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Leave Vladimir Putin Aloooooone!

[ 196 ] February 10, 2014 |

I’m so old I remember I remember when Christopher Caldwell was supposed to be a reasonable, moderate, thinking person’s reactionary. At least the last of those still applies:

Western critics of Russia’s Sochi Winter Olympics have picked up too much speed and risk skidding off piste. A justifiable attempt to scrutinise the government of President Vladimir Putin has degenerated into an exercise in schadenfreude and ill will.

Now, don’t think that Caldwell is blind to all of Putin’s flaws (apologia italicized):

Certainly Mr Putin’s respect for the democratic process has been fitful at best. Political opponents have been arrested and jailed throughout his time in office, even if several were released in December. He cracked down on a peaceful demonstration in May 2012, and eight of those arrested are still facing trial. Such conduct merits scrutiny, even if an Olympics is not the best forum. Of course, Mr Putin did not come out of nowhere.

“Fitful respect for democracy ” is…one way of describing a leader who not only routinely suppresses dissent but refuses to hold competitive elections. “Authoritarian” would be the far more accurate term.  But, you know, George Bush did see his democratic soul.

Does Caldwell dismiss the systematic violence against gays and lesbians, indirectly and directly supported by the state, in Putin’s Russia as a mere “short list of causes beloved of western elites”? Of course. The rest is a classic of poetic justice as fairness, as Caldwell argues that Pussy Riot had it coming, and then argues that liberals are really just like Putin anyway:

But “stand quietly by” is what many of these writers did when the UK’s Labour government passed a blasphemy law just eight years ago (the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006), at the behest of some of the very groups (including the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs) that tried to ban Mr Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, in 1989.

First, note the “uncited liberals have not criticized every injustice and therefore should not criticize any injustice” move, a longtime self-refuting favorite of conservative hacks.  The other argument is no better.  I would not have voted for any version of the British statute, which strikes me as overbroad. But to call is a ban on “blasphemy” is grossly misleading at best, the Muslim-baiting attempts at guilt-by-association farcical, and to make it equivalent to Putin I’m afraid Caldwell is going to have to ID some political dissenters in the UK subjected to lengthy prison terms.

I wish I could say that Caldwell is was an outlier on the American right, but sadly, no. John Yoo, after all, did not come out of nowhere.

Comments (196)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Russia does not have 25% of the world’s prison population. USA does.

    Russia does not operate gulags. USA has one in Cuba.

    Russia does not invade and bomb other nations unprovoked. USA does.

    Russia is not persecuting whistle-blowers. USA is.

    Do not throw stones in glass houses. There are issues more important in this world than homosex.

    • Walt says:

      So since the US does bad things, the Russians have no choice but to jail gays and lesbians? Intriguing if true.

    • witless chum says:

      Russia does not lead the comment section in non sequitors, so there! (stamps foot)

      • Dilan Esper says:

        In Russia, comment section leads you!

        More seriously, what I would say about Putin is that he is fairly popular, and his unpopularity in the US has as much to do with his insistence that Russia is a great power and his rejection of US unipolarity as it does his treatment of gays.

        The problem is that while the world probably benefits from a nuclear power who can stop the US from engaging in imperialist actions like attacking Syria, that doesn’t justify all of the arrests on journalists, personal corruption, or homophobia. Putin is a bad person despite playing a useful role.

        • Walt says:

          But if that’s true, then why do conservatives loves Putin so much?

          • Dilan Esper says:

            I think many conservatives, at the back of their minds, worship authoritarianism. I remember Pat Buchanan praising Hugo Chavez on the McLaughlin Group.

            Bear in mind that Putin-love isn’t universal among conservatives. Many right-wingers, such as John McCain, hate the guy.

            • DrS says:

              I think many conservatives, at the back of their minds, worship authoritarianism

              A lot of them seem pretty upfront about loving authority, so I’m not sure about the back of the mind.

              Sure, they have to couch it in weird terms, cause they also think Putin is a commie, but they love nothing more than someone squashing the people they feel need to be squashed.

            • Heron says:

              I’d agree with this. You should have seen the embarrassment Cons posting at Fark would frequently make of themselves whenever Putin did one of his famous photoshoots. Seriously; the intensity of their appreciation for Dictator-Beefcake, as well as their admiration for his personal photographer, was quite impressive.

          • herr doktor bimler says:

            Authoritarian and kleptocrat. Swoon!

        • aimai says:

          Wait, what?

          and his unpopularity in the US has as much to do with his insistence that Russia is a great power and his rejection of US unipolarity as it does his treatment of gays.

          Russian insistence that it is a “great power” is so taken for granted that it was the entire running joke of Star Trek the first incarnation. Is there anyone in the real world who gives a flying fuck what Russia’s leadership says about how important Russia is, and always has been or that Russia refuses to accept some right wing notion that the US is the only important power in a unipolar world? Those are Right Wing Shibboleths and as the commenter above me points out (Walt) it is the right wing in the US who love Putin. The rest of us-the center/left? can you point to me anyone who dislikes or disputes Putin’s autocratic rule on the grounds that it hurts our fee fees as a dominant power? I can’t think of anyone center/left who gives a shit about Russian claims on those grounds. Or aren’t we also Americans?

          • Another Holocene Human says:

            Let’s not dismiss Russia (and the Ukraine, which it is actively and strenuously trying to convert into a client state again) so quickly.

