The Hollow Ideology of Putinism

With no real goals for his presidency or the war in Ukraine, Putin dusts off Soviet emblems. By Aleksandr Rybin.

Source > Russiandissent

Russian servicemen in Ukraine are using Soviet symbols more and more often. Note: I mean the servicemen of the Russian regular army, not those of the people’s militia of Donetsk and Lugansk, who have made the use of Soviet iconography a routine matter since 2014. But more and more often, chevrons with Soviet flags are seen on the uniforms of Russian soldiers, and on Russian military vehicles, the hammer and sickle appear alongside Z and V symbols.

Statues of Vladimir Lenin, toppled by the Ukrainian government in the aftermath of decommunization laws in 2014, are now being restored in Ukrainian towns occupied by the Russian troops and National Guard – or Rosgvardia – units, as enthusiastically reported by the anti-communist and pro-monarchist media channel Tsargrad.

A grandmother holding the red Soviet banner has become one of the striking images of the special military operation, which was launched by the Kremlin on February 24th and which, in Russia, has been forbidden by law from being referred to as a “war.” At the same time, old imperial and Tsarist symbols are found alongside the Soviet ones, revealing the essentially postmodern character of this conflict.

And yet, the Kremlin still cannot articulate any clear goals or even the targets of the “special military operation.”

It was in the last days of February, after Russian troops and Rosgvardia units failed to occupy Kyiv, and failed to capture or drive Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky from the capital, that the ideological vacuum behind the military operation became startlingly apparent.

At the conflict’s outset, the motivation seemed evident – we need to purge Kyiv of “the gang of junkies and nazis” and establish our rule. At least, this was evident to everyone who saw the advance of Russian military convoys. Similar conclusions could be easily drawn from the statements of the Russian president Vladimir Putin and his propagandists.

At the end of March, the Russian Defense Ministry then announced that the goal of the special operation was the “liberation of the Donbas region.” But then such an explanation begs several questions. Does not the “gang of junkies and nazis” still constitute a threat to the residents of the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics, officially recognized by the Kremlin on February 22nd? What is to become of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, now occupied by the Russian troops? What is the purpose of restoring Lenin monuments in that city and flying Soviet and Russian flags from its administrative buildings?

What the so-called “special operation” has done is reveal the absolute ideological hollowness of the Putin regime. For the whole of his 22-year-long reign, the ruling elite have never been explicit about their political ends or existential principles. To mark occasions both ominous and auspicious, Putin has repeatedly invoked both Russian nationalism and the legacy of the Soviet Union. As recently as 2020, Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.

At the same time, he has accused Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, the very founders of that Soviet state, of bungling the job and has ruefully said that Russia is now facing the consequences of this. Yet now Putin’s propagandists go into raptures over Lenin monuments restored in Kherson, and over Grandma and her red Soviet banner.

Meanwhile, Lenin’s mausoleum was hidden in shrouds for the benefit of the Victory Day military parade in nearby Red Square, and on the same evening, the pro-Putin “patriotic” local governments of several Russian cities ordered the concealment of the Lenin monuments situated in their central squares.

I believe that all of these actions bear witness not to an ideological hodgepodge in the minds of Vladimir Putin and his staunch followers, but to an ideological void.

The Russian President and his loyal officials are happy with the amenities provided by the regime – official fiefdoms, the spoils of corruption and parasitism. They have no ambitions to create a magnificent edifice on a truly historic and public scale. Their special operation is of no historical significance.

They launched the operation off-handedly, and assumed that they would come, see and conquer in no time. But then the boss blurted out something menacing, and now some people might think that things have gone awry. No, will be their reply, everything is going as planned, we will surely get away with it… and in the meantime let us simply cover everything in red flags and Soviet emblems before we decide how to address this special military operation.

Now the Kremlin and its propagandists are left to drape their special operation in giant pseudo-Soviet fabric, for they are at their wits’ end with what they have begun – from the very beginning the operation has developed in accordance with its own logic, fully contrary to the expectations and commands of its organizers.

And this logic lays bare one thing – the outcome will be gloomy, most of all for those who have made “this bloody sitch” in the post-Soviet territory.

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