Staunton, May 23 – The image of China the Kremlin has promoted as a country that is strong precisely because it is authoritarian and deals with the outside world from a position of strength helps fill the ideological vacuum the Putin regime has left unfilled and helps generate support both for its war in Ukraine and its repression at home, Alya Denisenko says.
The sociologist who leads the PS Laboratory project on Russian attitudes since the war says that many Russians now view the future of their own country as resembling the regime’s image of China as “an isolated, independent and economically successful country that can dictate conditions from a position of strength” (posle.media/kitajskaya-mechta-dlya-rossijskoj-naczii/).
This image of China “not only fill the ideological emptiness regarding a vision of the future but also legitimates and justified” the war in Ukraine and the increasingly repressive policies of the Kremlin at home. After all, if that is how China has behaved in its rise to power, that is what Russia needs to do as well.
From this image of China, she says she and her colleagues have found during interviews with Russians, the population of the Russian Federation has been provided with the basis for “an optimistic picture of the future of Russia,” something important because only if people believe in that can they accept what Moscow is doing now.
“Many experts,” the sociologist says, “note that Kremlin propaganda has not been able to offer to Russians a model of the future,” limiting itself to attacks on the West but “not giving an alternative ideology or a clear picture as to where the country is headed.” But the regime’s boosting of the image of China provides precisely such a model.
This use of China also provides “an alternative history of the development of the USSR,” Denisenko argues. It suggests to Russians what Putin clearly believes that if the Soviet system had not disintegrated in 1991, Russia would still be a powerful economy able to withstand anything the West did.
And in this regard, references to China’s repressive system helps justify what Putin is doing at home. After all, if such policies help Beijing and the Chinese people, they can certainly help Moscow and the Russians. What all this means is that for Russians, China is more than an ally: it is a model for emulation and a source of justification for Kremlin policies.