Is Vladimir Putin orchestrating Russian football hooligans as an instrument of hybrid warfare?
Putin, not himself averse to machismo, has often empathized with Moscow ultras’ behavior, deliberately cultivating virility as a feature of an assertive nationalist identity designed to save Russia from dissolution and democracy, according to David Martin Jones and M.L.R. Smith of the Department of War Studies, King’s College, London:
Indeed, Putinism finds its justification in the political thought of the white Russian exile, Ivan Ilyin (1883-1954) who foresaw the Soviet collapse and argued that a post-Soviet state must adopt an inclusionary corporatist ideology informed by a leadership principle to unite the motherland. “Soft power” Putin style thus projects a populist neo-Nazi and fascist message to unite those Europeans alienated from liberal-western multiculturalism, diversity and democratization.
“Putin’s strategic hooliganism suits his vision for fragmenting European Union and ending Russian isolation,” they write for The Daily Telegraph. “Football and Fascism have an interesting historical lineage that Putin has drawn upon for political effect.”
The attack of Russian football louts against English fans in Marseilles was indeed part and parcel of Putin’s “hybrid war” against the West, analyst Paul Goble reports:
In a commentary at Grani.ru, analyst Ilya Milshteyn says that what happened in Marseilles was the logical outcome of the rapprochement of the Russian power elite with Russian football fans. ….No one should be surprised by this Russian behavior….. “Like the tractor drivers and miners in the Donbass, Russian football fans in recent times have become figures in a big political game, first domestically and now already on the international arena,” Milshteyn says.
In the wake of Russia’s humiliating performances and exit from the European Championship, the Communist Party of Russia said on its official Twitter account that the team was as “soft” as the ruling United Russia party. “We need a Stalinist mobilization. Mental, physical hard strength,” it said.
And no sporting failure would be complete without a healthy dose of social media memes, the BBC adds. Belarusian website Tribuna, compiled several of the best (above):
In the first image, President Putin is seen saying: “These were not our footballers. These kits can be bought in any shop” – a reference to his denial in 2014 that separatists fighting in Eastern Ukraine were from the Russian military.
The second is a re-working of a famous Russian painting called “An F grade again” with the words “goal conceded again”. The last one says “Aeroflot. Russian airlines. We are flying home”
“Old fashioned nationalism in neo-Stalinist garb has become the most powerful force in Russian society,” writes The Economist’s Arkady Ostrovsky in his new book The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War, adding that “In this book I have sought an answer to the question of how Russia got here.” Ostrovsky’s answer is to blame ‘Russian propaganda’, notes one observer:
This he does by means of a survey of the Russian media from the 1970s through to the current day. He focuses on those whom he regards as the key media figures who shaped modern Russia. As he says, ‘My main characters are not politicians or economists but those who generated the “meaning” of the country, who composed the storyline and broadcast it … ideologists, journalists editors, television executives: people in charge of the message and the media.’