Staunton, July 6 – There are three reasons why support for Vladimir Putin is so high even among educated Russians: fear that their country might descend into chaos without him, their lack of a positive image about the future, and a traditional Russian deference to the state on foreign policy issues, according to Kseniya Kirillova.
One of the unexpected developments of recent times has been that journalists who usually do the interviewing are ever more often being interviewed by other journalists. Last week, Larry Poltavtsev of Snob.ru interviewed Kirillova about her experiences and views about Russia.
In the course of a 3500-word interview, Kirillova touched on many issues including the fact that Russian sources have indicated very clearly that she, a Russian citizen now preparing articles for Novy Region-2 and Radio Liberty, should not return to her homeland because she would face repression there.
But among her most intriguing comments are those concerning what she sees as the three reasons members of the Russian intelligentsia currently express their support for Vladimir Putin and his aggressive policies in Ukraine and elsewhere. Her answer to this question, important in its own right, is particularly significant because it informs her numerous commentaries.
First, she suggests, many in the Russian intelligentsia support Putin not because of any interest in imperialism but rather out of fear and especially the fear of instability. Because people remember the 1990s and become Putin has further demonized that period, many suffer from the fear that “a new Syria, Libya or color revolution could arise” in Russia and that “this means anarchy, a sharp decline in the standard of living, the appearance of uncontrolled bandits in the streets, and practically a civil war.”
Moreover, “the overwhelming majority even of educated people believe that Russia ‘is encircled by enemies,’ a situation in which in the case of the weakening of central power, these enemies will destroy it instantly.” As a result, even if they believe that Putin is wrong on this or that policy, they “do not see another leader suitable for work ‘in war conditions.’”
Naturally, “this is a lie because if the hostile environment exists, it does so only in response to his aggressive policy.” But at the same time, “even intelligent people and perhaps in greater degree than others unconsciously feel the terrible situation that Russia is lurching toward catastrophe.” Lacking the moral qualities such as bravery to do something about it, they are prepared to accept Putin’s logic even if at a deeper level they know it is wrong.
Second, “the majority even among educated people who in the past belonged to the ‘perestroika’ generation of the liberal intelligentsia, dream about the restoration of the Soviet Union. In part this is explicable,” Kirillova says. Because the authorities offer no bright future, people take refuge in a mythologized bright past, especially as the Kremlin encourages this.
Many of them believe that it really is possible to restore the USSR, although no one knows exactly how to do this; and thus they welcome the annexation of Crimea as a step in that direction with an attitude that is also rooted in fear: they see the Soviet Union as “something powerful which no one can attack.”
And third, the intelligentsia like Russians more generally finds it very difficult to “separate itself from the state on issues of foreign policy.” This is not so much the result of “’imperial consciousness,’” as from a more general sense of “’a feeling of Russia’ which [the Russian] state always tries to substitute for itself.”
That is especially the case with foreign policy because in that realm, “the ordinary individual understands very well his inability to influence events. In ‘a battle of titans,’ the ordinary person is helpless” and is aware of his helplessness. The Russian state exploits this and educated people are affected as much as others.
To explain the behavior of these people is not to justify them, Kirillova continues. Such people “believe only in what they want to believe.”
Many in the Russian intelligentsia also accept the Kremlin’s argument that Russia is fighting in Ukraine not with Ukrainians but with Americans. That builds them up in their own eyes. Moreover, she says, people accept what they do because “an individual can view everything bad as good only in comparison with something that is still worse.”
Thus, many for many in Russia, Putin “appears as the lesser evil in comparison with the illusory threat” which he works hard to create. Again, she suggests, understanding why this pattern works is not the basis for excusing it or thinking that nothing can be done, as hard as that may be to do.