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Opinion | Putin’s American Cheerleaders

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Photo: Komsomolskaya Pravda/Zuma Press

American commentators and journalists often appear on Ukrainian television expressing solidarity and offering analysis. Russia’s airwaves have largely been free of U.S. voices, save for occasional clips from American airwaves by Ukraine critics such as Tulsi Gabbard, Tucker Carlson and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Most U.S. guests on Russian media come from the fringe, including former Virginia State Sen. Richard Black, who associates with the Lyndon LaRouche movement’s Schiller Institute, and Scott Ritter, an embittered and disgraced former American intelligence officer turned critic of the war in Iraq.

More surprising are the appearances of several establishment figures: Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs ; the National Interest’s national security correspondent, Mark Episkopos ; and Dimitri Simes, until recently president of the Center for the National Interest. They willingly appear on the programs of Russia’s most odious state propagandist, Vladimir Solovyov. Mr. Solovyov has called for a Russian invasion of Europe, bombing Ukrainian cities into the ground, and punishing Ukrainians for “Nazism.” Last month he declared on air that “the more we burn Ukraine now, the easier it will be to pummel Germany, Britain, France, all those European Nazi bastards, and the United States will also suffer.”

Mr. Sachs has made three appearances on Mr. Solovyov’s programs since November. Mr. Sachs has long argued that the West provoked Russia into invading Ukraine in 2014 by virtue of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s “threatening” expansion toward Russia. In his appearances last fall, he called for an immediate end to hostilities, which would preserve Russian control over 15% of Ukraine—more than double the Ukrainian land Moscow controlled before the February 2022 invasion. According to the Russian dubbing of Mr. Sachs’s English-language comments, he has told Russians that a “massive number” of Americans “wish to exit the conflict in Ukraine,” condemned the U.S. administration for “disinformation,” and called President Volodymyr Zelensky’s conditions for peace “absolute nonsense.”

Mr. Episkopos is another frequent guest of Mr. Solovyov and his channel’s other hosts. He likes to tell Russians—whose media are under total state control—that open debate is stifled in the U.S. and that our economy is in tatters. He also has informed Russians that “Marjorie Taylor Greene reflects the general mood among so many Americans, not just Republicans but Democrats, who are tired—who have serious problems: inflation, crime, and infrastructure that is falling apart” and don’t want to “send another billion to Kyiv.”

As for Mr. Simes, he has long been a co-host—alongside Vyacheslav Nikonov, grandson of Stalin’s Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov —of an international-affairs program on Russian state television, where he positioned himself as a foreign-policy realist promoting cooperation between Washington and Moscow. This sober stance has vanished, and Mr. Simes has gone full-bore pro-Putin. Following Mr. Zelensky’s recent U.S. visit, Mr. Simes told Russian viewers that “it was a disgusting performance. When I look at the footage of the president of the United States, who affectionately hugs Zelensky—this is a corrupt liar. He included representatives of Nazi ideology in his leadership team. His troops shoot civilians. It was disgusting for me to look at [then House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, who kissed Zelensky’s hand. This is the third-ranking person in the country. It was admiration mixed with subservience. I don’t know what to say.” (Messrs. Episkopos and Simes both speak Russian in their appearances.)

Every U.S. citizen has a right to express an opinion about the issues of the day. And experts are free to challenge the pro-Ukraine views held by the vast majority of Americans. But cooperation with official propagandists who beat the drum for a state perpetrating massive war crimes and atrocities is another matter. Messrs. Sachs, Episkopos and Simes should know better.

Mr. Karatnycky, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, is author of the forthcoming “Battleground Ukraine: From Independence to the Russian War.”

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