Johnny Harris’s Russia Ukraine Video is Disappointing…

It’s more than a little absurd that I have to comment on another YouTuber’s work to get videos watched on the platform. But after the success of the Kraut and Whatifalthist critique videos, my best and 2nd best performing videos of the year, I think it’s a pretty unavoidable conclusion. Luckily this month one of the biggest news and politics YouTubers, Johhnny Harris has weighed in on Russia and Ukraine, and I have a few quibbles with his approach. So with today’s video I manage to smack two birds with one stone, hopefully satisfying the algorithm, while commenting on most US coverage of Russia by proxy, through Johnny Harris. Going forward I think it probably makes sense to try to do one of these “YouTube Drama” videos a month. I hope you find them worthwhile. The Whatifalthist video uploaded two weeks ago has brought me back to traffic numbers I haven’t seen in two years. I hope to use the numbers to hit the audience with some Yemen coverage soon…

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Video Transcript after the jump…

Hey there. I am a big fan of the YouTuber Johnny Harris, but I really did not like his recent Russia video. I think it was a tremendous missed opportunity. Let me say up front that this video is probably motivated by some jealousy. I am jealous of Johnny Harris’s production values, I am jealous of the size of his audience, heck I am even jealous of the fact that he is probably going to be a grandfather by the time he’s my age.

What I enjoy the most about his videos is probably the distinct style. He mixes the personal, history, maps and on the spot gonzo reporting into an always cleverly produced mix. It’s the kind of stuff I used to dream about producing, before I realized I much preferred sitting at home and ranting about stuff that other people reported on instead. The quality of Harris’s videos is always top notch, from the shooting, to the animation to the editing. What’s even better about his channel, and surprising for somebody who works with establishment outfits like Vox and the New York Times, is that he’s often critical of US foreign policy. He’s got an ongoing series called “How the US stole…” that’s got millions of views. What’s not to love?

Well, his recent video on the Russia Ukraine crisis is very much not to love. But before I get into it, I feel like I have to lay out my non-tankie credentials, lest you think I am sort of Russian stooge.

The 2010s will be recognized as a horrific turning point in the post world war II era. Nope, it’s got very little to do with that guy. He made things worse but it all started long before him. The 2010s marked the return of minor powers invading their neighbors to steal territory. Since 1945 the superpowers and a couple random psychos have tried and failed to conquer territory, but in the 2010s we saw at least four minor powers try it out, and largely get away with it. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is just as bad as the Turkish invasion of Syria, and the Saudi and UAE invasion of Yemen that I spend so much time decrying on this channel. I devote more time to Yemen and Syria because those US sponsored invasions have killed vastly more people. But Putin’s invasion of Ukraine came first. And if he hadn’t done that, I don’t think Turkey or the Gulf Monarchies would have gotten away with killing those hundreds of thousands of people. To clarify, the US and Turkey did start their destruction of Syria back in 2011, but Turkish president Erdogan wouldn’t have dared to de facto annex Syrian territory until 2016, after Putin set the precedent in 2014. Without Putin’s Ukraine invasion, the world would be a much safer, happier place. Heck, the US defense budget would probably be half the size it is today if Putin had stayed out of Ukraine. I am far from being on Putin’s side. In fact, I think he’s an idiot. He has spent the past decade walking into a trap set by some of the dumbest people on the planet. The US Military Industrial Complex.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 opened Pandora’s box. It set the world on a new, unstable path, just two years before the world’s most powerful country lost its mind and elected Trump. Whether it takes three more days, or fifty more years, history will probably record that the march to world war III started on the Maidan, or central square of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv in 2014. That makes it vitally important to talk clearly about what happened. And what does the foremost independent politics YouTuber of our generation have to offer us, in a video seen by four point six million people and counting?
“Again, it’s like the boyfriend, who genuinely loves his girlfriend, they had a great relationship, but they broke up! And she’s free to see whomever she wants! But Putin is not ready to let go.”

“What the Hell is wrong with you, I love you Jessica. What the hell is wrong with you, don’t fucking touch me. World star”

“I mean maybe this video should be called Putin is just like your abusive ex-boyfriend”


We have whatever that nonsense is supposed to be, and what does Harris have to say about this epoch defining invasion and annexation of Crimea? It’s added to a list of nasty things Russia has done, almost as an afterthought.

