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Paranoia As Policy

Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Russia, it appears, is quickly becoming a nation of conspiracy theorists.

According to a recent poll, 45 percent of Russians now believe in the existence of a secret global government "that controls the authorities of many countries." Just 32 percent said such an organization did not exist, while 23 percent said it was hard to answer.

Russians have long been prone to this kind of thing. But suddenly they are seeing conspiracies everywhere.

The United States and Switzerland investigate corruption in FIFA, world soccer's governing body, something long and widely recognized as a problem. An obvious plot, hatched in Washington, to prevent Russia from hosting the 2018 World Cup.

Ordinary citizens in Macedonia become outraged over corruption and abuse of power and take to the streets in antigovernment protests. A clear case of the U.S. State Department fomenting another colored revolution.

And the authorities are actively stoking these attitudes.

"In line with this worldview, Russia's role in the world is to resist the 'global government's' conspiracy," political analyst Leonid Bershidsky wrote in a recent column for Bloomberg.

And to a degree, they believe their own hype. And this is because Vladimir Putin's regime itself operates in a conspiratorial way. For them, governance is just one big "spetsoperatsia," or covert op.

Take the FIFA corruption scandal, for example. Vladimir Putin's remarks hinting that it was a sneaky anti-Russian plot illustrate that he is incapable of understanding that a criminal case could be launched because prosecutors detected criminal activity. In his mind, there just has to be an ulterior political motive.

This is how he operates; this is how the Russian justice system operates, so he therefore thinks this is how everybody operates. Just ask Aleksei Navalny.

Likewise, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's claim that the Macedonian uprising was a Western-sponsored coup reflects the Kremlin's complete negation of civil society. It is unlikely, if not impossible, in their minds, for citizens to independently form voluntary associations to achieve a political goal. There must be a hidden hand.

Since Russia is the land of fake political parties, government-organized NGOs, stage-managed elections, and rent-a-crowd pro-regime demonstrations, then, in the Putin regime's collective mind, everyplace else must therefore operate this way as well.

Much of the regime's recent paranoia can be traced to Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution, and, especially, to Ukraine's Orange Revolution the following year.

"Ukraine’s Orange revolution of 2004-2005 deeply traumatised Russia’s elite, intensifying its sense of insecurity and leading the party of power to interpret world events through its fear of remote-controlled colour revolutions," Ivan Krastev, head of the Sofia-based Center for Liberal Strategies, wrote recently in the Financial Times.

Krastev called the belief that street protests are organized by Russia's enemies "patently delusional" but "far from harmless." In a world where civic activism is on the rise, "this is a formula for endless conflict."

But the conspiratorial mind-set has since been extrapolated. According to Yale University historian Timothy Snyder, author of the acclaimed book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, it is visible in the way the Kremlin is legislating, regulating, and controlling the dissemination of history.

"The way that history is legislated now in Russia is that there is Russian history and there is a plot of everyone else against Russia," Snyder told RFE/RL's Russian Service in a recent interview.

"If you learn that history is just everyone in the world working against you all the time without cease for 1,000 years; if that is the history that you learn, it is pretty hard for you to cooperate with the rest of the world."

Which means we could be moving into a very frightening place, indeed.

"Putin and his people are now far outside the realm of the conventional," Bershidsky wrote.

"They see themselves as warriors of light in a world suffocated by a Western conspiracy. To them, there is far more at stake than just the regime's survival. That's what makes them dangerous."

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

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


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