            Russia–and the Ukraine–was the world’s breadbasket until the US government opened up the Midwest to large-scale grain farming after defeating the Plains Indians, ending the Civil War, and building supply line railroads to ship the grain to port. When American production ramped up it caused the Panic of 1871-1872 and the beginning of the utter collapse of farm economy, where prices came in under the cost of production, until gov’ts–such as the US in the 1930s–finally clued up that they were going to have to subsidize grain production. (Of course, that didn’t preclude them from telling OTHER gov’ts that subsidizing and protecting their own ag was an unfair trade practice and using their power to dump surplus grain in their regions, labeled “aid”.)

            Cheap US grain helped trigger the pogroms that drove Jews from Eastern Europe west (with the Tsar’s police as provocateurs) and destabilized the Tsarist regime leading ultimately to the Communist revolution. In the US there was the farm depression of the 1920s and then the great depression. The 1920s was an outbreak of unprecedented xenophobic violence, an orgy of lynching, “race riots”, openly racist and hateful rhetoric in every mass medium, bolstered by peak racist in Academia and outwardly racist, genocidal government policy on the federal and state level.

            Food, after air and water, is one of the most primal human needs. The fact that these two regions are the biggest grain producers is a big fucking deal. It’s never not going to be important, imo.

            Ag props up the US’ economy, btw. Most Americans dont’ realize this at all and sound like f*cking idiots on anything having to do with labor, economic, trade, or industrial policy.

            • ajay says:

              Ag props up the US’ economy, btw.

              It employs about 2% of the population and represents 1.2% of the US economy. That’s not much of a prop.

              • sibusisodan says:

                I think in the sense of ‘is required for functioning’ rather than ‘is the engine of growth’ ag probably does prop up a lot of our economies.

                I wonder what the largest world economy is which has to import a significant percentage of its food?

                • elm says:

                  I would think Japan. And if not them, the UK.

                • ajay says:

                  I think in the sense of ‘is required for functioning’ rather than ‘is the engine of growth’ ag probably does prop up a lot of our economies.

                  Well, yes, but that’s trivial. You could say the same about any sector of the economy. Banking. Petrochemicals. Electronics. Transport. Construction.

                  I wonder what the largest world economy is which has to import a significant percentage of its food?

                  Has to, or does? Britain could feed itself, in a siege situation, quite comfortably if we ate less meat and less fruit. But it doesn’t, because we like meat (and tomatoes, and oranges, and so on).

                  Japan is actually a net exporter of food by dollar value. So, for that matter, is Britain.

                  Of the advanced economies, the net importers of food by dollar value are the US (just), Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Hungary, Ireland, Denmark, NZ, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain. Mostly the net import is a couple of percent of total production, except for Australia (9%) and NZ (24%).

            • DAS says:

              and the Ukraine, which it is actively and strenuously trying to convert into a client state again

              Many Ukrainians are none too happy about this. If Putin goes any further, there will be Ukrainian Orthodox Priests lining up to be the first to officiate at gay weddings for Pussy Riot members.

          • cpinva says:

            “Or aren’t we also Americans?”

            not real ‘murkans.

        • witless chum says:

          I guess I’m not too sure that Russia keeping the UN from acting against Syria is any better than the US keeping it from acting against Israel.

          And I think that Putin’s unpopularity in this comment section is mostly about the authoritarianism and state-sponsored gay hating and violence.

        • Another Holocene Human says:

          His popularity is due to:
          hippie punching
          gay baiting
          Muslim killing

          and naked bear wrestling. probably that mostly

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          he is fairly popular

          If only there was some mechanism to allow us to tell his genuine level of political popularity. We could call it a “competitive multiparty election.”

          Russia is not persecuting whistle-blowers.

          Fascinating, tell me more!

          • Another Holocene Human says:

            In Russia, secret police kill you gently, in your sleep. No worries!

            • panda says:

              Every reputable public poll in Russia put his favorability at somewhere between 55 and 65 percent. Unfortunately, the antigay laws Putin passed are even more popular. The reason that Putin won’t allow free elections is less about him fearing not getting re-elected, and more about the fact that in a free election, his cronies in the Duma will not get reelected, and the political machine that he is just the a part off will collapse.

              • mpowell says:

                But that’s the entire problem! Without that political machine he doesn’t get to maintain a media/political environment that is so conducive to his popularity. Alternative parties with different views of national issues could emerge with charismatic leaders. Then he would be stuck in the normal predicament of ‘can’t win more than half the time’ of normal democratic politics. But this way, he can pretend that his ‘popularity’ gives his dictatorship legitimacy.

              • Richard Hershberger says:

                Or, to put it another way, 35 to 45% of Russians dislike Putin so much that they are willing to tell this to a random stranger asking them impertinent questions despite the dire possible consequences.

          • joe from Lowell says:

            Dilan manages to not only not care about any bad things done by non-Americans, he somehow manages not to even know about them.

            Because he’s so much more worldly than us hypnotized sheeple, I guess.

            • Dilan Esper says:

              I said above that Putin is anti-democratic, anti-gay, and is jailing journalists. How, exactly, is that evincing that I don’t care about such things.

              I do, of course, care a lot more about bad things done IN MY NAME. I can’t stop Kim Jong Un from torturing people, but George W. Bush’s torture was an indefensible outrage.

              If you look past snark and actually think about the substance of what you are implying here, it is really stupid.

          • Daragh McDowell says:

            Actually the Levada centre, which is widely regarded as accurate and unbiased, puts his popularity in the mid to high 60s. Now there are a lot of reasons for this, including state dominance of the media, but a lot of it is also due to pensions being paid, wages going up, the president not being a running joke etc.

            • panda says:

              Right. Basically, for many less-educated, less well off Russians, who had lived through something very similar, if not worst then, the Great Depression, he is very much a FDR-like figure.