“It also takes the form of, Oh yeah, stealing entire parts of Ukraine and adding them to Russia. He went down and just snatched this bit of Ukraine and folded it into Russia.”

That’s almost everything Johnny Harris has to say about Russia’s 2014 invasion and Ukraine’s fall into the century’s first European shooting war. That’s it, In a 22 minute video supposedly about the Ukraine crisis. “Oh Russia just blew up the post-world war II norm against annexing territory” let’s move on to why Putin is a toxic boyfriend”. I hate to say it, but this Johnny Harris video is pure, uncut propaganda.

I read a great definition of propaganda recently, in a book by a storied war correspondent.

“…propaganda often consists of credible lies designed to have maximum political impact. But these are atypical events: it is much more common for propaganda to consist of true but carefully selected facts repeatedly publicized that show one’s own side in a positive light, and one’s opponents as the face of evil… it is possible to give publicity to these horrors with complete accuracy, but still give a distorted and propagandistic view of what is happening”

If you only tell one side of the story it’s very easy to make the Russians look like cartoon villains. And that’s exactly what Johnny Harris does here. Again, Russia’s imperialist acts against its neighbor are no more forgivable than Turkey or Saudi Arabia’s, but we should maybe mention that Russia’s invasion was a response to a violent coup supported by the United States against a democratically elected Ukrainian president.

The protests from November 2013 through February 2014 are never described as a coup in the Western press. The New York Times prefers to call it Euromaidan, or the Revolution of Dignity, but it was totally a coup. The standard story seems to be that Yakunovych had promised to sign an agreement with Europe, but then backed out at the last moment, so it was cool to kick him out. Well, Biden promised to end the war in Yemen, and he lied about that. Does that mean we should march on the capital and kick him out? Like those Trump supporters tried to do on January 6th 2021? I’m pretty sure that’s not how Constitutions work. The Ukraine protesters were of course younger, more sympathetic and more energetic than the Trumpists. They protested for months, not just a day or two. They were celebrated, and continue to be celebrated across all Western Media. I use stock footage a lot in my videos, and subscribe to a service called Storyblocks for most of it. Storyblocks usually has pretty limited footage of geopolitical events. But I have tons to choose from when it comes to Ukraine’s coup for dignity.

The massive US support for these 2014 protests is often justified by a bit of time travel on Ukrainian sentiment.

“It’s becoming less and less attached to the Russian heritage Putin so adores. And more than half of Ukrainians say they’d be down to join the EU, 64% of them say that they’d be cool joining NATO.”

Yes, obviously, today, 8 years after Putin fell into NATO’s trap and invaded, greater numbers of the Ukrainian public define themselves in opposition to Russia. I don’t doubt Harris’s numbers here at all. But that was emphatically not the case in 2014 when we were helping to organize protests in this foreign country. Russia had a high approval rating, and even the Washington Post conceded that the support for joining Western institutions was comparable to the numbers of Americans today who believe that Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

As the protests and the government response got more and more violent, the US doubled down on its support for the maidan movement more and more. Republican and Democratic US senators were on the ground, in Kyiv encouraging the protesters. And we went further than that. We picked the new government, weeks before the popularly elected pro-Russia president was chased out. This isn’t some far left grayzone conspiracy nonsense. Russian hackers recorded the calls, and you can read the transcripts at the BBC. I talked about this at length a year or so ago.

“You see in 2014 Nuland was in charge of the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy. This conversation was leaked in February 2014.

“And, you know, Fuck the EU”

While this passage made for better headlines, It was this bit that I have always found more compelling.

Nuland: I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government, I don’t think it’s necessary, and I don’t think it’s a good idea.

Pyatt: Yeah. I guess… in terms of him not going into the government, just let him stay out and do his political homework and stuff. I’m just thinking in terms of sort of the process moving ahead we want to keep the moderate democrats together. The problem is going to be Tyahnybok and his guys and I’m sure that’s part of what [President Viktor] Yanukovych is calculating on all this.

Nuland: [Breaks in] I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the… what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week, you know. I just think Klitsch going in… he’s going to be at that level working for Yatseniuk, it’s just not going to work.

You see this was before the coup in Ukraine.

That was Nuland basically organizing the government that would replace Ukraine’s popularly elected president after the 2014 coup. What followed our coup was the Russian annexation of Crimea, and the death of thousands of Ukrainians in a Russian supported uprising elsewhere in the country. This was the genesis of the first major shooting war in Europe since the 1990s, the solidification of Russia as a rogue state, and a fault line that still kills people to this day, over 7 years later. And Nuland’s name is on it directly. So I guess you would expect her to have been fired right? If not for everything else, at least for offending the EU right?

