I am worried that Western perception of Russia is coloured by prejudice and, occasionally, outright racism.
If Putin is popular in Russia that is because there is a prevalent opinion that, unlike Yeltsin, he is not yielding to Western pressures. Make no mistake: he is not going to jeopardize his approval rating, which is unparalleled in Europe and North America, where many citizens have come instead to doubt that their leaders are running their countries in the interests of the citizens.
Poking the Russians with the stick of gay rights will only solidify his popularity and enhance his reputation in Russia (and elsewhere) – leaving aside the fact that Poland and Lithuania (not to mention Saudi Arabia) have stricter laws against promoting gay lifestyle than Russia, but that does not seem to be a big concern for our media.
This is most likely a shadow projection. We refuse to deal with our dark side and defend our belief that we are, comparatively, exceptional and superior. We cannot tolerate evidence to the contrary and will remain wilfully ignorant of our faults. We are indeed the very best in identifying ritual enemies and scapegoats to make us feel better.
Putin and Russia have become a projection of our own psyche. Our governments have been caught spying on their citizens, lying to them, waging illegal wars, being in cahoots with financial oligarchs, demonizing free speech and free inquiry, abridging civil liberties, shutting their eyes to atrocities perpetrated by “our” allies, and yet…“that is nothing compared to what Putting is doing in Russia”.
So we shout louder and louder, while Putin becomes stronger and stronger.
We mostly use sticks (and bombs) instead of carrots and, as a result, emerging nations distance themselves from us. A declining West against the rest: the inevitable outcome of a harmful and self-defeating Western fascination for wars and the use of force.
A self-righteous lack of diplomatic goodwill can only make things worse: in Syria, in Ukraine, in Iran, in Russia. We all know that. We all know that the rest of the planet fears us, even though we believe that they should admire us. The non-Western world is intimidated by our remaining power and lack of restraint, and also by our frailty and recklessness, which threaten world stability.
Russia is undergoing huge changes after experiencing the massive demographic, social and economic shock and psychological trauma of the hasty transition from communism to neoliberal capitalism. Arousing the suspicions and worries of a nuclear power sitting on a large share of global resources is not a well thought-out plan.
There is a better way: the way of dialogue and cooperation, the way of humility and respect, as the fate of Russia and the fate of the European Union are deeply intertwined, economically, culturally, energetically and, I dare say, spiritually.