The authors of the article – Maria Snegovaya, Michael Kimmag and Jade McGlynn, who are all senior staff at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington – stated that
Vladimir Putin has survived the war in Ukraine so far as almost the only one without a drop in domestic political support.
In their opinion, this might have surprised Westerners the most, who had expected that sanctions and war casualties would cause social tensions in Russia. As it was written, those who calculated in this way probably started from dry socio-economic factors and underestimated the fact that ideological factors also play a key role in Putin’s “survival”.
The Kremlin has successfully created a worldview that explains to Russians why they have to endure the hardships of war. Many analysts fail to take all of this into account and start from the assumption that Putin secures his absolute power with simple power politics tools, or simply believe that Putin does not even have a coherent ideology.
Recently, however, the Kremlin has refuted them, as documents are appearing more and more often that try to further cement or elevate certain theses of Putinism to the state level.
Putin In January 2022, for example he summarized Russia’s spiritual and moral values in a special presidential decree; In 2023, the state document containing Russian cultural principles was updated; and meanwhile in Russian schools the ideology that must be taught is also more and more determined – listed the authors of the article, who also noted that since Putin came to power, he tried to use the politics of education, memory and identity for his own purposes.
These are his main points
According to them, the central element of Putin’s ideology is the image of a great Russian civilization that is constantly fighting to regain its rightful place in the world.
According to this idea, the Russian state and its president must lead the Russian people to victory.
According to them, the first basic tenet of the ideology is that only a strong, stable Russian state can guarantee the future of the Russian people, everything must be protected by the state. This is also reflected, for example, in the fact that in Russia’s recently adopted official foreign policy guidelines, Russia is referred to as “a specific state civilization” that carries out a “historically unique mission” for the benefit of humanity.
The second basic premise is that this civilization can collapse at any time due to the attacks of the West, which seeks to destroy Russia, which they try to justify with historical examples (e.g. the collapse of World War I in 1917 or the dissolution of the Soviet Union). In light of this, the Kremlin claims that the West has been planning to subjugate and plunder Russia for centuries (Putin spoke about this personally in February this year, on the one-year anniversary of the war, even mentioning the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy).
II plays an important role in the ideology. World War memory, in which even the Nazi aggression is depicted as an anti-Soviet Western creation based on a conspiracy theory. The importance of this can also be indicated by the fact that even in the current war, Russia claims that they are continuing their fight against “Nazi” Ukraine, which is also supported by the West. Furthermore, the vision of the future offered by the ideology is essentially based on the great Russian past and its restoration.
Vladimir Putin’s most serious defense bastion, but is there an antidote?
The authors believe that the Kremlin has thoroughly entrenched this ideology in recent decades, and that it will continue to spread vigorously even during the war. They also noted that since the essence of the ideology is not tied to a text, the Russian political leadership can practically apply it at will. It is not imposed as a mandatory dogma by the state on the Russian population: it is enough for the Kremlin that it is partially accepted or tolerated by the people.
Meanwhile, there is no substantial, viable alternative in Russia.
Even before the war, the proportion of those who declared themselves pro-Western liberals in Russia was around 7-8 percent. Since the beginning of the conflict, many of them – according to the authors, at least 800 thousand – have fled abroad or completely stopped protesting, which the law punishes more and more severely. And it follows that Russia may be even more dominated by Putin’s own ideology.
At the same time, the authors see that Putinism is not invulnerable. On the one hand, they drew attention to the fact that over time, prolonged fighting, many losses, and the fact that ordinary Russian people really start to feel the consequences of the war can weaken the ideology. In this regard, it may be indicative that in the region close to Ukraine (quite a few of which have already been hit by a couple of Ukrainian drone attacks), public opinion polls already show that the population is less and less supportive of the continuation of the armed conflict. It is also inconceivable that due to the military failures and losses during the war, similar to the example of Prigozhin’s coup attempt, the extreme right, which wants to escalate the war even more, will try to replace Putin (a possible presidential candidate has recently applied for this).
At the same time, the authors of the article also believe that, for the time being, not much can be seen from these possibilities. “The flexibility of Putin’s ideological machinery, the simplicity of his narratives, and the susceptibility of Russians to the creation of myths based on history indicate that this worldview will remain, and may even become more entrenched in Russian society.
For all its faults, Putin’s ideological campaign has successfully gained support among the Russian public. The worldview it inspires can serve as a kind of bulwark for the system against future challenges. And as Putin’s aggressive war in Ukraine has shown, the geopolitical and civilizational thinking espoused by the Kremlin can have an extremely destabilizing effect beyond Russia’s borders.
– summarized the authors.
At the end of their article, they also noted that the Putinist narrative cannot be dismantled from Washington. The United States, on the other hand, can do only that, knowing the ideology, they can try to prepare for Russia’s actions and, together with Ukraine and Europe, they can strive to thwart aggressive Russian foreign policy actions. However, it is important not to confuse Russia with the Russian people and culture, and not to punish the “other Russia” for the Kremlin’s aggressive actions, and even help them if possible, they wrote.
We will also follow the developments of the Russian-Ukrainian war minute by minute on Tuesday – in this article.
(Cover photo: Vladimir Putin on October 19, 2016. Photo: Adam Berry / Getty Images Hungary)