A Russian citizen could not publish a testament like the one I just offered [about inalienable human rights]. President Putin and his associates do not believe in these values. They don't respect your dignity or accept your authority over them. They punish dissent and imprison opponents. They rig your elections. They control your media. They harass, threaten, and banish organizations that defend your right to self-governance. To perpetuate their power they foster rampant corruption in your courts and your economy and terrorize and even assassinate journalists who try to expose their corruption.They write laws to codify bigotry against people whose sexual orientation they condemn. They throw the members of a punk rock band in jail for the crime of being provocative and vulgar and for having the audacity to protest President Putin's rule.
The tone in both cases is also quite predictable, signaling that the commentaries are really meant more for American than for Russian consumption. More interesting are the comment threads at both sites. Few readers express support for the Republicans, and those are the ones who share McCain's nearly irrational hatred for Putin. More often, you find Americans expressing support for Putin and Russians defending their leader. The American Putin fans often seem to be Tea Party types who, however they feel about limited government still want strong leaders and see Putin as stronger than President Obama in many respects. Unlike McCain, whom many TPs barely recognize as one of their own party, these Putin fans are unmoved by the fates of gay-rights activists or the Pussy Riot band. Instead, they see Putin, as many of his Russian fans do, as a defender of Christian values against decadence at home and Islamism overall, setting aside whatever differences exist between Russian Orthodoxy and U.S. Protestantism. For their part, the Russian Putin fans seem to regard his home critics as insignificant "marginals" whose protests get more attention abroad than their numbers deserve. Whether these motley marginals -- who range from the aforementioned punks and gays to Yeltsin-era oligarchs and people who actually are hassled by the government -- should be dismissed so easily by the majority is a fair question. At the same time, no one should dismiss the idea that Putin, warts and all, remains a very popular leader among people who may well hold a different idea of democracy from John McCain's -- one, for instance, in which political minorities do not and should not have as much ability to obstruct the will of the majority and its representatives between elections as Americans seem to enjoy. In any event, the real issue is Syria, and whatever else Putin may have said rightly or wrongly in his piece, he most likely got one very important thing right. "Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy," he wrote, and everyone needs to stop treating the rebellion there as if it was such a battle that requires the world to take sides. It would help if some countries in particular would also stop treating international relations in general as a battle for democracy. After all, I suspect that when we actually see a global battle for democracy, all the governments will be on the other side.