Dear American ‘Liberals’: Everything You Think You Know About Russia Is Wrong by Lisa Marie White for Russia-Insider
Russia is actually ahead of the United States on many issues championed by the American Left
We all know what it feels like to log onto the Newsweek-owned Daily Beast, or the puerile random listicle generator known as Buzzfeed, and peruse the invective-laden anti-Russian, anti-Putin screeds contained therein. These hysterical publications serve a function; that function is to convince members of the American public who might balk at militarism that today’s Russia is a dangerous, dirty, backward, evil place, and its leader is some amalgamation of Dr. Evil and Emperor Palpatine.
Unlike during the lead-up to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the left took the lead in opposing the Bush administration’s reckless Middle East policy, American liberals have more or less given Obama a free hand in his dealings with Russia and the Evil Putin. Liberals opposed the Iraq War, and spent many an hour arguing with Bushies about the errors of his foreign policy. It just so happens that these individuals turned out to be right, but their insistence on facts, logic, and commitment to the truth have gone out the proverbial window when it comes to Russia and Ukraine. “Putin is just like Stalin,” my earnest, well-educated, liberal friends tell me. “His next target is Moldova and he hates gay people and Pussy Riot and now he wants to use prison labor to build the World Cup venues and he hates all women and doesn’t support women’s rights. I don’t understand why you are so pro-Russian.” I am pro-Russian because I can tell the difference between right and wrong. I can also realize when a country and a leader are being demonized to further an American geopolitical agenda. Furthermore, I can see that the more the United States tries to create some philosophical difference between the U.S. and Russia as existed during the Cold War, the more the former opens itself up to critique.
I guess it comes as no surprise when the U.S. mainstream media spends pages of copy wringing its hands over the deaths of con artists like Boris Nemtsov, but can’t find a smidgen of space to tell the story of innocent victims like Vanya – who suffered horrific injuries as the result of Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation.” I would like to point out to the well-meaning urban hipsters who may be reading this that they are siding with people like John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and are being duped into supporting a neo-conservative war agenda. American liberals may not be on the same page with Vladimir Putin on many issues, which is great for them, because American liberals are not required to live in Russia. However, it must be pointed out that, in many ways, Russia is actually ahead of the United States on issues that tend to be dear to liberals’ hearts. Due to the constant deluge of invective on Russia’s “backward” slide, when I am aware of the precise extent and stench of America’s dirty laundry, these sanctimonious moral lectures from Americans on “human rights” don’t exactly gel with me.
Rather than getting its panties in a twist about a piece of legislation that a foreign country has merely proposed, perhaps the NYT would prefer it if Russia followed America’s lead and started executing its prisoners instead of asking them to repay their debt to society. Capital punishment in Russia has been indefinitely suspended – in contrast to the U.S.’s busy death chambers. Since 1976, the U.S. has executed 1,408 individuals. Thus far in 2015, 14 prisoners have been executed. Texas and Oklahoma alone are responsible for 637 executions. Even for those who support capital punishment, it cannot be denied that America’s death chambers have likely putinnocent people to death. By contrast, when Russia entered the Council of Europe in 1996, Boris Yeltsin bumbled his way into abolishing the practice.
Capital punishment has not been reinstated under the administrations of Dmitri Medvedev or Vladimir Putin. In 2008, the UN took a vote on passing a moratorium on the death penalty. Russia was one of the 106 nations that voted in favor; the U.S was among the 46 that voted against. Despite the objections of countries such as the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Iran, the measure was approved. Not only does the U.S. far outpace Russia in use of the death penalty, America executes individuals who would not be eligible for the death penalty in Russia. Women, children, and the mentally disabled are exempt from capital punishment. The last person executed in Russia was Sergey Golovkin, a convicted serial killer. In fact, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has spoken out against the death penalty.
Rates of Incarceration
Perhaps the Russians do not need to clear out their prisons through the use of a barbaric and outdated punishment simply because they don’t have as many individuals in prison. Think Progress reports that the U.S. has the largest prison population in the developed world. Additionally, minority American men are more likely than their white counterparts to land in prison.
According to this chart, the incarceration rate in Russia lands somewhere between the U.S. states of Washington and Utah. You read that correctly. The entirety of the Russian Federation has a smaller percentage of its population in prison than the state of Washington. Washington has approximately 7 million residents; Russia has 143 million people. While Russia, China, and the United States overall have the highest prison rates per 100,000 people, the United States has 707; Russia has 470; and China has somewhere between 124 and 172. I wonder when I will see the New York Timesgleefully trumpeting this fact as part of a smug commentary on the U.S.’s backward slide.