Return of the conservatives
The ideas of right-wing Russian intellectuals have come to the fore since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Yet the need to reintegrate Ukraine into Russia, as well as a clash and potential war with the West on Ukrainian territory, has been discussed for decades by many conservatives. Among the first was the Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), who in 1991 penned a letter to President Boris Yeltsin arguing that Ukraine’s borders had been drawn by the Bolsheviks and that independent Russia was not obliged to abide by them. Given what is seen as the strong influence of Solzhenitsyn on Putin, it might have been the former’s ideas that underpinned the latter’s February 24 speech.
The names of contemporary conservative writers, philosophers and ideologists framing the so-called “special operation” in Ukraine are widely known both in Russia and abroad. They include the philosopher, public figure and ideologist of neo-Eurasianism Alexander Dugin (born 1962), writer and co-chairman of the A Just Russia – For Truth party Zakhar Prilepin (1975), publicist and Russian nationalist ideologist Yegor Kholmogorov (1975) and writer and editor-in-chief of the radical right-wing newspaper Zavtra
Alexander Prokhanov (1938), among others.
All of them were actively involved in the so-called “Russian Spring” movement first launched spring 2014, which sought to incorporate Crimea and eastern Ukraine into Russia. After the Kremlin stopped supporting the movement in autumn 2014, these ideologists were marginalized in the Russian public space. Until February 2022, they continued to work through their own platforms (such as Den-TV
, the newspaper Zavtra
and the Paideuma-TV
portal, among others) mainly on the Internet, but with the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, they have resurfaced in the official media and explicitly framed the “special operation” as a difficult but necessary undertaking that must be seen through to the end – until the elimination of Ukrainian statehood.
The conservative camp should not be considered monolithic. In fact, a number of right-wing intellectuals who supported the annexation of Crimea and the Novorossiya project in 2014 condemned the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Among them is the well-known conservative philosopher Boris Mezhuev, who has argued for an immediate cessation of hostilities and criticized the radical right, calling them the “war party” and “Valkyrie party”.
The leading right-wing intellectuals – Dugin, Kholmogorov and Prilepin – have different visions of the future of Russia and the world, but they all view the war in Ukraine as serving the interests of Russia and other countries resisting American hegemony. However, the position of those advocating the elimination of Ukraine as an independent state does not correspond with the official policy of the Kremlin, which, at least officially, has not voiced such a goal.
Though the official agitprop (for example, TV host Vladimir Solovyov) uses the messianic-militarist rhetoric of “war to the bitter end”, the Kremlin is much more moderate, with the official position excluding the capture of Kyiv, the overthrow of Zelensky or the occupation of Ukraine. As of late April, the main goal of the “special operation”, as voiced by Vladimir Putin, Sergei Shoigu, Sergei Lavrov, Maria Zakharova and Dmitri Peskov, is the “rescue” of Donbas