How Vladimir Putin sent “Brand Russia” into the toilet

Russian President Vladimir Putin has done more to harm the image of Russia internationally than anyone in a generation.

Putin’s baby, the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia in just under two weeks, was meant to demonstrate to the world that Russia had entered the modern age.

Then a funny thing happened.  The world actually paid attention to Russia, and found it to be a third-world cesspool run by a despot.

If Brand Russia had already been bruised by Putin’s reign, in the past 12 months it’s been utterly destroyed.

Take a look at the top news stories for “Russia” on Google News – it’s all about suicide bombers, corruption, alcoholism, gay-bashing, and ABC has a particularly interesting new story about how an alleged heroin kindpin helped Russia win the Olympics:


Now take a look at Google images for Russia, and see how it compares to America. Particularly, I looked at “United States gay” versus “Russia gay.”

Let’s start with “United States gay.”  The results are a sea of fabulous rainbow flags, proud US servicemembers, athletes, adorable couples getting married, celebrities and more.  There’s only one photo of an anti-gay protest that was apparently a bust, no one showed up.  Otherwise, it’s all happy happy joy joy:


Now, look what happens when you type in “Russia gay” in Google images.  It’s pretty much a sea of blood.  Literal blood.  Gay blood.  And protests.  And violence. And ultra-nationalist kidnappings.  Not exactly a Hallmark moment:russia-gay

Then there are the parodies.

Putin promises beeg trouble for gay moose and squirrel.

Putin promises beeg trouble for moose and squirrel.

You thought Boris & Natasha were retired after Mr. Gorbachev actually did take down that wall? Think again. The anti-Russian jokes and stereotypes are back, with a vengeance. Take, for example, this viciously funny Saturday Night Live segment taking Russia on for its homophobia, but also for its utter backwardness. The skit was hilarious. But brutally so.

And you’re seeing the hammer & sickle, the symbol of communist Russia, the Soviet Union, come back as well:

Created by one of our readers, SD.

Created by one of our readers, SD.

And puns aside, the world now thinks of Russia (again) as autocratic, bordering on dictatorial, dangerous (be it terrorism, kidnappings, street violence, neo-Nazis, and little police authority), corrupt, racist, homophobic, and a place where basic services never quite work correctly.  Tourists are afraid to visit the country, and some Olympic athletes are actually telling their families to stay home.

Vladimir Putin wanted the world to fear Russia, and it does.  But it doesnt fear Russian power.  It fears that Russia has fallen apart at the seams.

Heckuva job, Putin.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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20 Responses to “How Vladimir Putin sent “Brand Russia” into the toilet”

  1. Nathanael says:

    FWIW, there are “civil society” traditions in China and India and many other places — including places without democracy — which work against the sort of pure kleptocratic despotism we see in Russia.

    Nothing like the Western Enlightenment traditions nor the Chinese “responsible bureaucrat” traditions nor the Iroquois “Seven Generations” traditions ever took hold in Russia. Maybe some version of civil society tradition will take hold in Russia eventually, but they’re sort of starting from square one.

  2. Nathanael says:

    The problems can be traced back to the tsars.

    Now, pretty much all countries have had tyranny as their system of government for very long periods. But a lot of countries managed to break free from that and establish, if not democracy, at least “good government” / “rule of law”. Russia never got a break; democracy never managed to get establshed, and neither did “responsible government” — government by peculation, self-dealing, and personal bias remained the practice in Russia.

    There are other countries with similar problems, but none who still have an *empire*. China isn’t democratic, but it has a rule-of-law tradition which is centuries old — and which frankly does not exist in Russia.

  3. Ninong says:

    “BTW. ….you do.know that putting make up on his pics I’d childish & I am pretty sure he really couldn’t care less & just makes you all look very silly to most of the Russians. & helps him prove his point.”

    My dear child, you do realize, I hope, that the colorfully decorated pictures of Vladimir Vladimirovich are all coming out of Russia?

  4. Ninong says:

    Welcome to Little Vlad’s $51-billion Sochi Olympics.