            • Josh G. says:

              If your country has been kicked around, disrespected, and looted for a couple of decades, then an authoritarian leader who restores order and puts a stop to these humiliations is going to be popular, even if he is harsh and brutal. This is why Hitler was so popular in Germany in the 1930s and why Putin is so popular in Russia now.

              In the long run, the Western treatment of Russia in the 1990s may be remembered as a historical blunder on par with the Treaty of Versailles.

          • Dilan Esper says:

            If only there was some mechanism to allow us to tell his genuine level of political popularity. We could call it a “competitive multiparty election.”

            That’s the best method, but it’s not the only method.

            I remember conservatives being convinced that if Juan Gonzalez came over here to get his son Elian, he would never go back to Cuba. The idea that Castro actually had supporters on the island never entered their brains.

            Putin’s got a base of support. He represents a real turn in Russian public opinion, away from Yeltsin and towards the caudillo / mano dura style politics that is often seen in Latin America as well. It’s a mistake to assume that just because he is anti-democratic he isn’t popular.

            • jb says:

              Precisely. It is very possible for a leader to be both a). authoritarian and/or repressive, and b) broadly popular.

              Some examples: Nasser, Fidel Castro (at least for the first few decades), several African nationalists (Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Leopold Senghor, Thomas Sankara) the Sandinistas (popular for the first several years, there are arguments about whether they were authoritarian and/or how authoritarian they were), Hugo Chavez (not strictly speaking a dictator, but definitely had authoritarian tendencies), and others. Some military governments were also popular initially as the people they overthrew were sometimes regarded as corrupt. Hell Joseph Stalin is still remembered fondly by many Russians! If dictators as bad as that still have some supporters, it is not terribly surprising that many Russians support Putin.

              • jb says:

                People value freedom, but it is not the only thing they value, and they are sometimes willing to trade it away to someone who promises to improve their situation, overturn an oligarchy, or stomp on a despised minority. That this always turns out badly in the end does not really deter people from making that choice. Some dictators also overthrew previous corrupt and repressive regimes, or show concern (whether genuine or feigned) for the lower classes, which helps them build up their support. (This is particularly true of some Latin American dictators).

                People in a dictatorship may also support it because they fear its overthrow would lead to something worse, such as a much worse dictatorship, or the persecution of their group. This is the case with some Christians and Alawis in Syria, who support Assad not because they like him, but because they are afraid that his overthrow will lead to an Islamic state in Syria and to them being persecuted or driven out (a fear which Assad has played upon to gain their support). This also applies in certain other Arab dictatorships. See also the many right-wing dictatorships which gained support both from the U.S. government and from a certain segment of their populace because they were supposedly preventing a Communist revolution.

                Moreover, many countries have little experience with democracy, and the populace is often used to dictatorship of one kind or another. (though that doesn’t mean they like it)

                All of these factors may help explain why people might support dictatorships.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          The problem is that while the world probably benefits from a nuclear power who can stop the US from engaging in imperialist actions like attacking Syria

          Since when do you have to be a nuclear power to cave to American demands and disarm your client state?

          I know, let’s ask the Syrians how grateful they are for Russian actions during the civil war.

          Sheesh, provincial much?

          • Dilan Esper says:

            Assad is going to come out of this in power in Syria. Having used chemical weapons.

            I’d say that the Russians are winning this particular fight, and it isn’t close.

            More importantly, they stopped a US invasion, and basically any sort of check on American power– which is fundamentally evil and bent on world domination– is good. And Putin provided one.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              More importantly, they stopped a US invasion

              Well, if your impressions are this grounded in the facts, then who am I to argue?

              But beyond how fact averse you are, I’m just gong to leave this here:

              Assad is going to come out of this in power in Syria. Having used chemical weapons… basically any sort of check on American power– which is fundamentally evil and bent on world domination– is good. And Putin provided one.

              So now it’s good that a dictator who used chemical weapons will remain in power, because AMERICA SUCKS!

              Please, Dilan, tell us more about evil. You seem to have some insight.

              • Dilan Esper says:

                I think it’s good that America doesn’t get to dictate who the leader of Syria is.

                Because I think having one country dominate the world is extremely bad. Especially my country, which suffers from both a messiah complex and the threat of losing a lot of lives in fulfilling that role.

                And no, that doesn’t mean I favor oppression in Syria, any more than the opponents of the Iraq War favored Saddam Hussein’s brutalities. You are a simplistic idiot who demagogues war and peace.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  I think it’s good that America doesn’t get to dictate who the leader of Syria is.

                  So good, in fact, that it overrides such lesser considerations as whether the leader of Syria uses poison gas.

                  And no, that doesn’t mean I favor oppression in Syria

                  Yes, your glee at the thought of Assad continuing as dictator really makes that clear.

                  You are a simplistic idiot who demagogues war and peace.

                  Lol, you project more than an IMAX theater. Hey, non-simplistic non-demagogue, name for me an American military action you didn’t denounce as murder.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  Yeah, I don’t think we are the arbiter of who gets to use poison gas, or depleted uranium, or drones, or nuclear weapons, and who doesn’t.

                  I do think the UN gets a say in those things, and I had no objection to the UN taking action against the Syrians.

                  American unilateralism, however, is evil and inconsistent, and we use our power against those who cross us and our allies. So no, I don’t think we either have any right to unilaterally decide that Syria can’t use chemical weapons or to unilaterally decide the punishment. Because we need to stop dominating the world.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  I do think the UN gets a say in those things, and I had no objection to the UN taking action against the Syrians.

                  No, you just shrieked to holy hell about every single action and word that actually got the UN to eventually take action against the Syrians.

                  Barack Obama and John Kerry say You’re welcome.

