The dramatic onset of the Russo-Ukrainian War has been accompanied by a considerable social mobilization effort from the Russian state to garner domestic support for the conflict. This campaign has introduced a new symbolic repertoire, including the pro-war ‘Putinist Z’ branding
, a legitimating emphasis on the “triune unity
” of the east Slavic peoples, and a directed effort to rally
the Russian population around the flag and the person of Putin himself. This fits well with older rallying cries perfected during the Crimean crisis and the initiation of the Donbas War, which included the castigation of the Ukrainian government as a coup-born “Kyiv junta
,” the reframing of Ukrainian sovereignty and statehood as a project of Nazis, nationalists, and anti-Russian Soviet leaders
, and the vivid colors of the storied St. George’s Ribbon
All of this has provided symbolic grist for academics and observers looking to identify long-sought reasons to deploy the loaded f-word – that is, fascism – to describe the Russian regime. These sorts of characterizations are not the fruit of the war, however. Rather, they have indeed been common refrains over the last decade, with serious pushback against the grain finding less purchase in our age of emotionally evocative soundbites. By all rights, the prewar argument should have been settled with nationalism scholar Marlene Laruelle’s recent book
, Is Russia Fascist?
, which answered in the decided negative. For perfectly understandable reasons, however, longstanding fascism-seekers are once again in the ascendant since the events of this February.
The senior academic Timothy Snyder has been in this camp for many years
, and his recent piece
in the New York Times
is a culmination of sorts for his partially-nuanced declarations about tyranny and quasi-fascism in Russia. The argument sums up to a simple affirmation that the definitional glove of fascism now fully fits the hand of the Putin regime. This is unfortunate, as the definition provided (“the triumph of will over reason” coupled with a cult of personality, a “cult of the dead,” and “myths” about a superior past) is itself overbroad, faulty, and functionally useless as far as it is an exercise in serious scholarly conceptualization. Grigorii Golosov, an esteemed political scientist at the European University at Saint-Petersburg – and hardly a friend of the regime – has penned the easy takedown
that should rightly be evident to anyone who cares about such definitional debates. From a more tactical perspective, Andrew Bacevich of the Quincy Institute has done similarly
Yet it is unavoidable that we will – and do – make comparisons between the Putin regime and prior examples of authoritarian rule.