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By John Helmer, Moscow 

Inside a university on the upper west side of Manhattan island sits Timothy Frye (lead image, right), a professor who still likes to talk of the good times he had in the Soviet Union when he was a young agent in a propaganda touring show for the US Information Agency; and then, during the first post-Soviet years, when he was a broadcaster of good news at the US outlet, Radio Free Europe.

He is still making his living broadcasting the news about Russia. This is no less a product of the same US government money trail as his early efforts, although Frye’s title, those of his sources, and of the think-tanks and academic units which pay their salaries and finance their research are more highfalutin than they were.    

There is also no change in the source of this news about Russia. It comes second hand and by hearsay from US and British journalists in the mainstream media; from Russian reporters on stipend to US sponsors; and academic researchers on either side of the Atlantic, quoting each other.

In this world, all the warfighting objectives of toppling the Putin administration, defeating the Russian Army in the Donbass and Syria, and recovering Crimea for the Kiev regime, are endorsed by Frye. All charges of cyber attacks, media trolling and US election campaign intervention by Russian military intelligence agents; poison attacks against Alexander Litvinenko, the Skripals, and Alexei Navalny; the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17; the deaths of Anna Politkovskaya, Boris Nemtsov, and Sergei Magnitsky – in short, every evil Russian deed reported for the past decade is accepted by Frye as the truth,  together with the regime-change narratives of William Browder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Navalny.

But Frye’s book is more than a hackneyed replay.  It is evidence of what is in the mind of Frye himself, and of the Anglo-American academic establishment, as they work away at their war against Russia. Theirs is a virtuous cause, Frye thinks, because he and his peer group believe they are being scientific about the Russian enemy, and are certain they know the enemy better than he knows them.  

Frye’s book begins on the front cover with the appearance of a paradox – “Weak Strongman, The Limits of Power in Putin’s Russia.” This is a tease.

Left, Timothy Frye’s book, published by Princeton University Press on April 6, 2021; centre, Frye speaking at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow; right Alexei Navalny. Next to President Vladimir Putin, Frye assigns the largest number of mentions in his book to Navalny (59), and after that, mentions of himself (24), just ahead of the New York Times (23) and the Washington Post (19).  Among employing and publishing universities, Princeton led with 17, followed by Oxford 11, Columbia 10, Yale 6, and Harvard 5. There are zero mentions of the phrase, regime change. Controlling for Frye’s self-referencing, the Pearson correlation between official money sources and Frye’s conclusions about Putin is high (0.75), but not as high as the correlation between Navalny and Frye (0.99).  

Frye starts with the claim that he “relies on research by a new generation of scholars that is frequently at odds with conventional wisdom and has received little attention outside academia”. He concedes that he and the other youngsters are not as influential as he would like to be, or as their elders were. “Scholars conducting basic research on Russia are more marginal than they were during the Cold War,” Frye concedes, “when relations between academic Russia watchers and policy makers were closer.”

This is one fact Frye has gotten right, about himself.  According to the Google academic citation index, not many people read Frye agreeably enough to refer him to others. On average he rates less than 400 citations by other academics per annum. Last year was Frye’s best since he started, but he barely breasted the audience tape at 418:

Source: https://scholar.google.com/

Frye’s book is a pitch for more readers, more influence, more power, more money. “Much more can be done”, he says on his concluding page, “to make social science research on Russia and accessible and useful for policy makers and the general public. The stakes are too high to get Russia wrong”. But the title is still a tease. Whether Putin is strong or weak, Frye doesn’t disagree with any of the evidence already alleged against the president and his administration. Frye is just as strong a booster for US warmaking goals against Russia, especially replacing Putin, as those he denigrates as the conventional wisdom.

Frye started visiting Russia for the first time in 1985, when he was a high school student. Between 1987 and 1989 he worked for the US Information Agency as a tour guide to places like Magnitogorsk, Irkutsk, Tbilisi. He was a “consultant” when the Russian Securities and Exchange Commission was being set up on US advice during the first years of the Yeltsin administration. Then in 2011, he says the Russian government gave him money to set up a research unit at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow; the school was created by the shock-therapy economists of the first Yeltsin government, and is still controlled by them.  

At the time Frye claims to have “interviewed bankers and bodyguards, and sometimes had trouble telling them apart”. There is no sign of either in this book. There is no trace of any Russian government official Frye has interviewed; no military officer, active or retired; no diplomat; no intelligence service veteran. His lone attempt to meet an oligarch – at a Moscow  compound belonging to Mikhail Prokhorov and Vladimir Potanin – left  him with nothing to relate except brand-name signs of affluent living and name-dropping to display influence.  

Frye reports studying no bank fraud and state bailout case in the records of the Russian, British or American courts.   He has examined no significant Russian corporate transaction, no nationalisation, no Russian IPO prospectus, no financial balance sheet. For his evidence on Gazprom, Frye cited William Browder’s “real life spy thriller”. On Russian corporate warfare like the Yukos and Bashneft takeovers by Rosneft, the only evidence-gathering Frye cited was opinion polling by himself. He also claims “academic research” for the finding that blog posts by Navalny drove down stock returns of companies he targeted by up to 1.26 percentage points, and that Navalny blog mentions “induced” leadership turnover. That this might have been market-rigging by Navalny’s sponsors didn’t occur to Frye. Nor did he check. 

To finance this research Frye’s paycheck starts with an endowed professorship  named after Marshall Shulman (1916-2007), a Cold War-era academic and government advisor. Columbia University operates an $11 billion endowment to pay for such posts.  Shulman persuaded Averell Harriman (1891-1986) to top it up with a special fund to pay for the university’s Harriman Institute, which is also Frye’s employer.  

