by Gordon M. Hahn
It is very standard in the West to take a very condescending view of the Russian government’s respect for the human, political, and civil rights standards, as if the West has a perfect record and Russia’s lack of any standards whatsoever. There are several issues here: (1) is the apparent double standard that the collective West and/or individual Western countries apply to Russia compared to standards applied to other countries in regards to human rights such as sanctions against states and (2) the West’s own violations of human rights standards itself sets and punishes other states for violating.
Regarding the first problem, there can be little doubt that there is a ‘double standard’ in the way Western policies, including sanctions, for rights violations are applied to Russia as compared with other countries. One need only look at Russians’ rights as compared to those of those who live in China or in many Islamic countries, including U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia. We can see this in the complete lack of rights of Christians in these societies and of woman in Muslim countries. In Russia, by contrast, woman have full political and human rights and nearly full civil rights; the exception being a lack of legal infrastructure and legal enforcement to protect women from domestic violence and a certain enforcement of what can be regarded as discriminatory policies in regard to women in Chechnya. In the scheme of all things regarding the broad panoply of rights violated in most Muslim countries, this is a relatively small problem. Comparing Christians’ freedom of religion, of course, Russia is a Christian country, and one would expect in post-atheist Russia Christians rights would be protected, being the majority. So taking a religious minority in Russia, Muslims, we see that a Muslim living in Russia has far greater rights than a Christian in China or in many Muslim countries, where Christians can be imprisoned for simply practicing their faith, no less proselytizing it. The same goes for Judaism and Buddhism in Russia as compared with China and Muslim states. Yet there are no sanctions applied to China or, say, Saudi Arabia, while the West rains down sanctions on Russia. Thus, the recent EU-China deal is a landmark in hypocrisy and double standards. While Europe is cutting economic and other ties with Russia, it is deepening them with China.
However, this is not as illogical or subjectively discriminatory against Russia as it might seem at first glance. It is also a function of realpolitik, the stark reality of power’s power to act in the world. For the U.S. and Europe, China is a far greater factor and immediate threat than is Russia, excluding the threat of nuclear war. China’s power and threat is economic, and Europe is essentially going down a path the U.S. did decades ago, when it began to develop economic ties with Beijing. American corporations and thus the U.S. and indeed entire Western and even global economy thus became dependent on Chinese factory workers and production for hundreds of products, including vital high-tech products such as computer chip production. China owns a large portion of U.S. debt and increasingly so shares in U.S. companies. Europe has little choice but to partake in the China’s ‘soft rise’, much like the rest of the world, including Russia, which has a large trade turnover with China.
The same cannot be said for Russia, which is no longer in the top ten countries in terms of size of GDP, while China has surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s leader in GDP, despite its considerable inefficiencies. The West is not dependent on Russia for its manufacturing needs, though Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil, but then so is Russia’s budget dependent on its energy sales to Europe. This is being demonstrated by the willingness of some in Germany and elsewhere in Europe abandon or limit energy cooperation with Russia, such as the recent German talk of abandoning Nordstream 2 pipeline, in light of potential replacement sources for Russian natural gas and oil purchased by Europe. So, the double standard is not so much or at least only a consequence of the long-standing Western paranoia and condescension towards Russia but it is mandated by the self-interest of realism. This is why many urge Russia to free up and develop its enormous economic potential and that of its very creative people; so she establishes herself as an even powerful economic factor globally and thereby becomes something the West cannot afford to sanction.
A similar realist or expansionist dynamic can be seen in the West’s approach to Ukrainian violations of human rights, which exceed those committed by Western governments, lag slightly behind those committed in Russia, and pale in significance to those committed in China and most parts of the Islamic world. As in Russia, under the Maidan governments in Ukraine journalists and opposition members have been murdered, beaten and otherwise intimidated, opposition media has been shut down, some calling for different policies (in Ukraine, for example, for peace in Donbass, peace talks with Russia, rapprochement with Russia, greater Russian language rights, and the like) have been arrested, tried and imprisoned on charges of supporting terrorism. Just last week, President Volodomyr Zelenskiy closed down three major television stations and a new bill against “collaborationism” was submitted by members of his party to the Rada that would make it illegal to refer to the war in Donbass as “civil war in Ukraine” and permit in the event of such usage the banning of political parties and public organizations. Yet there are no calls to withhold economic, military, and other forms of assistance to Kiev, no less to sanction Kiev. This is because, Washington and Brussels set in stone a policy of expanding NATO and the EU to all European and western Eurasian countries (including former Soviet republics and countries bordering Russia, such as Ukraine, Georgia, and all the rest), except Russia. This is seen by most as building power to ensure security and as such can be regarded as a realpolitik policy, if a misguided one. In this context, sanctions against Russia for acts other countries commit in far greater degree and abundance is rational, again, if mistaken.
Then there is the second issue of the West’s own rights’ violations while it sanctions Russia. Although Russian human, civil, and political rights’ violations are far greater than those committed in the West, the West is beginning to ‘close the rights’ gap.’ Recent examples a substantial decline in Western republican political culture come from Spain and the ‘shining city on the hill’ of repubicanism, the United States of America. In EU member Spain, authorities jailed rap singer Pablo Hasél has been arrested and sentenced to a nine-month prison term for tweets and song lyrics. These articulations, a court found, insulted police and the Spanish monarchy and romanticized terrorism. This is quite comparable to Russian legislation allowing for arrest of individuals for certain tweets and ‘likes’ on social media, and several Russian have been sentenced to jail terms for such ‘offenses.’ Both in the Spanish and Russian cases such legislation and its enforcement are violations of the right to free speech, which both countries have pledged to defend as OSCE members. But the West also lives in a new world with growing layers of government, bureaucracies, and police repression as comes with structures like the EU and the new social media. Indeed, in the U.S., social media articulations are not the target of government yet but of government-tied social media ‘big-tech’ corporate bureaucracies such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, where the leftist Silicon Valley ‘fact-checkers’ and restricters overwhelmingly target the conservative and libertarian right.
