Putin’s instrumentalization of LGBTQ + prejudices

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“As long as I’m president … there will be mom and dad.”

If you thought this quote coming from a far-right social-conservative and not from Russian President Vladimir Putin, you would be in good company. In a movement that has yet to be fully internalized in the West, Putin spent much of the 2010s reshaping Russia as a defender of “traditional values,” defined in broadly ethno-nationalist and heteronormative terms. Just as the Soviet Union used a specific set of values ​​in its foreign and domestic policy, modern Russia has developed a strategy that uses social conservatism, and specifically anti-LGBTQ + prejudices, to do the same. Russia’s pivot to a values-based framework has important implications for how the United States should understand its interests vis-à-vis the Russian Federation.

Russia’s turn towards social conservatism occurred after Putin returned to the presidency in 2012. During his State of State 2013 speech, Putin described the role of the Russian government in the world as a defender of “traditional families”. In other speech in the same year, Putin broadened this framework by attacking “Euro-Atlantic” countries for denying “traditional gender identities” and accusing them of “implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, the belief in God with the belief in Satan. “Putin reinforced his statements with political actions, pushing a law in the Duma by a 436-0 margin prohibiting “gay propaganda” and to propose a 2020 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

The reasons for Putin’s renewed and prejudiced stance are a mixture of national and international interests. At home, political elites are increasingly concerned that the cultural quagmire of modern Russia is destabilizing the state and making “foreign values”, that is, democracy, more attractive to the population. in general. A pivot to traditional values ​​allows the state to undermine the allure of liberalism by demonizing Western values. LGBTQ + people make it easy in Russia, where a 2020 Pew Poll found that only 14% of Russians believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society.

While Putin’s strategy may be strategically effective in places of high prejudice, it also creates strategic vulnerabilities in more tolerant states.

Russia also uses traditional values ​​when dealing with its neighbors, especially countries where LGBTQ + tolerance is equally low. For example, the same Pew poll found that only 14% of Ukrainians and 28% of Lithuanians believe that homosexuality should be accepted. As Russia perceived Ukraine was moving west during the Euromaidan protests in 2014, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attempted blame unrest against gay lobbyists who wanted to make the country the most tolerant European Union. Maryna Shevtsova, at Lund University in Sweden, Explain that pro-Russian groups inside Ukraine are using the European Union’s tolerance to “instrumentalize LGBTI rights and embed the issue into an already existing conflict over the identity of the foreign policy of the Ukraine” Ukraine ”.

While Putin’s strategy may be strategically effective in places of high prejudice, it also creates strategic vulnerabilities in more tolerant states. For example, Russia has instrumentalised traditional conservatism in the West by using it to attract leaders and partners on the basis of shared values ​​perceived as part of a broader soft power. strategy to co-opt western policies. This strategy includes formal and informal elements Support for the World Congress of Families, a network of interconnected organizations that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled an anti-LGBTQ + hate group. Russia also cultivates conservative social figures like Franklin Graham. After Meet with Putin on a trip to Russia, Graham responded by saying, “I very much appreciate that President Putin protects young Russians from gay propaganda.” We can see in real time how shared LGBTQ + biases create bonds of attraction during a 2018 maintenance with Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore:

Question: [Ronald Reagan] said that Russia was a hotbed of evil in the world.

MOORE: You could very well say that about America, right.

Q: Do you think?

MOORE: Well, we promote a lot of bad things, you know.

Q: Like?

MOORE: Same-sex marriage.

Q: This is the very argument put forward by Vladimir Putin.

MOORE: Well, then maybe Putin is right. Maybe he’s closer to me than I think.

Any campaign that exploits prejudice is likely to lead to violent and repressive abuses. This happened in Chechnya, a republic in southern Russia, where its Actions imprisoning and torturing homosexuals has been described as “pogrom” using “concentration camps. “The United States should work to end these abuses by imposing costs on the Russian government for its actions.

Just as Russia has used LGBTQ + tolerance in the West against it in places like Ukraine, the United States can emphasize its shared values ​​of tolerance in places like Germany, a state currently considering deepening relations. with Russia through the construction of the Nordstream. 2 gas pipelines. We can imagine the German people, who understand better than anyone the evil of identity violence and or 86% of people support the acceptance of homosexuality, would oppose a strategic partnership with a state engaged in this kind of abuse.

The United States is expected to launch a public diplomacy campaign asking the German people to reject Nordstream 2 as long as the Russian government continues its intolerable cruelty to LGBTQ + people. President Joe Biden has highlighted that America’s allies are bound not only by common interests, but also by shared values. Relying on shared values ​​of tolerance to impose a cost on Moscow’s behavior will strengthen the US-German relationship and send a message to the world to end the abuse of LGBTQ + people.

At a broader level, the United States must recognize that Russia’s instrumentalization of traditional conservatism means that tackling LGBTQ + prejudice must now be seen as a core national security interest. The United States can learn from what has worked in our own country, which is humanization. Rather than simply displaying a rainbow flag over an embassy during Pride Week, the United States should devote time, attention and resources to humanizing LGBTQ + people overseas. This type of campaign, if effective, would serve American interests in regional competition against Russia as much as any type of arms sale. Competing with Russia in a modern context means first of all understanding its strategic approach and adapting ours well. On LGBTQ + rights, our interests and values ​​are one.

Ben Sohl is a master’s student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. His research focuses on how new technologies are changing the nature of foreign policy.



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