                  So no, I don’t think we either have any right to unilaterally decide that Syria can’t use chemical weapons or to unilaterally decide the punishment.

                  Except that we didn’t unilaterally decide Syria can’t use chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons has been forbidden by the international community since the 1920s – but you were quite happy for that to stop being the case, as long as you got to be opposed to America. Yay you.

            • J. Otto Pohl says:

              “…any sort of check on American power – which is fundamentally evil and bent on world domination – is good. And Putin provided one.”

              This sounds like a horribly caricatured version of the type of argument that William Appleman Williams was promoting way back before I was born. Although Williams was considerably more sophisticated than what is above and did in fact condemn the Soviet invasion of Hungary. The kind of revisionism that made the USSR the good guy in the Cold War solely on the basis of their anti-Americanism wasn’t sound thinking in the 20th Century. It is still not sound thinking regarding Russia in the 21st Century.

              • Dilan Esper says:

                The USSR was not “the good guy”. However, recent history has proven that the USSR’s existence, and especially its nuclear weapons, probably stopped the US from dominating the world, which was a very good thing indeed.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              Assad is going to come out of this in power in Syria. Having used chemical weapons.

              Assad being in power isn’t a red line for us. His use of chemical weapons is. And he won’t be doing that again, now will he?

              The US gave up nothing whatsoever on the civil war front, which is back to the status quo ante, while on the chemical warfare front, Russia had to admit to and then compel the destruction of its client state’s major geo-strategic stick.

              If you feel the need to laud Putin, congratulate him on an effective Dunkirk. Turning a potential rout into a only an embarrassing setback is a meaningful accomplishment.

              But don’t try to sell it a win. You just look silly.

            • Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta says:

              any sort of check on American power– which is fundamentally evil and bent on world domination– is good.

              I forget whether or nor I endorse Manicheanism – being dead is hell on long-term memory functions – but I’m glad that you do, infidel.

              • Dilan Esper says:

                I fundamentally worry that an unchecked America is capable of anything (and the Joe from Lowell’s of the world will justify whatever we do, because there’s always some phony “humanitarian” justification available). So yeah, I think we need checks. Unfortunately, the checks come from brutal regimes like Russia and China. Still, without those checks, our brutality would probably be off the charts. We are a moralistic, self-justifying, violent people who can’t be trusted with so much power.

                • Lee Rudolph says:

                  Leave aside “moralistic, self-justifying, violent” (a choice of words that certainly guarantees more frothing): nobody can be trusted with so much power.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  and the Joe from Lowell’s of the world will justify whatever we do, because there’s always some phony “humanitarian” justification available

                  What an odd thing to write about someone who opposed the Iraq War, opposed the proposal to intervene in Georgia, opposed the proposed intervention in Syria for years, and opposed the proposed action against Iran, opposed the Panama War…how long would you like this list to go?

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  You know, like during the Clinton administration.

                  I believer the term “the bleeding 90s” has been translated into over 170 languages.

                  Truly, one of the darkest eras in human history.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  Leave aside “moralistic, self-justifying, violent” (a choice of words that certainly guarantees more frothing): nobody can be trusted with so much power.

                  I agree. I don’t want Putin to have it either.

                  Which is why a bipolar or multipolar world is a good thing indeed.

                  (As for Joe, my point isn’t that he will always support military intervention, but rather that there is always a suitable humanitarian justification for every murder the US military and intelligence services commits, and he will therefore always have a justification available if he wants to support it.)

                • Malaclypse says:

                  the Joe from Lowell’s of the world will justify whatever we do, because there’s always some phony “humanitarian” justification available

                  As for Joe, my point isn’t that he will always support military intervention, but rather that there is always a suitable humanitarian justification for every murder the US military and intelligence services commits, and he will therefore always have a justification available if he wants to support it.

                  Those goalposts are moving so fast that I see redshift. Which is pretty fucking obnoxious, given how you personalized it.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Your problem isn’t that you’re more concerned with the evil done by the United States than the evil done by others, regardless of their scopes.

                  The problem isn’t even that you want to check American power.

                  Your problem, Dilan, is that you’re more concerned with checking American power than with the evil done in the world. You’re like a Cold Warrior, so certain of the eternal rightness of your geopolitical agenda that you don’t think you actually have to do good and oppose evil, and will get in bed with anyone if it advances the agenda.

    • Vance Maverick says:

      Mastheaders, I hereby renew my request that anonymous comments be prohibited. Make these people choose at least a throwaway pseudonym.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Holy crap, are you ignorant.

      Let’s ask the Chechens about Russia’s propensity to invade other nations.

      Let’s ask what’s left of the media in Russia about whistleblowers.

    • JL says:

      Do you think that the people who criticize queerphobic Russian laws have nothing to say about bad laws/policies/enforcements in the US?

      Are you aware that plenty of the people who are on your side about whistleblowers, the US bombing places, Gitmo, etc, are queer, and care about those issues too? It’s not a frickin’ either-or.

    • DrDick says:

      Shorter Anonymous: I am not gay and who gives a shit about what happens to a bunch of Russians. Is that you jeer9?

    • KmCO says:

      You serve the cause if Noble Brogressivism well.

    • socraticsilence says:

      Wait Russia doesn’t prosecute whistleblowers– yeah all those times a major oligarch was going to run against Putin and they magically got tried for corruption were just coincidental (and this doesn’t even address just outright killing opposition media).

      Ask Georgia about invasions.

      • Luakuty says:

        He was actually guilty. Very guilty. Read the European Human Rights Court decision on that if you have any doubts.

        And he was caught on lesser charges, and got away with only a conviction for fraud an not for the many people he assassinated.

