Staunton, April 6 – Russian officials and commentators and their supporters in the West have long complained that criticism of Moscow and its policies reflects not honest and accurate assessments of what the Russian authorities are doing wrong but rather a manifestation of “Russophobia.”
Now, Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s press secretary has introduced a new term to explain and thus dismiss any unwelcome attention to and especially criticism of the Russian regime and its leader: “Putinophobia” (tass.ru/politika/3177274 and rufabula.com/news/2016/04/05/putinofobia).
According to Peskov, “world media, both print and electronic have concentrated in a completely inexplicable way on [Russia] and on [Russia’s] president. And it is this which we have in mind when we speak about ‘the bacillus of Putinophobia’ which has infected many in the Western community.”
The press secretary’s linguistic innovation came in his first public reaction to the publication of the so-called Panama documents about the offshore holdings of world leaders, including Putin, who is established to have parked some two billion US dollars in various banks outside of Russia.
Few countries have been as successful as Russia has over the last two centuries in getting many to agree that any criticism of Russia or Russians represents a kind of phobia or fear. Those who condemn German actions or American ones, for example, are seldom charged with “Germanophobia” or “Americanophobia.”
But now, as Russia’s political system becomes even more centralized under the dictatorship of Putin, Russophobia apparently is not enough of a defense. And so Peskov has introduced a new term of art, “Putinophobia,” which Russians and defenders of Russia can use against critics.
It will be interesting to see whether this term will acquire the cachet Russophobia has, especially since from the Kremlin’s point of view, it carries with it a problem for the Putin regime. To the extent that it promotes a distinction between Putin and Russia, its introduction may have the effect of opening the way for more criticism of the Kremlin rather than less.
After all, many critics of Russian policy do not hate Russia or Russians. Instead, they despise and criticize the criminal actions of its current leader. Consequently, such people may even welcome the term “Putinophobia” because it more accurately describes the object of their anger if not, as Peskov and Putin would have it, their fears.