Why the West Hates Russia: It's Not Woke Enough?
It's been only ten years since Barack Obama mocked Mitt Romney for suggesting that Russia is the world's biggest geopolitical threat. Back then, everyone could see what is obvious: Russia is a country with a small economy and a second-rate military. Its only claim to great power status is that it has a nuclear arsenal. Moreover, Russia is utterly incapable of projecting its power to any region where there is no sizable Russian minority or a majority (i.e., South Ossetia, Crimea, eastern Ukraine). Russia lacks the resources to deal with any sort of real insurgence outside its own borders. So, when Romney tried to make hating Russia a campaign issue in 2012, Obama correctly ridiculed the idea.
This was important because so long as an anti-Russian stance remained just an establishment GOP obsession, it couldn't really get off the ground. But then something happened that made the Democrats and the organs of the bipartisan establishment sign on to the Russia hate. It's not clear exactly what this was, but it did occur before the de facto 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia—an annexation made possible only by the fact that Crimea's population was majority ethnic Russian.
In a January 26 column, however, Richard Hanania presents a theory. The portrayal of Russia as a grand global threat went mainstream because Russia made it clear that it was not on board with the Left's social agenda. Specifically, Russia appeared to be uninterested in pandering to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) interest groups. Hanania writes:
[I]n 2013, Russia passed a law banning gay propaganda towards minors. This came on the heels of the 2012 arrest of members of Pussy Riot, a female performance art collective, for sacrilegious acts at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Three members of the group were sentenced to two years in prison each….
The US response in the media to Pussy Riot and the anti-gay law was nothing short of hysterical, and coverage of Russia, a country that had previously been viewed largely with indifference by American elites, has never been the same. My impression is that the gay propaganda law may have gotten more coverage in the American press than any other event that happened in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Of course, Russia is hardly uniquely "anti-gay." It's a whole lot easier—and a whole lot more legal—to be gay in Russia than in many other countries that are considered important US allies. Think Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) country Turkey. Gays in many of these places face severe criminal penalties for private sexual acts. That's clearly not the case in Russia. But, as Hanania notes,
Russian opposition to LGBT triggers American elites more than anti-gay laws and practices elsewhere because Russia is a white nation that justifies its policies based on an appeal to Christian values. Unlike a country like Hungary, it actually matters for international politics. Remember, we’re talking about the same elite that can only get excited about random attacks on Asians if they can pretend it’s white people who are doing it, and can’t be bothered to care about black people shooting each other every day but will make excuses for those who burn cities down in response to a police officer shooting a criminal in the course of an arrest. Homophobic Muslims or Africans will never inspire all that much righteous fury in these people. The template of “white conservative Christians bad” is fundamental to their worldview, and this leads to not only hostility towards Putin, but also nations like Hungary and Poland, even if the latter are uneasily accepted as friends because they were grandfathered into NATO, the alliance that is of course aimed at Russia.
While populists like Tucker Carlson and Sohrab Ahmari are uninterested in antagonizing Russia, most Republicans in Congress and in the most influential think tanks are still stuck in the 1980s. Democrats will sometimes advocate for a less aggressive stance towards Iran and China, but it has become impossible for them to do so towards Russia, the homophobic white nation that gave us Trump and destroyed our democracy.
Now no accusation about the evils of Putin is too outlandish. With the onset of the trucker strike in Canada, one left-wing Canadian pundit suggested—completely without evidence— that "Russian actors" were behind the strike.
Many other factors are no doubt at play, but Hanania's theory is plausible, and it's likely the Russian establishment's lack of enthusiasm for woke politics is surely hurting it among the American and European nomenklatura. As José Niño points out today, "wokism" has increasingly become a key aspect of US foreign policy and Pentagon politics. If ostensible antiestablishment conservatives sign on to the anti-Russian media blitz, it could be that would signal one of the Left's great victories over conservative stooges in recent decades.