The bad news: Vladimir Putin doesn’t think we’re all that exceptional. The good news: He does believe we’re all (kind of) equal.
In an op-ed published in The New York Times two weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin argued against a U.S. armed intervention in Syria, heavily relying on the principle that a unilateral military operation not approved by the U.N. Security Council violates international law.
Then, after praising President Obama’s openness to reaching an agreement regarding Syrian chemical weapons and making the case that no country’s policies should be considered “exceptional,” Putin finished his piece with the following phrase: “We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
An eloquent, conciliatory president who strongly advocates for adherence to international law: That is how Putin made himself appear on his letter to the American people. Arguably, many of his points deserve praise or (if agreeing with the Russian president seems too radical) at least a shy nod of approval. His arguments, we could say, successfully call into question the legitimacy of American military intervention.
However, reading between the lines, despite the letter’s merits, it is not hard to see that in reality, Putin’s final statement about equality is nothing short of a lie. It is no secret that Russians continue to be victims of a double standard regarding the protection of human rights, especially freedom of expression. As George Orwell would simply put it: In Russia, all people are equal, but some “are more equal than others.”
Russian LGBT individuals are among those the government has deemed to be less equal than others. A law passed earlier this year by the Russian Duma and signed by President Putin officially banned “propaganda on non-traditional sexual orientations to minors.” This means that if, for example, you live in Russia and you tell your kid that being gay is perfectly fine and that there is nothing to be ashamed of, you could be arrested and/or fined. This law also applies to foreign visitors.
Another bill recently introduced in the Duma would allow the state to take children away from parents if one or both is gay. The bill was introduced by a member of United Russia, the party that nominated Putin to the presidency and holds the majority in the Duma.
Even in the face of these blatant violations, Putin said that LGBT Russians “do not face government-sanctioned discrimination.” Maybe Putin has forgotten there are many journalists and human rights groups exposing these abuses to the world. These reports allow us to reconcile the discrepancies and see what’s really going on in Russia: that discrimination is real, and the government is actively supporting it.
In another discriminatory move that challenges equality, local authorities pursued charges against journalists reporting about various scandals (corruption, environmental abuses, humanitarian controversies and so on) surrounding preparation for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, according to a Human Rights Watch report. Authorities threatened news outlets to make journalists portray the events positively, and in some cases took down online news sites. These intrusions no doubt violate freedom of expression and demand intervention from the International Olympic Committee.
At this point, it is in order to ask what on earth the abuses against journalists and LGBT individuals have to do with Putin’s op-ed about how to deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Putin fiercely uses international law to justify why the U.S. should stay out of the Syrian conflict, but he ignores those same laws when he endorses measures that violate the human rights of his own people. The international law Putin defends is of no use if he simply adapts it to whatever suits his interests.
Furthermore, this double standard used domestically has also been employed internationally. It is widely known that Russia sells arms to Assad’s regime, which has committed atrocious crimes against its own people. In short, Putin’s government is indirectly facilitating the actions of a government that openly disobeys international law. It appears that for Putin, governments are simply more equal than their people.
This Putin paradox must be addressed. Next time the Russian president tells other nations that “the law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not,” the international community should respond with one simple phrase: Right back at you, Mr. Putin.
Start a discussion
Concurrence or rebuttal, if you have a strong opinion, let's hear it. The Maneater Forum seeks to publish a diversity of opinions and foster meaningful decision. Readers are encouraged to actively contribute to and develop new discussions. Add to ours, or make your own point.