Saturday, January 12, 2019

Ideology Not Pragmatism Driving Putin to Disaster, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 12 – The “collective Putin” with its siloviki is rapidly on its way to becoming a “collective Suslov,” where ideology trumps pragmatism, Vladimir Pastukhov says. Although this is “a bad sign,” many do not recognize it yet because “they have forgotten what the power of ‘the ideologues’ looked like” at the end of Soviet times. 

            Vladimir Putin’s press conference at the end of last year, the London-based Russian historian says, was “a master class of propaganda” which demonstrated that “Putin does not live according to reality; he creates it” (

                The Kremlin leader’s four-hour-long performance “did not have any relationship to politics or the media in the generally accepted meaning,” Pastukhov continues.  It was ideology of the purest kind.” The relationship between his words and reality “doesn’t interest him.”  His purpose was to “give society instructions on how to correctly interpret those facts.”

            “In a certain sense,” the historian continues, “Putin by himself represented in today’s Russia the CPSU Central Committee and his annual press conferences are a kind of sublimated ‘plenums’ by means of which the Communist Party in Soviet times brought to the population a adapted version of the current political course.”

            “The main conclusion” which one can draw from this year’s “plenum,” he continues, is that “the process of the reincarnation of the basic ideas of late-Soviet ideology is close to its completion and that the country is ready for the restoration of the Soviet regime in almost its full extent.”

            It simply is not true, as some think, that “the current regime does not have an ideology.” It does and it is very close to the one that the Soviets professed, with only a few elements changed.  The most important of these is that communism as a source of legitimation and definer of goals has been replaced by patriotism.

            As in its Soviet variant, “the key role” in the Putinist ideology is devoted to “the image of ‘the main enemy’ and the division into ‘ours’ and ‘not ours’” – the simplified duality an authoritarian regime needs to survives where there are “only two forces, we who it seems are pure white and they who are entirely black.”

            In this update of Soviet ideology, “’American imperialism’” has been replaced by “the socially neutral ‘Anglo-Saxons’” which both reflects and promotes the shift in Russia from class conflict as the source of antagonism to the rest of the world to “traditional religious and ethno-cultural confrontation.”

            But despite this shift, its underlying guidance remains the same. “As the USSR earlier supported all fighters against imperialism from left radicals in Europe to Arab terrorists in the Middle East, so now Russia invests its oil dollars in all who are capable of breaking apart Western unity.” And as in the past, all means are good because “the end justifies the means.”

            Putin feels all this intuitively, Pastukhov argues; and he gives direction to others in the Russian pantheon.  Thus, what they do, be it the poisoning of the Skripals of the attacks on Browder “are not excesses of the executors” but a well-developed means to restore “’the architecture’” of the now-dead communist ideology.

            “The lie is the only possible form of the existence of the regime,” the historian continues, because this regime is capable of live only to the degree that it can hold the consciousness of the masses within the myth it has created.” As a result, the problem of the Putin regime is not that it lies but that it lies in ways that do not inspire anyone.

            “After a quarter of a century, it has not been able to create any new myth and so uses an old one” and used it as it were as a rentier.  But this is increasingly obvious to almost all because Putin’s ideology is so “stale” that it puts off more than it can hope to attract, Pastukhov continues.

            However, the most dangerous consequence of this ideological revival is that it “has a much stronger impact on the authorities themselves than on society. Instead of hypnosis, there is self-hypnosis,” with those who are conducting it to zombify others unintentionally but in fact zombifying themselves.

            When Putin came to power, he was viewed as a pragmatist, but ever more often he has become an ideological “dogmatist” who makes decisions less with an eye to realities than with an assumption that the false view of the world he puts out is in fact the correct one.  That can entail serious mistakes.

            An example of how ideology can prove self-destructive is provided by Mikhail Suslov, the gray cardinal of the Kremlin at the end of Soviet times.  He pressed for the invasion of Afghanistan over the objections of the Soviet military because he believed that action was required by communist ideology.

                The consequences were disastrous, Pastukhov says. “Afghanistan became one of the sharpest nails in the lid of the coffin of the USSR.”

            “It is not excluded that the decision about annexing Crimea and about getting involved int the Syrian conflict will be assessed by historians in the near future in an analogous way. One way or another, they too were adopted in the main by starting from these essentially ideological considerations rather than pragmatic ones.”

            And most likely, the Russian historian adds, “this is only the beginning. Ever more often the Kremlin’s actions are likely to be dictated by ideological considerations” And “sooner or later, one of the decisions taken on that basis will turn out to be fatal.”

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