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Russia’s Spreading Nationalist Infection

Russia’s Spreading Nationalist Infection

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This policy brief discusses the sources of a new wave of Russian nationalism.
This policy brief discusses the sources of a new wave of Russian nationalism.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Apr 16, 2012
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Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program
April 2012
1744 R Street NWWashington, DC 20009T 1 202 745 3950F 1 202 265 1662E info@gmfus.org
Summary:
The recent electoralupheaval in Moscow and theKremlin’s response to it have ledto a wave of xenophobic jingoism,
and lled the Russian public
discourse with ethnocentrist and
conspiratorial ideas. Russianofcials have been more ardently
espousing anti-Western ideas,and some high posts are now
occupied by outspoken critics
of an alleged U.S.-inspired plot
against Russia. While thesedevelopments are worrying,success of the current Russian
attempt to redemocratize
would eventually imply a new
rapprochement between Moscowand the West.
Russia’s Spreading Nationalist Infection
by Andreas Umland
Reports on developments in domesticRussian politics have recently, aeryears o depressing news on the growtho Putin’s authoritarianism, becomemore encouraging again. Reminiscento the perestroika period, the Russianstate appears currently to be in a phaseo gradual liberalization, which may,like in the late 1980s, eventually lead toa redemocratization. In the 1990s, theemerging Russian proto-democracy was under the threat o being over-thrown by the Soviet Union’s old elites.Tis danger culminated with PresidentVladimir Putin’s neo-Soviet restorationstarted in 1999. But these liberalizingtendencies are also in danger o beingreversed by anti-democratic orces.Te most worrying anti-liberal orcetoday is the growing post-Soviet ultra-nationalist movement with deep linksto both Moscow’s government institu-tions and Russian civil society. Te various radically nationalists groupingsand circles have so ar been ractured,and are oen more engaged in quarrelsamong themselves than in challengingtheir (also ractured) anti-nationalistopponents within and outside theregime. Yet, the evolving democraticmovement could provide an incentiveor the Russian extreme right-wingorces to consolidate. Should thishappen, Russia could again become amajor matter o concern or interna-tional security.In contrast with the 1990s, Russiannationalist ideas are now prominent inthe political mainstream, and national-ists are well-represented in Moscow’sestablishment. Putin himsel ollowsthis creed, recently admitting: “I am aRussian nationalist, too.”
1
Moreover,ethnocentric, xeno- as well as homo-phobic, and neo-imperial argumentshave become a part o everyday polit-ical discourse, on both the elite andmass level. Many, i not most, politicaldiscussions in Russia today end upwith speculations about the nature,role, and uture o the Russian nation.Where did the xation on the Russianquestion come rom?Being neither ully European norAsian, Russia is in a geopolitically dicult position. It has a long, inse-cure border with China, and is stillexperiencing syndromes o a post-imperial trauma. wenty-ve millionRussians are living outside the borderso the Russian Federation. With over12 million immigrants, Russia is thesecond biggest recipient o inwardmigration in the world aer theUnited States, and a large portion o it is unregulated or/and illegal. For
1
As quoted in: Leokadia Drobizheva, “Most Russians
won’t support nationalists,”
Russia Beyond the Headlines
,
February 21, 2012.
 
Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program
2
instance, 700,000 ajik citizens are legally registered to work in Russia, yet there are estimates that up to 2 million ajiksmay actually be living there.
2
While these actors have played a role in the post-Sovietrise o Russian nationalism, its recent upsurge appears tobe a result o deliberate manipulation rather than a grass-roots movement rom the Russian population. In reactionto the well-known electoral uprisings or colour revolutionsin some post-communist countries (Serbia 1999, Georgia2003, Kyrgyzstan 2005, and especially Ukraine in late 2004),since 2005, the Russian government has increased its useo propaganda through state-directed mass media and civilsociety. Te Kremlin reinorced the already present anti-American and conspiratorial bias o television reportingand debates, and created an array o novel pseudo-civicstructures designed to spread nationalist ideas and an isola-tionist world view.Tese initiatives included new V stations like theOrthodox religious “Spas,” pro-military “Zvezda,” andEnglish-language “Russian oday” channels, and printoutlets like the misnamed “Evropa” Press, a publisher o pro-Putin pseudo-academic texts. Within months aerthe Orange Revolution, the Kremlin also created severalpro-government, state-nanced youth organizations like“Nashi” (Ours), “Molodaya gvardiya” (Young Guard),Evraziiskii soyuz molodezhy (Eurasian Youth Movement),“Mestnye” (Te Locals), and “Rossiya Molodaya” (YoungRussia), which have been conducting numerous deama-tion and intimidation campaigns against supposed enemieso Russia, including liberal politicians, modern artists,Western diplomats, non-compliant journalists, and pro-
2
Tom Balmforth, “Putin’s unlikeliest supporters: Tajik migrant workers,”
Radio FreeEurope/Radio Liberty 
, February 25, 2012.
The recent upsurge in Russian
nationalism appears to be a resultof deliberate manipulation ratherthan a grassroots movement from
the Russian population.
democratic civic activists. 2005 saw also the establishmento the so-called Public Chamber as the presidential admin-istration’s conduit to pro-government civic groups and intel-lectual circles, and the introduction o the Day o NationalUnity on November 4
th
, which has since been hijacked by the neo-ascist ringe’s notorious Russian Marches. Lateron, the government created urther propaganda institutionsincluding the inamous presidential commission “againstthe alsication o history to the detriment o the RussianFederation,” and the “Institute or Democracy and Coop-eration,” with oces in Paris and New York and the writ tocriticize Western democratic practices.A particular escalation o Russian anti-Westernismhappened during and aer the August 2008 Russia-GeorgiaWar, which also saw, or the rst time, a rapid decline inthe Russian public’s usually avorable opinion o the Euro-pean Union. Te West had already been shocked the yearbeore by Putin’s anti-American speech at the February 2007 Munich Security Conerence, but another scandalous joint public appearance o the old and new presidents o theRussian Federation in the same year may have been evenmore consequential. In his parliamentary election addresso November 2007, Putin previewed his uture strategy o identiying Russian democratic oppositionists as nationaltraitors by calling Russias extra-systemic liberals those “wholike jackals are skulking around oreign embassies.”
3
In his2012 presidential election speech at Luzhniki Stadium,Putin continued this line, warning that: “We won’t allowanybody to interere with our internal aairs and we won’tallow anybody to impose his will on us because we have awill o our own!” He has repeatedly portrayed the conron-
3
As quoted in Andreas Umland, “Russia at the Abyss,”
Russia Profile
, November 30,2007.
Putin has repeatedly portrayed the
confrontation between his regimeand the protest movement asone between patriots and foreignagents.
 
Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program
3
tioning economy and army, the country may lose “reedom,sovereignty, and independence” as there are “well-organizedand coordinated inormation fows” working against themasses. Kirill lamented that “historical Russia, which wehad called the Soviet Union, ell apart without a singleshot red, and the once great country is no more.” oday,according to him, sinister orces are still exerting “aninormation impact inside the country and outside it.” Massmedia and the Internet, he said, are propagating an ideology o “consumption and richness.” Kirill concluded “that theseorces may come to power in Russia some day. I am prayingto God or protection rom deceitul, ugly, disgusting, andslanderous propaganda.”
8
As Putin and his entourage have been engaging in electioncampaigning and whipping up ears o oreign subversion,the public presence o Russia’s prominent ultra-nationalisttheorists and publicists is increasing urther. Anti-Westernconspiracy theorists are getting more and more exposure via widely watched V shows. Some o the most radical andillustrious among them have been joining orces during thelast two months in a so-called Anti-Orange Committee.Te new grouping views Ukraine’s Orange Revolutionas an anti-Russian Western plot, and has set the goal o the prevention o a similar scenario in Russia. It is ledby the political publicist and famboyant V host Sergey Kurginyan, who has brought together a “who’s who” o Russian anti-Westernism. Te Committee includes two o Russia’s most well-known and ardently anti-American V journalists, Mikhail Leont’ev and Maksim Shevchenko, thenotorious apologist o ascism and Moscow State Univer-sity Proessor Aleksandr Dugin, and the ounding athero the post-Soviet Russian extreme right and editor o themost important ultra-nationalist weekly newspaper
Zavtra
 (omorrow), Aleksandr Prokhanov. Te sel-assigned task 
8
As quoted in Lyudmila Alexandrova, “Popular Russian Nationalist in Government CreatesNew Movement,” Itar-Tass World Service, February 27, 2012.
The public presence of Russia’s
prominent ultra-nationalisttheorists and publicists isincreasing further.
tation between his regime and the protest movement as onebetween patriots and oreign agents. Putin has apparently had some success with this.
4
A recent survey showed that23 percent o those Russians polled believed that the 2011December protesters were paid by the United States, while43 percent had diculty answering the question.
5
Several high positions have been lled during the lastweeks by known anti-Western political spokesmen. AlexePushkov, host o the rabidly anti-American television show“Postscriptum,” has been selected to head the InternationalAairs Committee o the State Duma. Te prolic nation-alist politician and hawkish ormer Russian ambassador toNAO, Dmitry Rogozin, was promoted to deputy primeminister in charge o deense in late December 2011. InJanuary 2012, he speculated that the United States couldlaunch a simultaneous, “lightening-speed, massive andparalyzing” missile attack against all o Russia’s land-basednuclear weapons.
6
In apparent response to this and similarsupposed oreign threats, Putin has announced plans tospend $772 billion on 400 new intercontinental ballisticmissiles, 2,300 late-generation tanks, 600 modern combataircra (including 100 military-purpose space planes), 8nuclear ballistic missile submarines, 50 surace warships, aninventory o artillery, air deense systems, and about 17,000military vehicles during the next years.
7
 In February 2012, Rogozin was allowed to create a newquasi-party, the “Volunteer Movement o the All-RussiaPeople’s Front,” in support o the army, the navy, and thedeense-industrial complex. Rogozin, at the Movementsounding congress, set the tone by complaining “how very mean and disgusting this liberal anti-Russian propagandareally is.” Putin sent a message o greeting to the congressparticipants, saying the creation o a new organization wasan “exceptionally important and useul business.”Te head o the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill,also addressed the congress, warning that, even with a unc-
4
As quoted in Sergei L. Loiko, “Vladimir Putin evokes enemies of Russia in campaign
speech,”
Los Angeles Times
, February 24, 2012.
5
“Rossiiane ob aktsiyakh protesta i proshedshikh vyborakh,”
Levada-tsentr 
, 28December 2012, http://www.levada.ru/28-12-2011/rossiyane-ob-aktsiyakh-protesta-i-proshedshikh-vyborakh.
6
Michael Bohm, “Putin chasing imaginary American ghosts,”
The Moscow Times
,
February 10, 2012.
7
Fred Weir, “Fearing West, Putin pledges biggest military buildup since cold war,”
TheChristian Science Monitor 
, February 20, 2012.

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