A senior Russian general, Sergei Kuralenko, this week quoted Mitt Romney, the U.S. Republican presidential candidate in 2012, as saying at the time, "We destroyed the Soviet Union, and we will destroy Russia."
The problem is that Romney said no such thing.
The remarks by Kuralenko, head of the academy of the general staff of Russia's armed forces and deputy commander of Russia's Western Military District, came weeks after Russian media outlets quoted U.S. Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump as harshly criticizing the International Paralympic Committee’s decision to ban Russian athletes from the 2016 Paralympics. The comments attributed to Trump turned out to be made up.
Kuralenko’s comments came during a forum in Moscow sponsored by the Russian Defense Ministry. According to a tape of the general’s remarks made by a conference participant, Kuralenko said, “I remind you that in 2012, U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, ‘Our target is Russia. Russia is a threat to the whole human race. Our goal is to force Russia to devour itself from the inside, bringing turmoil and division to its society. ... If the series of measures listed above don’t work, we will have no other choice but to declare a quick and victorious war against this country. We destroyed the Soviet Union, and we will destroy Russia.' I want to note that nearly 50 percent of Americans voted for Romney.”
As Kuralenko was speaking, the full text of the alleged Romney quote was projected on a screen behind him. That text quoted Romney as detailing the “series of measures” to be taken against Russia.
“We will set the Chechens, Tatars, Bashkirs [and] Dagestanis against the Russians," it said. "We must make them fight against one other. We must multiply actions aimed at discrediting the Russian Orthodox Church.”
In fact, the comments attributed to Romney were originally published in September 2012 by the satirical website Fognews, which at that time specialized in fake news. Fognews itself stated at the time that this and other “news” reports had been created in order to “ridicule stupidity and absurdity.”
In a March 2012 television interview, Romney called Russia the "No. 1 geopolitical foe" of the United States.
Little concern for truth
Independent military experts contacted by VOA’s Russian service said Russian military and civilian officials alike care little about the veracity of quotes they use, and are much more concerned about the effect they are trying to achieve by using such quotes. One such analyst, Alexander Golts, told VOA that many top Russian officials, from the president on down, have used false quotes.
“This is a disease not only of Russian generals,” he said. “The commander in chief of the Russian armed forces, Vladimir Putin, has made statements indirectly referring to a quote falsely attributed to former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that is floating around the Russian media, as has Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council. This is typical for the Russian leadership in general, which accepts totally uncritically any information seeming to demonstrate the evil plans of the West.
“The irresponsible game of fake quotes demonstrates their state of mind: The generals and the top leadership of Russia consider themselves as participants in a propaganda war,” Golts said. “They play a propaganda game aimed, first of all, at the Russian population, and secondly, at the international community. ... They think one quote or another fits with their worldview, which they want to spread, and they don’t care whether it is true or false. This is an Orwellian world, where truth does not exist.”
War seen as inevitable
Another Moscow-based independent military analyst, Pavel Felgenhauer, said Russian generals believe a war with the United States is inevitable.
“You simply have to understand that in Russia presently, any decision — domestic, foreign, fiscal, economic — is dictated by the military brass, by militarism, which, in short, has seized power,” he told VOA’s Russian service.
"In fact, what is happening now is what happened during the Cold War: Nonexistent threats are created; they are presented to the Kremlin leadership by military officials who rely on false data that is seemingly intelligence data,” said Felgenhauer. “Both Putin and [Russian Defense Minister Sergei] Shoigu, by and large, are puppets in the hands of the general staff, which has completely seized control of the threat assessment system. It conjures up every imaginable threat, as was the case in the '70's and '80's, when the Soviet general staff simply lied to the Politburo.”
Felgenhauer noted that in a speech to military officials in late August, Shoigu detailed how work to create a “Pacific line of defense” — extending from Chukotka, a region in Russia’s Far East due west of Alaska, southward to Vladivostok, due west of northern Japan — is moving ahead at full speed.
“An entire division of coastal defense [troops] will be deployed in Chukotka,” Felgenhauer said. “And the purpose of this division is to block the Bering Strait to any American shipping, to close off the Arctic to America. And this is only part of the major, very expensive work currently going on in preparation for the inevitable, in their opinion, future world war.”