Friday, November 21, 2014

The Power Vertical

Podcast: Backlash -- Russia's LGBT Battle Goes Global

Protesting homophobia in Russia on two continents: an LGBT rights protester in Moscow (left) and one in New York.
Protesting homophobia in Russia on two continents: an LGBT rights protester in Moscow (left) and one in New York.
It started as part of Vladimir Putin's efforts to shore up support among traditionalist Russians after losing the urban middle class. But Russia's laws marginalizing gays and lesbians and an ensuing string of violent homophobic attacks have turned into a major international headache for the Kremlin -- sparking everything from vodka boycotts to calls to strip Sochi of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

On the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," I discuss the issue of LGBT rights and how it is driving yet another wedge between Russia and the West.

Joining me are co-hosts Kirill Kobrin of RFE/RL's Russian Service and Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies.

Power Vertical Podcast: Russia's LGBT Battle Goes Global
Power Vertical Podcast: Russia's LGBT Battle Goes Globali
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.

Tags: Power Vertical podcast,LGBT rights

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Comment Sorting
by: Chaim from: BC
August 09, 2013 20:30
GIve it a rest people. Facts are that not everyone agrees with the GLTB claims and propaganda. Russia is protecting the traditional values of family and marriage that have built civilization as we now have it.
In Response

by: Tim from: Atlanta
August 11, 2013 18:01
Yes, and we see how well Russian society is doing Chaim!
In Response

by: Johnny from: CA
August 11, 2013 18:10
Facts are that bigots are now in the minority and have no further pull in society against gay people, unless it is in a country run by a dictator.
Your "traditional marriage" and "traditional families" are gone.
Live and embrace those facts.
In Response

by: Kgrl from: US
August 11, 2013 19:58
Give it a rest? Rhetoric that spouts traditional family values is threatened should be put to rest. Honestly, someones sexual preference is not powerful enough to bring down civilization nor is it affecting your right to hate. Unless you are aware of some magic power that the rest of the world is not? Try something scientific or even an original thought rather than repeating the same old words. I thought we proved the earth was round since then?
In Response

by: you don't know from: Terre Haute IN
August 11, 2013 23:57
First of all.. Gays brought you the modern way of living.. Our form of democracy was molded from Greek and Roman times. Aristotle was a gay man among many others. You don't know what your talking about. Traditional? Please you must be kidding me right? Our culture had done a vast amount of good it takes all kinds.. And for you to think we are going to set idly by and let people put us in closet or worse your a moron and don't deserve to be put in the human category.
In Response

by: G. J. from: TX
August 13, 2013 23:04
Funny you should mention the very societies that were destroyed by the decadence you declare as good. You might want to add Sodom And Gomorah to the pile as well. Although, I don't agree with their politics the Russian morality is in tune with procreation. Get a clue, the concentric Elite that push Gays to be the Stoic Society just want you to stop procreating. Eventually they will have their 500 million Earth Inhabitants because you will all die off with out Issue.
In Response

by: Derp
August 12, 2013 00:12
Except gays in Russia are being killed and beaten by these "traditionalists". So no, we won't 'give it a rest'.
In Response

by: Michael
August 12, 2013 00:56
So rude that you won't even bother to put the letters in the correct order, Chaim? What you call "traditional values" is in reality a move to actually harm human beings. "Traditional values" are love, respect, compassion, altruism, etc. None of those have any limitations in regards to sexuality. What you call the structure of civilization is actually only the formula for making babies. Guess what? Making babies isn't the only requirement of a civilization, and homosexuality occurs in nature all over the place--not merely in the human species. It has never devastated a species because it's a minority of the population. Plus, heterosexuality isn't required to have babies. Not even love is required for babies. People DO need to be in love for long lasting interpersonal relationships--you know, the core of a successful civilization. This debate isn't about breeding, but thanks for informing others about your simplicity. I love how only homophobes "make everything about sex" in this ongoing debate.
In Response

by: Moi from: toronto
August 12, 2013 03:54
What an unfortunate observation this is. Do you realize that gay people are being harrassed, imprisoned, beaten and killed - often by the authorities who are supposed to protect them. If you want to protect tradition, practice it yourself - don't force it onto other people. People have every reason to be outraged by this stupidity and ignorance!

by: American Troll
August 10, 2013 06:34
Russia doesn't tolerate gays, hence Russia's world-renowned 1,079% annual population growth rate and lack of debt. The American government forces mandatory gay marriages, and so the last few thousand of us left alive in 2030 will gratefully convert to Russian Orthodox Christianity and relocate to the Taymyr Peninsula, candles in hand. Also, the budget overruns on gay weddings have put America deeply into debt, but Russia proudly has no debt. You can't accumulate debt if no one is willing to lend you anything in the first place.

