Media Criticism

Koch Network Smeared as Pro-Russia for Suggesting Sanctions Might Not Work

Progressive journalist Judd Legum wrongly framed Stand Together's statement as rooting for a partial Russian victory in Ukraine.


Stand Together is a charitable organization founded by Charles Koch that gives money to libertarian groups and causes. It works to advance classically liberal ideas on a variety of issues: school choice, criminal justice reform, regulation, and foreign policy, to name just a few. Stand Together works with right-leaning organizations on some of these issues, left-leaning organizations on other issues, and also with organizations that don't neatly fit the left-right paradigm. (Disclosure: Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason, receives support from Stand Together.)

Unfortunately, many progressive journalists—and even some populist conservatives—view everything connected to Charles Koch and his late brother David as nefarious by default. In their zeal to denounce the Koch brothers' influence on American politics, they end up attacking policies that they should otherwise support.

Case in point is this bizarre and misleading "exclusive" report on Stand Together from Judd Legum, a progressive journalist who writes the newsletter Popular Information. Legum accuses Stand Together of supporting a "partial victory" for Russia in Ukraine, and wanting the U.S. to drop "virtually all" Russian sanctions.

"In an internal email obtained exclusively by Popular Information, Stand Together, the influential non-profit group run by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch, argues that the United States should seek to deliver a partial 'victory' to Russia in Ukraine," writes Legum. "The email was sent to Stand Together staff by Dan Caldwell, the group's Vice President of Foreign Policy, on March 16. The subject line was 'An Update on Ukraine.'"

Nowhere in his article does Legum share the email in its entirety: Instead, he selectively quotes from it, leaving out important, clarifying context. He also takes great pains to portray skepticism of the long-term effectiveness of economic sanctions as some kind of kooky, fringe belief.

Legum describes Caldwell's email as offering a "boilerplate" denunciation of Russian President Vladimir Putin that "quickly pivots" to a "broad rebuke of international efforts to sanction the Russian government," as if the sentiment expressed is brief or insincere. Here is the relevant section of the email:

I wanted to take a moment to better connect you to our sense of things regarding the war in Ukraine.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is immoral, unjustified, and should be immediately halted. In addition, the regime of Vladmir Putin is authoritarian and has inhibited the Russian people from enjoying the benefits of a free and open society.

Throughout our decades-long history, our community has consistently stood against unjust wars and advocated for peaceful relations between nations.

So while we support the Ukrainian people, we also must do everything we can to prevent escalation and reduce the threat of nuclear conflict.

Understandably, the invasion of Ukraine and the suffering inflicted on its people by the Putin regime has evoked a strong response among us all. This has contributed to demands from some for the United States to take a more aggressive posture against Russia – including calls for actions that would entail direct military strikes against Russian forces, such as the imposition of a NATO no fly zone over Ukraine.

However, it is not in America's or anyone's interest for the war to escalate into a larger conflict between a nuclear-armed Russia and the United States. Especially not the Ukrainians, who will bear the brunt of a more violent and widespread conflict.

This is not to say the United States should do nothing.

I am not sure why Legum reads this as a "boilerplate" denunciation followed by a "quick pivot." I read it as sober and well-considered—in truth, I can't find anything with which to disagree. (Though perhaps Legum would say that I too am compromised by Koch dollars.)

In the next half of the statement, Caldwell expresses support for sanctions against specific Russian leaders, and says that broader sanctions should "never be taken off the table." But he perceptively questions whether broad-based, long-running sanctions have generally succeeded in the past, and provides various examples of regimes that withstood sanctioning:

The United States should support diplomatic efforts to help end the war. An outright victory by either Russia or Ukraine is increasingly unlikely and a diplomatic resolution is the path that best limits the bloodshed and minimizes the risk that the current war could escalate into a larger conflict.

On the question of sanctions, aggressive and targeted sanctions against Russian leaders are warranted. Additionally, sanctions are a legitimate tool of American statecraft and should never be taken off the table.

However, overly-broad sanctions rarely work as intended and often strengthen the authoritarian regimes that are being targeted while increasing the suffering of ordinary people – something you already see taking place in Russia. Additional examples of this dynamic in action include Iraq in the 1990s', Venezuela, Iran, and Afghanistan – all countries where people had no ability to hold their rulers accountable for the impact of the sanctions precisely because they were authoritarian regimes.

