A common pattern you see from Putin worshipers, be they Russian or foreigner, is that the engage in strawman tactics to an alarming degree. Why do I say alarming? Well the traditional example of a strawman technique is the deliberate rephrasing of someone’s argument so as to refute it more easily. You set up a strawman and knock it down. Putin fans on the other hand, do more than that. They set up their man of straw, dress him from head to toe, set up a table and chairs, and then engage in long, philosophical debates with their new best friend.
This is the inevitable result of an ideological school of thought which originates in Russia, spreads through the internet, but spends very little time actually engaging with its opponents. Here it is possible to be a respected expert on America and its politics, without having ever visited the US or even being able to speak English. When you spend all your time “opposing” people without ever actually engaging with any of their stated ideas, you’re in for trouble as you drift further and further away from reality.
My inspiration for writing this piece comes from an article I was reading on Sputnik. Once again we have yet another “geopolitical expert,” and once again he repeats the standard “Eurasianist/ultra-conservative/traditionalist monarchist/INSERT CONTRIVED MADE-UP IDEOLOGY HERE boilerplate, that the evil “West” thinks all political systems should be the same. This is a common thread you hear from many sources, be they Russian hacks like Romanov or Markov, or foreigners like Tim Kirby and Mark Sleboda. Again and again you’re told that the West wants all countries to be the same, and they’re mad at Russia because Russia’s “going its own way.”
I can think of nothing worse than basing your political arguments off of something so demonstrably false. If we were only to look at constitutions and actual structure, we would immediately see that there are vast differences between the governments of the US, Canada, UK, Norway, Sweden, Germany, France, Japan, Spain, South Korea, and Poland, just to name a few. When we actually examine the finer points of their politics, the spectrum, the approach to issues, and their values, the differences widen even further. In the US, suggesting a state-based solution to a social problem is anathema. In other countries state involvement would be the logical, go-to answer. In the American right, homophobia is clothed in the language of conservative family values. In some European states, homophobia is cited by the far right as a justification for denying Muslims their civil rights. The Czech Republic is a very cosmopolitan, liberal society, whereas Poland is justifiably called conservative both in law and in social outlook. And Japan? Well Japan is Japan. What moron would dare suggest that Japan is somehow identical in outlook and cultural traditions to the United States, for example?
According to these geopolitical experts, NATO and the EU exist to enforce this political-cultural hegemony on the rest of the world. If that is the case though, they’re doing a pretty bad job seeing that they can’t even manage to pull this off even among their own members. Neither Brussels, nor the US, have had much luck bullying NATO/EU member Poland into being more tolerant of gays, abortion, or birth control. In fact, the United States itself could take some lessons from Russia when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. Yes, that was a bit of a digression, but I just can’t resist pointing out a Russian advantage that the Russophiles and pro-Kremlin ideologues can’t proudly claim. Returning to the point, not only has the Evil American empire failed to enforce its degenerate cultural-political hegemony on its supposed puppet states in NATO and the EU, but it also hasn’t managed to wield its influence over staunch allies like Kuwait, UAE, or Saudi Arabia.
In regards to Russia, virtually nothing has been done to put political pressure on the country until 2012, with the passing of the Magnitsky Act. Even this bill, hypocritical, selective, and provocative as it was, merely sanctioned specific individuals. Prior to that, American and Western investors were happy to dump money into Russia by the boatload, only to take it out in almost the same volume starting in 2013. If, as Russian leaders assert, the sanctions today are aimed at forcing Russia to undergo some kind of political change and have nothing to do with Russia’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, we must then ask why these countries did nothing to Russia before. In fact they were doing the exact opposite- rewarding Russia via investment and cooperation. This is, after all, why Russia was the “R” in BRICS. Did they need a pretext? We’ve got pretexts they could have used.
The Second Chechen War- This was Putin’s war, and the West had an opportune time to nip Russia’s alleged renaissance in the bud while it was still weak. They could have recognized Chechnya and slapped Russia with sanctions, yet they did neither.
The war in Georgia- The OSCE findings regarding this war were fairly balanced in favor of Russia, seeing as how the Georgians were indisputably responsible for starting the conflict. Still, since Russian troops did temporarily occupy Georgian soil, this would have been a great time to hit them with sanctions while the economy was in trouble.
The 2011 elections/protests- Western diplomats expressed concern for the protesters and allegations of election fraud, but ultimately made no threats against Russia. What an opportune time to launch a “color revolution” while people were actually in the streets. No? No sanctions? Nothing? Oh, okay.
Gay propaganda/adoption law- Supposedly the West is really angry at Russia for upholding “traditional values,” and they want to force Russia to have mandatory non-stop gay parades just like in their degenerate countries. And yet nothing significant was done in response to these laws, which were inspired incidentally by an American activist.
The truth is that the idea of the West trying to some how cow and tame Russia is in fact a self-fulfilling prophesy that Putin has provoked to bolster his popularity. He has no other way of doing so. He provokes and provokes until there’s finally a response, as in 2014, and then the response serves as proof of what he’s been babbling about for years. But of course the West had many far more opportune times to pressure Russia, and it didn’t.
We must ask then, what exactly do these geopolitical wonks mean when they talk about Russia’s special path and the West allegedly trying to make Russia “the same?” Since the leading governments of the so-called “West” are all different both in structure and in terms of politics, is it something else they are trying to force on Russia? What do all those countries have in common? Oh…Right…Their leaders change from time to time. To varying degrees, citizens of most industrialized countries have the ability to hold their politicians accountable in one way or another. Russians are denied this right.
What about the culture argument? Another common thread you often hear is that “the West/liberals/etc.” think that all humans are interchangeable and that cultural differences don’t exist. I’ve yet to hear any liberal or opposition supporter in Russia ever make this claim, and indeed the range of people who oppose Putin is quite varied indeed. I remember the bizarre experience I had last time I encountered a Kremlin supporter making this argument. He kept insisting that Russia was right because there are cultural differences. I pointed out to him that I never denied the existence of cultural differences or the influence they have on society, but in spite of the vast cultural differences one might find between Japan and Poland, all these countries provide their citizens with a modicum of rights which just happen to be missing in Russia. In reality, the difference isn’t the culture, but rather the presence in Russia of a small political clique built up around one man and their desire to live the most luxurious lifestyles. Incidentally, my interlocutor in that conversation does not prefer Russia’s oh-so-unique culture for himself, Russian though he is. That is just for the Russian masses, who apparently need it.
Rest assured that most arguments with these people will result in them utterly ignoring your arguments in favor of the ones they have specially made for themselves. If you point out that Western governments are not identical in any sense other than that they aren’t controlled by one man and his personal friends, they’ll still say that the West is trying to enforce one political system on the world. If you point out that you certainly don’t deny the existence of cultural differences, but that at the same time they don’t justify stripping people of their human dignity, they’ll just drone on about you not understanding the importance of culture. It’s understandable how this mentality exists among Russian ideologues, as they are part of the Russian post-modernist system that declares: “there is no objective truth.” What I find fascinating, however, is that the same adolescent-boy style of arguing finds so much purchase in other countries, and manifests itself in such uniform ways to the point where you can almost predict every argument they might make. According to the modern Russian philosophy, there is no point in debate. If you can, you use state authority to ban viewpoints you don’t want to hear. Outside of Russia, you simply argue against a carefully constructed phony opponent, and ignore the person who is actually talking to you. Since there is no truth, there is no need for debate, ergo there is no need for actual living, breathing, opponents.