Behind Putin's Cynicism and Hypocrisy

Posted by Tom Malinowski
May 18, 2014
Pro-Russian Gunmen Guard a Checkpoint in Eastern Ukraine

You can usually figure what Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing and why by noting the actions and values he falsely projects onto others.

Over the past several weeks, for example, he has accused the Ukrainian government of stripping autonomy from Ukraine's eastern regions, while moving to end local elections in Russia.

He has claimed U.S. "mercenaries" were operating alongside Ukrainian forces, while infiltrating Russian special forces to seize Crimea and organize violence in Ukraine's east.

He has called the Internet a CIA creation, while trying to bring Russian social media under the control of a secret police-dominated state.

So when Mr. Putin justified intervention in Ukraine by accusing its government of human-rights abuses, it was a bad sign for the Ukrainians who would soon be subject to his rule.

The new authorities in Kiev aren't perfect. But international organizations have found no evidence that they are or were suppressing the rights of the ethnic-Russian minority in Crimea or Ukraine's east. Pro-Kremlin separatists, on the other hand, have been attacking their unarmed opponents with growing abandon. Every offense Russia falsely attributed to Ukraine's Maidan is in fact being committed by its own forces and proxies.

The pattern began in Crimea. Shortly after Russia's intervention, local authorities announced that ethnic Tatars -- who had returned over the years to Crimea after their mass deportation by Joseph Stalin -- would have to vacate their land. Before the deportation's 70th anniversary this week, police conducted mass searches of Tatar homes.

On over a dozen occasions in the days that followed, armed men attacked or detained local and international journalists. Pro-Russian forces kidnapped and tortured Ukrainian civic activists. At least two were killed in detention, their bodies dumped in forests; more are still missing. International organizations report that around 5,000 people -- including minority Christians, Jews and at least 3,000 Tatars -- have fled Crimea and sought refuge elsewhere in Ukraine.

In Ukraine's east, polls show that the great majority of people -- whether they supported the Maidan revolution or not -- don't want to join Russia. But when the citizens of Donetsk, Slovyansk and Kharkiv have come out to oppose Moscow's intervention, pro-Russian militias have repeatedly assaulted them; more than 100 peaceful demonstrators in the east have been hospitalized after such attacks.

Abductions, torture and killings have also intensified in the east. Three bodies of supporters of the Kiev government recently washed up on a riverbank in Slovyansk, bearing signs of torture. Acting on orders from the self-appointed "mayor" of Slovyansk, pro-Russian militias have begun to drive local Roma families from their homes.

In these and other ways, Mr. Putin is extending into eastern Ukraine the repression he has imposed inside Russia in recent years, in direct opposition to what eastern Ukrainians would enjoy as part of a united Ukraine: local autonomy, freedom of expression and internationally monitored free and fair elections. This isn't just the effect of Mr. Putin's intervention; it is arguably the intent. The example of Ukraine's Maidan -- of ordinary people overthrowing a corrupt, authoritarian ruler so that they could draw closer to European democracies -- was a threat to the ruler of the Kremlin. For this, in Mr. Putin's mind, Ukraine had to be punished and humiliated, if not carved into pieces.

Russia's actions are a threat to a postwar international order designed to banish the old pattern of large powers swallowing small ones. But the crisis in Ukraine is also a contest of values. This isn't a contest between the West and Russia, but between people everywhere -- including in Moscow -- who believe that states exist to serve their citizens, and regimes that think it should be the other way around.

The sanctions that Washington and Brussels have imposed to stop Russian aggression have costs. All sanctions do, and because the potential costs are higher for Europe, paying this price isn't a mere gesture. But it is striking that in Europe, those most vulnerable to Russia's countermeasures -- from Estonia to Poland to the Czech Republic -- have nonetheless been among the most vocal in pressing us to act.

The effect is even more pronounced among Russian dissidents I have recently met -- men and women who are labeled "traitors," "foreign agents" and "extremists" for questioning the Kremlin, but who still urge us to resist what their government is doing. The closer one is to the heart of the problem, the more one sees what's at stake.

Those of us who live further away should see things as clearly. We were right to seek practical cooperation with Russia and to encourage its integration as a respected power into global institutions. I hope that the time will come when this is possible again. But in the current crisis, we are right not to make the mistake of projecting our hopes onto the ruler of Russia in the way he projects his cynicism onto us.

