Putin is utterly Pavlovian about the United States. He nurses intense bitterness about the outcome of the Cold War, and the collapse of his beloved USSR. As a loyal KGB man, he internalized anti-Americanism.
Which is why Hillary Clinton’s criticism of the Duma elections rankled Putin so much. Enraged him, actually. It triggered his Pavlovian reactions, because of the source (the US) and his paranoia about a US-directed and funded color revolution.
It is against that background that one should interpret the Russian government’s rather amusing foray into the human rights forum. The government released a report similar to the US State Department’s annual review of human rights around the world. It is a 99.99 percent pure sample of whataboutism:
The 90-page Russian report slams EU nations, Canada and Georgia, but reserves its longest section of 20 pages for what it says are violations by the United States. The report does not cover Asia, Africa or the Middle East, other than a five-page section criticizing the NATO operation in Libya.
Moscow laments the ongoing operation of the “notorious” prison in Guantanamo Bay, where terrorism suspects have been held since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and criticizes President Barack Obama for “legalizing indefinite and extrajudicial custody and the return of court martials [sic: it's courts martial].”
The report accuses the U.S. of prying into citizens’ personal lives and violating the rights of Muslim Americans in the fight against terrorism. It also points to errors made by American courts.
“Judicial errors are the Achilles heel of American justice as concerns capital punishment,” the report argues. It notes the roughly 130 people sentenced to death in the past 30 years who were later cleared of the charges, some after they were executed.
The Foreign Ministry also struck back at international criticism of Russia’s recent parliamentary election, which independent observers said involved widespread fraud. Outrage over the vote set off a spate of protests led by citizens unhappy with Vladimir Putin’s rule.
The report accuses the U.S. of blocking independent candidates from elections and criticizes the practice of allowing governors to nominate senators when a Senate seat is vacated, as when Obama became president. It refers to the conviction this year of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was accused of trying to auction off Obama’s Senate seat.
I find the Blago reference incredibly amusing. Blago would fit in perfectly in Russia. In so many ways. (Even the “vich” ending of his name fits. Yes, he’s of Serbian extraction, but Russians paternalistically think of Serbs as kindred souls for whom they once waged a disastrous war and for whom they continue to risk confrontation.)
Another interesting tidbit in the report: Russia criticizes growing xenophobia in the EU. More distilled whataboutism coming from as it does from an extremely xenophobic nation and government.
Insofar as the specifics are concerned, the compilers of the report could do all of their research just by reading myriad open sources from newspapers to blogs. And I’m sure they did. So it’s not telling us–or the world–anything we didn’t know, or which we don’t discuss, debate and at times agonize over on a nearly continuous basis.
No, this report says far more about Putin’s Russia than it does about the US, or the EU, or any of the other countries studied in the report (notably Russian betes noir Georgia and the Baltic states). It betrays obsession. It reveals defensiveness. It makes plain the continued reliance of the Russian government on Soviet tropes.
In brief, it is like an advertisement for coming attractions from Putin II.
It will be also very revealing to see who in the US echoes what’s in the report.
One last Russia note. There’s a lot of discussion of the meaning of Surkov’s apparent demotion. To me the main meaning is that this matter has sparked so much discussion. Just as the human rights report is redolent of Soviet era “but in the US they lynch negroes” whataboutism, the scrutiny of the meaning of Surkov is a harbinger of the return of Kremlinology. All illustrating yet again that you can take the boy out of the USSR (kicking and screaming, in Putin’s case) but you can’t take the USSR out of the boy.