Vladimir Putin is not exactly the most popular kid on the international relations playground. He’s always been a showy guy, often accused of being impolite to other foreign leaders, and has a long list of lies and shady dealings to his name.
Here’s the thing: as much as people outside of Russia think he’s a tool/psychopath (depends who you ask), a good number of Russians adore the guy. He stands up to the West and, for a while and in a few different ways, had actually been making Russia a better place.
Of course, he and his government, whatever good they have done aside, have also done some bad-to-terrible things. From pushy diplomatic maneuvering to outright illegal actions taken against dissenters and protesters, there’s no shortage of badness to the government of the motherland.
To catch you up, here are a few choice items from the laundry list of questionable and bad things that the Russian government has done under Putin.
10 Outlawed “Gay Propaganda”
It was just before the 2014 Olympics in Sochi (more on that in a bit), and Putin and co. decided it was high time to restrict the rights of gay people. It wasn’t an anti-gay law, they promised, but rather a law against “gay propaganda.”
It’s a law that is meant to defend “family values,” which is a phrase right out of the same playbook used by America’s religious right. Just saying. Thankfully, it doesn’t make non-traditional genders or couplings of genders illegal. Instead, it makes it illegal for people in those groups to talk about them with children, basically.
There was an outcry, and many wanted to boycott the Olympics (but that didn’t happen). As for the Russian government, it basically claimed that the rest of the world had it in for Russia, and that there were countries with worse gay policies that should be worried about more.
9 The Annexation of Crimea
Putin claims that he was invited into Ukraine by ousted president Viktor Yanukovich to help protect the country from unrest. Of course, he had no complaints when a pro-Russian government established itself in Crimea, held a referendum on the prospect of joining Russia, and then announced that the vote had passed. He welcomed Crimea with open arms.
Here’s why it was so outrageous. For starters, a group of militants had taken over the Supreme Council of Crimea - and were identified as Russian troops, which Putin denied. Except now, in 2015, it came out that before the arrival of these militants, Putin held a meeting in which he expressed his desire to return Crimea (formerly a part of the USSR) to Russia.
In other words, his pants have been on fire for about a year.
7 The Sochi Olympics
Oh yes, the games themselves went pretty well. You’d expect them to, given that they cost more than $50 billion. Billion. Quite frankly, that would be insane for any country, and especially since it’s money that Russia really doesn’t have.
So… how? For starters, they basically rebuilt Sochi and built a new, very expensive highway to get there. That’s kind of pricey. And then the games themselves and all the rest of those expenses, that adds up too. The kicker was the MASSIVE amount of corruption - which might have accounted for $30 billion of the total cost.
Hilariously, it’s alleged that Putin was looking to get the country’s billionaires to foot the bill for some reason. Unlikely to happen, especially now that their fortunes are dwindling right alongside Russia’s economy.
6 The Continued Presence of Russian Troops Ukraine
Ukraine losing Crimea was bad enough, but a sizeable portion of its population is pro-Russia, so it makes a kind of sense that it happened. When pro-Russian militia showed up in the rest of Ukraine and began to attack, well, that was another matter entirely.
Putin denied they were Russian military forces, despite some of the forces identifying themselves as Russian military. Bombings occurred in major cities and multiple cities and regions splintered off from Ukraine and held referendums on rejoining Russia. Some of them passed, though their legality is questionable (read: nonexistent).
Neighbouring countries grew nervous at the prospect of Russia gaining a closer foothold and perhaps expanding its ambitions, and outside powers pledged funds and equipment to support Ukraine in its fight for control over its territory.
The conflict continues to this day, and Putin continues to deny his and Russia’s involvement.
5 Banned Gay Couples From Adopting Russian Children
Yup, we’re back to this. But no, Russia’s not anti-gay. They just want to make sure people don’t make kids gay by talking to them. Or by adopting them.
The ban affects same sex couples around the world, along with singles from countries where same sex marriage is legal. America is also banned, but that’s just for being America.
