President Putin has spent the past few weeks crying crocodile tears for victims of war. We should not be fooled by the crying bear. It is part of a smokescreen to cover an increasingly illiberal policy at home.
Last month Putin blamed European leaders for not being sufficiently concerned about crimes committed by Ukrainian nationalists three years ago when people where burned alive in the Trades Union House in Odessa. He said the “international community should never forget about this incident and never allow anything like this to happen in the future”, alleging hypocrisy by Western politicians towards victims of violence worldwide.
Last October, the President also brought up the lack of Western media attention towards innocent victims of terrorism in Afghanistan and civil war in Yemen whereas images from Aleppo were published on a regular basis. Moreover, he claimed in a sudden conciliatory discourse, that everyone should stick to the founding ideals of the United Nations charter.
Yes, you might need to rub your eyes after reading this, especially considering the recent setback for women’s rights in Russia and the appalling attacks on members of the LGBT community in Chechnya by supporters of Ramzan Kadyrov, Head of the Chechen Republic and Putin’s strong man.
Discussing whether he is right in saying Western government are hypocritical is beside the point because behind these public rebukes against Western leaders is another smoke screen to create debate around the idea of whether Russia is entitled to great power status. By diverting attention to others’ failures, Putin also tries to maintain his plan to secure Russian interests, promote Russian patriotism and the social values that state elites consider correct. But Russia has a lot more to do on human rights and the respect for personal freedom before pointing the finger at others.
Some may argue that Putin prefers to remain pragmatic and has not punished Kadyrov for this scandal basically because he does a highly effective job in controlling insurgents in Chechnya following the two Chechen wars that took place after the dissolution of the USSR.
Ramzan currently rules in an authoritarian fashion, balancing the contradictory sentiments of being a defender of Russia and Putin with the proud of practising Chechen “traditions” within mother Russia. A sexist ideology prevails in the politics of the republic. Chechen women have been declared to be inferior to men according to Kadyrov and have reportedly been attacked by men if refusing to wear hijab and dress “modestly”.
Moreover, the Kremlin has failed to intervene in the issue of honour killings against both women and LGBT representatives in Chechnya, which were encouraged by the president. On April 1, Novaya Gazeta reported that police forces detained over 100 allegedly gay men in Chechnya. Human rights organizations have claimed that that they were tortured, and some of them were even killed by either the police or their own families. Despite there is an ongoing investigation of these crimes, Russia’s foreign minister insists that there are no reliable facts as of yet.
However, this violation of human rights is not only a result of this exchange of power autonomy for security but also due to Russian ideology itself. For instance, in January Putin signed a bill, passed by the Duma, that made beating a relative a civil offence rather than a criminal one, lowering thus sentences for domestic violence in a country in which around 12,000-14,000 women die every year due to domestic violence.
How could you allow these crimes to take place in your country when blaming others for being too insensitive to the victims of war and terror? These presidential calls for respect of UN values should be consistent in all aspects of life and not an instrument at the convenience of politicians. The leaders that usually blame Western authorities for their stance on international conflicts are often seeking only to deviate attention from the victims of their own illiberal ideologies, which sometimes share the same dictatorial view on personal freedom that terrorists have.
Democratic leaders should also be more self-critical before publically attacking the incoherencies of other leaders. If not, they risk discrediting themselves for their double standards in international conflicts and yes, sometimes of looking the other way.
Nora Ljubojevic is a Spanish security analyst specialising in the Caucasus.