Putin’s goal is both stealthy and simple: the end of the West as a coherent cultural and political entity. Russia loathes the idea that the rich democracies of North America and Europe should run the world. Their rules-based international order takes no account of Russia’s history as a great power — and its need for a sphere of influence on its borders.
Vladimir Putin is bringing back the 1930s
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he addresses students during his visit to the German Embassy school in Moscow on June 29. (Pool/Reuters)
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.
What has this to do with Putin? It portends fulfillment of his aspiration for Europe’s political, social and moral disorientation.
The Financial Times reports that of the 138,000 migrants who have come by sea to Italy this year, few are from Syria. The “vast majority” are from Africa, with the largest number from Nigeria. The United Nations’ World Population Prospects says that only 10 percent of global population is in Europe, which is projected to have fewer people in 2050 than today. Just 16 percent of the world’s population is in Africa, but “more than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur” there. It will have the world’s highest growth rate, and 41 percent of its people currently are under 15. Of the nine countries expected to experience half the world’s population growth by 2050, five are in Africa (Nigeria, Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda). Nigeria’s population, currently the world’s seventh largest, is the most rapidly growing.
Even without what is likely — population pressures producing some failed African states — a portion of Africa’s multitudes, perhaps scores of millions of migrants, might cross the Mediterranean to Europe. There, 24 percent of the people are 60 and over, and no country has a birthrate sufficient to maintain current population sizes. Who but immigrants can work and fund Europe’s welfare states for its graying publics?
Europe has recently been politically destabilized and socially convulsed by the arrival of a million Syrian migrants seeking asylum. Future migrations from Africa, with a large Muslim component, could pose the greatest threat to the social cohesion of Europe since 1945, or even since invading Arab forces were halted at Poitiers in 732.
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.”
Writing in the British journal Standpoint, Judah reports that 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” (Johns Hopkins), the Brookings Institution’s 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.”
Scare tactics: Vladimir Putin would bring his dog Konni to meetings with Angela Merkel knowing she was afraid of dogs. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
“The Soviet Union was a revolutionary state that sought a wholesale change in the international order,” observed Robert Litwak, director of security studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and author of “Deterring Nuclear Terrorism.” Putin is ostensibly not seeking a revolution of the international order, Litwak added, but Putin’s departure from standard great-power competition — encouraging a flood of refugees and attacking the legitimacy of our political system — “is leading to shifts in global politics that could have revolutionary consequences, even if Putin is not motivated by revolutionary ideology.”
How a Russian Fascist Is Meddling in America’s Election
By TIMOTHY SNYDER SEPT. 20, 2016
NEW HAVEN — The president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as a “geopolitical catastrophe.” But the political thinker who today has the most influence on Mr. Putin’s Russia is not Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Communist system, but rather Ivan Ilyin, a prophet of Russian fascism.
The brilliant political philosopher has been dead for more than 60 years, but his ideas have found new life in post-Soviet Russia. After 1991, his books were republished with long print runs. President Putin began to cite him in his annual speech to the Federal Assembly, the Russian equivalent of the State of the Union address.
To complete the rehabilitation, Mr. Putin saw to it that Ilyin’s corpse was repatriated from Switzerland, and that his archive was returned from Michigan. The Russian president has been seen laying flowers on Ilyin’s Moscow grave. And Mr. Putin is not the only disciple of Ilyin among the Kremlin elite.
Vladislav Y. Surkov, Moscow’s arch-propagandist, also sees Ilyin as an authority. Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev, who served as president between 2008 and 2012, recommends Ilyin to Russian students. Ilyin figures in the speeches of the foreign minister, the head of the constitutional court and the patriarch of the Orthodox Church.
What are the ideas that have inspired such esteem?
Ilyin believed that individuality was evil. For him, the “variety of human beings” demonstrated the failure of God to complete the labor of creation and was therefore essentially satanic. By extension, the middle classes, political parties and civil society were also evil, because they encouraged the development of personalities beyond the single identity of the national community.
