Staunton, June 7 – Vladimir Putin’s release of an enemies list of countries shows something important that is often overlooked, Lev Gudkov says. “Not every country can be transformed into an enemy” because “an enemy is not an opponent but an image which threatens the fundamental values of national identity.”
It is this “image of enemy” which threatens, the director of the Levada Center says. What that means is that when a small country does something Moscow doesn’t like, such as Estonia’s decision to move the Bronze Soldier in 2007, Russians have no choice but to link it all into the idea of “the rebirth of Nazism” because victory in World War II is central to national identity.
And it means that those countries identified as enemies are stereotyped and dehumanized with the details and varieties of experience they represent submerged under imagery of total evil and total threat, leaving Russians more isolated and less able to operate in the world except by the use of force.
That reflects Putin’s goals of using the imagery of foreign enemies to distract Russians from their own problems by placing the blame on such abstractions, of linking those abstractions with “enemies” at home who are presented as similar threats to identity, and of combining the two to feed Russian resentment at what has happened to them over the last 30 years.
And just as in Soviet times, Gudkov suggests, Russians in their transition from the masochistic self-denunciations of the early 1990s to bombastic claims of standing alone against the world now have increasingly felt that the more enemies they can point to, the more powerful they are (levada.ru/2021/06/07/zuby-proch-ot-rossii/).
That is a nonsense and ultimately won’t work, but it is amazingly powerful as a short-term narcotic. It only underscores, Gudkov continues, that “Putin is not in a position to develop any positive goals” and that he finds himself compelled to link all who oppose him as one single enemy. He does not treat them separately but as a single combination directed against himself.
Russia’s enemies list really only includes the United States. The Czech Republic was included only in response to an immediate challenge, but for Putin all enemies are linked together and orchestrated by the US, something that prevents him and Russia from seeing the very real divisions in the world beyond the borders of his country.
At the same time, Russia does have friends: Belarus first, China second, Kazakhstan third, and then Armenia, Venezuela and India. But these are all problematic either because they don’t always do what Moscow wants or because in a changing world, they may not retain that status for long, especially if as with China they become ever more powerful than Russia.