Most irresponsibly, Legum highlights the following line: "An outright victory by either Russia or Ukraine is increasingly unlikely and a diplomatic resolution is the path that best limits the bloodshed." He describes this as Stand Together advocating for the U.S. to "seek to deliver Russia a partial 'victory'."

But Caldwell clearly does not wish for Russia to achieve "victory," partial or otherwise; he is merely acknowledging that any peace will likely involve both Russia and Ukraine getting some things that they want. It's perfectly reasonable to concede that in order to end all the death and destruction, Putin will have to emerge from the conflict as something short of a complete and total loser.

Legum quotes two foreign policy experts—Brian Katulis and Daniel Fried—who think the current sanctions should remain in place and believe they are working to "reduce Putin's resources for further aggression." They are certainly entitled to that opinion; there is little reason to doubt that the sanctions are making things harder in Russia, including for ordinary Russians. But it is not crazy to wonder whether the sanctions will meaningfully prevent Putin from continuing the war in Ukraine, or whether the amount of suffering we are dispensing to the Russian people is ultimately counterproductive or even immoral.

Legum's article has drawn well-deserved criticism from Michael Cohen, a fellow at the Eurasia Group Foundation, and Emma Ashford, who works for the Atlantic Council. Both described Legum's piece as a "hatchet job," and rightly so.

In response, Legum criticized Cohen and Ashford on the grounds that their organizations also received Koch funding. But Legum's pet expert, Fried, is also affiliated with the Koch-funded Atlantic Council, so the insinuation that a Koch affiliation means we should automatically reject an expert's criticisms backfires in all directions here.

The overarching point of Legum's article is to cast aspersions on Koch Industries' decision to continue operating several glass manufacturing facilities within Russia. Koch Industries, for what it's worth, maintains it will not "walk away from our employees there or hand over these manufacturing facilities to the Russian government so it can operate and benefit from them."

But it's absurd to characterize Stand Together's skepticism of sanctions as anything other than a sincere belief held by some libertarians, noninterventionists, and a great many progressives. Indeed, Rep. Ro Khanna (D–Calif.), one of the most left-leaning members of the House, has taken an identical position. Progressive Reps. Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.) and Cori Bush (D–Mo.) voted against the U.S. ban on Russian oil imports.

Legum did not respond to a request for comment.

NEXT: Why Is Facebook Censoring Articles About How BLM Used Donations To Buy a $6 Million House?

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  1. LOL

    Charles Koch is a member in good standing of the progressive / neocon / corporate / libertarian #Resistance. When RUSSIA HACKED THE ELECTION and installed a 3 decade Kremlin asset as President of the United States, Koch-funded operations like Reason and Cato were as furious as The New York Times and MSNBC.

    How dare Judd (what kind of name is that anyway?) question Mr. Koch's patriotism.


    1. Thank Gaia you posted first. Now I know what the correct Koch-friendly stance is to take.

    2. Thank goodness Robby is there to clean up after the Koch mess. He's really got this one in the sack.

    3. You really need to stop injecting meth directly into your testicle.

  2. "The United States should support diplomatic efforts to help end the war."

    Problem is, the US government wants this war to go on as long as possible.

    1. Joe is itching to turn the whole place into glass to cover his tracks.

      1. I sure hope Russia doesn’t get their hands on those bio labs that totally don’t exist and have no financial ties to Hunter Biden.

    2. Fuck Joe Biden.

  3. The sanctions are doing a great job of having the brics (Brazil Russia India China South Africa) nations create a seperate economy that is backed by the Yun that will devalue the dollar

  4. However, overly-broad sanctions rarely work as intended and often strengthen the authoritarian regimes that are being targeted while increasing the suffering of ordinary people – something you already see taking place in Russia. Additional examples of this dynamic in action include Iraq in the 1990s', Venezuela, Iran, and Afghanistan – all countries where people had no ability to hold their rulers accountable for the impact of the sanctions precisely because they were authoritarian regimes.

    Cuba since 1960 is an even better example.

    The worst problem with national sanctions and embargoes is the gold-plated excuse for the rulers to show how oppressed they are. The best thing to do is allow trade, encourage it, so (a) the regime loses hard currency, (b) the people see what the "oppressors" have and can supply, (c) it switches the narrative with the onus on the rulers for blocking trade.