According to Ilyin, the purpose of politics is to overcome individuality, and establish a “living totality” of the nation. Writing in the 1920s and ’30s after his expulsion from the Soviet Union, when he became a leading emigré ideologue of the anti-Communist White Russians, Ilyin looked on Mussolini and Hitler as exemplary leaders who were saving Europe by dissolving democracy. His 1927 article “On Russian Fascism” was addressed to “My White brothers, the fascists.” Later, in the 1940s and ’50s, he provided the outlines for a constitution of a fascist Holy Russia governed by a “national dictator” who would be “inspired by the spirit of totality.”
This leader would be responsible for all functions of government in a completely centralized state. Elections would be held, with open voting and signed ballots, purely as a ritual of support of the leader. The reckoning of votes was irrelevant: “We must reject blind faith in the number of votes and its political significance.
In the light of Ilyin’s rehabilitation as Russia’s leading ideologue, Moscow’s manipulations of elections should be seen not so much as a failure to implement democracy but as a subversion of the very concept of democracy. Neither the parliamentary elections of December 2011 nor the presidential elections of March 2012 produced a majority for Mr. Putin’s party or for Mr. Putin personally. Votes were therefore added to produce a decisive result.
Russians who protested the fixed elections were branded as national enemies. Nongovernmental organizations were forced to register as “foreign agents.” Mr. Putin even claimed that Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, “gave the signal” to the Russian opposition to go on the streets. The notion that defending democracy meant betraying Russia was perfectly consistent with Ilyin’s view.
Since then, Mr. Putin has relied on Ilyin’s authority at every turning point in Russian politics — from his return to power in 2012 to the decision to intervene in Ukraine in 2013 and the annexation of Ukrainian territory in 2014. Last spring, he claimed that the American intelligence services would intervene in the Russian parliamentary elections held this past weekend and in the Russian presidential elections of 2018. The question of whether anyone in the Kremlin actually believes this is beside the point. These claims of constant American interference are intended to show that the democratic process is nothing more than a geopolitical game.
While Russian leaders consciously work to hollow out the idea of democracy in their own country, they also seek to discredit democracy abroad — including, this year, in the United States. Russia’s interventions in our presidential elections are not only the opportunistic support of a preferred candidate, Donald J. Trump, who backs Russian foreign policy. They are also the logical projection of the new ideology: Democracy is not a means of changing leadership at home, but a means of weakening enemies abroad. If we see politics as Ilyin did, Russia’s ritualization of elections becomes a virtue rather than a vice. Degrading democracy around the world would be a service to mankind.
If democracy is merely an invitation to foreign influence, then hacking a foreign political party’s email is the most natural thing in the world. If civil society is nothing but the decadent opening of a rotting society to foreign influence, then constant trolling of media is obviously appropriate. If, as Ilyin wrote, the “arithmetical understanding of politics” is harmful, then digital meddling in foreign elections would be just the thing.
For a decade, Russia has been sponsoring right-wing extremists as “election observers” — most recently, in the farcical referendums in the Crimea and in the Donbas region of Ukraine — in order to discredit both elections and their observation. Since democracy is a sham, as Ilyin believed, then it is right and good to imitate its language and procedures in order to discredit it. It is noteworthy that the Trump campaign has now imitated this very practice, supplying both its own private “observers” and the advance conclusion about the fraud they will find.
The technique of undermining democracy abroad is to generate doubt where there had been certainty. If democratic procedures start to seem shambolic, then democratic ideas will seem questionable as well. And so America would become more like Russia, which is the general idea. If Mr. Trump wins, Russia wins. But if Mr. Trump loses and people doubt the outcome, Russia also wins.
From Moscow’s point of view, it is easier to bring down democracy everywhere than it is to hold free, fair elections at home. Russia will seem stronger if other states follow its course of development toward a cynicism about democracy that allows authoritarianism to thrive. So we might as well get used to the interference, and take sensible precautions. It no longer makes sense to carry out elections and regulate campaign finance as if such matters were of no interest to hostile foreign powers.
Americans have plenty of other reasons to reform the democratic process, but protecting their integrity should take priority. Paper ballots for every voter and public financing of campaigns, to give two examples, would make sense both for citizens and for the electoral system. A simpler democracy would be a more secure one — and a more exemplary one.
Putin wants revenge and respect, and hacking the U.S. is his way of getting it
Putin wants revenge and respect