Staunton, April 7 – Historians will long debate when Vladimir Putin first became obsessed with Ukraine, Sergey Medvedev says; “but the fact is that Ukrainians are for him what Jews were for Hitler: a defect in the universe” that must be eliminated for his own worldview to triumph.
That has become clear, the St. Petersburg historian says, from “all his pseudo-historical articles of the past year, all his remarks oozing contempt and vulgarity,” comments that “testify to the fact that the Kremlin leader has decided to proceed to ‘the final solution of the Ukrainian question’” (theins.ru/en/opinion/sergey-medvedev/250274).
The increasing flood of revelations abut Russian atrocities in Ukraine make it clear that what is going on there is not some “drunken orgy of violence but rather a planned terror” and in addition “that the bombing of Ukrainian cities was not due to recklessness but to criminal intent.”
But one thing is already clear, Medvedev says. “Putin inherited all these precepts” from Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who in his “buffoonish and grotesque manner” served as “the godfather of Russian fascism” which has come to define the Putin regime with its war in Ukraine, a war the LDPR leader predicted but did not in the event live to see.
Presumably pushed forward by state security as a spoiler in the opposition, Zhirinovsky failed at democracy but he made acceptable and mainstream feeling that were circulating among those who felt they had suffered the most from change. Such people are now ordering and carrying out genocide in Ukraine.
Russians who “had the most to lose from reforms, resented the world of freedom and globalization and were nostalgic about the Soviet past,” were not earlier “a dominant force in Russia.” But according to Medvedev, “they formed the social heartland of ‘garage guys’ Surkov would later call ‘the deep people’” and Zhirinovsky spoke their language.
Before anyone else, he promoted and exploited “the four main elements of domestic fascism” – bitterness, a desire for imperialist revenge, expansionism, and xenophobia, the selection of some “other” that is blamed for all of Russia’s troubles and must be eliminated to save it.
In the 1990s, all this sounded marginal, but it became mainstream under Putin, Medvedev says. Indeed, “a cultivated hatred of the Other became the basis of domestic politics and the new social contract.” And thus “finally and exactly as Zhirinovsky had predicted, Ukraine became Enemy Number One.”
This became possible because of the disorder of the 1990s. Beyond the boundaries of his natural constituency, many Russians “liked how easily he crossed boundaries, how deftly he worked with taboo subjects, and how he managed to aestheticize violence.” And the siloviki saw him as giving them an opportunity to crush real enemies on the right as well.
“Zhirinovsky's sectarian fascism, created by the state security apparatus, fed by the Kremlin's hand, and not restrained by either civil society or the political and judicial systems, turned into a political routine, morphed into a discourse of power, and then merged with the repressive-power machine.” In short, it “became its ideology and motivation.”
Many dismissed Zhirinovsky as the tsar’s “court jester,” but he was more than that: he was “also his mentor, teacher and sensi.” His body may be interred at the Novodevichy cemetery “but his cause and the virus of fascism lives on. As a result, Russians and others “all live now in a post-apocalyptic world invented by no one more effectively than Vladimir Zhirinovsky.”