RUSSIA: ‘Traditional Values’ unite both sides in a new ideological Cold War 

Republicans and global authoritarians around the world from different political, cultural and social contexts use alarmingly similar tactics.


By Tatyana Margolin and Gillian Kane


Moscow Times (11.11.2021) – – There is much debate about a new “cold war” between Russia and the U.S., but one tactic illiberal politicians on both sides of the Atlantic agree on is embracing “traditional values” to cover up their own failings. Far-right demagogues from Moscow to Texas increasingly incite moral panic to stir up tensions and deflect from domestic troubles. 


In late October, forever Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual speech at the Valdai Discussion Club. Despite the pandemic entering its deadliest phase in Russia, he did not address public health measures and instead chose to rail against “cancel culture” and gender-segregated bathrooms in the West. 


Putin’s speech is part of a deliberate, tried-and-tested playbook, both at home and abroad, to consolidate power and distract from governance failures by inflaming social tensions. It cannot be brushed aside as simply theatrics because it has real implications for an alignment of authoritarian tactics and manipulation of values across borders.


Since Russia introduced its 2013 law banning “homosexual propaganda,” it has become an enthusiastic exporter of conservative ideologies, sometimes to the least expected places. During the 2018 anti-government protests in Sudan, Russian so-called “political strategists” with ties to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a nefarious oligarch close to the Kremlin, instructed the Bashir regime to plant pro-LGBT flags among demonstrators to undermine their credibility.


Reinforcing its image as a normative counterweight to the West, the Kremlin can secure access to other authoritarian states and their resources. 


Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas is faithfully using the same tactics of distraction. In the lead up to next year’s midterm and gubernatorial elections, he has managed to shift the conversation away from his mishandling of the pandemic, chronic energy supply problems, and growing voting rights restrictions, towards divisive social issues. 


Last week he signed the controversial House Bill 25, which bans transgender children from participating in sports. Earlier this year he championed Senate Bill 8, now before the Supreme Court, banning abortions before most women know they are pregnant and holding criminally culpable those who “aid and abet” abortions.


Rather than occupying opposing sides of a new ideological Cold War, Republicans and global authoritarians around the world — who may come from different political, cultural and social contexts — use alarmingly similar tactics. They are manipulating ‘traditional values’ narratives, which serve as a cultural cudgel to incite the population, and cause real harm, especially to women, LGBTI people, and other minorities. And the damage is not just local. Globally, authoritarians are aligning to disrupt multilateral spaces and undermine democratic values by creating shadow, parallel systems. 


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Photo credits: Dmitry Feoktistov / TASS 

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