Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin had a monster year in 2013, gaining some unlikely allies after showing the world his chutzpah. Let’s see how the Russian President wooed these groups and how he could disappoint his fresh admirers in 2014.
1. Supporters of Snowden, Assange, Manning
Why they like VVP: Russia gave Edward Snowden temporary asylum, and Julian Assange was even employed in 2012 by Russia’s state-funded global outlet RT, which loves to cover how the West screws up, again and again.
What’s in store: a sad realization that Vladimir Putin is Big Government, and if he could he would do everything the NSA is accused of doing. At least he’s trying. Snowden, Assange, and Manning are nothing but pawns to the Kremlin.
Why they like VVP: Russia’s discriminatory law banning the “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations to minors was a story of the year in 2013. Russia’s standing up to “The Gay Lobby” is quietly celebrated by notorious crusaders like Scott Lively.
What’s in store: the bill, like most Russian laws is not enforced directly. Russia is nowhere near becoming a country that persecutes LGBT people for who they are or whom they love. The law was a populist measure designed to stir the public’s attention away from societal problems. In fact, the best explanation why the anti-“propaganda” law is futile comes from the Kremlin’s own communiques with the Duma, in which prior versions of the bill were called “unconstitutional,” “undermining international commitments,” and out of line with Russia’s criminal code. That’s why this law has no future, and neither does Vladimir Putin as a leader of a global anti-gay movement. The faster it’s repealed the better, of course.
3. America haters
Why they like VVP: Let’s remember the world as it played in 2013—the Arab Spring is stalling; Europe is slowly sinking; Latin America is muddling through; China is quietly rising; nobody knows what is really going on in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria; & no one gives a damn about Africa. Against this backdrop, we’ve witnessed a multi-stage piece of postmodern theater exchange between Moscow and Washington loosely based on How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. So if you hate America, your sympathy naturally gravitates toward the Kremlin.
What’s in store: Vladimir Putin loves the U.S. There is a new but unused NATO transit facility in Ulyanovsk, the war in Afghanistan led to the establishment of military U.S. airbases in Central Asia, there was even a joint U.S.-Russian military training in Colorado in 2012. Vladimir Putin gets a ton of criticism for things like this at home, but if you ask someone like Bill Clinton you’d know that the Russian President always keeps his word on all the deals with America.
4. Religious believers
Why they like VVP: punishing Pussy Riot for a blasphemous act, the apparent (or imaginary?) rise of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the promotion of a global “traditional values” agenda.
What’s in store: Vladimir Putin’s a secular person who got divorced last year and will probably remarry. The Kremlin has been using the church to advance its populist agenda in response to the growing wave of discontent post-2011, and now that the government feels strong they’ll use other methods. Meanwhile, the state of religious freedom in Russia is of concern: anti-extremism laws are routinely used against Muslim minorities and Western proselytizing groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Pentecostals. Last year, a prosecutor in Siberia tried to ban The Bhagavad Gita as “extremist”—that’s exactly what the Russian government labeled Pussy Riot.
5. U.S. Conservatives
Why they like VVP: Pat Buchanan’s “Is Putin One of Us?” appeal says it all.
What’s in store?: Russia is the wrong country to promote “traditional values” globally. It had too many constitutions and too many forms of governance in the twentieth century to know what traditions are, and how to abide by them. More and more, the language of “traditional values” is used at the United Nations to skew the conversation away from human rights standards. The chief value of “traditional values” lie in their ambiguity. No wonder Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Pakistan vote “yay.” Pat Buchanan is far from embracing their traditions.
6. Soviet nostalgists
Why the like VVP: Soviet nostalgia is seemingly flying high as a state-sponsored initiative in Russia, where government capitalists are looking more and more apparatchik-like and human rights activists are screaming about the return of the Soviet days through a backslide in human rights.
What’s in store: The nostalgia is a game. Vladimir Putin and his ruling elites may not be true capitalists, but they sure do hate the Soviet Union. They know all-too-well what their futures looked like in the good old days: perhaps, a municipality to govern in Udmurtiya for Mr. Putin, the general’s rank in the KGB for Mr. Sechin, and a tenure position at a major law school in a country of no laws for Mr. Medvedev. Instead, they are ruling a quasi-capitalist “managed” democracy with slightly authoritarian features that seems acceptable to most Russians because the level of personal freedoms they have is unprecedented in Russia’s history. The Russian elites are immersed in corruption and internal power struggles; they have no time to bring the Soviet Union back.
Why they like VVP: Apart from its post-Soviet sphere of influence, Russia no longer seeks to influence how other countries govern themselves. As the Syrian example shows, Russia also occasionally extends a helping hand to dictators.
What’s in store: Vladimir Putin’s country is a far cry from the Soviet Union’s might at the height of the Cold War. Back in the days, Moscow could offer any nation the ultimate protection of joining The Second World. Today, the grand chessboard is a fine mess and the Kremlin’s words aren’t enough to protect anyone, even Bashar al-Assad. Syria realizes that Russia simply can’t offer real protection these days. Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in The New York Times was a sweet touch, it was the West’s own domestic problems that ultimately prevented military action on Damascus last year.
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