Hell no! Obama thought she did such a great job that he kept her there for another three years, and Biden has already nominated her as an under secretary of state. She hasn’t been confirmed yet, but it’s amazing that she’s even up for the job You can not make this stuff up.”

As I’ve thought about this over the past year, I’ve become a lot less mystified by Nuland’s continued success. She got the Biden admin job by the way. From the perspective of Ukraine, Europe, the US tax-payer, and the interest of humanity, Nuland’s continued rise is inexplicable. But when you consider the US government’s main aim, selling weapons, it makes total sense.

Victoria Nuland is one of the most successful US bureaucrats of the century. From Poland, to formally neutral powers like Finland and Switzerland, to even Greece and Romania eventually, Nuland’s Ukraine catastrophe has racked up billions upon billions of dollars of weapons sales. Putin’s every move results in more and more money for US defense contractors and the US military and US congress that they own. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nuland ends up as Secretary of State one day.

I don’t have much sympathy for Yanukovych, the ousted pro-Russia president of Ukraine. He lost power because his reactions to the protests got violent and erratic, but if the US hadn’t been heavily supporting those protests, would they have lasted long enough to create this reaction? Why is the fact that the US helped crush the Ukrainian constitution in 2014, leading directly to the dismemberment of the country almost never mentioned? Well, it would ruin effective propaganda passages like this.

“If China suddenly showed up and started like coaxing Canada into being a part of it’s alliance I would be a little bit like what’s going on here. That’s what Putin feels, and so I kind of get what he means there. There is this deep heritage and connection between these people and he’s seeing that falter and dissolve and he doesn’t like it… Ok, Ok, OK, OK, Putin I get it… but this does not justify what you’ve been up to, OK? It does not justify sending 100,000 troops to the border, or sending cyber-soldiers to sabotage the Ukrainian government or annexing territory, fueling a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people in Eastern Ukraine. No.”

What Harris just did there was mix and match bad things that Russia has done over the past decade, with absolutely no recognition of the things that the US and Ukrainian governments did to prompt these actions. The 22 minute video lacks even a simple timeline. Yes, Russia is undeniably the worse actor here, but if we want to avoid shooting wars in future, it might be a good idea to find out how the almost infinitely more powerful West also participated in creating these problems. Of course, the main interest of US government and media is not averting war. It’s selling weapons. And by telling one-sided stories like this one, Harris is helping the US government do exactly that.

The most frustrating thing about Harris’s video is the way that he perpetually gets so close to real criticism and critical thinking about the US position, but then refuses to follow through on it.

”The West started selling their ideology of democracy and capitalism, and then inviting them to join their military alliance, called NATO. And guess what, these countries are totally buying it. All these ex-Soviet countries are now joining NATO, and some of them, the EU, and Putin is hating this. He’s like not only did the Soviet Union divide, and all of these people are now outside of the Russia motherland, but now they are being persuaded by the west to join their military alliance. This is terrible news. Over the years this continues to happen, while Putin continues to chip away at Russian institutions, making them weaker and weaker. He’s silencing his rivals and he’s consolidating power in himself.”

Beyond the fact that his maps are just so much better than mine, Harris lays out two really important points here, right after another, and then refuses to connect them. Yes, Russia has been massively threatened by NATO expansion, and yes they have opted to submit to a progressively scarier strong man who fetishises strength and resistance… Do you think those two things may be related somehow?

After yesterday’s speech, I’m getting more open to the idea that Putin might be unbalanced somehow, but the continued refusal to accept that we have a Russia problem, not just a Putin problem is really frustrating. Putin’s continued tenure in power is most likely a result of NATO expansion, not something that NATO expansion defends against. I’m pretty sure that if pro-democracy campaigner Alexei Navalny were to jump out of jail and take Putin’s job, his policies on Ukraine would be very similar.

By personalizing the problem, and pretending we’re just dealing with Putin the bad boyfriend, we avoid looking into our part in creating these problems. And these problems could be killing thousands of people by the time this video is published. If we want to avoid contributing to more shooting wars in the future, the kind of lightweight propaganda Johnny Harris has given us on Russia just isn’t good enough.

Thanks for watching, please like subscribe and let me know what you think in the comments.