The Russian government took steps to cut off diplomatic ties to the United States today in retaliation for the conviction of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning.
in a statement released to The Guardian, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said “We have reached a conclusion, in light of recent events, that the United States government does not respect the rights of its citizens or the right to due process for political dissidents.
“Russia prides itself in its support for human rights and transparency, so we cannot in good conscious stand by while the United States and its president intimidates and declares citizens guilty before a trial has taken place, or pursues its political agenda in a court of law,” he said. “This is a principle that’s not unique to Russia, but should apply everywhere.”
Putin said he was recalling the United States ambassador back to Moscow and considering cancelling all future meetings with U.S. officials until it reformed its justice system to meet internationally accepted human rights standards certified by Amnesty International and end abusive practices that Manning exposed.
Manning, 25, was sentenced to 35 years yesterday after being convicted on 20 charges including espionage and theft in relation to his leaking of thousands of government documents to website Wikileaks. Manning has already served more than three years in prison, which has included up to 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.
“It is simply unacceptable that in today’s world that a major world power subject political prisoners to harsh pre-trial conditions and trumped up charges of treason,” he continued, “America should be ashamed of itself.”
Putin also said the U.S. should pay for Manning’s sex change operation, following today’s revelation that he will begin hormone conversion therapy and change his name to “Chelsea”.
“The rights of the transgendered are sacred, and should not be abused,” he inveighed.
White House officials reacted with shock to Russia’s announcement.
“We already promised the Russians that we wouldn’t torture or execute Edward Snowden if they gave him back to us. What more do they want?” spokesman Jay Carney said. He also defended the government’s hardline toward whistleblowers, claiming that they were worse than terrorists and journalists combined.
“Manning’s leaking of those classified documents put Americans at risk,” he said. “At this moment, we are actively looking for any Americans who have been harmed by his actions. When we do, everyone’s going to be real sorry they doubted us.”
Russia, for its part, has a history of lashing back at U.S. criticism of its policies. Last year, Moscow banned American adoptions of Russian children just after the U.S. Congress approved a bill blacklisting Russians for alleged human rights abuses.
Foreign policy experts said Russia’s latest move is a tit-for-tat snub to President Barack Obama, who refused to meet with Putin after Russia granted temporary asylum to intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, as well as a snide response to Obama’s recent criticisms of Russia’s record on gay rights.
“Although Russia has a poor reputation for human rights abuses and injustice, it just loves pointing out inconsistencies and double standards in U.S. policy,” said Arkady Renko, a fellow with the Council of East European Studies. “They got a gift when U.S. prosecutors tried to put Manning in prison for 136 years. Manning could have just tortured or killed some people and he would have gotten less prison time and less scrutiny.”
Despite election promises to protect whistleblowers, the Obama administration has instead charged seven people for leaking secrets to journalists under an Espionage Act, more than all previous administrations combined.
Criminal sentences for national security leakers are also disproportionate compared to other U.S. allies, with the exception of Russia.