Putinism: A Threat To The West?
Vladimir Putin’s aide, Vladislav Surkov – called the Kremlin’s grey eminence by the Russian elite – said that the ideology of Putinism has long ceased to be local and has reached a global level. Prior to that, in one of the Kremlin journals, Surkov wrote an article-manifesto entitled “The long-lasting state of Putin.” The core thesis of the piece was that, for the times to come, Russia would be governed according to the ideological foundations that had been introduced during the reign of the current president. Inside the country, this concept consists of two elements: The first is the idea of preserving the state’s territorial integrity as an absolute value for all Russians; the second is the restoration of Russia’s greatness and its return to imperial roots. In the international arena, Russian ideologists perceive Putinism as a reactionary model that should attract all those disappointed with the achievements of liberal democracy and globalism. Can such a neo-imperial concept be viable – and could it threaten the unity of the West?
It is important to understand better the philosophy of Russian foreign policy and its fundamental goals. The historical path of the Russian state development clearly shows that its rulers have always been geopoliticians with only one mission – to make the world consider their opinions. It did not matter what methods would be applied because the realpolitik proceeded from the formula of Machiavelli – the end justifies the means. For Russians, respect is achieved through the policy of intimidation. “Fear means respect” is the most common and oft-quoted proverb in Russia – and for good reason. Their country changed the form of government (from the Empire to the Soviet Republic), its attitude toward religion (from the ideology of “Orthodoxy. Autocracy. Nationality” towards atheism) and the vector of internal development (from cruel tsars like Ivan the Terrible to reformers like Peter the Great). Despite this, one thing remained permanent and stable – the thought of Russia’s greatness is based on a single idea: “Moscow – the Third Rome.”
Constant territorial expansion and military victories made Russian rulers believe in the exclusivity of their country and people. To date, some of the highest-ranking Russian politicians can be heard saying that the Russian Empire saved Europe from the expansionist policies of Napoléon Bonaparte, and that the Soviet Union protected the world and humanity from the threats of Nazism and fascism. This way of thinking is so rooted in political memory that only two wars in Russian history are called patriotic: The War of 1812 against Napoleonic France and World War II from 1941-1945 against Hitler’s Germany. The Russian Empire was the gendarme of Europe. The Soviet Union, with its socialism and communism, fought against capitalist democracy led by the United States. In other words, Moscow has always been at the forefront of world politics, and it simply cannot imagine itself in a different condition. Regardless of the internal state of affairs – a weak economy, human rights issues, and slow technological development – Russia needs to constantly feel like a great power that cannot be ignored.
This may sound paradoxical, but it is how the geopolitical brain of Russia functions. It is a mistake to think that Moscow sees the West as an unconditional enemy. The vector of Russian statehood development varied in some periods, but it has always been closely connected with Europe. Peter the Great reformed the Empire according to the Western model. Catherine the Great exchanged letters with the French Enlightenment writer Voltaire. Even during the Cold War, Moscow had rather good relations with many European capitals, including Paris and Rome. Marx and Engels themselves, who became ideological icons of the USSR, were Europeans. The main problem is Russia’s different opinion on what Europe should be like. Putinism implies that the current Russian leader continues the mission of the Russian Emperors and heads of the Central Committee of the CPSU: the preservation of the country’s greatness, which is impossible without geopolitical dominance in the Old World.
That is why the Kremlin ideologists’ priority is supporting the right-wing conservative movements (Le Pen in France, Orbán in Hungary, Kurz in Austria, etc.) that are gaining great popularity among voters. These political powers support Russia’s thesis that Europe must get rid of America’s excessive influence. Obviously, less dependence on Washington automatically means more dependence on Moscow. So, here is a simple conclusion: The more the United States shows indifference towards Europe, the stronger and more attractive the ideological positions of Putinism will be. Trump’s Jacksonian principles of international politics are beneficial to Moscow because the tougher the U.S. president treats his European partners, the more these politicians are convinced of the political correctness of Russia. Even liberal leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron, who declared the need for Europeans to form their own independent security system, regard Putin as a vector for European development. And these are serious signals.
Areg Galstyan, PhD