Staunton, October 19 – While Putin’s remarks about how all Russians will go to paradise and their enemies will burn in hell after a nuclear war have not surprisingly attracted more attention, his comments about “correct” and “incorrect” nationalism say a great deal about his retreat from his own rhetoric of a Russian world and thus about where he may be headed next.
In a commentary for Deutsche Welle, Russian political analyst Fyodor Krasheninnikov notes that in his Valdai remarks yesterday, Putin made no reference to the idea of “a Russian world” that so animated him four years ago (dw.com/ru/комментарий-владимир-путин-и-вопросы-национализма/a-45952433).
Instead, his comments “only confirmed the obvious,” the analyst says. “The theme of Russian ethnic nationalism no longer interests him and even is an annoyance.” Putin declared that “our national identity … is our culture and our history …We have 160 ethnoses living on the territory of the Russian Federation.”
The country is thus “a multi-national state, and ‘if we want Russia to be preserved as it is, to develop and strengthen,” Putin says now, then it is in the interests of the Russians “as the state-forming people” to do whatever they can for “the preservation of this country,” its current borders and its current government.
Putin isn’t talking about “a Russian world” here: “all the peoples of Russia are equal, although the Russians are a little more ‘equal’ than the rest” and together they form “a multi-national people” and it is there and not in any ethnos that “their identity” lies and must lie, Krasheninnikov says.
With these words, the analyst argues, “Putin in effect refuses to th largest ethnos of Russia to right to any other identity separate from fidelity to the multi-national Russian state as it exists in 2018.” For the Kremlin leader, “to be a Russian means to be loyal to ‘this country,’ that is, in a practical sense to him personally.”
Any other view, Putin clearly views as “‘the nationalism of the caveman.’” By taking this position, Putin moves away from the more ethnically defined “’Russian world’” of 2014 and calls on Russians ethnic and otherwise to display instead “loyalty to multi-nationality and tolerance in his own understanding of these terms.”
According to Krasheninnikov, “Putin is no longer offering any other ‘Russian world.’ He is simply proposing the kind of Russian nationalism one might expect from a retired lieutenant colonel of the Soviet KGB – statist not ethnic, authoritarian not democratic.
Indeed, the analyst suggests, in Putin’s mind, “real nationalism is to be for Putin regardless of whether you are an ethnic Russian or a Tatar. All the rest is ‘cavemanlike,’ ‘foolish,’ and ‘moronic’ and will lead to the disintegration of the state.”
Given Putin’s falling ratings, the analyst suggests, Putin “needs right now some new conception of legitimacy which must not be put under any doubt by elections or polls.” He is thus presenting himself as “the leader of 146 million” people with the same views who support the same “specific person, Vladimir Putin.”
His ratings may fall; his candidates may lose; but as the leader of the nation in the sense he uses it, Krasheninnikov continues, Putin “a apriori does not depend on election procedures of the results of polls.” But in this, he is fooling himself if no one else just as was the case when he and his regime insisted that he was supported by 86 percent of the population.
The truth is, the analyst concludes, that neither “’the Russian world’ nor Putin’s nationalism, nor 146 million” who supposedly share his views can support him and his regime forever. On public view, “there is only the moral exhaustion of Vladimir Putin, his falling ratings, and his attempts to cover all this with sophistic and mutually exclusively slogans, nationalistic demagogy, and demonstrative over-confidence.”
That is what Russians, ethnic and otherwise, saw and heard with Putin yesterday. It is almost certainly what will cause them to look at the Kremlin leader with new eyes – and that is the very last thing Putin himself wants or can afford.
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