The first sign of trouble came a week ago, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sounded a bit like a far-right Republican when talking about the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Lavrov told reporters last Monday that the Kremlin is "following with interest" the "persecution" of those "accused of the riots on Jan. 6."
If the foreign minister's name sounds familiar, Donald Trump welcomed Lavrov into the Oval Office in May 2017 for a visit that was never fully explained. It was in this meeting that the Republican revealed highly classified information to his Russian guests for reasons unknown.
Nevertheless, by the end of last week, Lavrov's boss was using similar rhetoric. The Daily Beast reported:
During an economic forum in St. Petersburg on Friday, [Russian President Vladimir Putin] said the people who violently stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to stop Congress from certifying Donald Trump's loss were people justifiably angry with the election results. "They came with political demands," he told a moderator during a Q&A session.
Putin added that the Jan. 6 rioters "are not looters or thieves." He went on to say the criminal suspects were slapped with "very harsh charges.... Why is that?"
The broader context is obviously important: Biden is scheduled to meet with Putin in two weeks, and it's a safe bet the American leader will press his counterpart in Moscow on human-rights abuses -- including Putin's treatment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The point was hardly subtle: Putin wants to be able to say he's prosecuting his domestic political opponents, just as the Biden administration prosecutes those responsible for the Jan. 6 insurrectionist riot. As far as the Russian leader is concerned, there's a moral equivalence, so Biden can't claim the high ground during their upcoming meeting.
In reality, that's ridiculous. Alexei Navalny is not a criminal. He did not launch any violent attacks against the Kremlin. He challenged Putin through democratic means and nearly paid with his life. The idea that Navalny has anything in common with insurrectionist rioters in the United States is the opposite of reality: Navalny supports democracy in his country; the Jan. 6 mob tried to derail democracy in their country.
But as relevant as the motivations behind the talking points are, the end result matters just as much. As Rachel noted on Friday night, "It is a remarkable thing to see Russia's head of state take up the cause of the January 6th attack by Trump supporters who were trying to block the counting of the votes in the last election because they didn't want it to be so that Trump lost. It's kind of remarkable to see a foreign head of state to take up that cause, too."
As things stand, a series of GOP officials are eager to rewrite the history of the Jan. 6 attack, turning the villains into sympathetic heroes, and lashing out at federal law enforcement for prosecuting the rioters. And now they have a political ally, once again, in Russia's authoritarian president, who's only too pleased to amplify their talking points.