The Cable

State Department Cribs Dostoyevsky to Insult Putin

Is the State Department running out of ideas for strongly-worded statements condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine? On Wednesday, Foggy Bottom resorted to Russian literary references in its effort to dispel the Kremlin’s justifications for intervening in the Crimean peninsula. "The world has not seen such startling Russian fiction since Dostoyevsky wrote, ‘The formula ‘two plus ...

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Is the State Department running out of ideas for strongly-worded statements condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine? On Wednesday, Foggy Bottom resorted to Russian literary references in its effort to dispel the Kremlin’s justifications for intervening in the Crimean peninsula.

"The world has not seen such startling Russian fiction since Dostoyevsky wrote, ‘The formula ‘two plus two equals five’ is not without its attractions,’" reads a State Department fact sheet. The release goes on to dispel the Russian government’s claims that Kiev is trying to destabilize Crimea, endanger Russian-speaking citizens, and undermine Russian bases among other things. 

The quote in question comes from Dostoyevsky’s 1864 novella Notes from the Underground, a story about an embittered civil servant in St. Petersburg. It’s not the type of thing you typically see in an official government release, but then again, U.S. press releases were beginning to get a little repetitive a week after Russian strongman Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops streaming into the Crimea region of Ukraine, allegedly on humanitarian grounds.

The new sheet, titled "President Putin’s Fiction: 10 False Claims About Ukraine," does its best to dispute Putin’s suggestions that ethnic Russians are under threat in Ukraine, to take one example.

"Outside of Russian press and Russian state television, there are no credible reports of any ethnic Russians being under threat," reads the release. "There has been no surge in crime, no looting, and no retribution against political opponents." 

If the release is an appeal to Putin, who may or may not be a huge Dostoyevsky fan,  U.S. diplomats may still want to focus less on winning over Russia’s famously combative leader and more on winning over the European allies who have yet to back the Obama administration’s call for punitive sanctions against Moscow. Just sayin’.

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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