Ultimately, the West is doomed because a nation of chess-players thinks ten steps ahead. Like how Muscovites allow millions of Muslim migrant workers to build a total of four mosques, then wallow in panic and rage on schedule every year when Muslims literally fill the streets during Eid. As George W. Bush so eloquently said, "Strategery."
In Response

by: Jimmy from: Maryland
August 11, 2013 18:59
I had not heard America was forcing its population into gay marriages. I thought we were just starting to let those who wanted them have them. Very different from the "mandatory gay marriages" you are suggesting TROLL.
In Response

by: orazor1324
August 14, 2013 05:25
irony much?
In Response

by: Alex
August 11, 2013 21:03
I was going to point out how stupid you are, but then I saw the name you commented as.

by: john from: canada
August 10, 2013 15:00
Great podcast! Russian Duma's homophobia appears to accurately reflect homophobia of Russian society, at least according to Pew homophobia survey (link below).

Guillory's point that Russian homophobia may be related to anti-Western political strategies is interesting. Putin macho theory is interesting, and I'd add the prevalence of Western-linked Russian marriage businesses that suggest Russian women prefer Western men to Russian men. This emasculates insecure Russian heterosexuals and so they strike out against the vulnerable LGBT community, equating gays with pedophiles.

Obama correct that while Russia is not as horrifically homo-phobic as in most of Africa, Russia is significantly more homophobic then Europe, North America or Latin America (cf Pew).

Combination of emerging Western policies, active LGBT groups with media access (ie, Pink news link below), and depth of gay-friendly societies, creates new challenge for Russia.

By the way, Elton John tour coming to Moscow on 6 December...

by: Erica Cook
August 11, 2013 22:05
He said Puten is not the new Hitler. Yes he is.

by: Ben
August 12, 2013 17:10
"...laws marginalizing gays" - this lie is evident because for instance the law of the American army: "don`t ask - don't tell.." about gays is absolutely eaqual to the propaganda prohibition.This law was abolished in America recently without author`s hysterics.

by: Michael from: Bellingham WA
August 13, 2013 23:14
Most Americans have a naive belief that Russia wanted Olympic Games for the same reason other countries do -- promotion of the country, its people and culture, PR opportunity, etc. Proud Russian sitizens probably did, but in reality, Olympic Games in Russia is just another mechanism for a few well connected individuals to embezzle the country and international funds allocated for the event. After the spectacular theft of Russian taxpayers money for establishing the National Nano-Technology Park (whatever the name it had), an equivalent to the Silicon Valley in the Bay Area, Olympic Games presented great opportunity. The country has already spent (wasted) incrdible amount of money, well above of any logical expense for any particular engineering project. For instance, the new road from the airport in Adler to Krasnaya Polyana, the competition site (41 km or 25 miles long), cost by some reports over USD 8,000,000,000, just meager USD 320,000,000 per km. So, some Russians have already got Olympic Gold, and a lot of it. As far as they are concerned, the Games can be cancelled anytime. who cares?

by: ManchurianDevil from: Atlanta, Georgia
August 14, 2013 00:52
One further point to note about Russia's 'anti-gay' law is that it doesn't criminalize homosexuality itself but only bans so-called non-traditional-relationship propaganda directed toward minors. In other words, the law is an additional pretext for censoring any public speech that can be construed as 'non-traditional-relationship propaganda' even if the speech doesn't call for the normalization of homosexuality in Russia. Such speech can include candid discussions of AIDS or any other issue that can be construed as outside the bounds of traditional family relationships. Since Kirill Kobrinin noted that the 'gay agenda' in Russia is a threat entirely fabricated by the Kremlin, this law against 'propaganda' is really just a pretext to further censor public speech in general.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
August 14, 2013 07:57
Why am I blocked from this topic?
Is the issue of perverting all World by the West so important?
While Russian "War of Salamandras" grab non-Russian lands,
breed in non-Russian houses the ethnic Russians and alike,
Is it USA and West, enslaving about hundred millions statutory
raped once children and youngsters to pervert them, moving
it as their own "War of Salamandras" on the East?
Isn't why you blocking me out?

