Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter tours Russian cities and claims Ukraine will lose the war. Why do he and other disgraced Americans insist on defending Putin’s rhetoric?
Russian propaganda outlets have loved quoting Americans they believe are arguing in Moscow’s favor ever since the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, and even more so since the full-scale attack launched last February.
While the idea of Western intellectuals pandering to Soviet leadership — and downplaying their crimes — was relatively common during the Cold War, it has gained new momentum since Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear his plans to either break up or occupy all of Ukraine.
Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector in the 1990s and a Marine Corps analyst during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a decade earlier, is one of the Americans courted by Russian propaganda sources.
He recently launched a tour of his new book, “Disarmament in the Age of Perestroika”, in Russia, presenting it in cities such as Kazan, Irkutsk and Yekaterinburg. The book, he claims, aims to warn the American public against seeking escalations with Russia that could lead to a nuclear attack, insisting that the Western public has forgotten how difficult it was to achieve these agreements in the first place.
“Run into Russia’s cold, confining embrace”
For those with any knowledge of the major political talking points circulating in Russian media—some of which may be based on real fears, such as that of nuclear-level escalation—Ritter sings a song Russians like to hear.
“People like him turn to Russia and to the cold, yet very limited embrace of the Russian government because they are opportunists,” said Natalia Antonova, a longtime Moscow-based reporter and editor, as well as an OSINT researcher with deep familiarity with Russian disinformation techniques.
“They see an economic opportunity and career opportunities by working for and with the Russians. By that I mean bad Russians, the same bureaucrats who enable Russian fascists today and enable this attempted genocide in Ukraine.”
Antonova is Ukrainian-American, and for someone who straddles both worlds, Ritter is an example of a typical tarnished American—often a man—who discredited himself in the United States and now wants to be seen as a source of “honest analysis” in Russia as a means of attaining renewed or increased glory.
“Desperate men like him have often come to Russia for a fresh start. It’s true that Russians will overlook anything as long as you’re useful to them. They don’t care,” she explained.
Ritter is a convicted sex offender, having been caught exposing himself to minors online on multiple occasions. He served a year and a half in prison. Despite this, he claims he was targeted by the US administration for his opposition to the war in Iraq.
“If you follow the local Russian news when they report on Ritter’s big tour in Russia, in local outlets like the Kazan or Izhevsk news, none of them mention his arrest record and conviction,” Antonova said.
“They don’t even say, ‘oh, this man was wrongfully imprisoned, there was a conspiracy against him.’ They just don’t mention it at all.”
Not all truth-tellers are welcome in today’s Russia. Last week, 500 Americans, including figures such as former President Barack Obama and late TV hosts Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel, were placed on Moscow’s largest list of sanctioned individuals to date.
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested in Yekaterinburg in March, and Russian officials continue to deny the US embassy access to their citizens.
Ritter, unlike the people on the sanctions list, “is getting a chance to reinvent himself and feel good about himself again, and the Russians will let him do that,” Antonova said.
What is a tankie?
The term “tankie” is familiar to anyone with some knowledge of the politics of the former Soviet Union. It appeared during the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the mid-20th century as a reference to those downplaying the fact that Kremlin tanks were being used to suppress protests and opposition in cities such as Prague and Budapest.
It’s common internet slang these days, especially among those trying to weed out apologists for the Putin regime. You can find tank pants of all kinds – from anonymous Twitter trolls waxing poetic about NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe, to famous journalists and academics.
One of the more prominent among them is the American journalist Seymour Hersh, once a famous and revered author, and known for his ground-breaking reporting on American crimes such as the My Lai massacre and the torture of Iraqi civilians at Abu Ghraib.
Recently, he started a violent debate after publishing an article claiming that the US had bombed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The controversial gas route through the Baltic Sea was supposed to bypass countries such as Ukraine and Poland – Russia’s main political opponents even before the invasion – by supplying gas to the western part of the continent.
“Some people, like Hersh, were also really upset. He reported on really scary things that the US military did, like My Lai and Abu Ghraib. These are scary events in US history that are shameful,” Antonova explains.
Oliver Stone, the American director known for films about US presidents such as “JFK” and “W”, has also become part of the previously famous set of Western figures who are now whitewashing the crimes committed in Ukraine. He produced “Ukraine on Fire,” which came out in 2014, a film that downplayed the Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of corrupt pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 and presented them as a US-led coup d’état.
“It can really break a person to the point where they turn to the proverbial dark side — and they don’t even realize it. They’re so caught up in the bad things that America has done that they completely demonize America,” she said.
Antonova says that while it is patriotic to criticize your country, these figures have gone so far that they have “lost some of their objectivity and ability to think critically about certain countries”, to the point where they are now “starting to embrace foreign dictators” .
Do the Russians secretly want to be liked by Americans?
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union spent a lot of time and effort convincing its citizens that they were actually living better than their Western counterparts.
This was combined with the firm claim that the Soviet Union was on the right side of history – it had played a decisive role in defeating Nazism in Europe – and the idea that it was the first country with an expansive socialist system that would provide equal opportunities for all its citizens .
Today, your average Russian citizen still wants the West to recognize that they have something special to offer – and that countries like the US should treat them as equals.
“The Russians really want Americans to like them. There’s a kind of aggrieved revenge at play there. They may hate Americans on the one hand, but they want Americans to care about them and like them,” Antonova explains.
That’s why the Scott Ritters, Steven Seagals and Oliver Stones of the world are welcomed with open arms in Russia – especially if they can point out how the US might be worse than their own country.
“(With Scott Ritter) we have an American who is not afraid to speak the truth and he tells us what we want to hear. When an American does that, on a basic psychological level, it feels great and it also reinforces the goals of the officials who obviously helped him plan his trip,” she continued.
Putin has invested a lot of time in undermining Western societies and trying to combat the inferiority complex that many Russians feel.
“So when Americans repeat Putinist talking points, it means something,” she concludes.