John Helmer: The Western Press Incorrectly Depicts Putin as on the Wrong Side of a Feminist Issue

Yves here. I’m running this post because it shows the lengths to which many media outlets are going to keep “evil Putin” story alive. Now mind you, Putin is an authoritarian. Journalists and commentators could no doubt find examples of recent and long-standing limits on freedoms and if nothing else keep working those into articles as they fit. But that would be work.

The new meme that Helmer debunks below is….drumroll…depicting Putin as hostile to the needs of women! So not at all subtly, Putin is depicted as misogynist or at least hopelessly insensitive. And without it needing to be said, who is the current Enemy Number One of feminists? Trump! So this would be another basis for a Putin-Trump lovefest…when the idea that they are in cahoots is a fabrication. And needless to say, the story is a twofer by reinforcing the idea that women need to hang together and stand up to male bullies just like they did last weekend in the women’s marches.

As an aside, I cannot tell you how many women old enough to have been either pioneers in their fields or only a few years younger, meaning they have front line experience in the gender wars, were at best highly skeptical of the rallies last weekend. As one said, “Pink hats with ears? Only babies wear those! You want to be taken seriously with that kind of visual message? You are signaling you are incapable of engaging in a fight.” I’m all in favor of effective protests against Trump, but the platform statement for the US rallies was troublingly atmospheric, and the issues were almost entirely those of privileged women. I know many people are hopeful that this effort will show some muscle and go against specific targets. But the hand of neoliberal Dems as organizers was all too visible. And to leave no doubt having Gloria Steinem, who excoriated female Sanders voters as being in thrall to boys (ahem, what about those of us who don’t have boy toys?) was a clear message that the bona fide left was not welcome.

As Helmer explains (although you have to get to the very end of his piece to get the reason why), what the Western press has depicted as an anti-female violence stance is actually pro-woman, once you understand how the system works in Russia. And Helmer describes how the foreign media has further lost the plot: where Putin has fallen down is not in his policy position, but in not being all that forceful about pursuing it.

In addition, since when are state policies on family violence a subject of press interest? Brides with inadequate dowries are routinely beaten or killed in India, yet I don’t recall much noise from US feminists about pressuring the Indian government to Do Something. Ditto the retrograde policies of Saudi Arabia. I am sure readers can provide other examples. Horrific incidents, like a gang rape-murder in India, and the occasional stoning to death of adulterers in the Middle East, sometime garner international coverage, but you see at best a passing mention of the legal issues, and pretty much no calls for action.

By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears

A new campaign against the Russian devil has started in the US and UK media where the Hillary Clinton-for-President forces are strongest. The problem for them this time is that President Vladimir Putin is on the side of the angels. But he is unwilling to stop a power play by the Russian Orthodox Church.  Four out of five Russians, and an even higher number of Russian women, would back Putin if he did.

A month ago, Putin came out against parental slapping or beating of children, discreetly referring to the Church’s biblical interpretations as obsolete. “We should not slap children and justify it based on some old traditions,” Putin said at his national press conference on December 23.  “Neither parents, nor neighbours should do this, although this sometimes happens. There is a short distance from slaps to beating. Children fully depend on adults; they are the most dependent members of society. There are many other ways to bring children up without slapping.”

The president was responding to a Church-sponsored revision of Article 116 of the Russian Criminal Code. In its present form, inherited from the Soviet code, conviction for violence in the family is a criminal offence, punishable by up to two years in prison.  The readiness of victims to file charges; of the police and prosecutors to investigate; and of the courts to convict has been lax.   “On the other hand,” Putin qualified himself, he isn’t exactly against the legislative change proposed in the State Duma by the Church. “We should be reasonable too, because actions such as you describe destroy families. Like you, I am against such distorted forms of juvenile justice. Frankly speaking, I believed that my instruction had been fulfilled. The State Duma Speaker [Vyacheslav Volodin] has updated me on this only recently, and he said that the related amendments had been approved. Let us discuss this issue once again. I promise to look at this matter and to analyse the situation. Unceremonious interference in family matters is unacceptable.”

Patriarch Kirill and Putin meeting at the Kremlin on May 24, 2016.  They  also met together on February 1, 2016, when Putin told  Kirill “a big thank you to you for developing the Russian Orthodox Church and for strengthening the unity of our people and society.”  In 2013 Putin had told Kirill: :"The Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional religions should get every opportunity to fully serve in such important fields as the support of family and motherhood, the upbringing and education of children, youth, social development, and to strengthen the patriotic spirit of the armed forces." Source:

Last month Putin not only went beyond Church doctrine on family discipline, battery and violence.  He also extended state protection against violence to animals. “We should proceed from the principle of humanism with regard to animals, including stray ones.” He went on: “About animal rights – it sounds nice indeed, but [for] dog owners, any pet owners – they [animals] do have rights. As for humanitarian issues such as the humane treatment of animals, these fall into a different regulatory domain, although it should certainly be improved.  You know, there have been suggestions about toughening some of the legislation and the general regulatory framework. I would support them, given that everything is within reasonable limits, but regulation is certainly necessary.”

