Just as it was fine in Putin’s eyes for Americans to brutalize Russian children before the Magnitsky law, it was also fine for them to brutalize the inmates of Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo before the Magnitsky law. Russia doesn’t take steps to fight for human rights around the world; on the contrary, Russia actively supports human-rights abusers across the globe, from Chavez in Venezuela to Assad in Syria to the Communist regime in China.
Just as in Soviet times, this knee-jerk asymmetry is becoming a hallmark of Russian society. Russia’s national cycling team was recently booted off the World Tour for cheating. Russia’s response was predictable: it told the World Tour that if it was getting banned, it wouldn’t host cycling events, not even those already promised. It took its marbles and went home, just as it did with Magnitsky.
The Sovietization of Russia is moving forward with breathtaking speed. A measure is currently moving in the Russian parliament which will make it a serious criminal offense for a TV news broadcast to contain more than 30% negative stories. That same body has already passed measures criminalizing criticism of the Putin regime that is too sharp, and measures gutting the freedom of the Internet. Harsh new restrictions are being imposed on reporters and human rights advocates, as Putin rapidly turns back the clock on post-Soviet democracy reforms.
Putin recently told reporters at a news conference that, for all practical purposes, he’s infallible.
The military rhetoric is heading back to Soviet levels as well. State-sponsored propaganda outlet Russia Today recently trumpeted the threats issued by high-ranking Kremlin figure Dmitri Rogozin to sink U.S. ships in the Black Sea. He insulted and challenged NATO, stating:
We must be frank about this. I was the Russian envoy to NATO for four years and I know what language they understand best of all.
In this context, the overwhelming passage of the Magnitsky law is a hopeful sign. Barack Obama, who has been siding with Putin since his first days in office, was exposed as a lame duck when the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate passed Magnitsky in a landslide despite Obama’s determined opposition. For the first time since Obama took office, the U.S. made a real stand against Putin in defense of American values and moral leadership. Putin’s neo-Soviet reaction shows the measure is devastatingly effective, and indeed has already drawn blood.