US officials who have interviewed Russian officials in the past – left, Averell Harriman, right, Marshall Shulman.

This think-tank calls itself “one of the world’s leading academic institutions devoted to Russian, Eurasian and East European studies.” Harriman’s money came from his family’s Wall Street bank. The money the Harriman Institute spends on Frye, other faculty members, their guests, and graduate students also comes from a US government entity called the US Russia Foundation;   US corporate investors in Russia like PepsiCo;   the Carnegie Corporation of New York; and Ukrainian government entities and individuals. Carnegie is a $3.5 billion fund, which awarded more than $150 million in grants in 2019.   Its board of trustees includes representatives of the New York Times, the Financial Times, and the US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

Apply the same method of research which Frye uses on Putin’s administration to his own sources of power, jobs, information, and money, and what research findings do you come up with?

With cronyism —  to use the term applied to the Kremlin by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control — that is to say, a group of men at the same offices, working on the same grants and stipends which they advise foundations, government agencies and investment funds advised by government retirees,  to give to themselves and to each other.

One of Frye’s academic colleagues cited frequently in his book is Samuel Greene, a professor at King’s College London, a centre for British warmaking against Russia. Greene (right) calls his theory of Putin’s rule  “co-construction”. “Situationally motivated, entrepreneurially experimental, self-interested, and basically autonomous actors ‘co-construct’ Putin’s power precisely because they act in what they understand to be Putin’s interests without having to be told to do so. The result is a peculiar kind of durability. A co-constructed system of power is likely to be impervious to outside attempts to encourage change by driving a wedge between the elite and the president, because elites are acting in their own interests. But by the same token, as these various actors come to see established courses of action as politically and economically profitable, it becomes harder for the Kremlin itself to shift approaches.”

By examining quotes like these, footnotes, references, and endorsements in Frye’s book, substantiating  what he calls “new research at odds with conventional wisdom”,  the co-construction revealed by Frye is research designed to confirm every element of the conventional wisdom of the US war against Russia. This he proves to be just as “impervious to outside attempts to encourage change” as Frye claims about his Kremlin targets.

Another of the Greene researches Frye quotes for his evidence   was paid for by the Freeman Spogli Institute of International Relations at Stanford. This is a think-tank run by Michael McFaul, a former White House advisor on Russia and US ambassador to Russia. McFaul led the Obama Administration’s war party. His and  Greene’s work has been paid for by Freeman Spogli, a California-based investment fund and money-raiser for the Republican party since Ronald Spogli was a classmate of George W. Bush.  

A collection of papers by Frye and his colleagues of 2010 hardly seems new enough to be  quoted in the book. This was published by the American Academy for Arts and Sciences but paid for by the Carnegie Corporation.  One of Frye’s co-authors was Timothy Colton, at the time and subsequently a Harvard professor and soft espionage contractor to the Pentagon.  

Henry Hale is another of Frye’s sources.  His paycheck comes from PONARS, a Russia research programme at George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, DC.  The trail between Hale’s pocket and the official money bag starts with IERES, a GWU entity financed by Carnegie and the State Department.

Left to right: Timothy Colton, Henry Hale, Thomas Carothers, Robert Orttung. Orttung’s research leads him to the finding that, Russia is “much more concerned about [the status of its Olympic athletes] than the US or other western countries because they often feel inferior to the US”.

Another of Frye’s “new generation” is Thomas Carothers, ex-State Department lawyer, USAID official, and now “leading authority on international support for democracy” at the Carnegie Endowment.   There his pay check is covered by the Harvey V. Fineberg chair for democracy studies.  Fineberg’s money came from a career in medical administration and vaccine development.  

As his source of evidence on the Russia Today (RT) state propaganda organ, Frye cites Robert Orttung  and Elizabeth Nelson.    They were paid by another unit of the GWU operation which, according to its annual report, is financed by Citibank, Merrill Lynch, several US wealth funds, shipping companies, and the Verizon communications corporation, and advised by State Department officials active and retired; they include Kurt Volker, the Trump Administration’s Ukraine war-fighter.

Frye also endorses everything published by a group of reporters he selects and salutes:

Frye’s book first appeared on April 6. By then his endorsement of Catherine Belton’s “rich detail on the elite politics” was already facing one test of truth in the High Court in London. Three more lawsuits charging her with lying were filed days later.  Frye is so convinced of the scienticity of his peer group he has no concept of forensic or courtroom proof – for crimes of murder, that is evidence beyond reasonable doubt;  for crimes of fraud, that is evidence on the balance of probabilities.  

According to Frye, the science of his work and of his colleagues is assured because they act collectively. “Sharing your data combine[s] to constrain as well as reduce the inherent biases and unstated assumptions that we all bring to our work. Peer review has its problems, but it does work to reduce the politicization of arguments in our field. In our supposedly post-truth era, we should place an even greater premium on the transparency and richness of evidence provided in the best academic research.”

If Frye’s research had come to the finding that Russians believe everyone would be better off if the Anglo-American warmakers left Russia to evolve on its own, Frye and his colleagues would be ruined — out of a job, out of influence, out of money. That’s a post-truth discount they  cannot risk.    

That Frye’s research system on Russia can be researched itself has its academic precedents. They are evidence that Frye’s American peer review system is the secret profit-making cycle Russians call инсайдерская торговля (insiderskaya torgovlya – insider trading). In Russian commercial law this has been illegal since 2006.

Applying academic research standards to academic researchers themselves has almost never been attempted in US universities.  Half a century ago, however, the book (above) reported this method for discoveries of how the elite university business of academic sociology (Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, etc.)  worked to enrich the crony professors,  enforce conformity to state-funded ideologies, consign everybody and everything else to oblivion. That was also the outcome for the book and shortened the author’s career as an academic sociologist. Click to read.

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