Putin’s “instruction” to parliament on regulating family violence remains unpublished and unclear. He is hinting at more effective regulation to improve protections, including protection from violence, as well as from state, court or administrative intervention in child custody, adoption, and same-sex arrangements.

The Church has proposed changing the criminal sanction for violence within the family to an administrative offence, punishable by a fine. This “decriminalization”, according to Putin, is justifiable if it increases the reporting of complaints and the ease of prosecution and conviction. Second offences would remain criminal, without a code change.  Injury to health requiring hospitalization also would remain a criminal offence. A comparison of the Art.116 changes with the existing provisions can be followed here.

An amendment adopted last year by the Duma decriminalized a first battery offence between strangers but left battery between kin or spouses as it was. The practical effect was anomalous — strangers beating children could be treated with more leniency than parents. Under the proposed revision of the law a first battery conviction would result in a fine of up to Rb30,000 (about $500), with 15-day detention or 120 hours of community service as alternatives for those without the money.

From January 2015 to September 2016, police statistics reported by the federal Interior Ministry indicate 97,000 crime reports involving domestic or family violence. Of that total, 30,200 were beatings inflicted by a close relative of the victim. HelpLine data suggest that reports to the police may amount to less than a third of offences committed. For background, read this.

Opponents of the decriminalization amendment, which will be given its final Duma hearing and vote today, claim the practical effect would be to equalize the administrative consequences for family and non-family members, but they argue it will have the reverse effect on intention and deterrence. These critics claim the measure would encourage more violence, not less.

The anti-Russian media in the UK and US have dramatized this, according to an Amnesty International claim that it is “a sickening attempt to trivialise domestic violence, which has long been viewed as a non-issue by the Russian government.  Claims that this will somehow protect families or preserve traditions are ludicrous – domestic violence destroys lives.” A Guardian reporter named Shaun Walker claimed last week there is “fury at Russian move to soften domestic violence law.” He omitted to report how much popular support there is for the measure. For more of Walker’s inventions from Moscow, read the backfile.

A national opinion poll by the Levada Center in July 2016 revealed that both Russian men and women have reported significantly less violence from their kin, spouses or lovers than they had acknowledged in comparable polls in 2002, 2003, 2011, and 2012.   Women reported suffering violence from related men in 12% of the sample; 7% of men reported the same thing from women; 10% of women and the same proportion of men refused to say.  Internal family conflict is commonly acknowledged in all the polls. Arguments over money are the most commonly cited reason. Verbal abuse was cited as “often” in 13% of cases; “rarely” in 39%.  Violence was cited as “often” by 2%; “rarely” by 9%.

In a publication by the Russian Church in Moscow last July,  the Patriarchal Commission on family issues endorsed the biblical doctrine — he that spares his rod hates his son: but he that loves him chastens him early (Book of Proverbs 13:24).   “There is no doubt,” the document from the commission declared, “that children should be protected from really criminal acts, whatever they were, especially when we are talking about criminal violence. However, there is no real reason to equate such criminal attacks with a reasonable and moderate use of physical punishment by loving parents in the upbringing of the child… the issue of choice of those or other methods of education of children, not causing them any real harm, should be the subject of…free solutions to parents, not forced legal regulation. Orthodox Christians, of course, may have different views and beliefs in practice on the education of their children, the desirability and permissibility of the use in the education of certain approaches and methods, including means of family discipline. However, there is no doubt that as Scripture (Prov[erbs]. 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15; Heb[rews]. 12:6-11, etc.) and the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church examines the possibility of intelligent love and use of physical punishment as an integral part installed by God in the rights of parents. Thus, attempts at legislative restriction of this right of parents is contrary to the teachings of the Orthodox Church.”

The latest Russian poll suggests the Church’s position is a minority one.  Last week the All-Russia Centre for the study of public opinion (VTsIOM) reported the incidence of beatings in Russian families is far from rare. One-third of those polled said they were aware of cases among the families and friends they know; 10% said they had personally experienced battery in their own families.

