Thursday, December 20, 2018

Putin’s Three Dangerous Domestic Goals: Isolation, Homogenization and Totalitarian Control

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 18 – Like anyone else, Vladimir Putin frequently reveals the most about his thinking and intentions not when he focuses on this or that issue but when he or his representatives makes comments that many treat as subordinate to something other than what he in fact intends. 

            The past week as Putin has spoken about a variety of issues, he has demonstrated that he has three overriding and dangerous domestic goals – the total isolation of Russian society from the rest of the world, the homogenization of society by stressing a false majoritarianism, and totalitarian control over aspects of life that should remain private matters.

            First, in an interview on Ekho Moskvy, Nezavisimaya gazeta editor Konstantin Remchukov points to the series of ways that Putin “has begun to prepare the country for complete isolation from the West” (, a development his paper discussed in a lead article ostensibly about several Duma proposals.

            The editors say that promoting isolationism has the effect of “destroying the immune system of both the society and the state, which must be understood as a reflection of the interests of the society and not as the club of the ruling elite. A false impression is created that everything in the country exists and is held together exclusively thanks to the will of one man or group of people” (

            “Isolationism,” the editors conclude, “is not a defense measure against American influence but the creation of a society not rooted in reality.”

            Second, in his much discussed remarks about the Jehovah’s Witnesses (, Putin showed himself committed to a false homogenization of Russian society by his exaggeration of the share of people there who are Orthodox and by suggesting that the state must be based on this majority not on concern for minorities (

            Specifically, the Kremlin leader says that no one should “forget that our society does not consist exclusively of religious sects: 90 percent of the citizens of the Russian Federation or about that number consider themselves Orthodox Christians” and that the state supports the three other “practically traditional” religions.

            There are at least three parts of this remark that are problematic: First, the share of the population that is Orthodox Christian does not approach 90 percent. To suggest that is to imply a false unanimity.  Second, the dismissal of minorities in favor of the majority as defined by him suggests that Putin won’t protect minority rights if the majority isn’t in favor.

            And third, Putin’s awkward phrasing about the “practically traditional” other major faiths – Islam, Judaism and Buddhism – suggests that in his mind these groups are far closer to the despised “sects” than to the defining Orthodox community and thus cannot be sure of their status even if the state is funding them.

            Finally, third, Putin waded into the thicket of rap music and suggested that “if it is impossible to stop” contemporary music, “then it is necessary to lead and direct it in a corresponding way,” a totalitarian aspiration that has much in common with the worst days of Stalinism (

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