“Whataboutery” refers to the practice of responding to criticism with “What about X?” For example, when an article about Russia talks about human rights abuses, a common response from the Russophiles or RT fans will be something like, “What about this thing that happened in the US/EU/UK?” I’ve dealt with this issue once before. Depending on the specific argument, it could be filed under the “tu quoque”(you too) fallacy, or in other cases it’s a red herring. On rare occasions the argument might actually be somewhat legitimate, but even then it is rarely helpful.
I ran across this article today which I think lays down a pretty good case against this sort of argument, if only because the article has nothing to do with Russia at all. I find that different sides are less emotional when Russia isn’t the focus of the discussion. I highly recommend reading it.
The bottom line in any of these “what about X” arguments is that you have to first take into account scale. Yes, corruption exists everywhere in the world. No, it isn’t the same everywhere. It doesn’t always reach into every individual’s life so thoroughly. More importantly, pointing out corruption, whether lower or higher, doesn’t actually do anything to address the problem in either country. Every time someone says, “But they have that problem in America too,” they are effectively saying that this isn’t something that Russians should be concerned about, and therefore nothing gets done about it. Likewise, someone who points out that corruption in Poland, for example, is far below that which is found in Russia or Ukraine, isn’t bringing any solace to any Polish citizens who are facing the effects of corruption.
The “what about X” defense is a card often played by self-proclaimed “patriots,” but it is actually poison for any nation. Insofar as “patriotism” has any positive value, a person who truly loves that which they claim as their country would not only loudly point out or highlight the problems they see in their nation, but they would shout about them to the exclusion of all else.