Policy Memos

On Double Standards: Toward Strategic Liberalism in U.S. Russia Policy

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Over the past year, perhaps no single theme has become more prominent among Russian diplomats, officials, and journalists commenting on relations with the United States than the refrain that the United States applies “double standards” in its dealings with the postcommunist world. When Americans criticize Russia for the erosion of media freedom and state control over television under President Vladimir Putin, Russian commentators accuse the United States of jailing New York Times reporter Judith Miller and (as Putin himself argued at a summit meeting with President George W. Bush in February 2005) forcing Dan Rather to resign due to his critical reporting at CBS. When Americans call on the Putin administration to pursue a negotiated end to the war in Chechnya, Russian journalists argue that this is like asking the United States to negotiate a truce with Osama bin Laden. When U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations complain about rising authoritarian tendencies in Russia, highly-placed Russian officials (again, including Putin himself) retort that the United States is a country with electoral irregularities of its own, the very presidency of which was recently decided by the court. When U.S. analysts warn of a serious erosion of civic freedoms in Russia, Russians point to the U.S. government’s own apparent efforts to loosen legal restrictions on the torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. And when the United States declares its strong support for color revolutions against corrupt semi-authoritarianism in countries like Georgia and Ukraine, Russian commentators point to U.S. alliances with authoritarian leaders such as Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan and, until May 2005, Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, while noting the disturbing concentration of power in the hands of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and the dysfunctional government of Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko. Such examples, taken together, are presented in the Russian media as proof that U.S. demands for further democratization in the region are simply a cover for efforts to weaken Russia’s geopolitical influence. [...]

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About the author

Vice Provost for International Affairs; Director of the Reves Center for International Studies
College of William & Mary