Vladimir Putin’s serial humiliations of America’s bewildered secretary of state regarding Syria indicate Putin’s determination to destabilize the world. Here is an even more ominous indication of events moving his way: On just one day last week, Italian ships plucked 6,055 migrants from the Mediterranean.
Undermining the West’s confident sense of itself is important to Putin’s implementation of his ideology of Eurasianism. It holds that Russia’s security and greatness depend on what Ben Judah calls a “geographically ordained empire” that “looks east to Tashkent, not west to Paris.”
Russian television relentlessly presents “a dangerous, angry wonderland”: “Russia is special, Russia is under attack, Russia swarms with traitors, Russia was betrayed in 1991, Russia was glorious under Stalin’s steady hand.” This justifies gigantic military, intelligence and police establishments steeped in Eurasianist tracts published by the Russian General Staff.
Putin’s Russia, writes Owen Matthews in the Spectator, is developing a “state-sponsored culture of prudery” to make it a “moral fortress” against Western decadence. The Russian Orthodox Church benefits from a 2013 law that criminalizes “offending the feelings of religious believers.” Twenty-one percent of Russians want homosexuals “liquidated,” and 37 percent favor “separating them from society.”
In a collection of essays, “Authoritarianism Goes Global”, Lilia Shevtsova says Putin is simultaneously imposing a domestic revolution of cultural conservatism, converting Russia into a revanchist power and “forging an anti-Western International.” She warns:
“Ever since Stalinism’s relentless assault on all ‘horizontal’ ties (even those of family), Russians have been tragically at the mercy of the state and its claims: Individuals are invited to compensate for their helplessness by looking for meaning in collective national ‘successes’ that promise to bring them together and restore their pride.” Such as the annexation of Crimea.
In the same volume, Peter Pomerantsev, a student of 21st-century propaganda, says “the underlying goal” of Putin’s domestic disinformation is less to persuade than “to engender cynicism”: “When people stop trusting any institutions or having any firmly held values, they can easily accept a conspiratorial vision of the world.” Putin’s Kremlin is weaving a web of incongruous but useful strands. Its conservative nationalism is congruent with that of rising European factions on the right. Its anti-Western, especially anti-American, message resonates with the European left. It funds European green groups whose opposition to fracking serves Putin’s agenda of keeping Europe dependent on Russian gas.
In many worrisome ways, the 1930s are being reprised. In Europe, Russia is playing the role of Germany in fomenting anti-democratic factions. In inward-turning, distracted America, the role of Charles Lindbergh is played by a presidential candidate smitten by Putin and too ignorant to know the pedigree of his slogan “America First.”