Robert E. Berls Jr., PhD
Senior Advisor for Russia and Eurasia
Putin and Regime Survival: Part II
In Part II of this essay, I examine internal and external factors—including geography, history, religion, ideology, and national heritage—that have affected the nature and survival of Russia’s leaders and their regimes over the centuries and continue to influence the ability of Putin and his regime to survive. In some cases, these factors serve as guardrails that provide a natural channel for policy by keeping it within certain bounds. In other cases, they can either restrict or broaden policy options for the political leadership. Undoubtedly, they will play a role in the decisions affecting post-Putin Russia.
Geography has not been kind to Russia. Over the centuries Russia’s leaders have had to cope with challenges posed by their environment, and its leaders have been shaped by those challenges. It is hard to overstate the impact that geography has had on Russia’s history, on its development, and on how it is governed.
One of the biggest challenges Russia’s rulers have had to face is the immensity of a landmass that has few natural borders. The first east Slavic state of Kievan Rus and the Russian principalities that subsequently arose, including the Grand Principality of Moscow, were largely defenseless and were easily overrun by the Mongol Tatars in the 13th century. Beginning with Ivan the Terrible (reign 1547–1584), and pursued by his successors, the Russians undertook an aggressive expansion that eventually reached the Pacific Ocean, the Caucasus, and the depths of Central Asia. During this process, Russia fought off frequent invasions and launched numerous offensive campaigns as it absorbed diverse ethnic groups that had problematic relations with the ethnic Russians who ruled over them.
Despite the greatly enhanced landmass, Russia remained vulnerable; in fact, its vulnerability only increased as the size of its territory grew. Ruling this enormous country posed unprecedented challenges to its leaders.
The huge expanse, the diversity of a dispersed population, and the frequent threat of invasion demanded tight control from the central government to hold the country together. History has shown, whether during Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union, or Putin’s Russia, that a strong central government that maintains a powerful internal political and security apparatus has been the only successful way to restrain the numerous centrifugal forces that seek to drive power away from the center and weaken central authority.
Like Russia’s rulers before him, Putin has learned the lessons of the past. Weakness releases those centrifugal forces. He saw this happen under Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.
The Russian people, who value stability over almost anything else, also fear that chaos and disaster will follow if weakness prevails. For this reason, they respect strong leaders who protect them from external and internal threats, and they are willing to forfeit certain freedoms cherished in the West to ensure stability and predictability in their lives.
The history of Russia has been a struggle between the centrifugal forces attempting to pull the country apart and the centripetal forces that seek to exert tight, central control over the country.
The history of the Russian state is also one of authoritarianism characterized by strong central power with little or no constitutional accountability. Political freedoms are limited and subordinate to the state. Although this type of rule is not predestined and there is no guarantee of its permanence, as witnessed by what occurred over the centuries in Europe, there are many factors at work in Russia that make it difficult to sustain any form of government that is not authoritarian. In large part, this is determined by the need to retain control over a vast territory with a diverse ethnic population, much of whom the central government views with suspicion and distrust. If, however, the country separated into smaller, more homogeneous components, there might be a better chance for democratic forces to surface, as witnessed after the breakup of the Soviet Union—mainly in the Baltic States, but also in Georgia, and to a lesser extent in Ukraine.
Democratic or semi-democratic entities have had some presence on Russian territory over the centuries. In Kievan Rus and Novgorod in the north, democratic popular assemblies called veche functioned from the 10th to the 15th centuries. These assemblies discussed issues of war and peace, adopted laws, and invited or expelled ruling princes. Any citizen could participate in these assemblies, be they boyars (nobility) or commoners, and could convene a meeting by ringing the city’s veche bell. Over time, the veche lost influence as Russia’s ruling princes assumed greater power. When Ivan III, Grand Duke of Moscow, conquered Novgorod in 1478, he removed the veche bell to indicate that the old way of running the city was over and that Novgorod was now subservient to Moscow and its ruler.
With the disappearance of this vestige of grassroots power, ordinary people had few ways to petition authorities or express their discontent. Their main option was to rise in protest, but those protests typically had little impact and were violently suppressed.