  5. Ninong says:

    Another Ukrainian anti-Yanukovich activist kidnapped, crucified and tortured by thugs with Russian accents. Anyone who opposes Little Vlad’s buddy, Yanukovich, might end up in a ditch somewhere.

  6. Ninong says:

    Guess what? A new multi-year study conducted by British and Russian scientists has discovered why 25% of Russian men die before they reach the age of 55: “Demon Vodka”

    This was one of the discoveries revealed in a new study published yesterday by the British medical journal, The Lancet:

    The study tracked 151,000 Russian adults from 1999 to 2008 – 8,000 of whom died — and found there was a “much higher” risk of early death among men who drank three or more bottles of vodka a week compared with men who consumed less than one.

  7. Karen says:

    you guys are so funny. ..there are so many places so much worse for gays than Russia so I am not sure what the constant Putin bashing is about. . I think most of you are in love with him or obsessed with him. ..I mean you never stop taking about him. ..
    BTW. ….you do.know that putting make up on his pics I’d childish & I am pretty sure he really couldn’t care less & just makes you all look very silly to most of the Russians. & helps him prove his point.

    wonder how many of you sleep with his pic on your pillow..get used to him he isn’t going anywhere& he isn’t intimidated in the least by any of this. .remember he spent time in the KGB..not West don’t frighten..give him something to laugh at though..

  8. 4th Turning says:

    Not much I can disagree with. Of course, their history, as well as ours and Europe’s,
    have been written by a bunch of old white-anglo-saxon-protestant guys. We usually
    see only what we’re looking at/for. My take is based pretty much on the hugest lie
    Americans every managed to swallow. That because of the mess everyone has
    noted in these comments, we took on the job of mutually assuring total destruction
    of spaceship Earth. Hard to get pass the hubris to the mental/spiritual breakdown
    in western consciousness that allowed such an insane undertaking….
    When The Wall came down and the world backed away never to my knowledge
    admitting to its profound shame, I celebrated by taking two university level sems.
    of Russian. I had the great good fortune of having a detente Jewish emigre as a
    prof. I took much pride in learning the lang. and mastering the art of writing in
    cyrillic. My prof was older and had that existentional whipped look about him
    you might expect. I was among the 4 or 5 who came prepared for class. The
    others mostly slept. (He never understood this taking for granted attitude.)
    Of course, there were many stories but my take away was that there has
    always been a small-sometimes by necessity-secret group of artists and
    poets and writers and thinkers who carried the real torch across so many
    lost generations. Anyone who has read Tolstoy or looked at his life or
    listened to Russian music knows that a great potential exists. I also came
    away in this period with two life-long pen (now email) friends in Ukraine.
    One from the educated spectrum, the other blue-collar. So I’m fairly
    knowledgeable and far from ready to write any of those folks off and
    especially not our brothers and sisters in their benighted moment.

  9. BeccaM says:

    Given the condition of the Russian broadband infrastructure, I’m not sure he’ll need to bother…

  10. karmanot says:

    Moose just flipped Russia the hoof.

  11. Strepsi says:

    “I’m just kind of surprised that the Russians, in a time of actual reporting and the internet etc. are so stupid” — that’s the actual power of emotional Nationalism.

    It is incredibly powerful — you’ll notice Russians NEVER apologize or soften or “back pedal”… they always double down, throwing the accusation back “You can not tell us how to behave, you are not Russian! Stop trying to influence our purity.”

    A less physically dangerous, but analogous example to your story is the Quebecois in Canada — 300 years of direct Catholic rule telling peasants “You are a special people” followed by The Quiet Revolution in the 50’s (breaking from the Church, creating the most progressive secular civil law in North America) — unfortunately followed by 40 years of Separatst government saying “You are a special people”. Now, in 2014, a bill to ban religious garments (except the crucifix) has MASSIVE public support. Emotional nationalism.