    1. And China is the counter-example of that.

      1. No it isn't.

        1. Isn't it? Part of the reason that China can create literal re-education camps were a unwanted minority is raped, beaten, and murdered without any reprisals, it's because their economic ties are so strong to the west.

        2. The Uyghurs and Tibetans, among many others, disagree.

      2. China has been remarkably civilized for a communist dictatorship. Xi deciding to go hardline, become dictator for life, and start swinging his military dick around the nine dash line, is not a guarantee of success, and has already cramped his economy. Lockdown protests show more domestic dissent than is usual in dictatorships, and neighboring countries are ramping up their militaries and alliances.

        No regime is permanent -- Trump was the first President in ages to try to tame the swamp, mostly reversed by Biden, whose own attempts will soon be reversed. Xi will suffer the same fate, as will Putin.

        Short term changes are useless indicators. Long term, if China pisses off its trading partners too much, they will suffer domestically, and they hold far too much in US Treasury bonds to get too uppity.

        1. So apparently you don't consider rape camps and forced organ harvesting bad things. I guess the genocide is fine too?

        2. "China has been remarkably civilized for a communist dictatorship."

          Full stop. Return to sender and try again.

    2. That was the German strategy re Russia since 1970 - Wandel durch Handel.
      The Ukraine invasion destroyed that belief in Germany. Seems really odd that the Koch's are defending that strategy without mentioning how it specifically applied to Russia up until a few weeks ago

  5. Koch isn't pro-russia but he is pro-money at whatever costs.

    Put simply, this fuck really doesn't honestly give a shit about the suffering of the Ukrainians or Russians or US entanglement. He's arguing solely for the purpose of making more money which this war is getting in the way of. That's his choice of course but it doesn't make him any less of a shitstain for arguing for it.

    But leave it to reason to defend its master of course.

    1. And you know this how? You're just making a claim about the man's motives with no justification. You can never truly know a person's motives; that's why it's better to address what they say or do.

    2. Cite shitlunches?

    3. Funny how people on the left are quick to demonize capitalists as evil people motivated only by profit, yet these same people genuflect to people in government as if joining government means they shed all desires, aspirations, and wants. It's just not possible that people in government are the actual evil ones because instead of wanting to preserve an increase their wealth through voluntary exchange, they want to preserve and increase their power by means of force and deception.

      1. also the graft.

        1. Power is an end, not a means. That's why governments around the world have willing thugs to enforce unjust laws and decrees. They don't care what they enforce, so long as they have the power to cause harm without consequence. That's what it's all about.

          So any time someone on the left laments about the intentions of capitalists, I shake my head. Capitalists acquire their wealth (absent rent seeking) through voluntary transactions. Why are they somehow immoral when compared to power seekers who wield force?

          1. Leftists aren't interested in installing a dictator or ideology whose primary motivation is keeping power for itself. They are only interested in using power as a means to a better society. If there are any authoritarian leftists in the US, they are so irrelevant that their only function in society is as a punchline.

            Meanwhile Republicans have no program other than securing their own power and a few reactionary moves to erase gay people and other minorities. Eye on the ball!

            1. I know about the Progressive agenda. Yeah, you guys are so filled with hubris that you think humanity can be improved with force. Because that's all government is. Force. And people are clay. Putty to be molded by our betters in government. Totally ignoring human nature and the rights of individuals.

              And I also know I cannot convince you that that's pure evil.

              As far as Republicans go, I'm not one so I'm not going to defend them.

              Rather as a libertarian I subscribe to the original intention of the Founding, which is a government that protects individual liberty while providing an environment where people can pursue happiness in their own way. Let society shape itself.

              As opposed to a government that uses coercion and violence to shape society in a manner pleasing to the elite.

              1. As a libertarian you hate government because it is force.

                Thus, you think government should restrict itself to those activities that involve shooting or caging people.

                It still doesn't make any goddamn sense.

                1. It will never make sense because you, as a progressive, actively reject the concepts of natural rights and individual autonomy.

