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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
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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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
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.”
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
As quoted in: Leokadia Drobizheva, “Most Russians
won’t support nationalists,”
Russia Beyond the Headlines
February 21, 2012.
Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program
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.
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-
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
, 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.”
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-
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
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.”
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
 (omorrow), Aleksandr Prokhanov. Te sel-assigned task 
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.
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.
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.
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.
 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-
As quoted in Sergei L. Loiko, “Vladimir Putin evokes enemies of Russia in campaign
Los Angeles Times
, February 24, 2012.
“Rossiiane ob aktsiyakh protesta i proshedshikh vyborakh,”
, 28December 2012, http://www.levada.ru/28-12-2011/rossiyane-ob-aktsiyakh-protesta-i-proshedshikh-vyborakh.
Michael Bohm, “Putin chasing imaginary American ghosts,”
The Moscow Times
February 10, 2012.
Fred Weir, “Fearing West, Putin pledges biggest military buildup since cold war,”
TheChristian Science Monitor 
, February 20, 2012.

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