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Meet Vladimir Putin, global leader in ‘systemic, pervasive, all-embracing state corruption’ — Archbishop Boris A. Gudziak

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow Sept. 30, 2022, to annex four Ukrainian regions partly occupied by his forces. On Aug. 22, Russian occupiers launched an attack on St. Teresa of the Child of Jesus Roman Catholic Church in the town of Skadovsk in eastern Ukraine's Kherson region, according to a Facebook post by Bishop Stanislav Szyrokoradiuk of Odessa-Simferopol. (OSV News photo/Sputnik/Sergei Guneev, pool via Reuters)

By Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak
Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia

In America, Tucker Carlson, unceremoniously fired last year from his bully pulpit at Fox News, is known for his biting sarcasm and derisive cynicism.

Yet, in Russia, he recently met, in the course of a two-hour interview, the master of gaslighting and Orwellian tactics, whose cynicism is uniquely insidious. It is, tragically, at the root of wars and genocide, crimes against humanity, the murders of journalists and opposition politicians. The “defender of traditional values” who belittles the morals of the West, and surreptitiously strives to shake Western, especially American, democratic foundations, has for a quarter-century led Russia, guided by the goal of a neo-imperial glory. And under him, Russia indeed remains a global leader — in abortions and divorces, alcoholism and suicide, and of course, systemic, pervasive, all-embracing state corruption.

So serpentine was his interviewee that Carlson himself was occasionally confounded, especially when he asked about the release of the imprisoned Wall Street Journal writer, Evan Gershkovich. Attempting to score political points back home, Carlson called for “the kid” to be released, receiving a barrage of sarcastic retorts.

There is a saying popular in the former Soviet Union: “Once you start playing cards with a cardsharp, you’ve already lost.” When two cardsharps play, the truth gets lost, because if one person lies and another speaks the truth, the truth is never in the middle. Actually, the truth is not a compromise between the left and the right, a middle road between speaker/position 1 and speaker/position 2. The truth is where it is. Throughout Carlson’s interview with Vladimir Putin, truth was nowhere to be found.

Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia gestures during an interview with Catholic News Service at the headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington March 14, 2022. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

It appears Carlson was handpicked by the Russian propaganda machine. Why? To broadly disseminate false messages? To dissuade a conservative audience from supporting Ukraine? There were threatening undertones, dire warnings to the West, particularly the United States. For Putin, Europeans don’t really count; they’re feeble and fragile. Yet his most caustic disdain is reserved for America. It oozes from every narrative and image. It is particularly noticeable when you listen to the intonations of the answers in the original Russian. As he does in real life, throughout the conversation Putin sought to disparage and undermine American democracy, while demeaning an ultimately inconsequential Europe.

And Carlson, avowed warrior for all things all-American, did nothing to challenge the world’s greatest America-hater. On the contrary, he provided a platform from which Putin could project his loathing for the West and his fabrications about it: It was America that provoked Russia to attack Ukraine. Just as Poland “provoked” Hitler to invade it in 1939.

Throughout the interview, Putin implied and celebrated a shifting world order: the decline of Western, particularly American, ideals and leadership, a “reality” to which the West must acquiesce. Soviet/Russian wisdom has been presaging the moral, political and economic decay of the “rotting” (sic) West for a full century, with Moscow in the meantime perpetrating genocide against its own people time and time again.

Lord knows, we have many problems in the U.S. They are manifold, manifest and mounting. Still, few Americans would trade their domestic trials for the Russian wonderland. Have you heard of many refugees of the “rotting West” clamoring to live in Putin’s Nirvana? One of the consequences of Putin’s war has been the exodus of a million of the best educated (and young) Russian scientists, entrepreneurs, professors, computer specialists, doctors, artists and journalists from the dictator’s paradise. They fled so as not to become cannon fodder in a wicked, ignominious campaign of genocide against a Slavic neighbor.

Yet there were no questions from Carlson about why President Putin is sending his people to death by the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands. Or about his indictment by the International Criminal Court for being personally responsible for the abduction of 20,000 Ukrainian children. Or about Russia being ranked 164th in the World Press Freedom index out of 180 countries monitored — matters that might be of interest to a true journalist.

When speaking of Western leaders, Putin can make a cuckoo sign or knock on wood — not for good luck, but to insinuate the West’s folly and denseness. Why is the West daft? Because it refuses to negotiate with Russia. No matter the guarantees of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity that Russia promised in the1994 negotiations after which Ukraine unilaterally gave up the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal — greater than that of the United Kingdom, France, and China combined. Those that ingenuously negotiated in the past with Russia no longer count the betrayals, and understandably no longer negotiate.

What is the Russian president’s understanding of negotiations? He repeatedly emphasizes the Russian word “dogovarivatsia” with various inflections. To come to an agreement, to cut a deal. Not once does it sound like negotiation, consultations, mutual listening. It’s more akin to bargaining or menacing — we must reach an agreement, otherwise… Putin’s neo-imperial, autocratic mindset and policy is clearly not guided by values such as God-given human dignity, freedom, or other principles which flow out of the Gospel and which are at the root of democracies and Western civilization.

There are — in Putin’s world — only interests. “Why bother about a country so far away?” he asks Americans. “Why should Germans pay for expensive gas when they can compel Ukraine to open the pipelines?” he wonders. Why do Ukrainians persist in resisting? Why won’t they surrender? For Putin, courage and valor in defending one’s dignity or protecting the innocent or doing what is right is simply not rational. It’s dippy and daft.

Even when asked a rather personal question about the significance of the Orthodox faith for him, Putin responds with the imperial “we” and references the history of the 10th century and Volodymyr the Great, Grand Prince of Kyiv, which happens to be the capital of Ukraine. With this question, Tucker Carlson attempted to expose at least a trace of humanity in the Russian president — without success.
For Putin, Christian faith is an ideological device, part of the imperial scheme. In a 30-minute historical disquisition he explained what he believes kept Rus’ together and what should be a model for today: “a unified,” i.e., colonial territory, “tight economic ties,” i.e., those that subjugate “lesser peoples,” and “a common,” i.e., imposed, language, “one,” i.e. unquestioning, formal, faith and … “the power of the prince.”

Putin’s tedious and tawdry ancient and medieval history lesson was immediately debunked by numerous historians and fact-checkers. Its genocidal leitmotivs were precisely identified by the Yale historian of tyranny, Timothy Snyder. The historical determinism Putin exhibits would be laughable if it were not in the mind of a genocidal tyrant.

By letting Putin’s lies go unchallenged, Tucker Carlson was revealed as this generation’s Walter Duranty, The New York Times reporter who covered up Stalin’s deliberate murder-by-starvation of millions of Ukrainians in 1932-33. The Times, while never returning Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize, would later acknowledge the “consistent underestimation of Stalin’s brutality” in Duranty’s dispatches from Moscow. At the peak of the Terror Famine, which Ukrainians know as the Holodomor, when people were dying of hunger en masse — over 15,000 per day — Duranty wrote: “To put it brutally, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

My hero and mentor, Patriarch and Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, who spent 18 years in the Soviet Gulag for his refusal to betray the Catholic Church and Ukrainian people, often repeated “What will history eventually say about you?” This is a question for both the journalist and the dictator.

Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak is the metropolitan-archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and the president of Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine.