Recently, Russia has been receiving a lot of bad press – in the past year or so there has been a growing list of disputes that have caused us to turn away from the neo-Soviet powerhouse. Russia is counted as one of the BRIC nations, so perhaps this gradual souring of relations deserves more attention as a phenomenon, rather than a series of entirely separate events. With the initiation of the Sochi Winter Olympics Russia is now under the world’s condemning gaze, and does not seem to care. Below are some of the central issues that have sparked controversy among critics of Russia.
1. Russia’s gay laws
Perhaps the most inflammatory subject is the awkward and vaguely-worded law banning ‘promotion’ of homosexuality to minors. Through Stephen Fry’s twitter feed I have avidly followed the story from its genesis to the outrage it immediately sparked, causing many to petition for a British boycott of the Winter Olympics. The campaign was so significant that our politicians were forced to comment on the unjust nature of the law, albeit still deciding to attend the Olympic games. Putin – and the Kremlin in general – was entirely unperturbed by the global outcry over his discriminatory politics, and did little to address the criticism and much more to justify it.
2. Anti-protest laws and artistic censorship
From February 2012 we have been aware that perhaps political freedom isn’t all that it could be in Russia. The ‘Russian feminist punk rock protest group’ (as they are styled on Wikipedia) ‘Pussy Riot’ made headlines when they were sentenced to two years imprisonment charged with ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’. Artists of the world united and protested for artistic freedom – once again Putin was unruffled, releasing them late last year. Greenpeace activists were similarly charged with ‘hooliganism’ under a series of new Russian laws – this one affected us a bit more, as there were British citizens involved, but our outrage did not do much to move the stolid Russian President: the activists still spent 100 days in a Russian prison for protest.
3. The Ukrainian question
Putin’s close relationship with the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych served as the catalyst for the protests that have been shaking Kiev for months now; the fact that Yanukovych chose to sign a trade deal with Russia, eschewing one with the European Union, signalled a familiar left turn. Experts have been starting to refer to Ukraine in Cold War-style terms once more, viewing Ukraine as basically annexed to an ever-dominant Russia. Whilse the rest of the world watches in horror, Russia continues to place incredible strain on the Ukranian government to maintain its eastern loyalty. Following the resignation of the Ukrainian Prime Minister and his entire cabinet Russia actually imposed a blockade on Ukraine, forcing lorry drivers out into the cold so their cargo could be inspected. Washington and Brussels have recently stepped up to offer a joint US-EU financial aid package to encourage reform.
4. Capture of the Orcas
Russia’s capture of two wild killer whales for exhibition at the Sochi Olympics is yet another example of Russia’s flagrant disregard for international law.
Aside from the 2012 Magnitsky Act, all the world has really done is sigh and tut in response Russia’s introduction of oppressive mandates both within and without its borders. However, I suppose this apathy is not particularly noteworthy when you consider the other abuses of human rights that the supposed ‘world security community’ has let pass recently. In Nigeria and Uganda huge strides have been taken to make homosexuality a criminal offence once more, while the humanitarian situation in the Middle East – of which the West may be partly responsible for – is quickly deteriorating. Our reaction to Russia seems to simply reaffirm an increasingly confined and non-interventionist foreign policy. It seems that the governments and people in the West are weary of meddling, preferring to adopt the role of disapproving bystanders rather than ‘law’ enforcement officials. How far will a country now be allowed to go until action is considered, much less taken?