                2. That last comment wasn't a snark. I truly believe, Tony, that you really cannot comprehend the concept of limited government. You don't get it. And it is because, in my belief, you reject the concepts of natural rights and individual autonomy. If you accept that we have natural rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then that places limitations on power. That creates a sphere where individuals decide their own fate within certain limitations. But you don't want that. You want total power. You want everyone subservient to the state administered by experts.

                  Am I wrong?

      2. Which leftist thinks that people are virtuous automatically by being in government? What a nonsensical thing to claim.

        1. I can count exactly zero times I've seen leftists express concern over accumulated power unless the other team is in charge.

          1. "Accumulated power"? As opposed to what, distributed power? As in democracy? As in the thing leftists are for and Republicans are destroying?

            I didn't make it such a stark choice. Newt Gingrich did. I think the only blind spot here is yours, pretending that there is no such thing as an abuse of power that happens in the private sector.

            1. As opposed to what, distributed power?

              Yes. What do you think would happen if federal regulators weren't dictating the amount of water that is allowed to pass through a shower head? Who would have the power to decide? You got it. Individual people. Doesn't get much more distributed than that.

              1. I dunno. Water is a finite resource. I tend to think that there are good-faith public servants in the world. Call me sentimental. It just seems like a waste of life to restrict shower flow for the purposes of mere sadism.

                1. Why should I, someone who lives next to a river, be forced to ration water as if I live in a desert? Why? Because government forces "solutions" onto everyone. And so what if there are good-faith public servants. I'm sure the people loading Jews into railcars thought they were doing society a favor.

            2. pretending that there is no such thing as an abuse of power that happens in the private sector

              I don't pretend that doesn't happen. Markets aren't perfect. The difference is that the market tends to correct these abuses. They never last for very long.

              As opposed to what Milton Friedman said "There's nothing more permanent than a temporary government program."

              Markets are self correcting. Government never corrects itself.

              1. Government corrects itself every two years in things called elections.

                Markets are known to fail, taking us all down with them. Every experiment in laissez-faire is not only a global disaster, they're not even really experiments in laissez-faire, since there is no conceptual reality to a market without government interference. It's a fantasy. Extra credit capitalists give themselves for capturing all the government power for themselves.

                1. Government corrects itself every two years in things called elections.

                  No it doesn't. When most of the rulemaking is by unelected bureaucrats in the administrative state, there is no correcting at all. Elections don't make a difference when the people writing law aren't elected.

                  1. A little inertia is a good thing in a complex society. Perhaps even an inevitable thing.

                    But corporations aren't even democratic, as a rule, so what are you talking about? The magical market invisible hand? When has that ever worked as advertised? The biggest backers of that philosophy are extraction billionaires whose lack of oversight is killing the habitable environment of planet earth. When is the market going to get around to solving that problem?

                    1. But corporations aren't even democratic, as a rule, so what are you talking about?

                      Corporations, unlike government, don't use violence to get their way. Also, unlike government, corporations come and go.

                      The magical market invisible hand?

                      It is pretty magical, isn't it?

                      When has that ever worked as advertised?

                      Nobody said markets are perfect, but they're infinitely better than government for many reasons. They change and adapt. They don't use violence to get their way. And they're completely voluntary.

                      The biggest backers of that philosophy are extraction billionaires whose lack of oversight is killing the habitable environment of planet earth. When is the market going to get around to solving that problem?

                      I don't believe in your climate religion, but for argument's sake let's say anthropogenic global warming is real. If it is, then that means we're going to have to adapt.
                      How will we better adapt, through millions of people trying millions of ideas in the marketplace, or by a few elites imposing their will through violence? I know your answer, and it isn't mine.

                2. Markets are known to fail, taking us all down with them.

                  Yes markets are not perfect. That's why every now and then there is a reallocation of capital, otherwise known as a market correction. And they suck because people who invested in tulips lose their shirts.

                  What takes everyone down with them are the government interventions when this happens. People in government have tulips and have friends with tulips. So they're going to do whatever they can to prop up the price of tulips. And in the process they fuck everything up. Look at the Great Depression. Would have been just another market correction if FDR hasn't used coercion and violence to fuck up the reallocation of capital.

                  1. That is blatant revisionist history. Utter nonsense. You don't get to just assert alternative versions of history because they are convenient to your rhetoric. So I'm going to accept the overwhelmingly orthodox view of not only how the Great Depression ended but also the narrative of the Great Recession as well as the fact that the US economy did pretty OK despite a global pandemic that cratered demand. And Donald Trump was the one who did the first covid relief!

