Tired of Elon Muskʼs statements about peace with Russia? He is not alone — Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro and Joe Rogan are calling to stop helping Ukraine. Hereʼs how Western opinion leaders became the Kremlinʼs mouthpiece

Dmytro Rayevskyi
Yuliana Skibitska
Tired of Elon Muskʼs statements about peace with Russia? He is not alone — Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro and Joe Rogan are calling to stop helping Ukraine. Hereʼs how Western opinion leaders became the Kremlinʼs mouthpiece

Ангеліна Коткова / Getty Images / «Бабель»

A few weeks ago, the founder of the “Tesla” and “SpaceX” companies, Elon Musk, published a series of tweets on his Twitter where he reflected on the war with Russia. He suggested holding a repeat vote in the annexed regions of Ukraine under the supervision of the UN and called the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine “Khrushchevʼs mistake”. Then he explained that he supports Ukraine, but is afraid of a world and nuclear wars. At the same time, unconfirmed information appeared that Musk had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin before writing these tweets — thoug the businessman denied this. And in a few days it became clear that in September “SpaceX” demanded money from the Pentagon, and in case of refusal — warned that it could disconnect Ukraine from the Starlink service. In the end, Musk wrote that his company will continue to finance the “Starlink” connection in Ukraine. But the strange tweets didnʼt end there: on October 17, Musk again threatened nuclear war if Russia loses Crimea. Elon Musk is not the only well-known Western figure who publicly doubts that the West should help Ukraine. A whole group of intellectuals and opinion leaders has formed in the USA, who are putting more and more pressure on the White House, demanding an agreement with Russia. “Babel” tells how conservatives Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro, podcaster Joe Rogan and political scientist John Mearsheimer have become useful to the Kremlin.

Jordan Peterson

Peterson is a Canadian psychologist, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. He became popular in 2016 when he started publishing his lectures on YouTube. Now he has 5.7 million subscribers on the channel. Peterson criticizes the modern world, “political correctness”, “tolerance”, left-wing political currents and movements. He has many followers in different countries, in particular in Ukraine.

Jordan Peterson at The Cambridge Union. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire.

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In 2019, Peterson debated Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek. The main broadcast alone garnered 3.6 million views, excluding translations, segments and individual videos. In 2021, Petersonʼs new book Beyond Order. 12 more rules for life became a bestseller — more than 5 million copies were sold. The career of a public intellectual was quite successful until July 11, 2022, when Jordan Peterson decided to speak out about the war in Ukraine. His article Russia vs. Ukraine or civil war in the West? was published in the American magazine The Daily Wire. It quite surprised many of his fans, especially from Ukraine.

In the article, Peterson wrote that the Western countries were to blame for the war, which angered Russia with their foreign policy and “degenerate ideas”. Peterson called Russian President Putin a practicing Christian who “operates in philosophical and theological terms at a level unthinkable for a Western leader”. Petersonʼs plan to end the war is neutral status for Ukraine for 20 years and new elections under the control of Russian and Western observers. For some reason, Peterson accused Volodymyr Zelensky of introducing “draconian language laws against the Russian-speaking population of northwestern Ukraine” (there are almost no Russian-speaking people there). And then he wrote that Ukraine has energy resources on the coast of the Caspian Sea (which is more than 500 km from Ukrainian border). Social media users assumed that the professor in his analysis trivially confused Ukraine with Kazakhstan. It really has access to the Caspian Sea and a significant percentage of Russians in the north of the country. Some users mentioned that in 2020, Peterson was treating his addiction to medical drugs in Russia.

After the publication of the article, the Facebook community Jordan Peterson in Ukrainian, in which his works were translated, announced that it would cease its activities. But Peterson still has many fans and followers in different countries who continue to believe his analysis, despite its absurdity.

Joe Rogan

Stand-up comedian, athlete and UFC commentator, author and host of the super popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience, which has been running since 2009. Forbes estimated that in 2020, Roganʼs podcast was the highest-grossing in the world. The episode episode with Elon Musk got 64 million views, and the episode with Jordan Peterson got 31 million. Roganʼs broadcasts were valued for freedom of thought — he did not omit difficult topics and ambiguous questions. Rogan and his guests discussed conspiracy theories, climate change and cataclysms, “cancel culture” and other phenomena and trends in the modern world.

Joe Rogan at the UFC weigh-ins at the American Airlines Center on July 29, 2022 in Dallas, Texas.

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In May 2020, The Joe Rogan Experience moved to Spotify — under an exclusive license, new releases appear only there. For this, Rogan received $100 million. In January 2022, Rogan called immunologist Robert Malone, who denies the benefits of vaccinations against COVID-19. After that, Neil Young and some other musicians removed their music from Spotify in order not to share the same platform with Rogan. Spotify apologized and banned content about the harms of vaccination. Rogan himself, since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, has spread strange ideas that young people should not get vaccinated, and suggested treating COVID with Ivermectin, a drug against worms and other parasites that is often given to horses.

