A new totalitarian syndrome? Putin’s goal is to weaken Western democracy


Moscow has perpetrated cyberwarfare, hacking, fake news and political interference for years, notes Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Judging by all this—and especially by what followed Vladimir Putin’s election to a third term in 2012—his overarching foreign-policy objective is to weaken Western democratic institutions and alliances by relentlessly chipping away at their legitimacy and popular support, he writes for The Wall Street Journal:

His answer to the Russian saying protiv kogo my za? (“against whom are we for?”) looked more and more like “against the West!” and “for Russia!” Mr. Putin would avenge the Soviet Union’s fall and lead Russia to reclaim its glory as a geopolitical, military, and moral counterbalance to the U.S. …This is a dangerous game. At home Mr. Putin has come to depend on foreign-policy successes and military triumphs for his legitimacy

Putin’s strategy is facilitated by Russians’ lack of civic consciousness, says sociologist Lev Gudkov, director of the analytical Levada Center and editor-in-chief of the journal The Russian Public Opinion Herald.

There is no civic consciousness of the “No taxation without representation” kind — rulers can do what they like with their people (within the bounds of the possible, of course)!, he tells Open Democracy:

This is why Russians see themselves as dependents, or even serfs, able only to ask indulgence or compassion from their rulers, and not free people who see the state as hired functionaries responsible to them…..Without a clear understanding of the reasons for this political passivity, we can tell little from the daily life of the Russian public. So everything we observe corresponds to the elements of the classical totalitarian syndrome, as described 60 years ago by Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski: the coalescence of the political police with the apparatus of government; the subjection of the economy to political goals; the cult of the leader; terror; propaganda; a decline in the number of non-governmental organisations; the establishment of complete control of the media. 

“At the same time, Putin is regarded by a large proportion of respondents (around 55-60%) as the head of a corrupt, mafia-style state,” Gudkov adds. “It’s important to realise that these two ideas exist simultaneously in the same heads (I’m not even going into the persistence of an attitude to the Russian government as an absolutely corrupt, totally corrupt mafia structure, lacking in any sense of responsibility to the Russian people and totally unashamed of itself. And changes of government have not changed this perception: it has remained stable since the 1990s.”

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