From time to time, Russian authorities appeal to Western experience for different reasons. While they sometimes do this to signal the need to adopt advanced managerial or other best practices, in many cases they employ such references to neutralize Western criticism and justify undemocratic (and unpopular) moves by pointing to the West’s own imperfections. In 2008, the Economist labeled this tactic whataboutism, and it has become one of Vladimir Putin’s favorite rhetorical devices (alongside his denial of a leading role in initiating non-democratic or repressive measures against his opponents). In what ways have references to Western practices been used in Russian pro-governmental rhetoric during the post-Soviet period? What are the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of such moves? How has the West responded to whataboutist Russian claims? These are the key questions this memo addresses.
PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 252
by Serghei Golunov