  12. Mighty says:

    I wonder how this is affecting them business wise. I remember hearing a woman in their government say they are hurting internationally via business. I don’t know how to quantify that or if its enough of a hurt to get their attention much less change.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Yes and the people there are frustrated and defeated. They’re no longer focusing on the government and instead self-destructing. There is a life expectancy crisis, violence, and poverty. White males there seem to have the impression that life is good for them, but they actually die 10 years younger than females, and much earlier than in 1st world countries. There’s a huge drug/AIDS problem, etc. They are suffering from a lack of education, poor justice system, etc.
    I guess they feel like people dying is a good solution to financial problems, which is disgusting. Putin has billions and he can’t throw some people in the freezing cold a loaf of bread. The inhumanity is not going unnoticed and will not just be allowed to happen.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Vlad is probably going to try to shut down Google now. In the Internet age it’s hard for a despot’s actions to go unreported. His ability to censor is fading. I think it’s only a matter of time before even rural Russians wake up and start questioning the information they hear.

  15. nicho says:

    Actually, the revolution was a success. It’s what happened later that caused the problems. The government immediately post-revolution was pretty moderate. Then, the Germans rounded up every far-left troublemaker and nutcase they could get their hands on and sent them to Russia, where they overthrew the moderate government. It was all downhill, after that.

    The problem is that Russia has never been governable, except by extreme violence and cruelty — and then only barely governable. It has always been a third-world country — albeit one with nukes — where a privileged elite lorded it over an ignorant and often illiterate population. It has always been a kleptocracy — just in different forms. It really didn’t make any difference whether the people were being robbed by the tzar, the cossacks, the clergy, the communists, or now, the Russian mafia. The Russian people have basically never had a chance.

  16. emjayay says:

    We’ll see about Sochi. Meanwhile, Russia is the world capital of people having constantly recording video cameras on their dashboards. That plus drunken driving and general stupidity has resulted in tons of hilariously stupid and/or frightening videos on YouTube.

    It seems that this is the result of criminals all over the place creating accidents to extort people and insurance companies combined with corrupt police not appearing or being bribed to lie and corrupt courts siding with criminals and insurance companies plus availabiltiy of cheap video recording.

  17. emjayay says:

    And losing all those traditions, look to a daddy figure like Putin or a Big Daddy religion representing the good old days they don’t really know.

  18. emjayay says:

    Interesting angle and no doubt a part of cultural problems in Russia.

  19. 4th Turning says:

    I hope others will bring additional historical perspective to this especially important aspect of our
    ongoing discussion. I suspect much of the bitter harvest we are witnessing can be traced back to
    Russia’s failed revolution and Stalin’s ruthless, systematic erasing of cultural identity in all of its
    numerous ethnic groups. As did Mao and Pol Pot. One of the first things the ussr’s former
    satellite countries did was relearn and proudly sing out their own precious foksongs… Most
    of these former countries have been able to reclaim their souls and move into the 21st Cen.

    The great white father in washington sadly succeeded on our Native American “reservations”
    by forcefully removing their children to govt. boarding schools and beating the bible into them,
    chopping off their prized long hair and beating them again if they were overheard speaking
    in their various languages. Similar bitter harvest: Despair. Tuberculosis, Alcoholism, Loss
    of identity. Breakdown of family structure. Unemployment. Illiteracy. Obesity. Etc.

  20. iamlegion says:

    It’s not that Russia is a cesspool – I mean, it is, but that’s not the point. Lots of places are cesspools. The problem is that Russia is the closest thing we’ve ever seen to a pure kleptocracy. Lots of banana republics and corrupt dictatorships have risen in the past, but they tend to self-destruct rather quickly through revolution or bankruptcy. Russia has been, for all practical purposes, without a concept of private property beyond what you can steal since the wall fell and the Mafiya became the most powerful organization left. There’s no private property because there’s no police interest in enforcing that concept beyond what you can pay them to do. There’s no police power because they’re just as corrupt as everyone else. They’re all corrupt because from the central government on down, you do what the guy handing you money tells you to do.

    Sochi is going to be a disaster of legendary proportions.

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