The idea behind whataboutism is simple: Party A accuses Party B of doing something bad. Party B responds by changing the subject and pointing out one of Party A’s faults — “Yeah? Well what about that bad thing you did?” (Hence the name.)
It’s not exactly a complicated tactic — any grade-schooler can master the “yeah-well-you-suck-too-so-there” defense. But it came to be associated with the USSR because of the Soviet Union’s heavy reliance upon whataboutism throughout the Cold War and afterward, as Russia.
Russia’s decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union
In 1991, Boris Yeltsin stood atop a tank in front of the parliament building in Moscow and called on the people to resist the communist hardliners in the August coup.
Several months later, at the end of the year, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev resigned, leaving Yeltsin as the president of Russia.
Fast forward to December 31, 1999: Yeltsin grabbed the world by surprise once again when he resigned during a live televised address.
In between those shock events, Russia went through an enormous economic, social, and political transition as the state tried to adjust to the global economy following the dissolution of the USSR. During that tumultuous decade, Russia was also involved in two Chechen Wars and was slammed by a financial crisis in 1998.