The VTsIOM poll shows that a very large majority (79%) of Russians condemns all forms of violence  inside the family. That leaves a 19% minority saying it  favours  the use of force within the family.  Roughly the same sized minority supports prison sentences for battery. A majority supports decriminalization with a combination of lesser penalties – fines, community service, and brief detention — although not for the Church’s reason, as this group believes the administrative measures would increase reporting by victims, and add to deterrence.

A close reading of the VTsIOM survey results reveals how unpersuaded Russians are of the Church’s view in favour of righteous battery.


After months of active campaigning the VTsIOM poll indicates the Church has failed to convince Russians under the age of 25, who are the most vulnerable to family assault. As this table indicates, the younger generation is even less likely to support any form of battery within the family than their elders.


Russian women support more severe sanctions for battery than men.


Neither gender nor age makes a significant difference to the assessment circulating in the foreign media that the Russian Church’s proposed change in the law will increase the frequency of assaults. The largest proportion of Russians — 41% — believes that if the amendment becomes law, there will be an improvement, and family violence will diminish. More women believe this than men; more younger people than older ones. A comparable proportion of the population believes nothing will change if the amendment becomes law.


The outcome in practical terms, as reported by this month’s VTsIOM survey, is that there is a 59% majority in support of the enactment this week; just 33% oppose.


Source for all tables:

These poll results have been cited by the Duma Speaker, Vyacheslav Volodin, as the reason for the deputies’ adoption of the first and second readings of the law so far.  The Church’s position has been advocated by Yelena Mizulina, and she is the prime mover of the legislative change.


An academic lawyer, Mizulina has been an elected member of parliament since 1993, changing her party affiliations several times. She has been chairman of the Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children Affairs; she is currently deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee on Constitutional Law. The US government sanctioned her in 2014 at the demand of US gay rights organizations; for the details, read this.

So far, the Art. 116 revision has been adopted almost unanimously, with only one deputy, Igor Lebedev, voting against, and one abstaining.  However, popular support for Mizulina’s rationale for the proposed decriminalization of domestic battery remains as weak as it is for the Church doctrine. Mizulina, Volodin, Lebedev, the press secretary of the Duma Family Committee, and the office of Patriarch Kirill were asked this question by telephone and email: “Since everyone agrees that domestic violence should be deterred, how does the proposed decriminalization law achieve that result?” The politicians and the patriarchate refused to answer. The Church spokesman also refused to give his name.

A Moscow social policy analyst commented: “The reason there is so much public support for a fine for this offence has nothing to do with the Church; nothing to do with Mizulina. Foreign critics have missed the point.  Russians understand their police very well. They know that if there’s no money incentive, there is no enforcement. That’s why first-offence beatings aren’t followed up, but traffic violations are.  If the local militia can see their chance to collect money from complaints, they will do it with alacrity. Every Russian understands this. Foreigners don’t.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. I Have Strange Dreams

    The West hates and fears Russia for daring to be a real nation-state. Our individualism and superficial “freedoms”, where our only values are hustling and narcissism contrast strongly with the Russians’ soulful patriotism which expresses itself in those things greater than oneself. The Russian soul blossoms while Westerners are enslaved to the neoliberal death cult. This will be Russia’s century.

    1. tequila0341

      An odd soulful patriotism in a country so corrupt that its police authorities must be openly bribed by the law itself to generate enforcement.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I’m not so keen about the praise of Russia, since the point of including this post was to show the Western press is still in “any stick to beat a dog” mode re Putin, and thus any stories about him and Russia need to be taken with a fistful of salt.

        But having said that, don’t look so carefully at the US.

        1. How well do the police enforce protective orders? Answer is not at all.

        2. How much police activity, like periodic super zealousness about handing out traffic tickets (often disproportionately to minority drivers) is drive by budget needs? And how about the scam called asset forfeiture, where police can basically steal your stuff?

        1. DorothyT

          Yves: Your comments in the preface to the Helmer piece on the Women’s March are spot on. Brave. Or as the description of NakedCapitalism states under the logo : fearless commentary …

          And I am one who has known first hand, as you state, how ‘well’ the police enforce protective orders. Unless and until you’ve been badly and visibly attacked, it’s ‘he said, she said,’ even today when you seek protection from the police or courts.

        2. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit

          Based on an admittedly small statistical sample of jurisdictions – but ones that I’m personally familiar with – I’d say the answers to your questions are:

          1. Very well;

          2. None whatsoever; and

          3. It’s a horrible scam desperately in need of legislative reform, not that I expect that to happen any time soon given some of the inferences that can be drawn from your Question #2.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            I have to tell you that in Maine, which has pretty clean government by US standards, 1 & 2 are real (although in Maine it’s out of state license plates of all sorts that are targeted, as opposed to minorities. Massachusetts above all!). And my God, Google about how well protective orders are enforced. There are tons of stories of women who had protective orders being beaten or killed despite complaining to the police about the threat (almost always an ex) violating the order by stalking and/or getting way too close to them.

