MOSCOW — The resumption of riots over a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson this summer is giving the Russian media an excuse to return to one of its favorite pastimes: Crowing about America’s hypocrisy and coming social demise.
“So the U.S. government, when talking about their own country, forgets about democracy, human rights, protection of ‘peaceful protesters’ and people’s right to protest,” Russian news outlet Pravda.ru proclaimed on its Web site Tuesday. “As they say, the United States – it’s a completely different matter.”
“The conflict in Ferguson isn’t momentary, but deep,” Alexander Khristenko reported on state-run television channel Russia 24 on Tuesday. “Race relations, social inequality, the black ghetto – a fragile world that had faith in at least some kind of justice, it appears, has finally collapsed.”
Russia first leapt on the Ferguson story this summer, when riots broke out in the Missouri city and across the United States over the shooting of Brown by a local police officer. At the time, the media frenzy over Ferguson was second only to coverage of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Ferguson climbed to a top spot for most Russian news outlets Tuesday, and the way the story was often presented – as evidence of a United States on the edge of social collapse – is testament to how already tenuous relations between the United States and Russia have worsened since the summer.
Russia and the United States have been locked in a heated economic and political standoff for the past several months over the Ukraine conflict. In that environment, the Ferguson riots have provided Russian journalists and officials with an unparalleled opportunity to poke at real faults in the fabric of American society – in a way that many Russians feel the United States has tried to poke at them.
Russia’s position on Ukraine, for example, is that the United States encouraged the revolution that started in Kiev's Independence Square, also known as Maidan, as a means of destabilizing that country and sticking a thorn in Russia’s side. Pro-Kremlin news outlet Life News suggested that the protests were a form of divine payback.
“Americans recently went too far with Ukraine, and the Maidan has come to the United States,” Life News featured Vladimir Vasiliev, a senior research fellow at Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute for US and Canadian Studies, as saying – a loaded charge in Russia.
Even independent radio station Ekho Moskvy conducted a tongue-in-cheek poll Tuesday, asking whether Russia would support “a Maidan” in Ferguson. Sixty-three percent of respondents answered in the affirmative.
Since the days of the Soviet Union, Russia has frequently focused on the United States’ racial problems as a way of claiming some level of moral and social superiority. That usually entails pointing out what it considers failures of the United States government, such as purporting to promote democracy abroad when it has problems at home. (State Duma chairman Sergey Naryshkin echoed such complaints Tuesday, saying that instead of "solving existing problems," the United States was “plunging the world into the chaos of a unilateral diktat," according to Russian state news agency TASS.)
But picking on the protesters now also seems to be fair game.
Russian news Web site Lenta.ru called the protests over Ferguson a “color revolution” – drawing a likeness to the pro-democratic “color revolutions” in former Soviet republics, to which the Kremlin is opposed. The Kremlin also raised penalties for participating in unsanctioned protests within Russia this year.
Russia’s state-owned First Channel also took an apparent swipe at the protesters, referring to them as “rebellious America” when commenting that the government seemed unlikely to use the sort of weapons that it had in the past to quell protests by force, as a means of “appeasing” those demonstrating.
Life News also featured Vasiliev suggesting that the Ferguson riots were payback for Obama’s recent executive action on immigration. He argued that the executive order had been an abrogation of U.S. laws, and thus promoted lawlessness among the people.