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the russian front: Putins Colossal Anti-Magnitsky Blunder

Published: January 16, 2013 (Issue # 1742)


President Vladimir Putins initial response tothe Magnitsky Act was right onthe money: toaccuse theU.S. government ofmonumental hypocrisy byfocusing attention onWashingtons record oftorture andillegal rendition ofterrorism suspects. That reaction also had thetit-for-tat structural symmetry that is standard insuch cases.

More important, it allowed theKremlin totake territory it had not occupied since Soviet days: themoral high ground. Back then, Soviet officials would counter U.S. criticism ofhuman rights violations with thestandard question, And what about your blacks? Historian Martin Kenner even contends that progress inthe civil rights movement was accelerated bythe criticism fromMoscow, asort ofsocial justice race running parallel tothe arms andspace races.

Apart fromsymmetry andhigh ground, there was also anexcellent contextual reason toattack theU.S. forits practices oftorture andrendition. Thesubject is very much inthe air again because U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated John Brennan, currently his chief counter-terrorism adviser, tobe thenew CIA director. Four years ago, that nomination proved impossible because ofBrennans favorable remarks about rendition andwaterboarding. Inaddition, thenew film Zero Dark Thirty detailing themanhunt forOsama bin Laden was controversial even before its recent release because its violent opening scenes ofwaterboarding suggest that this torture led toactionable intelligence. This was anideal moment forPutins attack toresonate with U.S. popular cultural as well as onCapitol Hill.

Asignificant percentage ofAmericans, especially among those who voted forObama inNovember, are still angered bythe damage that former President George W. Bush andVice President Dick Cheney caused tothe U.S. global image. If Putins idea was tostick it tothe U.S., he couldnt have found abetter means andmoment todo it.

Yet Putins big mistake was when he turned his initial symmetric response intoa foolish asymmetric one. Bydenying Americans theright toadopt Russian children, thereasoning must have been some combination ofThe Americans are sentimental, thisll hurt them! andWho do they think they are, coming here andshopping forour blond, blue-eyed darlings!

Inthe end, ofcourse, it is Russias own orphans who will suffer themost. Theold Russian saying, Beat your own so others will fear you, was probably not designed with kids inmind.

Patriarch Kirill has called onRussians toadopt more children. Its agood idea. This is also amoment where theopposition or spontaneous groups that are changing Russia slowly fromthe bottom up could come forward with amass adoption program. But it seems that they, like Putin, are also letting arare andvaluable opportunity slip by.

What makes this whole business even odder is how adroitly Putin dealt with French actor Gerard Depardieu, grabbing world headlines andchanging theperception ofRussia as aplace where artists like thepunk group Pussy Riot are persecuted tomaking it arather safe haven forinternational movie stars fighting forreasonable income tax rates.

Yet only time will tell whether Putins play onDepardieu was smart. It may turn out that, like many post-Soviet people, Putin has thrown out thedialectical baby with theMarxist bath water. Dialectics stressed that things inevitably turned intotheir opposite. Russian citizen Depardieu may yet end up onRed Square protesting thearrest ofsome fellow Russian artist, asight theworld media would gobble up. Stay tuned.

Richard Lourie is theauthor ofSakharov: ABiography andThe Autobiography ofJoseph Stalin.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, July 24


Liliana Modiliani, a well-known Russian stylist, will talk about choosing clothes that fit during her lecture at 7 p.m. at the Pryamoy Efir art club, 13 Viborgskoe Shosse.



Friday, July 25


Discuss Russias economic and political prospects for 2014 during a Business Breakfast organized by SPIBA at 9.30 a.m. in the Bank Saint-Petersburg office at 64


Malookhtinsky Prospekt.


Start your weekend with adorable miniature pigs at the Squealing Pig festival at 7 p.m. this evening in the Karl & Friedrich restaurant, 15 Iozhnaya doroga, on Krestovsky Island.



Saturday, July 26


Hundreds of brand-new and retro cars, drag and drift shows, test drives and karting are planned for the Avtobum-2014 festival, which will take place in front of the RIO shopping center at 2 Fuchika Ulitsa.


Participants in todays SaniDay Summer competition will impress visitors with their hand-made, unusual and hilarious boats, which will race at the Igora Resort near the 54th kilometer on Priozerskoe Shosse.


Metro Family Day will include both serious lectures for adults and master-classes for children, making the event interesting for the whole family. To participate, come to Kirov Park on Yelagin Island.


Photography will be the focus of todays Photosubbota, which features lectures by famous photographers, meetings with photo schools and studio representatives, and participation in a photography competition. The event starts at noon at Petrokongress, 5 Lodeynopolskaya Ulitsa.


If you like cycling, make sure to visit the Za Velogorod Festival with its retro bike exhibition, market and live music. The second round of the Leningrad Criterium race will also take place during the event at Petrovsky Arsenal in Sestroretsk.



Sunday, July 27


Navy Day will be celebrated with a weapon and military transportation exhibition, self-defense master classes and concerts. The event starts at 1 p.m. in the 300th Anniversary Park of St. Petersburg.



Monday, July 28


Dont miss a chance to see the latest achievements in robotics during the RoboDom interactive show, exhibiting more than 150 robots. The show will be at BUM center, 22/2 Gzhatskaya Ulitsa, until Aug. 3. The entrance ticket costs 350 rubles ($10).



Tuesday, July 29


A video of a Queen concert from 1986 will be shown today at 8 p.m. in Yaschik, 50/13 Ligovsky Prospekt.



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