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Whataboutism is a term describing a propaganda technique used by the Soviet Union in its dealings with the Western world during the Cold War. When criticisms were levelled at the Soviet Union, the response would be "What about..." followed by the naming of an event in the Western world.[1][2] It represents a case of tu quoque (appeal to hypocrisy),[3] a logical fallacy 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 describing the technique was popularized in 2008 by Edward Lucas in an article for The Economist. Lucas said that this tactic is observed in the politics of modern Russia, along with this being evidence of a resurgence of Cold War and Soviet-era mentality within Russia's leadership.[1]


One of the earliest uses of the technique, as reported by The Atlantic, was in 1947 after William Averell Harriman criticized "Soviet imperialism" in a speech. A response in Pravda by Ilya Ehrenburg criticized the United States' laws and policies regarding race and minorities and pointed out that Soviet consideration of them as "insulting to human dignity" was not being used as an excuse to start a war.[3]

At the end of the Cold War, the usage of the tactic began dying out but 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] 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 responded to Elder's article on the difficulty of dry-cleaning in Moscow with a whataboutism on the difficulty Russians experience in obtaining a visa to the United Kingdom.[4] 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.[5]

Although the use of whataboutism is not restricted to any particular race or belief system, according to The Economist, Russians often overuse the tactic. There are two methods of properly countering Whataboutism. The first is to "use points made by Russian leaders themselves" so that they cannot be applied to a Western nation and the second method is for Western nations to apply more self-criticism to its own media and government.[1]

The term received new attention during the annexation of Crimea by Russia and 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine.[6][7] It was also used in reference to Azerbaijan, which responded to criticism of its human rights record by holding parliamentary hearings on issues in the United States.[8]

Another term, whataboutery, was used in the United Kingdom during The Troubles.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Staff writer (January 31, 2008). "Whataboutism". The Economist. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  2. ^ Staff writer (December 11, 2008). "The West is in danger of losing its moral authority". European Voice. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Khazan, Olga (August 2, 2013). "The Soviet-Era Strategy That Explains What Russia Is Doing With Snowden". The Atlantic. Retrieved July 7, 2015. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ von Eggert, Konstantin (July 25, 2012). "Due West: 'Whataboutism' Is Back - and Thriving". RIA Novosti. 
  6. ^ Keating, Joshua (21 March 2014). "The Long History of Russian Whataboutism". Slate.com. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  7. ^ Drezner, Daniel (20 August 2014). "Ferguson, whataboutism and American soft power". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  8. ^ "Azerbaijan Concerned About Human Rights -- In The United States.". RFERL. January 16, 2015. 
  9. ^ Ian Linden (March 19, 2014). "In Defence of 'Whataboutery'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved September 28, 2016.