by: Jimbeau from: Washington, DC
August 14, 2013 14:00
Throughout this forum and in most of the published matter concerning this issue, there has been literally no mention of the major part the Russian Orthodox Church plays in fomenting the violence and anti-gay sentiment that Putin and the members of the Duma are now legislating. How easy it has been for the Church to slip into the position, at least publicly, that it had under the tsar. It's own freedom depends upon the whim of the sovereign and it in turn, panders the Church's own doctrine to shore-up it's popular image. Sochi must be the stage for LGBT athletes from around the world to add fuel to this small blaze of justice.

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From RFE/RL's News Desk:

Ukrainians are marking a new national holiday on November 21 -- the anniversary of the start of Kyiv’s Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of the country’s former pro-Kremlin regime.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed decree on November 13 that declared the holiday for annual “Day of Dignity and Freedom” celebrations.
The protests began with a few hundred people who met spontaneously on a vast square in central Kyiv of November 21, 2013 – disappointed by then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a landmark deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
After that first night, as the protests quickly swelled to tens of thousands of demonstrators, brutal police efforts to disperse the crowds with batons and teargas backfired.
As the crowds got bigger, the protesters began to call for Yanukovych’s ouster – which came in February 2014 after more than 100 people were killed in clashes with police that failed to end the demonstrations.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to announce an increase in nonlethal U.S. military assistance to Ukraine on November 21 as he meets in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The talks come on the first anniversary of the start of the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv that toppled Ukraine's former pro-Kremlin regime.
As Biden arrived in Kyiv on the evening of November 20, U.S. officials told reporters that he will announce the delivery of Humvee transport vehicles that are now in the Pentagon’s inventory of excess supplies.
They said Biden also would announce the delivery of previously promised radar units that can detect the location of enemy mortars.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not specify a dollar value for the assistance. 
Russia on November 20 warned the United States not to supply weapons to Ukrainian forces.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich cautioned against "a major change in policy of the (U.S.) administration in regard to the conflict" in Ukraine. 
He was commenting on remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama's choice to fill the number two spot at the State Department, Anthony Blinken, who told a congressional hearing on November 19 that lethal assistance "remains on the table. It's something that we're looking at."
The U.S. State Department's Director of Press Relations Jeffrey Rathke on November 20 told reporters that "our position on lethal aid hasn't changed. Nothing is off the table and we continue to believe there's no military solution."
He added, "But, in light of Russia's actions as the nominee mentioned [on November 19] in his testimony, as he indicated, this is something that we should be looking at."
The aid expected to be announced by Biden on November 20 falls short of what the Ukrainian president requested during a visit to Washington in September when he appealed for lethal aid - a request echoed by some U.S. lawmakers in response to what NATO allies say is Russia's movement of tanks and troops into eastern Ukraine.
In September, Washington promised Ukraine $53 million in aid for military gear that includes the mortar detection units, body armor, binoculars, small boats, and other nonlethal equipment for Ukrainian security forces and border guards in the east.
The United States and its European allies have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine.
(With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and TASS)

Russian Olympian hockey player Slava Voynov – who plays with the Los Angeles Kings NHL hockey team – has been charged with felony domestic violence against his wife.
Voynov faces one felony count of spouse abuse with a maximum penalty of nine years in prison. If convicted, he also could be deported.
Prosecutors say Voynov “caused his wife to suffer injuries to her eyebrow, check, and neck” during an argument at their home in October.
Voynov has been suspended from the NHL since his arrest early on October 20 at a California hospital where he took his wife for treatment.
Voynov’s attorney, Craig Renetzky, says his client didn’t hit his wife.
Renetzky blames the charges on a misunderstanding between police and Voynov’s wife, who speaks very little English.
Voynov – who played on Russia’s team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics -- faces arraignment on December 1.
(Based on reporting by AP and Reuters)

