“Whataboutism” in Russian public diplomacy  


The Russian people are no different to any others when it comes to being told negative things about their country; its leaders or the place they live. They don’t like it! The UK seems unique in the fact that it is almost a civic responsibility to criticize our politicians and civil society. Do not try this in the USA however as they will quickly tell you where to go back to if you criticize the USA. The same goes for Russia and if visiting you will rapidly learn that “whataboutism” and “othering” are drilled into Russians in the kindergarten and that International Relations students are like chess masters in using this Public Diplomacy technique.
“ Whataboutistm: a rhetorical defense that alleges hypocrisy from the accuser.“ (Khazan, 2013)


Lecturers and professors, you meet at conferences, may not use it but, believe me, they are humoring you to be polite.  They will be following the dominant discourse of their parents and just hiding either their shame if they think you are right or their anger if they have to listen to some arrogant westerner spouting his imperialist views at them again.
Their media has engaged in ”othering” for all their lifetime and for the Russians it is a definite case of “Us and them (the others).”
Some, however, will engage with you and their domestic media has armed them well.
None of the world’s greatest illusionists has anything on these guys when it comes to smoke and mirrors, and they are well prepared for your discourse on any lack of human rights, corruption, privacy violations, etc.. “Whataboutism” teaches us never to answer the question but always to divert and misdirect and the Russian domestic media provides all the answers to the majority of Russians who still get their news from terrestrial TV and Radio.

whataboutism-twitter.png  hqdefault.jpg
It works as follows: You say “invasion of Crimea,” they say “what about Iraq and the Serbians who predominantly get their news from Russia say “what about Kosovo.” You say “what about corrupt politicians in Russia” and they contra with “what about crooked Hilary” and so it goes on. You say police state; they say  “what about police brutality in the USA.” You say, “lack of Minority rights” and they respond with  “what about “Black lives matter.” There is always a “whatabout” for any point you try to raise occasionally leaving you to question your own country’s media presentation. After all “what about the Native Americans protesting against the oil pipeline going their ancient burial grounds?  Why wasn’t that more reported?
The only problem is that the Russian Public diplomacy machine, with its warehouses full of trolls producing for “Kwood,” is that it is too big and relies on the short memory of its audience as whataboutism can be contradictory so relies on distraction rather than in-depth analysis.
Regarding Kosovo Dmitry Medvedev says:-
1) “ Kosova Independence violates Serbia’s’ sovereignty and is a violation of international law” (Dimitry Medvedev, Feb 2008)
but then he contradicts himself when Medvedev wants to use Kosova to justify Russia’s intervention in Sth Ossetia, Georgia and he says:
“In international relations, you can not have one rule for some (Kosovo) and another rule for others (Sth Ossetia) (Medvedev, August 2008)
There seems to be no problem producing  2 “whatabouts” out of the same situation or even 3 when Medvedev is picked up on it and then claims that Sth Ossetia is a good type of Kosova.
“Kosovo is a special case; South Ossetia is a special case “ (Medvedev, August 2008) as according to him it is not appropriate to compare (whatabout) the two.

However, the one who really counts then uses Kosova again in a “whataboutism” to tell us that Crimea is just like Kosovo” Crimea’s secession from Ukraine was just Kosova’s secession from Serbia” “Vladimir Putin, March 2014).

Confused about Kosova? It provides an excellent example of “Whataboutism, ” and confusion is precisely the aim. To ‘whatabout” the West for recognizing Kosovo it is bad, but it is good when Russia wants to justify the annexation of Crimea. Whataboutists can’t lose.

For foreigners, it is  “if Kosovo is special then so is Crimea so, what about Kosovo? What is it that the Russians find so useful about Kosovo? Those having lived in both countries understand that Serbia sees itself as Russia’s little brother and for the Serbs, Kosovo is as much a part of Serbia ideologically and religiously as Wales is a part of the UK. Add to this that Russia has never bombed Belgrade and most Serbian newspapers tow the Kremlin line perhaps the EU should ask itself whether this cuckoo may just be a little too big for their anti-populist agenda.
The men and women on the Serbian autobus are just as adept as the Russians at ”Whataboutism” and disparaging views about the Imperial US who led NATO to bomb their beloved Belgrade. “Whataboutism” has nothing to do with facts. It is more akin to mass conspiracy theory and comes from the birthplace of populism. It drives the listener to disregard their argument and tune in solely to the emotional part of the brain and as such is a highly valued state public diplomacy tool designed to get us to forget our rules and play by theirs. # GI6007

Khazan, Olga (August 2, 2013). “The Soviet-Era Strategy That Explains What Russia Is Doing With Snowden”The Atlantic.
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/08/the-soviet-era-strategy-that-explains-what-russia-is-doing-with-snowden/278314/  Accessed December 17, 2016.


One thought on ““Whataboutism” in Russian public diplomacy  

  1. icantbelievethisusernamehasbeentaken February 6, 2017 / 5:51 pm

    A very interesting blog entry. I really enjoyed reading it and I thank you for writing it. I really enjoyed how you managed to identify and explain an interesting pattern in Russian public diplomacy I have to confess I was not much familiar with. The examples you provide, in my opinion, are greatly appreciated as they help supporting your case. The only thing I feel like suggesting is the following:
    I guess it comes as no surprise this module draws heavily from post-structuralism and the concept of ‘whataboutism’ seems to be like a good tool to tailor IR in a fashion favourable to the policy-maker … I would have liked to see, in that sense, a comparison between such method and other more traditional ones we tend to identify in public diplomacy.
    Again, great blog entry !


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