Kievan Rus’s early ties with Byzantium and, more importantly, the adoption of the eastern orthodox religion, had a profound influence on religious and secular life in Russia. The very close but often contentious relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and Russia’s rulers reinforced tight central control and autocracy. In fact, during the height of the Russian Empire, the three pillars of the official ideology of the imperial government were orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationalism. This ideology was formally adopted during the reign of Emperor Nicholas I (1825–1855) and continued to dominate imperial rule until the end of the Romanov dynasty in 1917.
Under Vladimir Putin, we have seen a resurgence of elements of the former imperial ideology as Putin reaches back to Russia’s historical roots to build support for his regime. The Russian Orthodox Church is again flourishing after being suppressed and persecuted for seven decades under Soviet rule. It has not yet regained the position it occupied in imperial Russia, but it has achieved an increasingly influential status in Russian society in recent years and is a strong supporter of Vladimir Putin.
Autocracy has taken a different form under Vladimir Putin. It is arguably more efficient than its imperial ancestor and less oppressive than its Soviet predecessor, but it represents continuity with the past and the struggle Russia has faced over the centuries in dealing with the perpetual problem of how the country should be ruled.
Nationalism, as we have seen, has always been a useful tool for Russia’s rulers as they contend with threats both real and imaginary from outside the country. The prospect of a foreign enemy strengthens the regime by rallying the people in defense of the homeland. It is also a useful way to direct people’s attention away from weaknesses and failures at home. Putin has been adept at using nationalism to strengthen his position—a tactic employed most recently in his foreign adventures in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria.
Many important historical events and experiences have strengthened autocratic rule in Russia, but none was more important than the Mongol invasion from 1237 to 1242 and their more than two centuries rule over Russian lands. The ruthless Mongol Tatar domination, executed by subservient Russian rulers who paid tribute to their Mongol Tatar overlords and imposed Mongol Tatar rule over their own citizens, left a lasting legacy in Russia of cruelty, subservience, and harsh absolutism.
As Russia grew in size, its rulers struggled to reconcile their desire to transform Russia into a modern state with their need to maintain absolute control over the reins of power. Russia has struggled with this challenge for centuries, starting most notably with Peter the Great (reign 1682–1725) and continuing up to today.
In an effort to introduce Western technology to Russia, Peter the Great traveled “incognito” to Holland where he learned shipbuilding. When he returned to Russia, he founded the Russian Navy which significantly increased Russia’s capability to engage its foes in battle. Peter also sought to align Russia more closely with the Western way of life. In a very controversial move, he demanded that the Russian nobility adopt Western dress and that the men shave off their beards. Those who failed to comply were taxed.
Catherine the Great, who ruled Russia in the second half of the 18th century, corresponded with Voltaire, Diderot, and other famous European philosophers and writers and flirted with the ideas of the Enlightenment.
In their attempt to reconcile their desire to import Westers technologies and know-how with their need to maintain tight control at home, both of these imperial rulers, as well as their successors—including leaders of the Soviet Union—imposed strict measures to limit Western influence for fear that it would weaken their regime and their power.
During the 20th century, there were several attempts to break out of the mold of traditional Russian authoritarianism and introduce an element of democracy into Russian politics and life. The abortive revolution of 1905—a reaction to Russia’s disastrous loss to Japan in a naval battle in the Far East, workers strikes that culminated in the violent suppression of a peaceful march in St. Petersburg known as Bloody Sunday, and peasant uprisings—was an attempt to transform Russia from an autocracy to a constitutional monarchy. Political parties were permitted, a State Duma (parliament) was formed, and a constitution was adopted. Those changes, however, were not sufficient to prevent full-scale revolution in 1917—first in February, resulting in the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II and the formation of a provisional government, and then in November when the Bolshevik Revolution brought Vladimir Lenin and the Communists to power.
The attempts to move away from the traditional autocratic form of rule and replace it with a more representative form of government failed to overcome the complexities that had shaped and defined Russia for centuries. The Communists, led by Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, were able to take advantage of Russia’s political, social, and economic weaknesses and to create a state that claimed to represent a bold, new model that would guide the world as it formed an egalitarian international community. In reality, they established a totalitarian state that terrorized its citizens, imprisoned and murdered millions in its network of concentration camps (the gulag), and spread its influence and dominance well beyond the borders of the Soviet Union.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which was due mainly to its internal failures but also to external pressures, was followed by another attempt to create a government that would be more responsive to the needs of the people. This time it was more successful than in the past, but again the burden of Russia’s history weighed heavily on efforts to institute meaningful reforms.