      • Tristan says:

        He means they don’t prosecute any whistleblowers he’s seen in the news lately.

  2. God says:

    John Yoo, after all, did not come out of nowhere.

    Nor, alas, do he go into nowhere; which is still (I suppose) a not too remote possibility for Putin.

  3. Anonymous says:

    There are more political parties in the Russian Duma than in the USA Congress, fact.

  4. Daragh McDowell says:

    As loathe as I am to say it, Caldwell has half a point. He just doesn’t make it very well. Certainly the canonisation of an outright thief like Khodorkovsky in the west hasn’t done much to dispel the widespread belief among ordinary Russians that the west is only interested in looting and destroying their country. Ditto Pussy Riot who, notwithstanding their abominably harsh treatment, are several orders of magnitude less representative of the contemporary Russian opposition than Code Pink is of the Democratic party. The gay propaganda law is pretty awful, but Western reporting on it is so bad even Russian gay rights activists are complaining.

    If we want to engage with Russia and combat Putinism effectively, hysterical anti-Putinism doesn’t help. Awarding the Games to Sochi was a disgrace, and so were the preparations, but western reporters gratuitously pissing on them will just alienate Russians further.

    • aimai says:

      Didn’t we already loot and destroy their country when we sent Harvard to hand public assets to the oligarchs in an orgy of creative theft? Or was that merely fitful?

      • Daragh McDowell says:

        A little of column A a little of column B. A lot of it was stolen back and redistributed among Putin’s personal friends and affiliated goons. Though some of that loot was actually re-invested into the country, surprisingly. For example, Roman Abramovich was ‘invited’ to become governor of Chukotka, a rather miserable far-eastern province (the one bordering Alaska.) He ended up plowing hundreds of millions of his own funds into regional development. All voluntarily of course.

        • Dilan Esper says:

          The average American has no idea how bad a leader Yeltsin was. He was the Batista of Russia, only worse because he tried to give up Russia’s status as a superpower.

          • Daragh McDowell says:

            Agreed. I was doing my Masters in Russian and East European Studies when he croaked. The running joke whenever the umpteenth ‘father of Russian democracy’ obit rolled along was ‘wait, are they talking about Boris Yeltsin?’

            • joe from Lowell says:

              I was at a New Year’s Eve party when Yeltsin’s resignation appearance/hostage video hit the news.

              That was really something. Hey, everybody, the 2000s are going to be awesome!

      • ajay says:

        Didn’t we already loot and destroy their country when we sent Harvard to hand public assets to the oligarchs in an orgy of creative theft?

        Here’s why Harvard is so much better than Yale. From 1945, a bunch of Yale graduates (also known as the CIA) were given almost-unchecked power and hundreds of billions of dollars, and told to topple international Communism, and they achieved virtually nothing for the next four decades except embarrassing themselves and getting a lot of people killed. And then in 1991 a few Harvard graduates with no money were sent to Russia, and they destroyed its economy and beat it down for a decade WITHOUT EVEN TRYING.

    • witless chum says:

      I really, really doubt that western reporters being polite to the authoritarian would make much of a difference. But I heartily support a well-rounded critique that points out that Putin is of a piece with the predatory crooks, Russian and western, who descended on Russia in the 90s and have plagued it ever since.

      • Daragh McDowell says:

        It would make his propaganda exercises less easy. And he really isn’t – say what you will about Putin but Russia actually saw broad based distribution of growth during his first two terms. Living standards rose. That’s not unimportant, even if he is an authoritarian crook.

    • pillsy says:

      The gay propaganda law is pretty awful, but Western reporting on it is so bad even Russian gay rights activists are complaining.

      Holy fucking hell but that was unconvincing. The linked article actually says this:

      If Putin is indeed waging war on Russia’s LGBT community, then why has he not followed the example of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, which has just introduced a new law that stipulates jail sentences of up to 14 years for gay people?

      I wish I could say this is the dumbest argument I’ve seen on the subject today, but it can’t quite match the Anonymous post upthread about how Russia is just forced to persecute gay people because Julian Assange.

      • Daragh McDowell says:

        Read the rest of the article.

        • pillsy says:

          I did read the rest of the article. Many of the other points it raises are also dumb and pointless. Frex:

          The Kremlin clearly has no intention of ignoring such double standards. Just look at the pleasure Putin took in pointing out that more than 10 US states still have sodomy laws on the books.

          Sure, unlike Russia’s anti-gay law, which is being enforced, those laws have been ruled unconstitutional (and are thus unenforceable) by the Supreme Court. But it’s a double standard because reasons, I guess.

          • Daragh McDowell says:

            Actually, increasingly it isn’t.

            Now we could go into the whys and wherefores as to why this law was passed, or what the gay rights situation was like in Russia (still a hugely socially conservative society) pre-Putin. But that would detract from the joy of self-righteousness, now wouldn’t it?

            • pillsy says:

              “Increasingly it isn’t” because in one particularly egregious instance the prosecution was halted? And this happened less then a week ago?

              OK, sure, whatever.

              • Egg MacGuffin says:

                Or, from the previous article:

                To date, over six months since the law came into force, fewer than a dozen people have been fined for “gay propaganda”. Not a single person has been jailed.

                • pillsy says:

                  Does the law even provide for jail time? I was under the impression that it doesn’t.

                  Also, saying that a law is “increasingly” not being enforced a mere six months after it’s been passed is kinda ridiculous to being with.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              Actually, increasingly it isn’t.

              And purely by coincidence, this minor movement in the right direction is happening immediately after the denunciations you just assured us were useless or counterproductive.

