‘Israel Lobby’ Author Takes Cash from ‘Putin-Approved’ Think Tank

John Mearsheimer enjoys close ties with pro-Moscow propagandists

John J. Mearsheimer, left, and Piotr Dutkiewicz at the Valdai conference in Sochi, Russia (AP)
August 31, 2023

The realist scholar John Mearsheimer, best known for his tome The Israel Lobby, has a curious acknowledgment in the preface of his latest book, How States Think: The Rationality of Foreign Policy.

Mearsheimer expresses gratitude to the Valdai Discussion Club for a grant that funded his research. What is the Valdai Discussion Group? The Moscow-based think tank, which has been described as a "Putin-approved" organization, hosts the Russian equivalent of Davos, gathering global elites to hear the latest talking points from the Kremlin.

The Valdai Discussion Club, which says its goal is to "promote dialogue between Russian and international intellectual elite," is staffed by former Russian state media figures and regularly hosts Russian president Vladimir Putin, as well as other high-ranking government officials. The group was founded by the Russian International Affairs Council, a think tank launched by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Mearsheimer is a University of Chicago professor and the co-author of The Israel Lobby, a 2007 book that argues pro-Israel forces in the United States control American foreign policy, to the country's detriment.

Mearsheimer's grant from the Valdai Discussion Club is notable given his contention that one particular foreign government exerts too much influence in the United States. In The Israel Lobby, published in 2007, Mearsheimer argued that pro-Israel forces in the United States control American foreign policy, to the country's detriment. He has since been a mainstay in the anti-Israel advocacy world, even endorsing the work of an alleged "Hitler apologist and Holocaust revisionist."

But Russia appears to be more than just another nation-state for Mearsheimer, a non-resident fellow at the anti-interventionist Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His work blaming the West for Russia's aggression toward Ukraine has been highly influential in the United States. After Russia invaded Ukraine without provocation last year, Mearsheimer's 2014 Foreign Affairs paper, "Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault," was widely cited by those who sought to limit U.S. involvement in the war. Updated versions of his argument—that NATO's expansion into Russia's sphere of influence directly caused the invasion—appeared in Foreign Affairs, the Economist, and the New Yorker and were favorably cited in left-leaning publications like Current Affairs, the Nation, and the Atlantic.

Mearsheimer has long enjoyed ties to the Valdai Discussion Club and participated in its annual gatherings that take aim at American leadership across the globe. Mearsheimer, for instance, traveled to Sochi in 2016 to hob-knob with Russian oligarchs at the Discussion Club’s yearly confab, which featured Putin as a speaker that year.

During the conference, Mearsheimer argued that the United States had "foolishly driven Russia in the arms of the Chinese."

"As a result of the U.S. unipolar positions, the United States tries to move NATO further and further eastwards, antagonizing Russia," Mearsheimer said. "American elites, both Republican and Democratic, failed to appreciate Russia's security concerns. Americans just refused to understand that."

Political scientist Daniel Drezner, a Russia expert who attended the 2016 conference, described it as the "Russian equivalent to Davos" and reported that the conference program described the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."

Mearsheimer received a 2019 award from the Valdai Discussion Club for his book, The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, which resulted in the grant that he says helped finance research for his latest book.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also has promoted Mearsheimer’s work, including last year when the propaganda outfit featured the author’s writings to justify Putin’s deadly invasion of Ukraine.

Mearsheimer did not respond to a Washington Free Beacon request for comment on how much money he received from the Valdai Discussion Club, which also did not respond to a request for comment.