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Russia’s lies are worse than western hypocrisy

Vladimir Putin: the real fibber-in-chief. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty

Vladimir Putin is obsessed with Western hypocrisy, says Gideon Rachman in the FT. And he’s got a point. We defend human rights while selling weapons to Saudi Arabia; stand up for state sovereignty then send in the troops to topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi; and claim to be against nuclear proliferation while making exceptions of Israel and India. Where Putin gets it wrong, though, is conflating hypocrisy with lies. He calls the West the “empire of lies”, when really it is Russia that “specialises” in outright fibbing: it claims it hasn’t invaded Ukraine, didn’t poison Alexei Navalny, had nothing to do with the shooting down of flight MH17. The “manacled corpses” on the streets of Bucha? Put there by the Ukrainians.

In a trial of strength between these two systems, “hypocrisy works better than outright lies”. Putin’s invasion plans fell apart when they “encountered reality”. Eastern Ukraine was not desperately awaiting liberation; Ukraine’s government is not led by “drug-crazed neo-Nazis”. In our hypocritical system, mistakes are made and crimes committed – but those crimes can be investigated and exposed. The New York Times has just won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the “horrifying” casualties inflicted by America’s drone warfare. Any Russian journalist brave enough to write about war crimes in Mariupol would end up “in prison or dead”.