NATO says Russia's growing military presence in the skies above the Baltic region is unjustified and poses a risk to civil aviation.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Tallinn on November 20 that the aircraft regularly fail to file flight plans or communicate with air controllers and also fly with their transponders off.
Speaking at the Amari air base, he said alliance fighters have intercepted planes more than 100 times in the Baltic region alone so far this year, a threefold increase over 2013. 
He did not say how many of the intercepted aircraft were Russian.
Stoltenberg also said that, overall, NATO aircraft have conducted 400 intercepts to protect the airspace of its European alliance members in 2014 -- an increase of 50 percent over last year.
(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)


16:55 November 19, 2014


Konstantin Eggert has a commentary in "Kommersant" on Russia's anti-Americanism. He opens like this:

"Sometimes I have this feeling that there are only two countries in the world - Russia and the United States. Of course, there is Ukraine, but it either to join us or the Americas. Russian politicians and state television are constantly in search of the 'American hand' in all spheres of our life. In Soviet times, the United States was formally considered to be our number one military and ideological enemy. But even then it didn't occupy such a large space in the minds of the political leadership and citizens. And the paradox is that, on one hand, officials and the media regularly talk about the decline of America as a great power, and on the other declare it to be the source of all evil in the world. This contradiction does not seem to disturb anybody."

And closes like this:

We still have not been able to use the opportunity that we were given with the collapse of the communist regime - to arrange our lives based on liberty and civic virtue. And today, we, as a people, want to go back to the starting point, to beat everyone. And the Soviet Union, with its absence of sausage and freedom, again suddenly seems sweet and dear. But it won't happen. I will put it banally: you can't go into the same river twice.

Read the whole thing here (in Russian, with audio)

15:53 November 19, 2014


MIchael Weiss, editor-in-chief of The Interpreter magazine, appearing on Hromadske TV to talk about Russia's information war.

Michael and Peter Pomarantsev recently co-authored an excellent report "The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money." Both also appeared recently on The Power Vertical Podcast to discuss the report.

15:42 November 19, 2014


Oleg Kosyrev has a snarky and clever blog post on the subject up on the Ekho Moskvy website. 

1) The United States is the ideal opponent. "It is big and strong and your self-esteem increases when you fight somebody really influential."

2) The United States is not fighting with Russia. "They aren't really interested. They have enough of their own problems and dreams. It's nice to fight somebody who is not fighting you."

3) It is a substitute for the authorities' inability to benefit Russians. "How convenient. Who is to blame for rising food and gas prices? The U.S.A.. Who is to blame for the fact that Russian has political prisoners? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for people demonstrating on the streets? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for the fact that independent international courts denounce the Russian court system? The U.S.A. You can even blame the U.S. for the fact that the light doesn't work in the entrance to your apartment building."

Read it all (in Russian) here.

15:23 November 19, 2014


14:47 November 19, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Ukraine says it will not tolerate pressure from any other country over whether or not it seeks to join NATO.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebyynis spoke made the remark to reporters in Kyiv on November 19, after the BBC quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying in an interview that Moscow wants "a 100 percent guarantee that no-one would think about Ukraine joining NATO."

Hitting back with a reference to Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Perebyynis said Kyiv would like guarantees that Moscow will not interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs, send in troops, or annex Ukrainian territories. 

The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, told journalists on November 19 that any decision on seeking to join NATO could be made only by the Ukrainian people, not by Russia, Europe, ar the United States.

The Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, made a similar statement on November 19.

(Based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax)


President Vladimir Putin says that Russia is ready for cooperation with the United States as long as Washington treats Moscow as an equal, respect its interests, and refrains from interfering in its affairs.

Putin spoke November 19 at a Kremlin ceremony during which he received the credentials of foreign envoys including John Tefft, the new U.S. Ambassador to Moscow.

Putin said, "We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in various fields, based on the principles of respect for each other's interests, equal rights and non-interference in internal matters." 

The remark echoed a formula Putin set out in a foreign policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.

Tefft, 64, is a career diplomat who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania. 

His posting starts at a time when ties are badly strained over the Ukraine crisis. 

Tefft replaces Michael McFaul, who was ambassador from January 2012 until February 2014. 

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)



Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has signaled that a landmark nuclear arms treaty with the United States is not in jeopardy despite severe tension over Ukraine.

Speaking to Russian lawmakers on November 19, Lavrov said the 2010 New START treaty "meets our basic strategic interests and, on condition of its observance by the United States, we are interested in its full implementation."