Mostly, the ban affects European countries that have taken the plunge and become more welcoming of gay and transgender people, or as some might say “granted everybody equal right to marry.” Once again, this is to preserve and promote Russian values, which were apparently determined on a playground somewhere.
Critics of Russia’s new legislation against gay and transgender people say that the laws have created greater animosity to those groups. Shocking, right?
4 Jailed Opponents & Journalists
One of the most important elements of a free society is the ability to criticize the established powers without fear of retribution by those powers. Yeah, everyone’s still working on that one. But Russia is particularly bad when it comes to jailing people that are vocal about their displeasure with government (and Mr. Putin in particular).
Several billionaires found themselves in jail after questioning Putin or failing to bend to his will. Men like Vladimir Gusinsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky found themselves behind bars, convicted of fraud and tax-related crimes, and there were more like them who ended up arrested or dead in suspicious circumstances. Media figures like Sergei Reznik and Nikolai Yarst also found themselves jailed on dubious claims.
Of course, it’s even worse that several opponents and journalists have been killed in Russia during this same time. Many believe Putin is responsible for arranging some of these deaths, though the link has not been proven.
3 And Also Jailed Activists
Remember the time the band Pussy Riot got arrested for “hooliganism” for holding a protest concert? Sorry, arrested and then imprisoned - two of them for nearly two years. They were protesting the Russian Orthodox Church for supporting Putin, who Reuters reports as having said “"I was not sorry that they ended up behind bars,” and “I was sorry that they were engaged in such disgraceful behaviour, which in my view was degrading to the dignity of women.”
Other activists notably arrested by the Russian government include environmentalists, homosexuals defying the aforementioned ban on “gay propaganda,” and a woman who was investigating the disappearance of some Russian soldiers.
Unsurprisingly, many of these individuals were deemed “prisoners of conscience” by groups like Amnesty International, and were suspected to have been arrested for their activism, not the charges laid against them.
3. Made A Special Law To Get Rid Of NGOS
Eventually, it gets exhausting having to jail everyone who disagrees with you. That’s likely part of why, in 2012, the Russian government enacted what Human Rights Watch described as “a law that required nongovernmental organizations to register as ‘foreign agents’... if they engage in ‘political activity and receive foreign funding.”
The aim, as alleged by analysts and some of the groups targeted by the law, was to expel and hinder groups that were active in Russia. For one thing, branding groups “foreign agents,” makes clear that the groups are suspect and unlikely to be trusted by the government. The government also took the opportunity to sue those groups that did not or would not register, which was just more pressure on dissenting voices in the Russian political scene.
2 Shut Off The Gas To Ukraine (And The Rest Of Europe)
The thing about energy is that people need it to survive. The thing about controlling a huge supply of energy is that you have an enormous bargaining chip to bring to bear whenever you choose.
Back in 2009, Russia did just that, shutting off gas not just to Ukraine (shocker), but also to the rest of Europe. The action was taken in response to what Russian energy company Gazprom - in which the government has a majority stake - said were delinquent payments by Ukraine, followed by an inability of the two sides to agree on pricing for the future.
The matter was eventually resolved, but the same thing keeps popping up again and again. In February, gas once again became an issue, with Russia claiming Ukraine has not been paying for its gas, and Ukraine claiming it has not been receiving the gas it has been paying for.
1 Selling Weapons To Al-Assad
Bashar Al-Assad, president of Syria, is a bad man. It’s almost certain that he used chemical weapons on rebel forces that were fighting him in the Syrian civil war, had been responsible for attacks on hospitals and medical workers, and before that, he had cracked down on (read: ordered the killing of) protesters who were decrying his rule.
To top it off, and despite the fact that the group has murdered thousands of his troops in barbaric fashion, his government has also admitted to having dealings with ISIL. Kind of speaks for itself.
And Putin and his government sent this man weaponry. While America and other allies delivered funding to the Free Syrian Army, which fought against the oppressive rule of Al-Assad and the military, Russia was supplying weapons used to quash rebellion and bring the people to heel.