Political warfare the logical projection of Russia’s new ideology


Proponents of an accommodation with the Kremlin fail to appreciate the nature of the regime in Russia, says The Economist’s Edward Lucas.

“The idea of a holy homeland besieged by a decadent, duplicitous and dangerous West is a central message of Putin’s propaganda machine,” he writes for the Center for European Policy Analysis. “The West is not actually an enemy (the regime shops invests and frolics there), but it must be portrayed as one. Why abandon that tactic, which so usefully distracts the Russian people from the brutality and mendacity of their rulers?”

Political warfare

“Russia is interfering in the coming elections in France and Germany, and it has already interfered in Italy’s recent referendum and in numerous other elections across Europe,” notes Brookings analyst Robert Kagan. “Russia is deploying this weapon against as many democracies as it can to sap public confidence in democratic institutions. The democracies are going to have to figure out how to respond,” he writes for The Washington Post.

Putin considers nongovernmental agencies and civil-society groups like the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the election-monitoring group Golos (right) to be barely disguised instruments of regime change, The New Yorker reports:

The U.S. officials who administer the system that Putin sees as such an existential danger to his own reject his rhetoric as “whataboutism,” a strategy of false moral equivalences. Benjamin Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser under President Obama, is among those who reject Putin’s logic, but he said, “Putin is not entirely wrong,” adding that, in the past, “we engaged in regime change around the world. There is just enough rope for him to hang us.”

The difference, of course, is that Western democracy assistance groups operate openly, at the invitation of local partners and with the aim of enhancing democracy, while Russia and similar regimes operate covertly, employing aggressive political warfare in order to undermine democracy. So the implied moral equivalence is surprising, even shocking, coming from a former senior government official, a Washington meeting heard yesterday.

The tortured decade of the 1930’s has become an inspiration for today’s new authoritarianism, Yale University’s Timothy Snyder told a forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

The 1930’s has “returned as positive nostalgia for those who have changed or aspire to change democratic systems,” he said. In Russia, this is explicitly the case in Vladimir Putin’s exhumation and rehabilitation of the fascistic philosopher Ivan Ilyin (left).

For Ilyin, civil society and similar intermediate institutions are a source of evil, a source of contingency and the ’empirical variety’ of individuals that undermines the holistic ‘divine totality’ embodied by the state, Snyder said.

The exception to vulgar modernity is Russia, which has the greatest potential for total fascism, Ilyin claimed, because its culture is characterized by fraternity (as Putin has argued) and it is historically and inherently non-aggressive and virtuous. Ilyin shares Carl Schmitt’s view that politics is the art of identifying and neutralizing the enemy, Snyder added.

In the light of Ilyin’s rehabilitation as Russia’s leading ideologue, Moscow’s manipulations of elections should be seen not so much as a failure to implement democracy but as a subversion of the very concept of democracy, Snyder observed in The New York Times:

Russia’s interventions in foreign elections are the logical projection of the new ideology: Democracy is not a means of changing leadership at home, but a means of weakening enemies abroad. If we see politics as Ilyin did, Russia’s ritualization of elections becomes a virtue rather than a vice. Degrading democracy around the world would be a service to mankind.


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