The treaty, one of the main products of President Barack Obama's first-term "reset" of ties with Russia, requires Russia and the United States to have their long-range nuclear arsenals under specific ceilings by 2018.

But Lavrov said the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which President Vladimir Putin suspended in 2007, is "dead" for Moscow. 

NATO has refused to ratify a revised version of the CFE treaty without a full withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and Georgia.

12:45 November 19, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:



Russia has lashed out at the United States and European Union over Ukraine, saying the conflict there is the product of what Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called 25 years of selfish Western expansionism.

Addressing Russia's lower parliament house on November 19, Lavrov said the West "must support the process of mutually acceptable agreements instead of supporting the party of war in Kyiv, closing its eyes on outrageous human rights violations, lawlessness, and war crimes." 

Lavrov repeated Moscow's denials of involvement in an armed conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatists that has killed more than 4,100 combatants and civilians since April.

He said the conflict is an internal issue for Ukraine and "all attempts to turn Russia into a party to the conflict are counterproductive and have no chance of success."

His address to the State Duma, which was broadcast live on state television, appeared aimed to assure Russians that the Kremlin is in the right and fend off growing Western accusations of direct Russian military support for the separatists, who hold large parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

"The Ukraine crisis is a consequence of the policy Western states have pursued for a quarter-century of strengthening their own security at the expense of the security of others and broadening the geopolitical space under their control."

It came a day after President Vladimir Putin, who has used anti-Western words and actions to strengthen his grip on the country, said that the United States wants to "subordinate" Russia to itself and "solve its problems at our expense." 

Lavrov tempered the anti-Western message by saying that there is no alternative to cooperation between Russia and the European Union, long its biggest trade partner.
But he blamed the EU for the strains and said Russia's relations with the West must be based on the assumption of equality, echoing a demand Putin set out in a foreign policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.

"Russia's constructive course toward integration is running up against the desire of the United States and its allies to divide and rule, to push their tactical plans."

Russia banned a broad range of food imports from the EU and the United States in August in retaliation for sanctions they imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has raised fears among Russia's neighbors that it could seek control of more territory, and has brought Moscow's relations with the West to post-Cold War lows.

Ties had already been badly damaged by Russia's annexation of Crimea in March, which followed the flight of a Russian-backed president from Ukraine after months of protests over his November decision to spurn a political and economic pact with the European Union and turn toward Moscow instead.

Kyiv and the West accuse Russia of sending weapons and troops into eastern Ukraine to aid the separatists, who consolidated their hold on parts of eastern Ukraine's industrial Donbas region with November 2 elections denounced by Ukraine, the United States, and the EU as illegal.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on November 18 that there had been a "serious military buildup" both in eastern Ukraine and on the Russian side of the border, and urged Moscow to pull back its forces.

Kyiv and Western governments are concerned that Putin may want pro-Russian separatists to seize more ground in Ukraine or solidify control over the territory they hold, creating a "frozen conflict" that could destabilize the country, drain its economy, and crimp its pro-Western government for years.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who met with both Putin and Lavrov in Moscow on November 18 after talks in Kyiv, said during his visit that he saw "no grounds for optimism in the current situation."

Steinmeier warned of a "dangerous situation developing" in Ukraine and appealed to all sides to stick to an agreement signed in Minsk on September 5 on a cease-fire and steps toward peace.

The cease-fire is violated daily, but Steinmeier said the Minsk accord must not be abandoned and called for the swift completion of a plan for the "disengagement" of the conflicting sides.


Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow will not pressure its "allies" to recognize Crimea as a part of Russia or to join it in recopgnizing Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions as independent states.

In a question-and-answer session following an address to Russia's lower parliament house on November 19, Lavrov said the security and economic groupings that Russia is currently building with other former Soviet republics are aimed to "protect the legitimate interests of our countries' security."

He said that "on some issues, including the status of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, or Crimean history, we are not making our partners share our assessments 100 percent, as we do not want to put them into an awkward position if for some reason it is uncomfortable for them."

The remarks appeared aimed to assuage concerns among ex-Soviet republics that Russia, which annexed Crimea in March in a move that Kyiv and the West say was illegal, wants to diminish their sovereignty or control their foreign policy.

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or