When Mikhail Gorbachev tried to overcome the many inefficiencies and failures of the decaying Soviet system, he opened the floodgates that led to the end of that system and the breakup of the Soviet Union into 15 independent countries—an outcome that Gorbachev and his supporters had neither wanted nor anticipated. A coup attempt against Gorbachev in August 1991 led by members of his government failed not only to remove Gorbachev from power but also could not stop the inevitable slide of the country into oblivion. The weakening of central control had again unleashed the centrifugal forces that threatened unity and cohesion. Four months later the Soviet Union ceased to exist.
Boris Yeltsin, the newly elected President of Russia, emerged as the hero of a new era in Russia’s tumultuous history. He brought about change that shocked the country. Stability and predictability, which were the fundamental aspirations of the Russian people, were replaced by chaos and uncertainty. Many of the reforms that Yeltsin and his government introduced—in the name of bringing democracy to Russia—brought economic hardship and social and political turmoil to the lives of the Russian people. Democracy, rather than being viewed as a system of government that represented the people and their interests, was detested by a large segment of the Russian population and was blamed for declining living standards and all that was wrong in their personal lives. Central authority remained relatively weak and was challenged from the periphery (viz. Chechnya) and from the outside (viz. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) enlargement, NATO bombing of Serbia, etc.). If Russia were to regain its internal strength and its position in the world as a great power, new leadership was needed that would reverse the policies that had weakened Russia under Yeltsin and would reassert control over government and society. Enter Putin onto the Russian stage and the return to a more traditional, a more authoritarian, rule in Russia.
Religion has played a dominant role in Russia since Kievan Rus adopted the Orthodox faith in the 10th century. Although Russia has been a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state for centuries, the other major religions recognized by the Russian Government—Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism—are practiced principally on the periphery of Russia rather than at its core. Consequently, they have played a much less important role in Russian life, culture, and government than has Orthodoxy.
In 330, Constantine the Great split the Roman Empire into two parts—Rome in the west and Byzantium in the east, later named Constantinople. After the fall of Rome, Constantinople became known as the second Rome.
In 1054, a schism divided the Christian Church into the Western or Catholic Church under the Pope of Rome and the Eastern or Byzantine (Orthodox) Church headed by the Patriarch of Constantinople. This schism led to mutual excommunications, which were not annulled until 1965.
The divisions between the two churches widened over the centuries and still exist today, although animosities have abated, and a respectable working relationship has been established.
Following the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the Russian Orthodox Church became independent of Constantinople, and the Duchy of Moscow, by now the center of the emerging Russian state, declared itself the heir to Constantinople. It called itself the third and last Rome. The metropolitan (a rank similar to a bishop) of Moscow became head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Both Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism have had a turbulent relationship with secular authorities. In Europe, many changes took place in church-state relations over the centuries, culminating with the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century that delivered a shock to Western Christendom.
The Russian Orthodox Church had a very different history. Unlike Europe, Russia never experienced a reformation and therefore did not undergo reforms that could have modernized church-state relations as they did in the West.
The aura of Moscow as the Third Rome created a special relationship between the tsar and the metropolitan (later the patriarch when that position was established in Moscow). The Russian tsar was imbued in the minds of many with spiritual characteristics that were almost god-like. For its part, the church identified itself as an intensely national body. Together the tsar and the church created the sacred image of Holy Russia.
This image of Holy Russia was perpetuated for centuries; however, behind the scenes and often in public view, the state and the church struggled over power, influence, and control of territory and assets. Despite their differences, however, they were able to maintain a united front in order to propagate a state ideology of “orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationalism” that dominated the Imperial Court during the 19th century and provided a rationale for the autocratic state and the autocratic church.
1917 brought the iconoclastic Bolsheviks to power. They declared the separation of church and state, seized all church property, arrested, imprisoned, and murdered church leaders as well as parish priests and devout believers. The Soviet Union was declared to be an atheist state. Although the Russian Orthodox Church was not legally banned, it found itself for the first time in its existence to be without state backing and support.
During the seven decades of Soviet rule, the Russian Orthodox Church suffered significantly, but it managed to survive. Its relationship with the state was tenuous at best. During the Great Patriotic War (World War II), the state allowed the church to increase its activities because it represented traditional Russian institutions and Russia’s cultural heritage and could be used to rally the people behind the war effort.
