Russia’s bad equilibrium: Kremlin’s new ideology


After more than two years of economic contraction, Russia seems to have achieved some semblance of stability, notes Anders Åslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington. Though economic growth is expected to reach only about 1% in 2017, the fear of economic destabilization that has permeated the country since its 2014 invasion of Crimea – which was met with crippling sanctions from the West – has all but evaporated. The combination of foreign-policy optimism, creature comforts, and domestic repression seems to be a potent elixir, he writes for Project Syndicate.

“Putin’s regime has consolidated itself around the flag, and few within Russia are willing to challenge the status quo,” he adds. “The only potential sources of change, therefore, are external events and relationships – areas where Putin does not have full control.”

In forging a new ideology to legitimize his regime, “Putin did not adopt the humanistic philosophy of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, nor the core principles of Christianity,” notes analyst T.S.Tsonchev. “He was not and will not become a Christian democrat. He turned for inspiration and ideological support to a more convenient source—an obscure 20th century thinker and publicist, the Russian émigré Ivan Ilyin (right),” he writes.

There is a kind of fusion of religion and politics in contemporary Russia, Tsonchev suggests:

This does not mean that there is a de-secularization of the Russian state and society; rather we witness a recovery and reinvention of an old form of caesaro-papism that is traditional for the Russian political culture and experience. Over the centuries, before the end of monarchy, Russia considered itself as a Christian empire, the Third Rome, a successor of Byzantium, the Euro-Asiatic empire destroyed by the Ottomans. In Byzantium the emperor was the head of state and church. He was God’s representative on earth. And now, in the 21st century, we see how these old ideas and mythologies are resurrected and successfully exploited by the power in the Kremlin.

But a new book on the role of oil as a source for state-building in the Perm region suggests more diverse trajectories for Russian political development than commonly assumed, argues Andre Haertel, associate professor for German and European studies at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

While this regional variant of post-Soviet state-building is compelling enough for, say, those interested in political transition and democratization, he writes for Transitions Online, the very “Perm-style” (po-permskii) way of doing things described here also helps to at least challenge some of the popular myths created more recently in the West about Russian political development.

Much of the new Russian ideology that has replaced Marxism-Leninism remains confused, notes Walter Laqueur, the author of many lauded books on Russian politics, history – and much else besides:

Russian policymakers have been advised by Putin to read three of the leading Christian theologians—Ivan Ilyin (1883–1954), Nikolai Berdyaev (1874–1948), and Vladimir Solovyov (1853–1900). For Ilyin, Christianity was never the religion of freedom; he was an opponent of democracy and found much to admire in Nazism and Italian fascism, which he believed were unjustly denigrated by liberals and democrats. Berdyaev, on the other hand, wrote that the nationalism of the Russian far right (so much in fashion now) was barbaric and stupid, pagan and immoral in inspiration, full of Eastern wildness and darkness. No one has been more sarcastic than Solovyov about the believers in omnipresent conspiracies, with their hostility toward everyone and everything, imagining dangers that do not exist, indifferent to the damage likely to be caused by their affliction with false ideas. 

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