Indeed, in the U.S., the Democratic Party is becoming increasingly authoritarian and is using Big Tech and other private entities increasingly tied into the state to repress the right. Such actions include: Democrat support for violent Black Lives Matter/Antifa riots in 2020 that left several police and civilians dead, hundreds injured, tens of millions of dollars in property damage to federal buildings; the crackdown on conservatives and Republicans in social media such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube tied to the massive electoral fraud carried by Democrats and allies like Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg; Big Tech’s censorship of news media and individual posts discussing then U.S. vice president and Democrat presidential candidate’s illegal use of his White House position to conduct business in Ukraine, China, and Russia through his son Hunter Biden; two falsified Democrat-led impeachments of President Donald Trump, one on charges of interfering in Ukrainian politics, for which Biden himself is guilty of as he acknowledged openly at a Washington conference and of which there is a widely distributed video; Democrat calls to arrest former President Donald Trump for inciting the Capitol riot even though his speech had not ended before a pre-planned invasion of the Capitol building had already begun and in his speech he called for a “peaceful” protest at the Capitol. Biden-Harris administration, without a word from the White House. In other words, the Democrat Party is engaged in the same kinds of rights and constitutional violations that it and the U.S. government in general routinely sanction Russia for.
Given all of the above, the U.S. and the West at large are becoming increasingly authoritarian themselves and thereby are rapidly losing any moral high ground that would justify sanctions against Russia. To the extent such sanctions remain in place and Western governments simultaneously reach the threshold of Russia’s soft-midrange authoritarianism, one can then say that without a doubt the double standard no longer has any moral idealist foundation remaining and has become simply another instrument of conducting a realist or even antagonistic policy against Russia. To be sure, the West has considerable way to go before it closes the ‘authoritarianism gap’ with Russia but that gap may close faster than one thinks. Conservatives in the U.S. opposed to the globalist ‘Great Reset’ policy of environmentalism and increasing government influence in the economy and society to enforce communo-fascist ideas such as ‘critical race theory’ and a radical LGBT agenda (e.g. the right of minors to undergo sex change operations without informing their parents and ‘allowing’ children as young as age three to ‘decide’ which of 140 genders they might be) are now being repressed. Democrat officials are demanding that conservative media be basically banned. Conservatives are being discriminated against in employment, being fired from their jobs, being banned from media, having book contracts canceled, and the like just for having voted or otherwise voiced support for Trump over Biden.
Much of this had been driven ‘from below’, in society, in America’s predominantly leftist Big Tech, education system, media, and entertainment industry. Much of this is based in California, a state which has had a one-party system for decades. These are the marks of a society becoming ill, and the U.S. backsliding that is resulting from this pathology will have a domino effect across the most democratic countries on Earth—those of the West.
This is all the more true, now because the rollback in American democracy in the name of the Democratic Party’s new communo-fascism is now U.S. government policy. After that, there will be little to no inspiration for nondemocratic regimes around the world to democratize. It is no coincidence that the government not just in Ukraine but in Georgia and Azerbaijan recently adopted authoritarian measures. In places like Moscow and Beijing, the pushback and ensuing chaos that Democrat backsliding on democracy will produce self-satisfied expressions of ‘we told you say.’ They will tell their populations that the new American decay is the inevitable consequence of democracy or at least ‘liberalism.’ In a certain sense this will seem right, given the bizarre turn liberalism’s turn to the left has taken into communo-fascism relying on postmodernist falsification, cultural Marxism, racist ‘critical race theory’ and ‘black liberation theology, and the ‘WOKE’ ideology. But in reality it will be dead wrong. Whether its massive corruption, ineffective economics, bought courts, or institutionalized privileges, most of the problems people face around the world are a function of a republican deficit, not of a democracy surfeit. Now authoritarian leaders will be able to say with some truth and effect not only that U.S. democracy-promotion is really a way of maximizing American power by destabilizing and manipulating competitors. They will be able to add with some truth and effect that the U.S. does not even come close to meeting the standards its demands others meet. The more true such claims are or can be made to seem, the more effective they will be.
Worse yet, America’s and the world’s growing spiritual and republican deficit comes at the worst possible stage in mankind’s material development. America’s and the world’s technological advancement can increase the tempo of the march to authoritarianism. In a worse case scenario the new ideological and political trends married to the new mind manipulation of Big Tech, media control, AI, and singularity raise the specter of a new Middle Ages with a technoatavist dystopian twist, first or all in the U.S. given its technological advancement. The fact that China is hot on America’s heels materially but lagging behind spiritually and political-culturally only darkens the storm clouds gathering over humanity.
The world is watching the new Biden-Harris regime and will be making rationally calculated decisions based on their perception of their own interests, not because of altruistic aspirations to republicanism and human, civil, and political rights for their citizens. That can only come from the inspiration that a free and thriving America provided for a few brief bright decades in its glorious but also on occasion troubling history.
About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, http://www.canalyt.com and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, www.cetisresearch.org. Dr. Hahn is the author of The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, forthcoming in 2021), Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018), The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.