        3. Elizabeth Burton

          It should be noted that the religious right so eagerly supporting the GOP agrees with the Orthodox Church that God wants you to beat on your kids.

      2. EoinW

        What were the numbers from WW2? 10 million Russian dead, compared to 500,000 American deaths. We owe the Russians for defeating Hitler. Yet are response has been consistently anti-Russian. Now, 25 years after shaking off Bolshevikism, there’s even less reason to be anti-Russian. Instead we turn it up another notch.

        Regarding Putin, keep in mind Russians have rarely had leadership that looked out for the common folk. The country has been plagued by horrible leaders most of its history. Besides Putin, I can only think of two other leaders who actually improved life for all Russians: Khrushchev and Alexandr II. Gorbachev might have meant well but he was a disaster. The rest were murderous psychopaths, insensitive bureaucrats or incompetents. From what I can tell, all Putin wants is for all the world’s oligarchs to get along. There’s enough for all the 1% by simply maintaining the status quo. He is a true conservative traditionalist. Unfortunately the western elite are not interested in peaceful coexistence. Not all members of the 1% are created equal, in their eyes.

        1. gepay

          you are so fooled by Putin. As a former member of the KGB, he was well aware of the deepest secret plan to foil the West. Soviet scientists determined that all that was necessary to destroy the US was to raise 150 parts per million of that man made pollutant CO2 in the atmosphere and voila – feedback mechanisms in the climate would melt Greenland and Antarctic ice thereby putting Wall Street under water along with most of Florida and all of the major seaports of the US and Europe.All Russia would have to do is put up a few dikes around St. Petersburg and move Sevastopol. The Gulf Stream would stop circulating – Most of Europe would become like Siberia while Siberia would become easily habitable – Russians would actually want to live there and open up the vast landscape and valuable mineral resources. The Arctic ocean would be ice free all summer long – Great for the Russian North and the Pacific coast – while the American Southwest would become as droughty as that which destroyed the Chaco civilization during the medieval warming. California instead of a salad bowl would have alternating droughts and floods. The climate change in the US midwest would make growing grains marginal. The loss of French and Californian wines would be a drawback but Russians could easily grow their own grapes. Just industrialize China and India and voila – the West would be doomed. As added insurance let’s get climate denier Trump elected President of the US. So easy – just raise the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere 150 parts per million.

        2. Binky

          Veliki Peter? Ivan Grozniy? There have been many great Russian leaders ( and Swedish leaders of Russians…) who have sought to improve the lot of the peoples who came to be called Russian (from numerous tribes, ethnicities and languages with vastly different traditions). Volga Germans, Don Cossacks, and hundreds of hundreds of different peoples across a vast continent.
          I can’t fathom the kind of condescension and ignorance that could produce such a statement: “Regarding Putin, keep in mind Russians have rarely had leadership that looked out for the common folk. The country has been plagued by horrible leaders most of its history.” On the contrary, the fact that there is a Russia that so many would cling to it as an identity is a testament to the skill with which it has been managed; just because it is not a meritocracy after the UK/US model of colonial management doesn’t make it a failure or make Putin a benevolent big brother to the krestyanin.

  2. kristiina

    In these days of globalism, it is amazing how little we know about cultures differing from our own. We may eat, sleep and work, but the reasons we do it are not the same. And it takes some effort to learn to understand a different worldview. Maybe even intelligence is required.

    The privatized jail system and who owns and profits from it is a chilling example of how things are done in the US.

  3. hemeantwell

    The article would have been a little clearer if it had said more about how Putin’s reliance on the Orthodox Church as an ideological support might constrain him. In a 2015 article in New Left Review, “Incommensurate Russia,” Perry Anderson shows how the post-Soviet regime quickly moved – nauseatingly, in my view – to revive the church.

    Yeltsin handed over vast amounts of its pre-revolutionary property to the Church, making it once again an opulent institution with some eight hundred monasteries, six radio stations, two TV channels, and invariable prominence at all state occasions of importance. Putin, fond of displaying an aluminium crucifix on his chest, professes himself a devout Christian, who has personally seen to the reunification of Orthodox churches in the diaspora and homeland that were estranged during the Cold War, and will often take the Patriarch along with him on trips to foreign lands.

    Anderson cites Geraldine Fagan, author of Believing in Russia: Religious Policy after Communism,: ‘In the shifting world of post-Soviet politics, where legitimacy (or the semblance of it) is all, the Church is thus able to perform an essential sacralizing function for the ruling elite’ (p. 33).