Since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Rogan has made many political podcasts. There were more and more people with an anti-Ukrainian position among the guests. For example, on October 11, there was an episode with former Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, who left the Democratic Party, calling it an “elitist cabal of warmongers”. Rogan did not appear to be a neutral host, beginning the program with the question: “Explain to the audience why the United States is funding the war in Ukraine and why we are sending so many weapons to Ukraine?” And Gabbard replied that “Joe Biden is just making money from this war”. And even earlier, comedian and political commentator Dave Smith was a guest on the podcast, who together with Rogan discussed how “Democrats are provoking a nuclear war by pushing NATO eastward and installing a pro-American puppet government in Ukraine”.

Joe Rogan is increasingly accused of overt political propaganda and spreading fakes. In an episode with Tulsi Gabbard, he told an old fable about how there was a school somewhere that had a cat litter box installed because one of the students identified itself as a cat. Moreover, Rogan claims that he personally knows what kind of school it is, but cannot say where it is located.

Ben Shapiro and Matt Walsh

Ben Shapiro is one of the most famous conservative intellectuals in the United States. He is only 38 years old, but he has already published seven books on social and political topics. He is the founder and editor of The Daily Wire magazine, hosts his podcast The Ben Shapiro Show, and for several years was a consultant and analyst for the conspiracy-minded conservative portal Breitbart News. His YouTube channel has 5 million subscribers. His book How to destroy America in three easy steps of 2020 is now constantly in the top sellers of Ukrainian bookstores.

Ben Shapiro speaks at Politicon 2018 in Los Angeles, California.

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During the first six months of the full-scale war in Ukraine, Shapiro took a moderate position: he blamed the Democrats and Joe Biden for lacking the political will to stop Russia, but generally supported aid to Ukraine. But in October, Shapiro radically changed his position. First, he wrote a column in which he said that perhaps Ukraineʼs territorial concessions to Russia are not such a bad idea in order to avoid a nuclear war. Then he declared in his podcast that Kyiv does not have the right to make independent decisions, because “he is not paying for this war”. Now Shapiroʼs position is as follows: the main goals of the USA in Ukraine have already been achieved, financial aid to Ukraine must be stopped, because the war can last a very long time.

His colleague on The Daily Wire, the well-known far-right columnist Matt Walsh, is even harsher. Shortly before the February invasion, he wrote: “Ukraine is not our country and not our problem. Anyone who would risk war with Russia for some random country 6,000 miles away is either a fool or a psychopath”. In March, he accused Volodymyr Zelensky of “pushing the United States into a world war”. And now he is publicly calling for an end to financial aid to Ukraine.

Matt Walsh speaks to attendees of the 2022 Young Womenʼs Leadership Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas.

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The Daily Wire publication itself has turned into a platform for spreading fakes about Ukraine and the war. So, for example, one of the articles claims that “the Ukrainian government is killing Ukrainians who are suspected of helping Russia”. The aforementioned Jordan Peterson also has a regular column in the magazine.

John Mearsheimer

Unlike Peterson or Shapiro, John Mearsheimer is not one of those public intellectuals who have become famous in the last decade. He is a well-known political scientist, a professor at the University of Chicago. His first known work, Conventional Deterrence, was published in 1983. In it, he analyzed how the beliefs of decision-makers about the outcome of a war affect success or failure.

Mearsheimer is the author of the theory of offensive realism. In his 2001 work, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, he argues that international relations remain chaotic and anarchic, with no agreements and norms of international law restraining states from aggression. Therefore, states should be distinguished only by their military potential. Even then, Mearsheimer was criticized for the fact that he hardly analyzes political regimes and does not see the difference between democracies and dictatorships, paying attention only to military power and the aggressiveness of foreign policy.

Since 2014, Mearsheimer has consistently blamed the West, not Russia, for the war in Ukraine. In August 2022, he gave an interview to the Indian channel CRUX, in which he stated that "the West forced Ukraine to poke the Russian bear in the eye", and now Putin cannot lose. In another speech, Mearsheimer stated that “it was the West that invented the myth of Putinʼs aggressiveness in 2014”. At the same time, the main topic of Mearsheimerʼs speeches and articles is a nuclear war, which, in his opinion, will definitely start if Russia loses the war. How exactly this is combined with the thesis that Putin is not really aggressive, the professor does not explain.

John Mearsheimer speaks at a panel discussion organized by the Political, Economic and Social Research Foundation (SETA) in Washington, USA.

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It is not surprising that with such a position, John Mearsheimer became very popular in the Russian media. Propaganda channels often refer to him. But American colleagues increasingly criticize Mearsheimer. Analyst and fighter for nuclear disarmament Joseph Cirincione wrote that Mearsheimer does not take into account the most important thing — Ukraineʼs basic right to defend itself and build its own future. Klaus Richter, a historian and specialist in Eastern Europe, noted that for Mearsheimer, as well as for many of his supporters, the call to “hear all sides of the conflict” for some reason does not imply that Ukraine, in fact, should be heard.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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