Following the war, the relationship between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church again became strained. It was not until the collapse of the Soviet Union that the church was liberated from communist oppression and was allowed to become an important institution and an influential factor in the life of Russian society and the Russian state.
Under Vladimir Putin, the close relationship between the Orthodox Church and the Russian state has resumed. Each institution provides important support to the other. Putin and his government have passed numerous laws and regulations reestablishing church control over property that was confiscated by the Soviets. The Orthodox Church has once more become one of the wealthiest institutions in Russia.
The Russian parliament has passed legislation that promotes the more conservative values espoused by the Russian Orthodox Church. Laws that prohibit “gay propaganda,” restrict the activities of religions (mostly protestant religions and sects) that are not among the four recognized religions (Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism), and prohibit actions/language that are offensive to believers reflect the growing stature of the Orthodox Church in Russian society. In a manifestation of the resurgence of the influential role of the Russian Orthodox Church, the world was stunned by the official response to the Pussy Riot “concert” in Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012 that resulted in two-year prison sentences for two of the performers for “hooliganism inspired by religious hatred.”
Today, with the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church as a prominent force in Russian society and a willing partner supporting Vladimir Putin and his regime, the traditional relationship between church and state has been reestablished. But Putin, like many of his imperial predecessors, remains cautious as he manages that relationship. Putin’s support of the Russian Orthodox Church serves a useful purpose in garnering support among the Russian people—particularly among the more traditional rural believers. Putin is demonstratively present at church holidays and celebrations. Russian television focuses intensely on him standing by the altar in Christ the Savior Cathedral at Easter midnight mass and on him immersing himself in the frigid waters of a lake on the Feast of the Epiphany in January of each year.
This relationship also serves a useful purpose in Putin’s pursuit of certain foreign policy goals. His close association with the Russian Orthodox Church—the largest and most powerful of the eastern orthodox churches—enhances his relationship with other predominantly orthodox countries and provides him with additional leverage within those societies. Over the years (and in centuries past) we have seen evidence of these ties in Russia’s relations with such countries as Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, and others. Currently, the split between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, which I will discuss in a separate essay, has taken on major political implications, the impact of which could potentially be quite serious.
Ideology can be defined as a system of ideas that seeks to explain the world and change it to attain certain political, economic, and social goals. These goals may have geographical limitations, or they may have worldwide aspirations. The main purpose is to change society.
Totalitarian regimes usually rely on a specific ideology to justify their policies, actions, and goals. National Socialism in Germany and Communism in the Soviet Union are good examples. In those cases, ideology served as an umbrella under which myriad repressive techniques were used to maintain order and discipline in society.
Authoritarian regimes may or may not be based on ideological convictions. They may instead find their support through various other means: appeals to tradition, national heritage and legitimacy; bureaucratic-military cadres; patron-client relationships; personal loyalty; business-oligarchic patronage; pseudo-democratic institutions and processes; and repression (use of security forces and the military).
In the case of Putin and his post-Soviet regime, traditional ideology is not an active factor in their vision of Russia and the pursuit of their domestic and foreign policy goals. This does not mean, however, that Putin and his close advisors do not have a worldview that has been colored by the Soviet experience. Vladimir Putin and his contemporaries grew up in the Soviet Union. Their worldview was defined by their Soviet education, ideology, and way of life. Although they now live in a different world and the political and economic reality has significantly changed, Putin’s and his regime’s vision of the world and Russia’s enemies differs little from that of their early years. Little has changed to alter that vision. On the contrary, events over the past several decades have only reinforced Putin’s views and those of his regime, as well as of a significant percentage of the Russian population, that much of the outside world, and particularly the West, still has hostile designs on Russia, as it did during the Soviet period. Consequently, Putin’s view is that Russian foreign policy must be directed first and foremost toward countering those threats.
But is today’s Russia devoid of an ideology that seeks to explain the world and change it? Some would argue that there is an ideology and it is based on the ideas of a 20th century anti-communist Russian nationalist exile philosopher named Ivan Ilyin. His writings, which reflect his adherence to conspiracy theories and fascist leanings, have been quoted by Vladimir Putin and some of his propagandists, members of the Russian Orthodox Church, and even the leader of the Russian Communist Party who described Ilyin as someone who has “made a very significant contribution to the development of the Russian state ideology of patriotism.” Others, however, dismiss Ilyin as a fringe philosopher whose influence on Putin and his regime is not significant and should not be taken seriously.