About the Author: Tom Malinowski serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared as an opinion piece on the Wall Street Journal Europe online.



Bruce P.
United States
May 19, 2014
Mr. Putin is wrong on one point: the internet was not created by the CIA, it was created by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) (see DARPA's website: ). On all the other points you mention, Putin is 100% right, and I am disgusted by the continual outpouring of lame propaganda coming from the U.S. Department of State.
David S.
May 19, 2014
putin is wrong on all the points.inorder to figure out the inside story we should analyze on going past ten years behavior of Russia and its most important allies like rogue states north korea and iran. what the hell these countries were doing when USA was and is now busy in war against terrorism in iraq and afghanistan??????. these are just initial outcomes while they planned to do so much. first north korea showed its atomic power, then iran showed its vast nuclear progrmme and advanced milltary weapons. SO NORTH KOREA, IRAN AND FINALLY RUSSIA STARTED STEP BY STEP AND TURN BY TURN TO MOVE FARWARD IN THEIR EXTREME GREED OF DOMINATION ON OTHER CIVILISED COUNTRIES. if we see iran's past five to four years track record. iran has become an extreme threat to the whole middle east, by threatenning isreal and saudi arab to wipe out these countries from the map of the world. it seems that iran want to conquer the whole middle east.we are vey much aware of iranian involvement in iraq, syria and other oil riched arab countries to start proxy wars and terrorism in their territories.i think it the best opportunity for usa to strengthens its economic and millitary relationships with arab allies to save the whole middle east from Russain backed iranian Domination. Russia has just started to play the very same game in europe as iran is already playing in the middle east very successfully. further more circle of NATO SHOULD BE EXTENDED TO THE MIDDLE EAST ARAB ALLIES, AND ANTI MISSILE DEFENCE SYSTEM SHOULD BE INSTALLED IMMEDIATELY IN ISRAEL, SAUDI ARAB, BAHRAIN, QATAR,UAE, AMMAN, JORDAN,YEMAN AND KUWAIT, SO THAT ANY THREAT COULD BE DEALT PROPERLY. THE SAME STEPS CAN BE TAKEN IN THE EUROPE TO ENCOUNTER THE RUSSIAN GREED. hopes the best for usa, eu and middle east states.
John D.
Illinois, USA
May 19, 2014
Why would not you mention ~100 people executed in Odessa by right-wing gangs linked to new Ukranian government? There are no any data that rebels in Donetsk or Slavyanks are backed by Russia in any form.
Eric J.
United States
May 20, 2014

@ Asist. Sec. Tom Malinowski,

You know the world is coming unglued when you see what I saw parked at my local Wallgreens last night....a vintage '63-4 VW bug in mint condition with an original crome luggage rack ....and on this rack was a suitcase standing upright strapped down to it....and on this suitcase someone had painted the words "Emotional Baggage".

For some strange reason I instantly thought of Vladamir Putin....driving that car over oblivion's cliff while the whole world looks on...thinkin' that by his convincing logic of political reasoning that pigs will fly.

Best Regards,


Cary G.
Guam, USA
May 24, 2014
U.S. and Russia disputes have been ongoing as far back as I can remember (Who remembers the Cold War?). Sanctions may be necessary and more support may be required from other Member States, who are stakeholders of foreign affairs in Eastern Europe. I do not think this is the liability of America to step in and take all of the responsibilities on the situation with Russia. -Cary Lee Peterson, LL.D.
gulzar g.
California, USA
May 25, 2014
THE GOOD THE BAD AND UGLY Some one said every body is a , pilgrim of mecca , that made me just smile and made me think that this post almost qualify Russia is the one of Pilgrim also , now if you just take a not even to deep you will be forced to think , wow Russia might not be ever been to Mecca unless there was the purpose of an invasion involved , we really don't even need to go that far away to see the Aggression of it , from Lithuania, Estonia ,Latvia.Iran , Budapest. Prague,east Berlin, Michael I of Romania by the Communist Party of Romania, Afghanistan and list goes on , and with rap sheet Russia might not be a ''Pilgrim '', now how you separate the ''the good , the Bad , and ugly , for get about religion , political preferences and add it up who who is contributing more wellness , goodness, by offering assistance , financial , technological, and cultural opportunities ,math is needed .


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