As 2023 Ends the Ghost of Walter Duranty Still Haunts The New York Times

Anders Aslund
December 31, 2023

You may not have seen the recent New York Times op-ed “Ukraine Doesn’t Need All Its Territory to Defeat Putin” by Serge Schmemann.

The ghost of Walter Duranty appears to haunt the Times, leading to its embarrassing dissemination of outrageous opinions.

Below, I share Friends of Ukraine Network member Anders Aslund’s destruction of Schmemann’s pathetic opinions and serious questioning of the Times’ views on the war. The newspaper, which clings to Duranty’s undeserved Pulitzer Prize despite the overwhelming evidence of his lying and the intentional publishing of disinformation and belittling of genuine contemporaneous journalism deserves all the criticism and more.


OPINION: New York Times Editorial Board Very Wrong

Absurd, incomprehensive and downright wrong – recent opinion in The New York Times would have Ukrainians give up swathes of their homeland and give Putin the benefit of the doubt.

By Anders Aslund

December 30, 2023, 3:29 pm

Little has enraged the pro-Ukrainian community more than The New York Times (NYT) with its Dec. 27 article "Ukraine Doesn’t Need All Its Territory to Defeat Putin." It was written by the hereditary Russian nobleman Serge Schmemann, a member of its editorial board.

Let me take it apart.

The issue is not "territory," as President Volodymyr Zelensky persistently emphasizes, but PEOPLE. Ukrainians in territories occupied by ruthless Russian soldiers are being killed, tortured and deported. Even a great Russian imperialist such as Schmemann must have heard about it.

Schmemann starts with caveats (presumably imposed by other NYT editors): Putin "is not trustworthy" and "he may be stalling in the hope that Donald Trump... will return to the White House and stiff Ukraine." The fact is that there is no reason to talk to Putin since he violates all agreements that he or his predecessors have concluded.

Even so, Schmemann makes the opposite point on no basis whatsoever and it permeates the rest of his article: "But if Mr. Putin turns out to be serious, Ukraine should not pass up an opportunity to end the bloodshed. Recovered territory is not the only measure of victory in this war."

As a great Russian imperialist, Schmemann disregards people – just like Putin – and thinks only about territory. Millions of Ukrainians live on occupied territory, and unlike other Ukrainian citizens, they suffer under Putin's ruthless repression. But then why would Schmemann and the NYT care about people?

Schmemann's next point is equally absurd, referring to "draining Ukrainian resources and lives without much prospect for change in the foreseeable future." We don't know, but presumably Russia has lost three times as many soldiers. Shouldn't Putin think of that? No, says our imperialist narrator.

"But regaining territory is the wrong way to imagine the best outcome. True victory for Ukraine is to rise from the hell of the war as a strong, independent, prosperous and secure state, firmly planted in the West." Schmemann gets this half right, but again he forgets the people, because he never thinks of them.

Next Schmemann turns suitably incomprehensible: "Those people who are resisting continued aid to Ukraine, whether some Republicans in Congress or Viktor Orban in Hungary, must not be allowed to abandon the Ukrainians now." Why? Are you challenging their position? Presumably, your editors complained.

"If Mr. Putin is seriously looking for a cease-fire, he is doing so on the presumption that the alternative is a continued slaughter of his soldiers..." Now Schmemann turns really dumb. As a true Russian imperialist, he knows that neither he nor Putin care about the Russian people, only about the Russian empire.

Schmemann proceeds to confirm his stupidity: "And stopping the fight is not to grant Mr. Putin a victory... Ukraine and much of the world will not accept his annexation of any Ukrainian territory." Wasn't that the essence of his argument?

As you would expect from Schmemann, he proceeds with another apparent lie: "In the European Union, Mr. Orban, the Hungarian prime minister and an admirer of Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump, has tied up approval of another 50 billion euros for Ukraine." Don’t we all know that is not true? Why does anybody write things that are obviously untrue? Doesn’t the NYT have any standards of truth?

After having got all the facts and all the arguments wrong, you would trust Schmemann to get the conclusion wrong, and he surely does: "But the only way to find out if Mr. Putin is serious about a cease-fire, and whether one can be worked out, is to give it a try." Trust Putin! Not the West! That’s evidently the conclusion.


Serge Schmemann has worked for the NYT since 1980. I have probably known him for three decades. He has always been a Russian aristocratic imperialist, apparently acceptable to the NYT editorial board, which celebrated their Stalinist Moscow bureau chief Walter Duranty in the 1930s. Admittedly, Schmemann is not celebrating the Holodomor like Duranty, but is he on the right side of history? No.

The unprofessionalism of the NYT is revealed in its correction: "A correction was made on Dec. 27, 2023: An earlier version of this essay misstated on which border Russia is opposed to having a full NATO member. It is on its western border, not eastern." How bad can you get?

Thinking more broadly about this awful article by Schmemann, the main positive surprise is probably that he as a Russian imperialist – unlike Putin – seems to recognize that Ukraine is a country and a nation, although he does not state that very clearly.

The ultimate question remains: Why does the NYT, which is apparently still considered a serious newspaper, allow such Russian imperialist views to be expressed on its opinion page by a member of its editorial board? Why doesn't it retire the 78-year-old Schmemann?

If Schmemann had been serious about peace (which he as a Russian imperialist is not), he would have called on Putin to withdraw from Ukraine, thus reestablishing peace. Putin has in no way offered any reasonable peace contrary to what the substandard NYT has reported.

The question remains, why is the NYT opposed to peace in Ukraine?

Anders Åslund is the author of “Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy.”