Ilyin was a strong proponent of the view that traditional Russia was a unique historical entity and had a special mission to pursue in the world. He portrayed Russia as superior to the corrupt Western world and linked by a spiritual unity with the Euro-Asiatic nations. Ilyin further argued that the West was trying to weaken Russia with such ideas as “democracy” and “freedom” and that those concepts were alien to a country as large as Russia. The only way Russia could survive as a state with its ethnic and cultural diversity spread over an immense landmass was by maintaining strong centralized power under authoritarian leadership. Such a system, based on patriotism and a powerful leader, would protect Russia from anarchy and chaos.
Ilyin also argued in support of traditional Russian conservative values under the auspicious of the Russian Orthodox Church. Although he was not particularly religious, he spoke of a religious revival and saw the Russian Orthodox Church as closely connected with politics and the political leadership.
Aleksandr Dugin, a present-day anti-Western Russian philosopher, is also alleged to influence Putin’s worldview. He shares many of Ilyin’s ideas. He insists on the uniqueness of Russia and the need for a powerful, authoritarian state that is closely aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church and its traditional conservative values. He sees the West as Russia’s enemy and argues forcefully for Russia to expand its power in the world.
One can argue whether Ilyin or Dugin have influenced Putin and his regime. Regardless, one cannot deny that their writings have served as useful tools to reinforce government propaganda and justify certain policies of the Putin regime.
Russia has advanced significantly since the collapse of the Soviet Union—an event Putin described as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. No longer does one ideology dominate society. Russians have access to the world’s philosophers, writers, political scientists, journalists, and other thought leaders and can formulate their views of the world. Ilyin and Dugin are just two of many whose views have earned certain notoriety in recent years. The advantage their views have is that they appear to correlate closely with the policies of the Putin regime. Although ideology can be a useful tool for Putin, and the views of Ilyin, Dugin, and other conservative thinkers appear to reinforce Putin’s policies, it is power and the manipulation of power that matter most for the Russian leader.
This final section on internal and external factors that contribute to the survival of Putin and his regime examines how certain traditions and historical ways of life play a role in Russia and how it is ruled. This is a very rich subject and one that will appear often in other essays on Russian national interests and how they are pursued.
For centuries, Russians have been deeply divided between those who represent traditional Russian values and those who identify themselves as modernizers and pro-European. In the 19th century, this division was argued philosophically and politically between those who were called Slavophiles and those who were labeled Westernizers. The essence of this debate is fundamental to understanding Russia, and it continues to this very day.
From the political perspective, a pendulum has been swinging back and forth over the centuries between two Russias, with the traditionalists (Slavophiles) embodying the essence of authoritarianism, and the modernizers (Westernizers) seeking to align Russia more closely with Europe and the outside world.
For those in the West, it is easier to understand and relate to Russia’s modernizers who are more individualistic, optimistic, and open to change and innovation. Those who have engaged with Russian modernizers have usually felt comfortable in that engagement, although they recognize certain differences in conduct and thinking that can be confusing and perplexing. Nevertheless, they are often able to work together and achieve mutually desired results.
The “other Russia,” which some describe as embodying the “Russian soul,” is more alien to the Western mind, and even for some Russian modernizers who see it as backward and even bordering on barbarian. The “other Russia” is represented by traditionalists who personify centuries of harsh life and claim to represent the essence of the “real” Russia and true Russian values. It is this Russia—the “other Russia”—that I will explore in the final section of this essay.
The “other Russia” is the Russia of the village: the village that is surrounded by an inhospitable forest or an endless steppe; the village that is isolated and accessible only by a dirt (very often, mud) road; the village that suffers through the extremes of a long, frigid winter and a hot, insect-infested summer; the village that is dying off as young people flee to the cities, leaving the old people there to die; the village with no expectation that life will ever get better; the village with no future; the village of despair and sorrow.
This is the “other Russia” that has existed for centuries and still exists today. But despite the harsh, depressing conditions, people have managed to survive. In so doing, they have found ways to cope and to interact with others that have allowed them to persevere under very difficult conditions.
