Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Power Vertical

Vladimir Ilyich Putin, Conservative Icon

Leader of the "Conservative International"?
Leader of the "Conservative International"?
Vladimir Putin is calling on the conservatives of the world to unite -- behind him.

The Kremlin leader's full-throated defense of Russia's "traditional values" and his derision of the West's "genderless and infertile" liberalism in his annual state-of-the-nation address last week was just the latest example of Putin attempting to place himself at the vanguard of a new "Conservative International."

The speech came on the heels of the appointment of Dmitry Kiselyov -- the television anchor who has said the hearts of gays and lesbians who die should be buried or burned -- as head of the new Kremlin-run media conglomerate Rossia Segodnya.

And just days before Putin's address, the Center for Strategic Communications, an influential Kremlin-connected think tank, held a press conference in Moscow to announce its latest report. The title: "Putin: World Conservatism's New Leader." 

According to excerpts from the report cited in the media, most people yearn for stability and security, favor traditional family values over feminism and gay rights, and prefer nation-based states rather than multicultural melting pots. Putin, the report says, stands for these values while "ideological populism of the left" in the West "is dividing society." 

"Against the backdrop of a difficult economic situation, people are becoming more prudent," Dmitry Abzalov of the Center for Strategic Communications said at the news conference. "It is important for most people to preserve their way of life, their lifestyle, their traditions. So they tend toward conservatism. This is normal." 

This, Abzalov added, represented "a global trend."

The Kremlin apparently believes it has found the ultimate wedge issue to unite its supporters and divide its opponents, both in Russia and the West, and garner support in the developing world. They seem to believe they have found the ideology that will return Russia to its rightful place as a great power with a messianic mission and the ability to win hearts and minds globally.

As the West becomes increasingly multicultural, less patriarchal and traditional, and more open to gay rights, Russia will be a lodestone for the multitudes who oppose this trajectory. Just as the Communist International, or Comintern, and what Soviet ideologists called the "correlation of forces" sought to unite progressive elements around the globe behind Moscow, the world's traditionalists will now line up behind Putin.

And there is some evidence that this message may be resonating.

"While his stance as a defender of traditional values has drawn the mockery of Western media and cultural elites, Putin is not wrong in saying that he can speak for much of mankind," conservative American commentator Patrick Buchanan wrote. "Putin may be seeing the future with more clarity than Americans still caught in a Cold War paradigm."

The 21st century, Buchanan adds, may be marked by a struggle pitting "conservatives and traditionalists in every country arrayed against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite."

Others on the American right, like Rod Dreher, a senior editor of the "American Conservative," also wrote favorably -- albeit in a more nuanced manner -- of Putin's speech. "Putin may be a cold-eyed cynic, but he’s also onto something," he wrote. 

And the Kremlin, according to political analyst Aleksandr Morozov, has been spending considerable resources laying the groundwork to Putin's transformation into a global conservative icon.

They have used forums like the Dialogue of Civilizations and the Valdai Discussion Group to influence elite opinion, Morozov writes. They have co-opted Western pundits on the RT (formerly Russia Today) English-language television station. And they have subsidized the research of Western academics at Russian universities.

"It is a mistake to believe that Putin wants to lower a new Iron Curtain, build a new Berlin Wall and pursue a policy of isolationism," Morozov wrote in Colta.ru. "On the contrary, Putin is creating a new Comintern. This is not isolationism, but rather the maximum Putinization of the world. The Comintern was a complex system that worked with ideologically sympathetic intellectuals and politicians. What we are seeing now is not an attempt to restore the past, but the creation of an entirely new hegemony."

The Kremlin test-drove the approach in Ukraine this fall. When Kyiv seemed close to signing an Association Agreement with the European Union, billboards appeared warning citizens that moving closer to Europe would mean same-sex marriage would come to Ukraine. The advertising campaign, according to media reports, was linked to Viktor Medvedchuk, a politician and businessman with close ties to Putin. 

The notion of Russia as a defender of traditional values has deep historical roots: the 15th- and 16th-century claim that Moscow is the "Third Rome," the heart of Christian civilization, and Tsarist ideological doctrine of "autocracy, Orthodoxy, and nationality" from the reign of Nicholas I.

Even communism, wrote the early 20th-century Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdydyev, was "more traditional than is commonly thought" in that it is "a transformation and deformation of the old Russian messianic idea." 

The ground for Putin's conservative turn has also been prepared at home. And in the past couple months, in particular, Kremlin surrogates have been relentlessly on-message.

In October, filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov called the revival of a state ideology in Russia "an issue of national security." That same month, Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov derided "political correctness carried to the point of absurdity" and "multiculturalism of the Western kind." 

On November 21, State Duma Deputy Yelena Mizulina proposed, and a key committee approved, a proposal to insert a clause in the preamble of the Russian Constitution calling Orthodox Christianity the foundation of the country's national identity. On the same day, Putin himself called for turning the Russian language and literature into "powerful factors of Russia's global ideological influence." 

Whether this will all go anyplace or be relegated to the dustbin of abandoned Kremlin projects is an open question. (Does anybody remember "sovereign democracy"?) But for Putin, the year that witnessed him announcing his divorce to the world on television is now ending with him trying to grab the mantle of global defender of family values. 

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune in to the Power Vertical Podcast on December 20 when I will discuss the issues raised in this post with co-hosts Kirill Kobrin and Mark Galeotti.

