Vladimir Putin is in thrall to a distinctive brand of Russian fascism

That is why his country is such a threat to Ukraine, the West and his own people - say The Economist - 28.07.22


What matters most in Moscow these days is what is missing. Nobody speaks openly of the war in Ukraine. The word is banned and talk is dangerous. The only trace of the fighting going on 1,000km to the south is advertising hoardings covered with portraits of heroic soldiers. And yet Russia is in the midst of a war.


In the same way, Moscow has no torch processions. Displays of the half-swastika “z” sign, representing support for the war, are rare. Stormtroopers do not stage pogroms. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s ageing dictator, does not rally crowds of ecstatic youth or call for mass mobilisation. And yet Russia is in the grip of fascism.


Just as Moscow conceals its war behind a “special military operation”, so it conceals its fascism behind a campaign to eradicate “Nazis” in Ukraine. Nevertheless Timothy Snyder, a professor at Yale University, detects the tell-tale symptoms: “People disagree, often vehemently, over what constitutes fascism,” he wrote recently in the New York Times, “but today’s Russia meets most of the criteria.”


The Kremlin has built a cult of personality around Mr Putin and a cult of the dead around the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45. Mr Putin’s regime yearns to restore a lost golden age and for Russia to be purged by healing violence. You could add to Mr Snyder’s list a hatred of homosexuality, a fixation with the traditional family and a fanatical faith in the power of the state. None of these come naturally in a secular country with a strong anarchist streak and permissive views on sex.


Understanding where Russia is going under Mr Putin means understanding where it has come from. For much of his rule, the West saw Russia as a mafia state presiding over an atomised society. That was not wrong, but it was incomplete. A decade ago Mr Putin’s popularity began to wane. He responded by drawing on the fascist thinking that had re-emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union.


This may have begun as a political calculation, but Mr Putin got caught up in a cycle of grievance and resentment that has left reason far behind. It has culminated in a ruinous war that many thought would never happen precisely because it defied the weighing of risks and rewards.


Under Mr Putin’s form of fascism, Russia is set on a course that knows no turning back. Without the rhetoric of victimhood and the use of violence, Mr Putin has nothing to offer his people. For Western democracies this onward march means that, while he is in power, dealings with Russia will be riven by hostility and contempt. Some in the West want a return to business as usual once the war is over, but there can be no true peace with a fascist Russia.


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This article appeared in the Briefing section of the print edition under the headline "A dark state"




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