              • Daragh McDowell says:

                More during a time when Coca-Cola and other Olympics sponsors are at maximum nervousness. And it’s not that criticism is useless or counterproductive. Its that relentless and vitriolic criticism by people who don’t really know that much about Russia is useless and counterproductive. This is probably more due to liberal factions in the Kremlin gaining more influence on this policy area than the religious zealots (of which there are a few.)

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  More during a time when Coca-Cola and other Olympics sponsors are at maximum nervousness.

                  Nervous about what? The price of kola nuts? The NFL draft? Or nervous about something having to do with the “counterproductive” criticism?

                  This is probably more due to liberal factions in the Kremlin gaining more influence on this policy area than the religious zealots (of which there are a few.)

                  So, again, what has happened since the anti-anti-gay campaign began that would make a reasonable person conclude that it has been counterproductive?

                • Daragh McDowell says:

                  @Joe – try reading this line again –

                  And it’s not that criticism is useless or counterproductive. Its that relentless and vitriolic criticism by people who don’t really know that much about Russia is useless and counterproductive.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  I can read it as many times as you like: my question remains the same.

                  What has happened since this “relentless and vitriolic criticism by people who don’t really know that much about Russia” that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that it’s been counterproductive?

                  Come on, one thing. You’re very, very sure that this “relentless and vitriolic criticism by people who don’t really know that much about Russia” has been counterproductive, so you really ought to be able to point to something.

                  Or are those adjectives all you’ve got?

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Perhaps you’re using the word “counter-productive” to mean “makes my ears hurt,” and aren’t actually commenting on the effects on Russian and world opinion at all?

            • JL says:

              This whole thing where people imply that Americans who criticize bigoted laws in Russia don’t also fight bigoted US laws is really obnoxious. I’ll criticize ‘em in Russia, I’ll criticize ‘em (and act against them in more substantial ways) in the US. Furthermore, I’ll criticize and act against US entities that push queerphobic laws in other countries (like Scott Lively and his band of assholes do).

              • joe from Lowell says:

                Seriously. Is it not the gay rights movement itself that is making the most noise about Russian homophobia?

                And on the flip side, is it not their conservative opponents who are silent, or actively defending Putin?

                • JL says:

                  Relatedly, if you want to do something concrete for Russian LGBTQ people and you have some spare cash, here is a US charity that exists solely to give money to Russian LGBTQ groups, so that they can fight in the ways that make sense to them on the ground.

      • Egg MacGuffin says:

        Ok, then how about the very next line:

        Or India, the world’s largest democracy, where the supreme court recently reinstated a colonial-era ban on gay sex? If he wants to get really harsh, of course, Putin could look to Saudi Arabia, whose habit of executing homosexuals has done little to break up what Barack Obama has called the “long history of friendship” between Washington and Riyadh.

        This isn’t hard. Actual allies of the US are far, far worse towards their LGBT citizens. Putin is a bully and a crook, and yes, the newly passed laws are terrible, but you’ll never convince Russians of this in the current climate. It’s in the interest of the Kremlin to paint the US as hypocritical on these matters, and boy is it easy.

        • pillsy says:

          You’re right. It’s not hard. The argument that Putin isn’t really that serious about cracking down on gays because Russia could theoretically pass worse laws is really dumb.

          • Egg MacGuffin says:

            Yes, and politicians never say things in public that don’t match their legislatives actions. Do you really think Russia is that different from the US?

            That’s not the argument anyway. The argument is that since the law is mostly toothless, it’s purpose must be rhetorical, and it’s rhetorical purpose is to a) appease social conservatives (obviously), and b) call attention to US hypocrisy (maybe).

            • pillsy says:

              The argument is that since the law is mostly toothless, it’s purpose must be rhetorical, and it’s rhetorical purpose is to a) appease social conservatives (obviously), and b) call attention to US hypocrisy (maybe).

              It’s amazing how popular this, “Russia just had to pass a law persecuting gay people because of US hypocrisy,” argument is, given how blindingly pitiful it is.

              • panda says:

                In fact,there is exactly zero evidence that there was any significant pressure from social conservatives on the Putin regime at any point before the gay propaganda laws were passed. Gays were and are extremely unpopular in Russia, but the gay panic that’s gripping Russia today happened only after the state media started harping on the issue. In fact,the most plausible explanation for the emergence of the gay propaganda laws is that Putin’s PR people decided to force the issue in order to force the opposition to resist them as violation of human rights, thus encoding it as immoral and Westernized.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Another key problem with Caldwell and his defenders is the idea that the “propaganda” law is the only issue with LBGT rights in Russia.

      • Shakezula says:

        Putin could give you something to really cry about but he hasn’t so shut up.

        It reminds me of people who claim that it wasn’t racism unless white hoods and fiery crosses were involved.

    • Jerry Vinokurov says:

      Khodorkovsky may be an outright thief, but so is literally everyone else in Russia’s moneyed class, and there isn’t a Russian citizen alive who doesn’t know this. If Russia had any interest in the rule of law, those thieves would have been prosecuted long ago; instead, they only get prosecuted when their political inclinations make them inconvenient to the power class. Khodorkovsky certainly shouldn’t be “canonized” but it’s beyond doubt that he was railroaded for being a political nuisance rather than for the same economic crimes that all of his oligarch compatriots are guilty of as well.

      • Daragh McDowell says:

        I never said otherwise. But treating him like Alexander Solzhenitsyn rather than Sunny Corleone just feeds into Russian perceptions that the West is as fundamentally cynical as its own rulers.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          But treating him like Alexander Solzhenitsyn

          Strawman alert! Strawman in aisle 6!

          • Daragh McDowell says:

            Yeah, absolutely no-one in the media made that comparison. You’re right, I’m straw-manning.

