U.S.-Russia relations can't catch a break. No sooner is one set of difficulties navigated than another wave of troubles appears on the horizon. Earlier this year, differences over Syria appeared to be the rock upon which the bilateral relationship would founder, as America's insistence on supporting the opposition seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad—and Moscow's absolute refusal to abandon the regime in Damascus—seemed to put both countries on a collision course. Then the flight of NSA contractor Edward Snowden from the long hand of U.S. justice to a limbo in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport threatened relations, as the Russian government steadfastly refused repeated U.S. requests to detain the renegade and return him to the United States. Both disputes ginned up the respective anti-Russian/anti-American apparatuses in both countries into their familiar roles: strident denunciations in the U.S. of Russian perfidy and hostility, and resolute calls from the Russian side for President Vladimir Putin to stand firm against American bullying and arrogance.
The first of these irritants appears to have peaked. Changes on the battlefield in Syria, and the fracturing of the opposition, have made Washington less willing to push for regime change. As for Snowden, the damage he would cause appeared to have waned, until Moscow granted him temporary asylum yesterday. It seemed that the latest spats between Moscow and Washington had exhausted themselves. Like clockwork, however, the next set of troubles have come rolling in.
Over the past year, the Putin government has shifted the power base of the Russian regime by mobilizing broadly conservative and traditionalist forces to counter the anti-government opposition movement that sprung up in the aftermath of the disputed December 2011 legislative elections. The latest manifestation of this trend was the recent passage of legislation banning "propaganda" for so-called nontraditional relationships, which can be broadly interpreted as criminalizing everything from gay pride parades to public displays of affection. The law also prohibits gays or single parents living in countries where same-sex marriage is recognized from adopting Russian children, and provides for the temporary detention of foreigners engaged in flouting these restrictions.