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Whataboutism (or whataboutery) is, according to British journalist Edward Lucas, a rhetorical tactic which attempts to discredit the opponent's position by asserting the opponent's failure to act consistently in accordance with that position, without directly refuting or disproving the opponent's initial argument.

The term "whataboutism" was coined during the Cold War by western commentators.[dubious ][1][dead link] Edward Lucas, writing in the The Economist in 2007, noted it as a tactic he had observed in student debates at the London School of Economics in the early 1980s. He recalled it was an "approach by the Kremlin's useful idiots [...] to match every Soviet crime with a real or imagined western one. It was called 'whataboutism'".[2][dead link][3]

Lucas wrote in 2008 that "Soviet propagandists during the Cold War were trained in a tactic that their western interlocutors nicknamed 'whataboutism.'" He said it was a common rhetorical tactic used by the Soviet Union in dealing with criticism originating within the Western world, so that the common response to a specific criticism would be "What about..." followed by the naming of an event in the Western world.[1][dead link][4].

Lucas writes that at the end of the Cold War the usage of the tactic began dying out, but that it saw a resurgence in post-Soviet Russia in relation to a number of human rights violations and other criticisms expressed to the Russian government.[1][dead link] The Guardian writer Miriam Elder commented that Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov used the tactic and that most criticisms on human rights violations had gone unanswered. Peskov's response to this was again accused by Elder of being a whataboutism, as it called into question the difficulty Russians experience in obtaining a visa to the United Kingdom.[5] In July 2012, RIA Novosti columnist Konstantin von Eggert wrote an article about the use of whataboutism in relation to Russian and American support for different governments in the Middle East.[6]

The term received new attention during the 2014 Crimea crisis and 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine.[7][8] It was also used by the American governmental RFERL in reference to Azerbaijan, claiming its parliamentary hearings on issues in the United States were a response to American criticism of its human rights record.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Edward Lucas (January 31, 2008). "Whataboutism". The Economist. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  2. ^ Edward Lucas (November 2, 2007). "The Kremlin’s useful idiots". The Economist. Retrieved Aug 20, 2015. 
  3. ^ Edward Lucas (October 29, 2007). "The Kremlin’s useful idiots". edwardlucas.com. Retrieved Aug 20, 2015. 
  4. ^ Staff writer (December 11, 2008). "The West is in danger of losing its moral authority". European Voice. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  5. ^ Elder, Miriam (April 26, 2012). "Want a response from Putin's office? Russia's dry-cleaning is just the ticket". The Guardian. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  6. ^ von Eggert, Konstantin (July 25, 2012). "Due West: 'Whataboutism' Is Back - and Thriving". RIA Novosti. 
  7. ^ Keating, Joshua (21 March 2014). "The Long History of Russian Whataboutism". Slate. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  8. ^ Drezner, Daniel (20 August 2014). "Ferguson, whataboutism and American soft power". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  9. ^ "Azerbaijan Concerned About Human Rights -- In The United States.". RFERL. January 16, 2015.