                    Nobody in American politics even talks about laissez-faire anymore. I do think that's unfortunate, because Republicans without even the pretense of government restraint are quite dangerous.

                    1. You don't get to just assert alternative versions of history because they are convenient to your rhetoric.

                      I can point to dozens of recessions that resolved themselves relatively quickly without government intervention.

                      I cannot point to a single recession in which the government intervened that was a short as the longest recessions that resolved themselves without government intervention.

                      Sure you can argue that the ones where government intervened were especially bad. Or you can apply common sense and see that government didn't help. It made things worse.

  6. I don't know Robby this seem credible to me at least by your standards of proof. I'll just have to assume you and the rest of Reason are Putin puppets now.

    1. Good enough for the Orange Goose…

  7. Biden has said over and over that sanctions are not intended to deter, so how can they not 'work'?

  8. When another video of Ukrainian soldiers committing atrocities drops:

    1. It's not happening
    2. Ok it's happening, but it's not common
    3. Sure it's commonly happening, but it's not unusual (or both sides) because war
    4. Yes, it's happening, it's common, it's only one side - and it's a good thing


    BREAKING: Ukraine's Zelensky faces criticism in Greece after bringing a Neo Nazi member of the Azov battalion alongside him during his address to the Greek Parliament.


    Bloomberg Economics expects Russia will earn about $320 billion from energy exports this year, up by more than a third from 2021.


      The Russian ruble is officially worth more now than it was before military operations in Ukraine began.


  11. Koch Network Smeared as Pro-Russia for Suggesting Sanctions Might Not Work

    Wow, way to be cautious. I think at this point it would be more accurate to say, "Aren't working" vs "might not work".

  12. Shouldn't sanctions make Russia rich? I mean, if when our own government uses tariffs to make imports more expensive, aren't they making us wealthier by encouraging the consumption of domestic goods? This makes us all richer because buying American is always better than buying something else. It creates jobs which create wealth that make us richer when we buy domestically made stuff. Follow the logic of the protectionists to it's conclusion and self sufficiency must be the path to prosperity.

    If that is the case, then Russia will only benefit from sanctions.

    1. Aw, Turkey!

  13. For damn sure "sanctions" that exempt millions of dollars a day won't work.
    Neither will slow walking weapons deliveries.
    Neither will an Iran deal that funnels billions to Russia.
    You would thing maybe Russia had something on the president and his family.

    1. Damn that autocorrect! And damn the lack of an edit button!

      thing = think in the last sentence

  14. What is completely missing is Putin's overarching goal re this invasion. He and his putains have already said this ain't just about Crimea or Donbass. It is about entirely eliminating any notion of independent/westernized thinking among Ukrainians (denazification = deukrainization). About restoring the Soviet Union as completely Russian dominated (say byebye Baltics). And either recreating or expanding an imperial Russia (say byebye Finland and Poland).
    Obviously we shouldn't be directly intervening. But if sanctions are the only response - and sanctions are opposed in practice - then you really are saying Putin should be appeased and Munich is the foreign policy model here. That didn't work either did it.

    1. Edit: Obviously no one believes that sanctions are the only response. But sternly worded letters are even less effective than sanctions

      1. Sternly worded letters might not be quite as counterproductive as sanctions, though.

        Since that low point on March 7, however, the Russian ruble has staged a dramatic recovery. At the time of writing, it was trading at 84 to the dollar, which is right back where it was at the time of the invasion. And this is no dead cat bounce. It’s a sharp and sustained recovery that made the ruble the top performing currency in the world in the month of March.

        And yet, all of the sanctions imposed when the war began are still in place, and in some cases they’re even more robust. So how have the Russians managed to revive their currency?

        The Hole in the Wall Gang
        There are several components to this recovery. The first is thanks to the enormous hole in the sanctions imposed by the coalition of countries allied with the United States: natural gas. The sanctions are designed to restrict Russia’s ability to acquire foreign currency, and dollars and euros in particular. But several European countries continue to buy Russian gas, because they have become so dependent on it, and there are not enough alternative suppliers to meet demand.

