Month of Sputnik Radio

Open Source:  A Month of Sputnik Radio

Five years into operation and two years into its 24/7 radio broadcast in Washington, what’s Kremlin-sponsored radio talking about?  I listened for a month to find out.

Of three main areas discussed on Sputnik Radio – the United States, U.S. foreign policy, and Russia/Putin – there is fairly little discussion of Russia/Putin.  With a studio in Washington, most of the hosts and many of the guests are American, not Russian.  Much of the discussion was about the relationship between American imperialism, corporate corruption, and race and class issues.

The Establishment and Foreign Affairs

Most of the dialogue begins with a rejection of the U.S. political “establishment.”  Talk is much more tolerant of – though not enthusiastic for – anti-establishment politicians like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  America’s two main political parties are completely corrupted by big corporations.  Hypocritical, corrupt Democrats and Republicans like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Mike Pompeo and their “corporate media” partners are not to be trusted.

On the dominant question in American politics today – Trump / Russia / collusion / obstruction – attention is directed against the U.S. intelligence community and the Democratic Party.  Program hosts and guests disagree over the extent to which Russia might have tried to influence at all the 2016 U.S. election.  But they agree that the Democrats are forgetting history.  U.S. intelligence community failures and corruption are highlighted.  Targets include the CIA’s history in Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, Central America, and elsewhere, the CIA’s history of trying to influence media, surveilling reporters, and tracking US anti-war groups, and the FBI’s efforts against civil rights and anti-war leaders. Democrats have to ignore history, Sputnik says, to trust that the CIA and FBI aren’t political and to believe it’s impossible that the IC was working against the Trump campaign.

A key theme of Sputnik programming is the persistent, ubiquitous danger of American imperialism.  Whether through sanctions or military force, the Wolfowitz Doctrine of global dominance by unilateral imperialism, opposing instead of recognizing regional powers, continues in the Bush-Obama-Trump era.

Sputnik points out America’s long history of “breaking countries” – by and for its military-industrial complex. If the United States was merely trying to break countries, it had been very successful. This goal continues in the “John Bolton Administration” that has never met a problem for which regime change isn’t the solution.

But recent efforts to replace old regimes with new allies have been enormously unsuccessful. The nation-building fantasy suggested by postwar Germany and Japan that has costumed U.S. imperialism since the 1990s is a delusion: see Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

Special emphasis is also given to the increasing inability of Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump to accomplish even the nation-breaking goals.  Assad remains in power in Syria, Maduro in Venezuela, the ayatollahs in Iran, and the Kims in North Korea.

U.S. sanctions are intended to harm the public and to provoke anti-government sentiment. If there are food, water, and medical crises in Venezuela, it is a direct result of U.S. policies – not corruption, mismanagement, or socialism.

Very little is said directly about Russia or Vladimir Putin.  American foreign policy is responsible for the distance between the U.S. and Russia today. The U.S. sought hegemony and Cold War victory instead of embracing Gorbachev’s New Thinking and Russia’s place within a common European home. Western and American triumphalism – and NATO expansion – led to the rise of Putin and his law and order and return to great power policies.  Ukraine is in the midst of a civil war.

Instead, Sputnik analysts focus on the U.S.  Anti-Russian neoconservatives and Scoop Jackson/Clinton Democrats continue to dominate the Establishment in both American political parties.  Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov spoke against the U.S./West policies that continue to seek world dominance instead of global cooperation. In countries around the world, listeners are told, the vision of a liberal world order is losing to calls for populism.

Brexit, which Sputnik guests and hosts tend to support, is both a cause and a symptom of the UK’s broken political system and representative of a broken Western political system more broadly. Brexit delays are evidence of the UK’s lack of functioning parties and government and of the Establishment’s dismissal of popular will.

Wikileaks and the arrest of Julian Assange generated all-day live breaking news special coverage. Sputnik programs shared the position of most progressive American media outlets, offering hagiographies of Assange as a victim of American and British intelligence. The daytime arrest and the dragging from the embassy were deliberate public relations moves to intimidate whistleblowers who might want to share information about American or British abuse. The ruling class, the police state, and the corporate media work together in opposition of WikiLeaks – and against Bernie Sanders, Extinction Rebellion, gilets jaunes, etc.

America’s corrupt Establishment faces a new, young, progressive party of peace and social justice.  The youth movement wants to rectify decades of counterproductive Middle East policies that promoted the military-industrial complex, dictators, and climate change.  And it wants change at home as well.

Race and Class in America

Anti-capitalist themes energize Sputnik programs’ discussions of race and class in America.  The root of wealth inequality is corporate corruption.  The Republican party is completely corrupted by big corporations – and so is the Democratic party.

Wealth inequality is the greatest testament to corporate corruption and American hypocrisy.  In rich cities like Washington, new luxury apartment buildings displace poor African Americans and increase the numbers of homeless who sleep on sidewalks and under bridges.  African Americans work hard for the limited opportunities to escape the school-to-prison pipeline.  But the Democratic Party mayors who are supposed to represent the urban poor are rented or owned by corporations who treat inner cities as colonies with labor and resources to be exploited and abandoned.

The racism attached to wealth inequality is also associated with the greatest crime of the Trump Administration: an immigration policy of scapegoating Muslims and Latin Americans.  Sputnik applauds that Democrats committed early energy opposing these policies.  Sending immigration lawyers to airports to defend travelers and exposing the outrageous family separations at the borders was promising.  But Democrats soon chose instead to focus entirely on the myth of Russian collusion and abandoned their important work on real issues like immigration.

Wealth inequality doesn’t mean that everyone should go to college, though. America can train an army of cyber security analysts through certificate programs without a university’s liberal arts courses and $70,000 per year tuition. Once certificate holders get hired, companies themselves will continue to train them as the technology advances. Additionally, this could reduce the need for H-1B immigration, which has been disastrous for technology-worker wages in the U.S.

On the other hand, universal basic income is necessary.  The billionaires that own Walmart, Amazon, and the rest know that artificial intelligence is going to replace many jobs in trucking, retail, manufacturing and across the economy.  This is why, Sputnik reasons, tech giants support universal basic income. They know the jobs and employment catastrophe that lies ahead in the next decade.

One analysis of environmental politics argued that the origins of today’s debate stems from specific choices the two parties made in the 1990s.  Vice President Al Gore and the Democrats elevated the issues of global warming and climate change.  Their solutions were global governance, social engineering, and taxes and regulation – things Republicans are philosophically opposed to.  The U.S. environmental movement could have been bipartisan if Democrats had tried to “speak Republican.” Democrats could have brought along Republicans by framing climate change as a national security problem and promoting public-private and private-sector solutions.  Instead, Republicans rejected the proposed liberal solutions and with them recognition of the problem itself.

Keeping Watch

Consumers of state media – from China’s Xinhua and Qatar’s Al-Jazeera to the BBC, France24, or Deutsche-Welle – can try to intuit lessons about the sponsoring-government’s general or specific interests.  What news is covered, what scope of debate is offered, and implicit or explicit bias can be revealing.  Combined with the Mueller Report’s findings about Russia’s covert efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and expected efforts in the 2020 race, Sputnik (and RT television)’s global reach deserves continued attention.

Photo: Wikipedia




Jim Quirk

Jim Quirk teaches American and comparatiive politics at American University in Washington, D.C. He has taught at Loyola University Maryland, The Catholic University of America, and the University of Economics in Varna, Bulgaria. His favorite projects have included work with in Mexico, Russia, the Balkans, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, OSCE, IEEE, and the Open World Leadership Center. He tweets from @webQuirks