Staunton, May 17 – In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet system, a large number of extremist and marginal individuals and groups emerged, some with the support of the Russian security services but many independent of them, Alina Vitukhnovskaya says. They remained marginal except in one way: they have exerted a profound influence on Vladimir Putin.
These individuals and groups, with rare exceptions, were dismissed by most as mere curiosities, unworthy of more serious attention, the Russian writer says; but in fact, out of the congeries of their statements written and otherwise has emerged the ideology of the Kremlin ruler (newizv.ru/news/society/17-05-2020/obizhennye-na-mir-chto-rodnit-rossiyskie-marginalnye-dvizheniya).
And now it is clear to all, Vitukhnovskaya continues, that “Russia went along the path from liberalism and democracy to the new authoritarianism through the publishing in industrial quantities of literature about national socialism” and that out of that mix emerged today’s “quasi-ideological model” of the Putin regime.
The various marginal groups of the 1990s were succeeded in the first decade of Putin’s rule by various state-promoted and paid groups that proved even less vital than the previous “home-grown” marginals of the 1990s. But their appearance had a consequence that few noticed at the time, the commentator says.
In about 2008, Kremlin organizers decided that they needed to launch “a national-democratic project, even a national liberal one with regionalist and (however strange) separatist deviation.” Such a project would split the marginals but it worked because it fell on soil that had long been prepared.
But because it worked, it frightened the authors of the project and they decided to create a counterweight in the form of “imperial nationalists” with anti-Ukrainian attitudes who could be counted on to do the regime’s dirty work not only in Ukraine’s Donbass a few years later but at home as well.
With so many groups still swirling around, it was easy for some to fall into the illusion that they were in competition with each other. In fact, Vitukhnovskaya says, “these were not groupings who opposed one another; their struggle was only for appearances” because their fundamental ideas were the same – and those ideas were shared by many in the regime itself.
Tracing these lines of ideological inheritance may seem a waste of time, especially as the Putin regime has formalized its own approach. But examining the past, the commentator continues, is important because it shows the range of possibilities and dangers contained within Putin’s thinking because of the sources from which it springs.