    All that said, it’s hard to say how much this particular question of domestic violence matters to the church and how much Putin has to dance with it. But, in turn, it’s hard to say how much the church matters to the public. Anderson notes that “Today, while 70 per cent declare themselves Orthodox, a mere 3 per cent attend Easter service, and faith in astrology leaves belief in the resurrection far behind.” My guess is that, given the regime’s current success in the Middle East and the prospect of an improved relationship with the US, Putin’s independence from the church will grow and it will become even more of a subsidized ornament without significant policy impact. Russian nationalism will be more firmly based in national achievement, not cultural mysticism.

    1. sid_finster

      I don’t know where you or your sources pull their statistics from, but I have attended multiple Easter services in Russia and everywhere I have been, the churches are stuffed, people packed cheek to jowl from the Ikonstas to the courtyard and spilling over outside. Everyone I know attends, perhaps not staying for the entire night (a Russian Easter service lasts most of the night) but they do come. For the next week or so afterwards, everyone greets one another with the traditional greeting “Kristos voskres!” (Christ is Risen!).

      The attitude of most Russians towards the Orthodox Church is best described as “complicated”.

  4. oho

    Adam Curtis’ film “Hypernormalisation” has a segment on the West’s history of creating mythical meta-enemies. Like Saddam or Qaddaffi

    Russia makes a perfect foil—like posh English-accented villains in action movies.

    They’re white so you’re not a racist for demonizing them.
    They’re Eastern orthodox so you’re not racist for demonizing them.
    They use Cyrillic. What the hell is that?
    They have a national cuisine that hasn’t gone mainstream in the US—when’s the last time you went out for Russian food?

  5. armchair

    So, this is the hill the give-Russia-a-break forces choose to fight on? A strange choice. The US misadventures in the Middle East being cleaned up by Russia seems like a much better candidte. What is missing from the writing is any understanding of domestic violence itself. DV is about manipulation and domination. It is accepted wisdom among professionals that work with DV victims that it takes seven attempts for a victim to break out of an abusive relationship. In other words, that fine for the first one, will stop nothing. DV perpetrators are usually pretty sick individuals. The optics of giving abusers a break on the first one is what it is. You can explain a simple fine for the first beating as a brilliant strategic move within the cultural framework of Russian justice, but most people don’t have the time or the patience for all of the blah, blah, blah it takes to get there. It might be an interesting idea to increase reporting, and it might be something worth considering. It would certainly be more credible if Putin and the Duma were looking to increase funding for women’s shelters. Then you might decisive argument.

    One fact about the Women’s March, Clinton did not show up to it or participate in it. And where’s the evidence of her involvement in it? This website should commit to one day where they don’t say the word Clinton.

  6. Hemang

    “freedoms”. Permit me please a short laughter. Do add that there is actually less freedoms in US. And the western media has sunk to such lower depths of inconsequentiality that only those who produce them , consume them. Can you please tell those thousands of media parrot outlets that the game is up, Putin or no Putin.

  7. juliania

    Thanks for posting this, Yves. It gives insight into the complexities of these issues of government supervision of family relationships as they occur worldwide, not just in Russia and the US.

    Being Orthodox myself I was interested to see both the Russian Patriarch and the Patriarchal Council being mentioned with respect to family discipline, with the advice from Proverbs being the quoted standard. To me, taking the verse as it stands in a literal sense makes it shallow reasoning at best, as it gives weight to strict Old Law standards of punishment which it seems to me the teachings of Christ supersede.

    In other words, that interpretation of the Old Law is too harsh, and that would be what the majority of Russians see also. (I could quote the sayings of Jesus which allude to the treatment of children but “Suffer the little children to come unto me” should suffice.) There is of course, always a need for discipline in the upbringing of a child, and in that respect the Proverbial edict is a wise one.

  8. Ryan Langmeyer

    “Now mind you, Putin is an authoritarian.”

    Putin is certainly a Russian Nationalist, if I even understand that term.

    But please give examples of his authoritarianism. I have been watching Putin for a long time and (at least partly due to the intense propaganda) do not fully understand this accusation.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      One of Putin’s closest allies threatened to kill John Helmer.

      Helmer nevertheless continues to break important anti-Putin stories, like his one on the non-sale of a stake in Rosneft to Glencore.

      You need to severely discount anything by the Guardian on Russia, but there is also this:

      The Exile (where Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi wrote scathing pieces) was forced to close by the government in 2008. Details in this Vanity Fair story:

Comments are closed.