One thing you can always count on regarding Vladimir Putin’s Russia: no matter how bad things are today, tomorrow they will be worse.
Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s so-called “child rights ombudsman,” is the new poster child for this truism. On February 18, Astakhov issued a breathless flurry of tweets (Russian-language link) to his more than 100,000 followers about the alleged fate of a Russian adoptee in Texas. He wrote in part:
Urgent! An adoptive mother has killed a three-year-old Russian child in the state of Texas. The murder occurred at the end of January. The boy died before an ambulance called by his mother arrived. According to a report by medical examiners, the boy had numerous injuries.
It was a sensational allegation, and soon it was burning up international newswires. Outraged Russians, convinced they had smoking-gun proof that recent ban on adoptions by American parents had been justified, began calling for a round of crackdowns on evil Americans who murder innocent Russian children in cold blood. Russian parliament even demanded that the U.S. ambassador appear before them to answer for his nation’s misdeeds. Some Russians even demanded that the boy’s brother — who had been adopted by the same family — be returned to Russia.
The New York Times reported:
Andrei Turchak, the governor of the region where the boys were born as Maksim and Kirill, told the news agency Interfax that “a savage crime” had been committed.
The Wall Street Journal reported:
Legislators from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party lambasted U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul for declining their invitation to participate in hearings on the adoption issue. “Apparently, it’s not democratic from his point of view to admit the inaction of U.S. authorities in cases of violence and abuse of little children,” committee chairwoman Irina Yarovaya said in comments posted on the party’s website, acidly referring to Mr. McFaul’s academic background in democracy promotion. Mr. McFaul insisted he was open to discussion but said protocol prevented a U.S. ambassador from participating in parliamentary hearings.
There was just one problem: the allegation was false. There was no murder and no violence. Nor had there ever been any confusion: the report provided no basis for believing a crime had taken place.
The child had collapsed while on the playground just outside of his home, and could not be revived after being discovered. Medical examiners concluded that the “injuries” on the boy’s body were likely nothing more than play scrapes.
In less than a week, Astakhov scrubbed his personal Twitter account of all his frantic messages, though they remained on his official account. The Russian government apologized (Russian-language link) to Texas officials both for “overly emotional” statements falsely accusing the boy’s mother of murder, and for falsely claiming that U.S. officials had been stonewalling the investigation.
Like a good neo-Soviet man, Astakhov quickly pivoted.
Without apologizing, he began attacking the American mother for leaving her child unattended on the playground steps from his front door. “I think that a criminal inquiry will be opened anyway because even if she is not found guilty of murder she will face negligence charges,” Astakhov told Russian television. He referred to no facts of any kind establishing such negligence.
Meanwhile, Astakhov completely ignored the common Russian practice of failing to disclose serious medical conditions that are typical in adoptive children, which could have led the boy’s mother to be oblivious of serious risks to his health and life. He did not pause to consider whether his credibility in making a new set of allegations might not have been fatally destroyed after his first set of lies had been exposed.
In Astakhov’s eyes, and in the eyes of many Russians, Americans are simply guilty until proven innocent. And maybe they’re guilty even then. Russians like Astakhov spend their lives waiting for any excuse to lash out at the United States, maintaining the same attitude towards the U.S. that the USSR had.
And why would anyone think it would be any different? If Americans had “lost” the Cold War, would they have adopted the USSR’s worldview and rejected democracy? Or would they have continued to struggle for their cause, as did the Polish and French underground movements during World War II? Some of us imagine that the Soviet system was entirely out of favor with Russians, who secretly yearned to breathe free just like Americans. It wasn’t true. We’ve seen Russians choose to hand unchecked power for life to Vladimir Putin, a proud KGB spy whose every waking moment is spent seeking to restore the Soviet dictatorship and to wipe out American values within its borders.
Astakhov likely believes he can get away with acting like he never accused an American mother of murdering her child because of the success Putin has had in liquidating critical media and opposition politicians. There is literally nobody left who will challenge Astakhov’s actions on broadcast television, the main source of news for Russia, permitting him to essentially create a parallel universe in which the vast majority of citizens know only what the government wants them to know.
And Barack Obama’s policy of appeasement towards the Kremlin means that nobody outside Russia is going to mount a serious challenge, either.
Little wonder, then, that anti-Americanism is so pervasive in Russia, with most Russians supporting a ban on adoptions by Americans and viewing the U.S. as a force for evil in the world.