            • Hogan says:

              How many of those links did you read?

            • cpinva says:

              “You’re right, I’m straw-manning.”

              why yes, yes you are. they didn’t compare him to Solzhenitsyn, other than pointing out he’d been dealt with in the same manner.

              reading, how the fuck does it work?

            • joe from Lowell says:

              Not only do absolutely none of your links show a western media source comparing him to Solzhenitsyn, which would be a pretty big fail, but your search includes a whole lot of links in which the Russian government makes that claim.

              Do you ever think for yourself, or is repeating the line from Putin pretty much standard procedure?

              • Daragh McDowell says:

                Yes, that point where I call him an ‘authoritarian crook’ came straight from the Kremlin.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Oh, no, I’m sure you got the Kremlin line laundered through a good blog.

                  That’s how it works.

                • Daragh McDowell says:

                  Yeah, no.

                  Little out of date, TBF. I work as a full time Russia analyst now. And FWIW, most of my insights into how ordinary Russians think was spent during several months in Voronezh.

                  I’d apologise for the big-footing, but frankly, you’re being a dick.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Wowee, you have a degree and a gig.

                  What is that supposed to have to do with you repeating the Kremlin’s claim about the western media canonizing Khodorkovsky?

                  I’m going to ask you again, where did you get this claim that the western media has been canonizing Khodorkovsky?

                  Certain not from any of those Google links.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  FWIW, most of my insights into how ordinary Russians think….

                  Is this where you got the idea about what the western media have been reporting?

                  Does that seem like a good source?

                  Do you think the opinions of these “ordinary Russians” are a better reflection of what appears in the Western media, or of what appears in the Kremlin’s statements about the western media?

      • mpowell says:

        Yeah, I haven’t seen much canonisation so I don’t know what that comment was about. And I’m pretty sure that Russia’s internal propaganda is pretty uninfluenced by whatever is written in the Economist. Am I supposed to believe Russians actually have a view of what the ‘west’ thinks of them independent of what the Putin controlled media tells them to think?

        • Daragh McDowell says:

          Yes, you should. Russians, particularly the young ones out protesting in the streets do pay attention to international attention, particularly as it is often so critical.

        • jb says:

          Am I supposed to believe Russians actually have a view of what the ‘west’ thinks of them independent of what the Putin controlled media tells them to think?

          Oh boy.

          Look, the Russian people are not mere automatons who mindlessly believe whatever Putin’s propaganda machine tells them. The suspicion of many Russians towards the West long predates Putin. It dates from both the Cold War period, and from the Yeltsin/shock therapy era (though it was present among some Russians before then too). Putin does play on Russian suspicions of the West, and helps fuel those suspicions, but he did not invent them. Moreover, while state media is powerful in Russia, and media censorship is pervasive, it is not actually impossible for Russians to access outside sources. And I would bet that a sizable number of Russians are aware enough of the state media’s pro-Kremlin bias to take anything it says with a grain of salt.

          Furthermore, while a majority of Russians probably do have somewhat ‘anti-Western’ beliefs, a sizable number of them do not.

      • Luakuty says:

        A more apt comparison would be Al Capone being prosecuted for tax infractions. This is a very evil SOB who left behind a trail of blood.

    • JL says:

      If Code Pink protesters are mistreated, we should defend them, as we should Pussy Riot. The fact that they aren’t representative of mainstream liberals in their respective countries is irrelevant.

    • djw says:

      I was trying to think of some joke connecting Nick Clegg apologism to Putin apologism to put in a comment here. But I failed because the latter is far worse in every way.

  5. aimai says:

    After life’s fitful sleep…

    With some fitful exceptions Jeffrey Dahmer was a vegetarian….

  6. I’m surprised our Reich-Wingers didn’t get the man of their dreams, Vlad, a fake birth certificate, and run him for President in 2012.

    A shirtless homo-bashing Authoritarian’s the manly-man for them!!!

  7. Nigel Holmes says:

    The UK already had an actual blasphemy law at the time (abolished 2008 according to Wikipedia). What had Caldwell been doing to oppose it all his life? Of course it only targeted blasphemy against Christianity.

  8. mpowell says:

    The fitful respect for democratic process line is just bizarre. Putin has figured out a way to be a dictator while holding nominal elections. Which many other dictators have also managed. I suppose I should be glad that its considered important to maintain this charade, but do we really have to act impressed?

    • Shakezula says:

      Fitful makes me think of sleeping newborns. They might wake any moment at the least little thing and cause all sorts of mayhem, so everyone must be very, very quiet.

      Am I comparing Vlad the Imprisoner to a newborn baby?

      Yes.

      And for that I apologize to every newborn who currently wondering if he is hungry/damp/bored/lonely enough to start fussing.

  9. Another Holocene Human says:

    Could you unpack “self-refuting” here? Is this a version of tu quoque, in that the people making these arguments are always arguing in bad faith because they fail to denounce terrible things routinely, or is there a more systemic point that you are making here?

    Serious inquiry; if I sound like I’m sarcastic or something it’s my ignorance showing, I assure you.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I think it’s pretty obvious that people cannot possibly denounce all injustices in the world equally, and to use this impossible standard to rebut individual criticisms is really dumb.

      • Another Holocene Human says:

        That’s fair, but it’s a common attack on a clearly partisan critic to try to convince others that ideology, and not substance, is what is driving the criticism. And I’m not sure how–rhetorically–you’re supposed to counter that. I mean, aside from facts, and those tend to bore people to sleep.

        I mean, of course this line of attack is disingenuous–if they had an argument on the merits they wouldn’t go there.