Tags: conservatism,Vladimir Putin

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 19, 2013 19:28
Well, icon or not, but this year he has had you, guys, three times already: (a) first in July when he offered political asylum to Edward Snowden; (b) then in September, when he prevented you from attacking Syria, and (c) now in December as he did not allow the Germans convert Ukraine into another German colony similar to Greece or Portugal.
Happy New Year, guys :-)!
In Response

by: Jorjo from: Florida
December 20, 2013 17:35
Fully in agreement with Eugenio. Would have used a bit spicier language to describe the same A...B...C. Happy holidays!
In Response

by: Anonymous
December 20, 2013 21:01
He's in good company. Hitler, Attila... they've also had them. But don't worry, long after Putin is gone, there will still be a Power Vertical podcast! :-)

Happy holidays! Read some new books!
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 21, 2013 13:03
I know, Anonymous, your day "will come" :-)).
What new books do you recommend that I read? The memories of Senator McCain "How I won the war in Vietnam" :-))??
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
December 21, 2013 13:26
It seems you get your news from the Kremlin's wholly owned and operated TV. As such, you are of course rather confused.

(a) Putin's giving asylum to Snowden ended the Obama "reset" and created a new cold war Russia can't even compete in, much less win; (b) Putin allowed arms inspectors to walk all over Syria, something he'd been fighting for years; (c) Putin pushed hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens into the streets to denounce Russia, and they are still doing it.

Meanwhile, international pressure forced Putin to release not just Khodorkovsky but also Pussy Riot, Bolotnaya and Greenpeace, and the Olympics haven't even started yet. How many more capitulations will we see by the time they end?
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 21, 2013 15:08
:-)))) You got it, La Russ., if it goes on like it is now - namely, people escaping from the US to Russia, Bashar al-Assad killing all the US-sponsored terrorists and Ukraine getting ever more dependent on Russia economically - all of that will obviously constitute a series of impressive victories for the US :-))).
You forgot to mention a few more victories of the US this year: the city or Detroit went bankrupt, the US sovereign debt increasing yet further, Saudi Arabia realizing that being in an alliance with the US is a bad deal for anyone and implementing a policy line of its own etc, etc, etc.
I wish you, guys, many victories of this kind :-))!

by: La Russophobe from: USA
December 19, 2013 19:42
Just out of curiosity, if there are three co-hosts then who is the guest? Can there be a host if there is no guest?

by: American Troll
December 20, 2013 07:59
This is a brilliant idea that progressives should support wholeheartedly. Racists, homophobes, misogynists, child-beaters, and all other reactionaries should pack up their liquor cabinets, their scriptures, and their favorite krokodil syringes and emigrate to God's Country™, Putin's Fourth Reich.

In exchange, they can export all of their deviants who shamelessly practice homosexuality, secularism, mixed marriage, sobriety, and improper pigmentation, all of which are personal choices driven by godless Western pop culture.

Granted, it's evident from the comments here that Russians live their short little lives reveling in the sheer primal joy of venting their rage on various categories of untermenschen, one drunken Slav/Orthodox/hetero-supremacist booted kick-to-the-head at a time. But they would still have each other to fight, and that probably fits into that Nietzschean "weed out the weak" worldview that all reactionaries adore. So even there, everyone wins.

Let's do this. Let's make this happen. Operation House-Swap, GO.

by: Ray Finch from: Lawrence, KS
December 20, 2013 15:25
Nice report. I’m currently reading a biography of Ronald Reagan, and while I’m aware that all historical comparisons are fraught with problems, Putin, like Reagan before him, appears to be successful in appealing to traditional values to score political points. Was Reagan, is Putin sincere in their beliefs? Tough to tell, but just like Reagan, Putin has made rebuilding the country’s military to defend these conservative, divinely-inspired values a corner-stone of his policy. They both believe that their country's greatness is best expressed in raw military power.

Alas, just like the ‘true-believers’ in other parts of the world, soldiers and defenders of the faith (whether Christian, Islam or other) want to believe that God is on their side. Only the dead will see the end of war. Merry Christmas!

by: PermReader
December 20, 2013 16:56
The author has some problems with the conservatism when he citates "paleo-conservative" Buchanan who is generally against the capitalism! Obama`s leftist politics creates wast Western conservatives` opposition.Putin`s imperial "paleoconservatism" to the contrary is combined with capitalism`s support and makes him the Obama`s contrast and creates his "conservative" image.Americans are so tired of Obama that look at Putin.

by: Jake Turk from: Wisconsin
December 21, 2013 01:48
In Response

by: bill o'rights
December 21, 2013 15:11
Shocking to see CIA now jumping on the single-party bandwagon, isn't it?

by: bill o'rights
December 21, 2013 06:36
So now the CIA is actively trying to marginalize Conservatism?

What better proof than this is required, in order to demonstrate that the U.S. government has become thoroughly infiltrated by Brennan's beloved master, Qatar?

by: Irene from: Ukraine
December 21, 2013 10:36
Putin is going to build up new Empire which is not wanted by any one of his neighbours. On this way, he will loose current country. Because Russia has more promlems inside than outside. Comparing with Ukraine, it is far less uniform ethnically, economically and parts are not really good connected. For instance, Syberian provinces are highly independent and hard managed from Center even now. They are economicall well connected with Cineese provinces. Caucas, South-Asian part, North - all are very different and have little in common.

by: Andrew Balog from: Ontario
January 08, 2014 09:58
Putin is allied with the Assad regime in Syria, and he holds anti-Israel views. Not much of a conservative if you ask me. I'm not sure what Putin's on about exactly...

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or