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The Daily Vertical: The Putin Nation (Transcript)

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

So Vladimir Putin has called for a law defining the Russian nation.

And this, of course, has caused a lot of head scratching about what the Kremlin leader actually has in mind.

Is this aimed at establishing a tolerant form of civic patriotism?

That's pretty charitable and somehow I doubt that will be how it turns out in practice.

Does it mean that Russia's ethnic minorities will face renewed pressure to assimilate and be subsumed into a larger Russian whole?

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There are certainly fears among Tatars and others that this will indeed be the case.

Or is this Putin's attempt to create an updated version of the "new Soviet man" -- a multiethnic, albeit Russian-dominated, national identity?

I think this is probably the closest to the truth.

I think what we are seeing is an attempt to establish, for lack of a better phrase, the Putin nation -- a revived empire that will be led into the bright, shining future by its manly, bare-chested national leader.

Putin's fixation on defining the Russian nation most reflects his regime's accelerated move in an ideological direction.

For most of Putin's rule, Russia was primarily a kleptocracy, a crime syndicate masquerading as a state, with a dash of ideological window dressing.

But that's all changed in recent years and ideology is now trumping kleptocracy. Which makes this a dangerous moment.

Because while kleptocrats are unpleasant to deal with, ideologues can be downright dangerous.

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