This sort of article, even by Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe -- which knows better -- was bound to appear during the Russian-American summit with the first black American president visiting the Kremlin. Just as the politically-incorrect Charles Wrangel quipped that Obama should stay out of visiting some New York City neighbourhoods, where even black policemen are mistaken for criminals and shot to death by their fellow policemen -- Obama should stay out of a lot of Moscow neighbourhoods where even just plain white Americans can face rampant hatred.
Criticism of American racism was a long-time staple of Soviet propaganda, and the existence of both slavery and its after-effects in racist policies were often duplicitously used by the Soviets to distract from their own crimes against humanity on their own territory.
It seems as a consequence of that very effective propaganda, especially as imbibed more uncritically by the Internet generation, liberal intelligentsia in both America and Russia today still see the American legacy of slavery and racism as "worse" than anything that ever occurred in the Soviet Union. I think this bears some nuanced context -- and a lot more history than it gets.
People who have a stake in trying to portray the U.S. as "worse" cite what in fact was highly selective propagandistic Soviet manipulation of figures like Paul Robeson as proof that the Soviets were "more tolerant". Or they cite the presence of a figure like Yelena Khanga in the Russian elite of today as proof that Russians are "more" progressive and tolerant on race.
They aren't. And the Soviet legacy is abysmal, regarding the minorities and non-Russian ethnic groups on Soviet territory as well as those of Africa descent.
The alarming increase in racist murders in Russia indicated by the research of Sova and other human rights monitors is part of the story that lets us know that all is not well with the issue of race in Russia today.
But it's also worth looking at the two countries over a longer period of time.
Russian serfdom was an institution in its way similar to slavery -- and while formerly abolished roughly at the same time American slavery was abolished, persisted long after U.S. slavery as even during the Soviet era, peasants on collective farms had no domestic passports and were not free to move out of their farms at will.
But perhaps the more appropriate analogy to American mistreatment is to look at Soviet oppression of "the punished peoples" like Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Volga Germans and others. Hundreds of thousands of these people were forcibly displaced under Stalin's nationalities policies, particularly when they fell under suspicion as supposed collaborators with the Nazis. Their populations were decimated as they were forced into cattle cars, with many suffocating or dying of disease along the way, or after they arrived to be forcibly resettled in bleak and unprovisioned collective farms. The parallel is something like the U.S. internment of the Japanese during World War II only with far more brutality.
Aside from those forced displacement tactics, of course the Soviet "small peoples" as they are called in Russian, i.e. minorities have suffered all kinds of other forms of racism that have forced disappearance or assimilation or second-class status.
The wars that the Soviets -- and later Russians -- have waged on their "nationalities" such as the Chechens have been attributed to racism by many activists who try to work with these awful situations -- and the point has some merit. When you have such an enormous population of clear non-combatants -- Chechen women, children and elderly men -- winding up massacred and disappeared during what are supposed to be pinpointed anti-terrorist operations, you have to ask about parallel issues of racism.
Moral equivalence debates are usually not so helpful in understanding developments in either America or Russia; it's better if both sides appeal to universal human rights and live by universal values rather than seeking to justify their own bad deeds by exigencies of parallelism. They are not equivalent countries in terms of their history or societies or forms of government or economies. Still, as long-time enemies and as large multi-ethnic states, they do often get compared.
Usually what I do with these sorts of inevitably long and contentious moral equivalence debates that rage around Russia and America is I wait for them to die down after an hour or two and then I ask quietly: OK, but in which direction is the migration going between the two countries? Is it going away from that place where everything has historically been "worse" and is supposedly "worse" today...or?
And the answer is: emigration continues to flow out of Russia to the United States; it does not go in the opposite direction, with few exceptions.
Hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews emigrated to the United States in part because they faced discrimination in their own society. Today, Russian Jews continue to emigrate to the U.S., as do artists and intellectuals, and there are increasing numbers of both Russians leaving the former Soviet republics because they cannot find a place in Russia or Central Asians and Caucasians leaving Russia because they face discrimination.