Ah, Vladimir Vladimirovich. So shrewd, so skillful in 2013.
Just a short while ago, who'd have thunk it that Scott Lively and Pat Buchanan would be singing praises to the Russian president, while Edward Snowden's and Bashar al-Assad's futures depended on the Kremlin?
Yet, no matter how remarkable of a year Vladimir Putin has had, his new admirers in the West could disappear as fast as they materialized.
Cheer group #1: supporters of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.
Russia acted fast to give Edward Snowden temporary asylum, and Julian Assange was even employed in 2012 by Russia's state-funded global outlet RT, which loves to cover how the West screws up, again and again. Yet Snowden, Assange, and Manning are nothing but pawns to the Kremlin, and if Vladimir Putin could he would do everything the NSA is accused of doing. At least he"s trying.
Cheer group #2: Scott Lively's crowd.
Russia's discriminatory law banning the "propaganda" of nontraditional sexual relations to minors was a major story in 2013. Scott Lively and other leading homophobic voices in the U.S. praised praised Russia's success in standing up to The Omnipotent Gay Lobby.
Even with this piece of absurd legislation in place, Russia is nowhere near becoming a country that persecutes LGBT people for who they are or whom they love. The law was a populist measure designed to stir the public's attention away from societal problems. In fact, the best explanation why the anti-"propaganda" law is futile comes from the Kremlin's own communiques with the Duma, in which prior versions of the bill were called "unconstitutional," "undermining international commitments," and out of line with Russia's criminal code. That's why this law has no future, and neither does Vladimir Putin as a leader of a global anti-gay movement. The Kremlin should realize the negative consequences of their populist homophobia, particularly on LGBT youth.
Cheer group #3: Death-to-America types.
In 2013, we've witnessed a multi-stage piece of postmodern theater exchange between Moscow and Washington loosely based on How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. So if you hate America, your sympathy naturally gravitated toward the Kremlin in 2013.
However, Vladimir Putin remains a strong ally of Washington, using only rhetoric but not much real leverage to occasionally oppose (and upstage) the U.S. on the global arena. There is a new but unused NATO transit facility in Ulyanovsk, the war in Afghanistan led to the establishment of temporary military U.S. airbases in Central Asia, there was even a joint U.S.-Russian military training in Colorado in 2012. Vladimir Putin gets a ton of criticism for things like this at home, but if you ask someone like Bill Clinton you'd know that the Russian President always keeps his word on all the deals with America.
Cheer group #4: U.S. conservatives
Some praised the harsh verdict against Pussy Riot and the push back on LGBT rights. Pat Buchanan is even wondering, "Is Putin One of Us?". Well, he isn't.
Russia won't last at the forefront of the "traditional values" movement. It's way to secular, it had too many constitutions and too many forms of governance in the twentieth century to know what traditions are, and how to abide by them. More and more, the language of "traditional values" is used at the United Nations to skew the conversation away from human rights standards. The chief value of "traditional values" lie in their ambiguity. No wonder Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Pakistan vote "yay." Pat Buchanan is far from embracing their traditions.
Meanwhile, the state of religious freedom in Russia is of concern: anti-extremism laws are routinely used against Muslim minorities and Western proselytizing groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses or Pentecostals. Last year, a prosecutor in Siberia tried to ban The Bhagavad Gita as "extremist" -- that's exactly what the Russian government labeled Pussy Riot.
We'll see how these relationships play out. 2014 could be another high year for Vladimir Putin: the economy is stable, the country is ready to host its first Winter Olympic Games, Russia is positioned to play a major role in the Syria talks, and the G8 presidency means a big political summit will take place in Sochi in June.