- - Thursday, May 25, 2023

On Friday, May 19, the Putin regime’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs banned me from entering the Russian Federation.

As a former Trump administration official who served at Radio and Television Martí, the Cuban sister network to Voice of America, I was notified by my former colleagues reporting on a list of 500 Americans targeted “in a response to the regularly anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the Joe Biden administration.” I was listed as #467.

While many on the list were U.S. officials and “the heads of military-industrial complex companies supplying weapons” to Ukraine, Moscow carved out a special nook for American journalists and entertainers purportedly “involved in the spread of Russophobic” sentiment.

While the list may appear to be aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s base, it looks more like an influence campaign targeting the isolationist right in the America First movement.

First, Moscow listed people it knows will never visit Russia but are viewed unfavorably by America First supporters, such as former President Barack Obama and liberal comedians such as Stephen Colbert.

Second, the statement salutes those who participated in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach.

“The attached ‘list-500’ also includes those in government and law enforcement agencies who are directly involved in the persecution of dissidents in the wake of the so-called Storming the Capitol,” the statement reads.

Such words are not meant to connect with those yearning to fight for Mother Russia. They are meant to confuse Americans who resent their own government while extending an invitation to find kinship with Moscow.

This is classic “dog whistling” to America First in an attempt to paint Jan. 6 as a noble act driven by “dissidents” instead of what it really was — a tragic error in judgment that hurt the Republican Party, the Trump presidency and our nation. It also ruined the lives of many otherwise good people who were acting out a misguided sense of patriotism in a panic.

To be sure, a May 22 Washington Times article by Seth McLaughlin examined how the U.S. approach to Russia has pitted America First and Reaganite anti-communists against one another. The article reported that “the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy released a poll last month that found 52% of MAGA-identifying Republicans think Mr. Putin is a better president than Mr. Biden.”

Benjamin H. Friedman, policy director at Defense Priorities, a Washington think tank, told The Times that Russia has become central to the right’s self-image.

“I think one big effect of the Trump administration was to make Russia, and by extension Ukraine, a very partisan issue and to breed all kinds of sympathy for Russia among Republicans, largely because they see it as part of their conservative identity and a way to oppose the establishment that is more hawkish on Russia,” Mr. Friedman said.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, many self-described nationalists have victim-blamed Ukraine, excusing Moscow for purportedly being backed into a corner because Kyiv tried to join NATO. This is pure hypocrisy, since these so-called nationalists disregard Ukraine’s own right to national independence after Russia invaded Crimea in 2014. In other words, “liberty or death,” unless you are Ukrainian.

They also ignore that Russia’s 2014 and 2022 invasions violate the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, which obligated Moscow and Washington never to violate Ukrainian sovereignty if it disarmed its nuclear weapons.

Those who argue that Ukraine is not America’s fight conveniently forget that, if not for America’s 1994 assurances, Ukraine never would have disarmed itself. This raises a moral question of what America stands for and what our word is worth. Had the U.S. not come to Ukraine’s aid, no other country would even consider nuclear disarmament.

Russia knows these misguided nationalists and isolationists are seeking reinforcement. By targeting people unpopular with nationalists, it reinforces the false notion America First has ideas in common with the Putin regime, which only damages Trump supporters, the Republican Party and the United States.

As for me, #467, I am on the list because my columns serve as a reminder of these facts. They also reinforce the Reagan Doctrine, which calls for U.S. support of any country under attack by Russian aggression. While this doctrine applied to the USSR during Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s, it is just as valid today since Mr. Putin has continued the Soviet Union’s brutal legacy of state-sponsored terrorism.

Americans would be wise to remember that while Democrats and Republicans disagree on many issues, we remain countrymen. Despite our differences, we should trust one another more than a foreign power that undermines the freedom of its own people — and others around the world.

• Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is a former Washington prosecutor and journalist who has reported on Russian affairs. He is a former senior U.S. official who currently serves as a member of The Washington Times’ editorial board. He can be reached at jshapiro@washingtontimes.com.

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