Sunday, February 16, 2014

Window on Eurasia: West’s Craven Approach on Human Rights Decried by Russian Opposition Leader

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 16 – The International Olympic Committee’s “limp and late” reaction to the three-year jail sentence of ecologist Yevgeny Vitishko is but the latest example of “the senselessness of waiting for international interference on issues involving the defense of human rights” in Russia, according to Sergey Mitrokhin, a leader of the opposition Yabloko Party.

            Despite the fact that everyone knew about the persecution of Vitishko and other environmental activists, Mitrokhin points out, the IOC “reacted only the day after his sentence took effect,” two months after it was imposed, and did so “very softly and formally asking only for materials on the case” (

            By acting in this way, the IOC demonstrated once again that “there rules complete and final multi-polarity and tolerance to anyone including dictators and cannibals.”  Its members are prepared to sell out their principles “’for the beauty of sport’” on any and all occasions.  And Western countries in general are only ready to express “their concern.”

            Why? Mitrokhin asks rhetorically. Because this is now “the style of Western interaction” with the current Russian government.

            “In the West, they give the impression that they do not know how the residents of the Kuban are restricted in their property rights so that their lands can be expropriated more quickly for clearing the land for the construction of Olympic sites.” And now that the games are on, Mitrokhin says, “they do not see the persecution of civic activists in the Kuban” either.

            “It is clear” that for many Western leaders “gas is everything, and Gazaryan [a colleague of Vitishko’s who has been forced into asylum in Estonia] and Vitishko are nothing.”  And these Western leaders are all too ready to declare the fact that Khodorkovsky’s sentence was shortened by six months as “a gigantic diplomatic victory.”

            The same thing has happened with the much-ballyhooed Magnitsky List, Mitrokhin says, although he notes that his party did not have the exaggerated expectations of many others because it was clear from the beginning that the list wasn’t going to have the impact that its authors expected.

            In the event, “the US adopted a list of 18 Russian bureaucrats of the second or third rank who as a result would be blocked from entering America.  Did Putin’s regime become more democratic as a result? Were there more freedoms?” No one should have expected otherwise, even those who suggested that it would provoke a split in the Russian ruling elite.

            How “naïve” such people were and are, Mitrokhin says.  “The Western theoreticians do not know that in Russia the more powerful part of the elite which has real power long ago learned” to ignore or otherwise deal with such “divisions’ and prevent them from having any impact on the top.

            Moreover, in this case, they did not have much to fear.  Those who adopted the Magnitsky List chose “the most moderate variant: not a single individual from Putin’s entourage was put on the list.” The reason for such a “castrated” list? No one wanted to “complicate relations with Russia which in Washington’s plans have a significant role.”

            “This is called Realpolitik,” Mitrokhin says, a term that “conceals fear before brutal regimes” and the desire to placate rather than annoy them.

            What the people of Russia need is for the West to “observe its own values.” No one should conclude, however, that “because the West will not help us ... we don’t need it at all.”  It is the case that “we do not need the its unending impotence in defense of its own values” or its “recognition of the right of other states to violate human rights.”

            What those in Russia who care about human rights need is “a strong West, capable of speaking with any sovereign dictator in the language not of his values but of its own.”  It does no one except the dictators any good for the West to be “afraid” of declaring or defending these values in the hopes of preferment.

            To the extent that they do, Mitrokhin argues, “Western leaders bear a greater responsibility for the violation of civil rights in Russia than does Putin. For him, these rights are nothing, but for them, they are an icon.”  Those who spit on an icon are shameful, but those who pray to it but tolerate others who spit on it are if anything worse.

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