Is Russia Still a Haven for Old Pariahs? (Op-ed)

Is Blatter really more toxic than Assad? More dangerous than Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, who was given a very public welcome on a Russian aircraft carrier last January? More laughable than Gerard Depardieu taking a Russian passport to cut his tax bill?

Until recently, Russia’s willingness to welcome all the West’s marginalized, disgruntled and damned reflected, as much as anything, a forthright challenge to the global order it considered (not wholly without reason) as shaped by the West, and for the West’s advantage.

Populists, nationalists, separatists and iconoclasts of every kind could be certain of a warm reception in Moscow. If you were against the mainstream, you could find a platform and a welcome. Challenge the West’s dogma. Say the unsayable. Question more.

This had several advantages. It generated a steady stream of “useful idiots” happy to whitewash the Kremlin and do their best to open up social and political divides in the West. It allowed the government to present itself not as being isolated, but as the champion of an alternate system of values. Indeed, as liberal, frustrating the censorship and groupthink of a West that had sacrificed its values on the altar of political correctness.

For all that, there has been a downside. Russia may pretend to have devil-may-care indifference about its place in the world, but there are political, economic and psychological costs to being treated variously as a bully, a gangster and a social retrogressive.