How Russians relate to nature is one way that has helped to define their character and their relations with each other. Isolated as many of them were in early days in small peasant communities that were called a mir (defined as “world” or “universe”), and threatened by the vagaries of nature—harsh weather, disease, wild animals from the forest—or by enemy attacks, the huddled masses of the mir had to rely on each other for protection and survival. This created a strong sense of community and a collective mentality. Individualism was not a part of the Russian psyche. Individual interests had to be sacrificed to ensure the safety of the community.
A prominent feature of the Russian way of life has been the supremacy of the interests of the community over personal interests. This feature is deeply rooted in peasant culture and was exploited by the Communists through the collectivization of agriculture and the organization of the workforce into collectives. Even to this day, the term kollektiv (collective) is used by Russians to define a group of people united for a common purpose, such as in an office or another work or leisure environment.
The collective nature of Russian society has had positive benefits in achieving certain results, but it has also had negative consequences. It has retarded individual initiative and impeded innovation.
When Mikhail Gorbachev took the first steps to loosen the economic reigns in the dying days of the Soviet Union and allowed small groups of individuals (frequently just two or three people) to establish private businesses—referred to as “cooperatives”—small cafes, restaurants, and shops sprang up in cities throughout the Soviet Union. What often happened, however, particularly in the early days of this experiment, was that Russians, often neighbors of these “cooperatives,” would sabotage them and even burn them down in resentment over the success of others.
There was a Russian anecdote popular at the time that best describes this attitude: God, who had been observing farmer John in Iowa for some time, spoke to him one day and said: “John, I have been watching you and would like to reward you for your hard work. What would you like?” John replied: “God, my neighbor has a cow, but I don’t have a cow. I would like to have a cow.” God said: “John, I will give you a cow.” God had also been watching peasant Ivan and was pleased with his work on the collective farm. God said to Ivan: “Ivan, you have been doing a good job on the collective farm. I would like to reward you. What would you like?” Ivan quickly responded: “God, my neighbor has a cow. I do not have a cow. I want you to kill my neighbor’s cow.”
Resentment of the success of others as a feature in Russian life still exists, but it has been moderated in recent years, especially in urban areas, as a result of the changes that have taken place since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Other features of Russian culture that have evolved over the centuries due to the harsh conditions of life have been a sense of patience, risk avoidance, sacrifice, and suffering in the expectation that such behavior would lead to stability, security, and predictability in people’s lives. Russians tend to be conservative, pessimistic, fatalistic, and try to avoid change and uncertainty. Change, when it has come, has generally been imposed from above rather than initiated from below.
Russians commonly exhibit a deep distrust of the authorities. They have little respect for laws and rules and seek ways to work around them. They try to remain as detached as they can from the authorities and generally prefer to accept the existing reality rather than seek to change it. Such views and behaviors contribute to supporting the status quo and the authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin.
With the industrialization of Russia and mass migration to the cities, the “other Russia” expanded to urban areas. The “other Russia” can be found in the dilapidated towns and cities that once drove the Soviet industrial machine but are now rusting away. The “other Russia” can be found in the remnants of communal living (communal apartments and workers’ dormitories) and the mammoth apartment complexes on the outskirts of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities.
The Russian media also perpetuates elements of the “other Russia” when it seeks to serve the traditional interests and values promoted by the Russian state. But such propaganda is increasingly running into conflict with the reality of the outside world as more and more people, particularly the younger generation, get their information largely from the internet.
The changes brought about by the collapse of the Soviet Union have been dramatic and have affected people’s lives in ways outsiders have difficulty understanding. A new reality and a new national identity have been thrust upon the culture of the past, creating confusion, distrust, and a sense of loss of the “other Russia” for many as a new way of life emerges. The relationship between the dominant role post-Soviet changes now play in the Russian political and cultural fabric versus the traditional, steadfast influence of the “other Russia” will be important as the country approaches 2024 when critical decisions about Putin, his regime, and Russia itself need to be made.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest on nuclear and biological threats.
Ernest Moniz says the Russian leader needs to back away from the nuclear button.
“The risk of an accident, miscalculation, or disastrous decision is especially ominous when the two countries with the largest nuclear weapon arsenals are on opposite sides.”