Staunton, Sept. 15 – Perhaps because there is a lack of general agreement on the meanings of conservatism and reaction and certainly because the former does not carry with it the stigmatism of the latter, most commentators in Russia and the West describe the Putin regime as conservative and avoid suggesting it is reactionary.
But Ivan Klyszcz, a research fellow at Tallinn’s International Center for Defense and Security, argues that if one considers the core meaning of the two concepts, Putin and his regime are in fact reactionary and not conservative and that this is true for both its domestic policies and its foreign actions (ridl.io/ru/reaktsionnoe-uskorenie-putina/).
According to researcher, a useful way to distinguish conservatism and reaction is “by their different attitudes toward historical transformations. Conservatism seeks to stop or limit change driven by reason,” while “reaction seeks a specific kind of change, namely, the restoration of the authority of tradition of that of universal rights and progress.”
Putin has referred to himself as “a pragmatist with a conservative bent,” but he has made not equivalent reference to his reactionary approach, Klyszcz says. But “the fore of Putin’s reactionary regime is the pursuit of the restoration of Russia’s superpower status by reducing Western influence, something equated with human rights and ‘decadence.’”
According to the Kremlin narrative on this point, he continues, “the West is attempting to impose its rule across the globe by undermining the traditional values that define this civilizational ‘diversity.’” And because that is so, Putin’s reactionary policies affect both domestic Russian conditions and Moscow’s foreign policy actions.
On the one hand, Klyszcz says, Russia has a consistent “legitimist bias, which holds that the authorities of sovereign countries are as a result of that very fact legitimate and that “the record of any government in power cannot reduce its claim to legitimacy.
And on the other hand, the Putin regime’s opposition to human rights has led it to link up with rightwing groups in the west and the leaders of third world countries who believe that the west is undermining them by promoting human rights.
This reactionary tradition has a long history in Russia, and “Putin’s Russia has embraced it from early on, culminating in its insistence that Russia is ‘a civilization-state.’” But as powerful as this theme is, “none of this was inevitable.” The Russian regime of the 1990s rejected it, only to have that reversed a decade later.