        1. The ruble exchange rate is not really an effect of sanctions. Just the back and forth response of pricing gas in rubles rather than euros/dollars.
          Regardless, sanctions are merely the means to an end. Not the end itself. If they don't work, then you still have to figure out what will achieve that end. Not just pretend that the means are the end.

          1. Unfortunately, like COVID lockdowns and vaccines, that's not how sanctions were sold...

            From March 8th:

            They are preventing Russian banks from using the SWIFT communication system, which is essential for financial institutions to transfer money internationally. They've been pushing Russian corporations to the brink of collapse. They've driven the value of the Russian ruble to record lows. As a result, Russians have been lining up at ATMs and desperately trying to convert their rubles into stable assets, like hard goods or other currencies.

            Oxford Economics, an analysis company, estimates the Russian economy could shrink by as much as 7% as a result of the sanctions. For comparison, that's almost double the amount the U.S. economy contracted during the Great Recession. Expect business failures, skyrocketing unemployment and countless miseries for the Russian people.

            May you be infested with the fleas of a thousand camels!

    2. LOL

      Branch covidian seamlessly transitions to State Department parroting Ukraine bot.

    3. What is completely missing is Putin's overarching goal re this invasion.

      Yes, and your propaganda addled mind obviously has no idea what Putin's "overarching goal" actually is.

      Obviously we shouldn't be directly intervening.

      Obviously not! That would be bad for the stock price. The plan is instead to have a drawn out proxy war, as part of which trillions are handed out to contractors and military industries, while at the same time further eroding the rule of law and civil liberties, imposing more constraints on the international financial system and cryptocurrencies, and massively driving up the price of fossil fuels.

      The fact that the lives of millions of Ukrainians are destroyed needlessly in this proxy war and that the standard of living of Americans and Europeans is eroding, well, obviously, neither you, JFree, nor Biden, give a f*ck.

      1. Putin himself wrote an article last summer saying that Ukraine is by definition a failed state that is anti-Russia (aka nazified) merely if it exists separate from Russia. He has written and spoken plenty about restoring the Soviet Union as a purely Russia sphere of influence. And his terms are those originated by Stalin and the 19th century empire and pan-Slavists. His goals are quite clear if you care to pay attention

  15. Sorry, Robby, but this guy is a Journalist™, so I have to give him the benefit of the doubt. If you aren't sufficiently on board with the Biden/Clinton/Soros/Schwab plan to gin up a nuclear war with Russia in order to wipe out large parts of Europe and the United States and bring on the Great Chinese Reset then you are one of Putin's many pawns.

    1. It's Sean Penn's plan. And when Sean Penn tweets, the elites listen.

  16. The lazy brain farts of this one kook billionaire have damaged the planet, and the United States specifically, beyond all reckoning.

    If you're capable of even a microscopic amount of introspection or objectivity, consider for one moment the possibility that laissez-faire crony capitalism is a destructive, rather than productive, thing for humanity. Consider the damage that necessarily has been done in service of a cause that is flawed to the point of human extinction.

    When would you decide you'd done enough atoning?

    1. Laissez-faire literally means "hands off" while crony capitalism is government granting favors. You're arguing against an oxymoron.

      1. No market can possibly exist without a government granting favors. That's what property is. What free marketers object to is rules that make them accountable to society in addition to the ones that let them accumulate wealth.

        1. As I said above, I do not believe your brain can comprehend limited government and capitalism because you reject natural rights and the rights of individuals. If you did then you'd understand that property precede government, and that government protects property rights rather than creating them.

          1. I comprehend natural rights perfectly. I just articulated what they are.

            "I get everything I need from government, and the stinking poor get less than nothing. Why? Because it's natural. Why is it natural? Because I say so."

  17. Koch Network Smeared as Pro-Russia for Suggesting Sanctions Might Not Work

    Yes, that's an absolutely laughable accusation, given that it is evident that the "Koch Network" is in bed with the MIC, wants to send large amounts of weapons to Ukraine, and wants to wage a proxy war against Russia in Ukraine.

    1. The surviving Koch is nothing but Soros' servile little toady at this point

  18. It's very interesting that Charles Koch is bothered, and Reason is white knighting for him, because of the musings in a no-name newsletter. Apparently, Mr. Bean is a serious threat to Charles Koch's efforts.

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