  10. Hogan says:

    I want to call attention to the Maddow quote from Benen’s piece:

    <blockquote) “It`s one thing for the right to fall in love with its own politicians, to make Ronald Reagan a saint, to make Sarah Palin their collective fake girlfriend. But the president of Russia, you guys? He is not that into you.

    “Seriously, I know you guys hate President Obama, so it feels good to have a man-crush on somebody else, but this guy is a president of Russia. Zip it up, you guys, seriously. Have some respect.”

  11. Adam Roberts says:

    But “stand quietly by” is what many of these writers did when the UK’s Labour government passed a blasphemy law just eight years ago (the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006), at the behest of some of the very groups (including the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs) that tried to ban Mr Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, in 1989.

    This is the wrong target. The UK had, as a previous commenter noted, quite stringent Blasphemy laws in place until they were superseded by European Union legislation. The 2006 Religious Hatred law did nothing more than add ‘religion’ to gender, race and sexual orientation as things people were prohibited by law from discriminating against you for. If you see what I mean. A much better target for liberal ire (and it certainly attracted that ire) was the Terrorism Act 2006, which amongst many other things made it a criminal offence to ‘promote or incite’ terrorism, a ludicrously wide standard that in effect criminalised e.g. V For Vendetta and biographies of George Washington.

  12. ajay says:

    Of course, Mr Putin did not come out of nowhere

    I wasn’t aware that he had come out at all. (Though, obviously, it’s only a matter of time.)

  13. need a nym says:

    Caldwell found a way to incorporate his Eurabian fantasies into a defense of Putin. Shocking. Knowing Caldwell’s background, he probably admires Putin’s actions against the Chechens.

    Also, too, History’s Greatest Warrior Ralph Peters praised Putin’s support for Assad, since Syrian Christians back Assad. I don’t know how common this view is on the Right.

  14. JL says:

    I posted it upthread, but I’ll put it down here to make it easier to see:

    If you want to do a concrete thing for LGBTQ people in Russia, and you have a little cash, the Russia Freedom Fund is a US charity that exists entirely to give money to Russian LGBTQ organizations, which can then carry out the fight on the ground as makes sense to them on the ground. Which groups get how much money is determined by an international council that includes Russian representatives. It’s also tax-deductible in the US.

  15. wengler says:

    Unfortunately, the flaws of a particular regime are only exposed by US corporate media when they consider that regime to be adversarial. Anti-gay violence is tolerated in US allies.

  16. jkay says:

    I think the antigay propaganda and oppression must be because they’ve run out of we Russian Jews, the millenia-old usual suspects as official enemies and lessers; we’ve ALL emigrated or killed from the pogroms. Antifree governments and parties like our GOP have them.

    Sadly, Putin does seem to be as real a democrat as Russians want. It’s the second time democracy’s failed.

    Daragh McDowell: Who knew reading up on ALL the Russia Today back PROPAGANDA turned you into a Russian Expert? Can I suggest caring about evidence and googling – after all, the opposite worked so WELL for Shrub and Iraq and our ex-economy.

  17. K says:

    Putin isn’t going against popular opinion in Russia, Russians aren’t pro gay at all. He gets a lot of support from people, despite being a gay bashing racist drunken near-dictator. Really its an upgrade from the indiscriminate, paranoid, own people killing, drunken, total dictators they had before.

    • ajay says:

      “The collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century” – Vladimir Putin.

      That’s a fascinating statement, because it lets you know what he thinks of as a catastrophe. Most people would pick something different. Maybe the Second World War or the Chinese Civil War, simply because of the number of people who were killed. Maybe the First World War, because of its pointlessness and the chaos it caused (including sowing the seeds for the Second). Maybe the Cold War, because it split the world in half for forty years that might otherwise have been peaceful and prosperous.

      But to Putin, none of those are catastrophes, because his guys won. The CPSU went from being a banned organisation to running the country because of WW1. The Russian empire expanded halfway across Europe because of WW2. The Cold War cemented Russia’s status as being one of the two most important countries in the world. The cost doesn’t matter; what matters is that people were taking him, and the people he identifies with, seriously.

      Like Orwell said about fascists, his driving force is the fear that someone, somewhere might be laughing at him.

  18. jim, some guy in iowa says:

    drunken? Putin? that seems unlikely

  19. K says:

    People seem to forget this is Russia we’re talking about here. Friend of mine who got adopted out of an orphanage over there remembers when a bunch of Americans donated toilets for the bathrooms instead of drain holes where toilets and urinals used to be. He specifically remembers helping them install them that day, and then helping the other kids steal them that very night. Sold their own crappers for drug and booze money. Needless to say, the Americans were pissed when they went to the bathroom in the morning. What kind of people support a leader like putin? That kind.

  20. Matt says:

    If he keeps it up (phrasing), Putin will be a shoe-in to win the 2016 GOP primary. He’s got all the bona-fides: buddies with fascist nationalists, hates teh gheyz, knows how to spend rafts of government cash on bullshit projects while claiming the importance of austerity. And then there’s the starburst-inducing SHIRTLESS HORSEBACK RIDING…

  21. Elise Gingrich says:

    I’M ON INTERPOL’S THREAT LIST, FOR BEING A threat, TO PUTIN, AND OBAMA, FOR OBSESSING ABOUT HOW VERY HANDSOME, OBAMA, AND PUTIN ARE, AND THAT’S WHY I’M REALLY ON INTERPOL’S THREAT LIST! I’m A threat, to Putin and Obama, or Obama and Putin, for thinking THEY ARE TWO VERY HANDSOME MEN! OH MY! better get THE ROOM READY! and THEY ARE RATHER HANDSOME MEN, YOU KNOW?!?! :)

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