Long before Putin, actors like Alexander Dugin and Natalia Narochnitskaya depicted
Western liberalism as inherently “Russophobic” and hostile to Russian national interests. Putin’s stance on Ukraine as an “anti-Russia project” is also inspired by radical nationalist discourse. For instance, Oleg Nemenski, a nationalist pundit and expert at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI), a think tank affiliated with the Presidential Administration, has been claiming for years
that the Ukrainian national project is the “negation of Russianness.”
The same pattern characterizes the state-sponsored ideological production after the “special military operation” was launched in February. In addition to recycling tropes of Soviet propaganda (e.g. the association of any expression of Ukrainian nationalism with Nazism), the Putin regime reinforces its image as a guardian of “traditional values”
in contrast to the “corrupted” West. In early March, Patriarch Kirill framed the “special operation” as a “holy war” against Western civilization as symbolized by pride parades.
Seven months later, the Duma unanimously passed
a law banning “LGBT propaganda” for all ages (on December 5 President Putin signed
it into law), on the grounds that “LGBT today is an element of hybrid warfare” against Russia. Meanwhile, Putin accused
the West of “Satanism,” which he understands as tolerance of sexual minorities and gender diversity. Finally, the regime has resorted to recycling the Soviet anti-colonial discourse as a weapon against Western “imperialist” hegemony and a soft power tool
targeting South America, Africa and Asia.
All these ideological products have been developed by experts close to the Kremlin, like those from the Social Research Expert Institute (EISI). This think tank, affiliated with Sergei Kiriyenko
, first deputy chief of staff of the Presidential Administration, has been charged with shaping Russia’s “post-war image” to depict the country as a “continent of freedom” for right-wing conservatives. Those experts are also planning to design a college course on Russian “core values”
(also called “pentabasis” or “Russian DNA”) and Russia’s resilience against foreign threats. The course would be mandatory for all university students, along with the “patriotic” indoctrination of children
Despite these ideological “upgrades,” the Putin regime is still hesitant to embrace more radical ideas, like those used by nationalist and conservative vanguards such as the ultraconservative “Front Philosophy” or the Izborsky Club’s apocalyptic “Ideology of Victory,” both of which call for total war
against the West.
Overall, the regime has shown itself to be dependent on ever-more conservative and nationalist agendas, which it readily recycles. But in doing so, the Kremlin has not yet managed to craft its own coherent “true teachings.” While excluding pro-Western liberalism from the public space, it didn’t completely suppress ideological diversity – a task that would otherwise be hard to achieve.