Putin’s ‘New Society’ Very Dangerous but Not Fascist, ‘Russky Zhurnal’ Editor Says

November 2, 2014
President Vladimir Putin with Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft. Photo by Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin)

Staunton, November 1 – The new society emerging in Russia under Vladimir Putin will be “a powerful and active one, anti-democratic, militarized, with its own ‘leader cult,’ and ‘political gnosticism’ but not comparable to the interwar regimes in Italy or Germany, according to Aleksandr Morozov, the editor in chief of Russky Zhurnal.

And he argues that this is the case on the basis of an examination of seven aspects of Russian reality today, aspects that call into question the conclusions of “enthusiasts” that what is happening is no more than the end of “the post-Soviet transition” and the rise of “a so-called ‘nation state.'”

First of all, Morozov says, the formation of “the club of the sanctioned” has changed the nature of Russian politics at the top. More than 100 Russians have now been sanctioned by the West, and many others wish they were on that list because membership confirms “the absolute devotion to Putin” that is the basis for getting ahead.

Those on the list “understand that personal sanctions won’t ever be lifted” even if sectoral sanctions are, and consequently those who have been sanctioned have no choice but to be loyal to Putin for life. “There is thus no basis for expecting ‘a split in the elites,” Morozov says. Moreover, those who have been sanctioned affect public opinion because they head so many firms and institutions in what is already a “highly corporate” state.

Second, while Putin lacks the funds for arms that he has talked about, the “’militarization of society’” will continue. For the first time since the Soviet period, Russians are thinking and talking about a major war with the West. And among other things, that has led more Russians to volunteer for service in the military.

Third, unlike in the past when any notion that guns should be in private hands was “a taboo,” now those who are arming themselves are viewed as self-defense detachments and even as “partisans” in the good World War II sense. These groups are becoming like the Freikorps and are “much more attractive to young people in the provinces than were the earlier formations of the National Bolsheviks,” not least because they enjoy the backing of the state rather than face its opposition.

Fourth, over the last year or so, Putin has made the Security Council the primary institutionalized form of decision making at the top of the political system, and its “gnostic” language has passed throughout the elite and into the Russian population at large which now speaks in terms that Russia’s security services prefer.

Fifth, the political center of the country has disappeared. Radicals at both ends of the political spectrum now make proposals that are taken seriously even though a few months ago the ideas these proposals reflect would have been treated as laughable absurdities. And that in turn has been reflected in a change in the nature of political discourse.

Sixth, the attitudes of the Russian middle class have shifted. Despite expectations of some, this educated and even sophisticated group of people like it very much that “Russia has suddenly shown the world several real ‘innovations,’ including hybrid war, cyber-war, ‘polite people,’ and effective counter-propaganda.” They “consider that the revision of history is completely justified.”

And seventh, Putin and his propagandists have escaped the charges that the West might have been expected to bring against him as acting like Hitler in the Sudentenland. Instead, most Europeans view what he has done as annoying but not reflecting his transformation into some kind of fascist leader.

The reasons for that are to be found in the Kremlin’s clever exploitation of the following themes: the decline of the West, limits on the sovereignty of European countries imposed by the US, the egotism of the United States, “the paralysis of European democracy in the face of major problems,” and the increasing distrust of European voters in their own governments.

“Crudely speaking,” Morozov concludes, “Putin has begun an election campaign for the imaginary post of ‘leader of Europe.’ He starts from a very low point but his ratings are rapidly increasing. [And] it would be interesting to see the results of the poll analogous to those which the Levada Center has conducted in Russia for many years.”

“Do you support Putin?” Yes, more yes than no, more no than yes, No. The answer ‘more yes than no,’” the Russky Zhurnal editor says, “is the indicator of the increase not of direct support but of tolerance” by Europeans for what Putin has been doing.