I was once a pro-putinist of the highest order. I was certainly not alone in my convictions. To say that there are “pro-putinist” sympathies among student conservative circles would be an understatement.
I hesitate to use “pro-Russian”, as this tarnishes all the peoples of Russia with the same brush. Russia is a proud nation, with a history of great intellect and greater human suffering. Opposing Putinism, by all means, should be seen as “pro-Russian.” Unfortunately, despotism has engrained itself so deeply into Russian society that Russia and Putinism are now synonymous.
I do not hide the fact that certain events and circumstances have changed my view on Russia. It is exceedingly rare that someone suddenly changes their opinion by themselves. My profession and time spent in Ukraine have certainly influenced my way of thinking and have provided me with more persuasive arguments.
In dealing with difficult questions, we resort to simple answers. Support for Vladimir Putin is, on paper, a logical choice for some British conservatives. He enshrined the role of faith and state, opposes western liberalism, maligns globalisation, and sought to re-establish a “traditional” moral order in his country.
I cannot entirely condemn Putin and neither do his biggest detractors. Putin’s initial reforms remain popular and he oversaw, initially, a raise in the standard of living of many Russians. When Putin switched his attention to expansion, the reforms stopped, along with the fair elections, and the country began to stagnate.
Unlike many critics of Russia, I believe that it is undesirable to remove Putin by force. True change must come from within and Iraq stands as a lasting testament to the consequences of imposing an alien system of governance on a country of which you do not fully understand. At the time of writing, Putin’s grip over the Russian people is slowly slipping. Protests rage in Russia’s Far East and protestors have taken to the street in the capital of Russia’s greatest ally, Belarus.
Conservative principles are not compatible with the Putinist ideology. Morally, economically, spiritually, they are irreconcilable. Putin’s Russia does not recognise borders, private property, self-determination, personal freedoms, diplomacy, economic opportunity, or international rule of law.
Every expansionist thrust it undertakes in the pursuit of its irredentist goals leaves a wake of destruction and human suffering in its path. Its invasions of Georgia caused untold human suffering. Russia carved rump states out of the nation and began slowly consuming Georgian territory with encroaching “borders.”
Its annexation of Crimea has seen the peninsula officially undergo its “russification”, with Muslim Crimean Tatars being systematically persecuted and shipped to Russia for detention, as was done by the Stalinist regime.
Russia has flooded the Donbas with heavy weaponry, not only causing a conflict which has cost the lives of both ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, but also the lives of 298 passengers aboard flight MH17.
At home and abroad, dissent is deadly. If you are too vocal in your opposition to the government, or go against the hand that feeds you, you are liable to be: blown up in a car bomb, disfigured with acid, die in a “freak accident”, be imprisoned for life, beaten by vigilantes, lynched, tortured, deported or spied on.
As part of my recent employment, I had the displeasure of reading through the letters written by a Ukrainian political prisoner from a dystopian prison colony in Russia. They depict torture, arbitrary detention and, perhaps unsurprisingly, portraits of Stalin hanging on the walls of interrogation rooms.
Oligarchs, Corruption and Serfdom
In the same vain, it is not in the conservative interest to protect Putinist economics. Russia remains extremely feudal. Putin, as supreme ruler, maintains a tight inner circle of loyal vassals. We most commonly call them oligarchs.
These oligarchs are afforded land, protection, power, and impunity in exchange for their loyalty. In the late 90s, many oligarchs obtained their wealth illegally, through organised crime, often taking over state-run enterprises by force.
Opposing oligarchy is not opposing the existence of billionaires, natural monopolies, or capitalism. Rather, it is a rejection of the notion that money can buy impunity, atone for past crimes or absolve businessmen of civil obligation.
Russia is not a capitalist paradise. It is quite the opposite. It is distributist, but only amongst the politically connected. For the entrepreneur, Russia is a difficult place to do business. Corruption and oligarchs make it incredibly hard to establish a successful company without the right connections or a sufficient amount of cash for bribes.
Drive just a few hours out of Moscow and you will start to see the scars of corruption on the landscape. Monotowns, slowly crumbling after years of neglect, are ill maintained. Taxes and money allocated to repair these communities are swiftly pocketed by mine and factory owners, leading citizens into a cycle of dependence. Serfdom in Russia never disappeared, it simply put on a better disguise.
Russia has an apparently ‘robust’ social benefits system. It is available for all but does not help to alleviate poverty. Rather, it maintains it. As Alfred Henry Lewis stated: “There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy.”
The minimal pension of around £150 per month feeds the elderly, but no more. It keeps the increasingly aging rural population reliant on the state and loyal to the hand that feeds them. Every fifth child in Russia is now born into poverty.
When rural Russians are solely concerned with stretching their pension to the last day of the month, they cherish the government that raises their pension by 100 roubles, even when it is that very government which has condemned them to poverty.
The public image of Russia is very important. If Russia can encourage just enough westerners to visit Moscow’s trendy downtown or to watch some slick Putin speech on “RussiaInsider”, it can maintain the idea that Russia is a modern nation. Why use foreign agents when you can use well-to-do foreigners?
Russia spends billions on its foreign media campaigns, not just to promote the idea that it is a modern country, but that it is the true heir to western civilisation.
The absence of western liberalism and third-wave feminism is used to attract conservatives to their cause. This is used to promote the idea that Russia should serve as a societal model for countries around Europe, while creating unwitting apologists for atrocities committed in the name of the “empire.”
What is strange to notice, is that Russia Today (RT) adopts both radical left and radical right narratives. Russia has no interest in promoting a political agenda in Europe. Rather in seeks to sow dissent and chaos in western society.
Through Redfish, they will promote left wing figures such as George Galloway and the BLM movement. The next day, through RT, they will promote Generation Identity and the Front National. While many European nations seek to re-establish relations with Putin’s Russia, it discreetly foments unrest amongst their populace.
The consumption of RT by western audiences is demonstrative of the sad state of mainstream media. The BBC and other institutions are clearly in a sorry state, alienating viewers so much that they pursue “alternative media.” Russia will continue to spread its dissent so long as western media fails in its role as a trustworthy source of information.
Patriotism is healthy. A love of your land, your people and your culture are a fundamental part of citizenship. It is possible to be critical of liberal western governments, without turning tail and promoting Russian aggression.
I write this article from Ukraine, a bastion of western will against Putin’s aggression. Here, patriotism is encouraged. The trident flies from buildings, the Ukrainian language is defended passionately, and Ukrainian youth are taught about the horrors of their Soviet past.
In most cases, putinophilia (as I will call it) is born out of political discontent. It is the product of disenfranchised conservatives, looking for alternatives to the western norm.
Ukraine is illustrative of a new alternative. Ukraine will never sell away its culture or traditions. It will accept no compromise on its independence, nor its territory. Its children will not adopt a perverted understanding of feminism, nor a hateful interpretation of social justice. It rejects Russian imperialism and does not bend to modern liberalism.
It will, however, work with the West to defend civilisation. It will encourage the friendship of nations, its duty to defend and the preservation of a free and fair society.
Russia will, one day, become a role model, like Ukraine. It will do away with its despotic ruler and defend the interests of its citizens once again. Only then, will conservatives be truly able to look to Russia as a source of inspiration.
Conservatives cannot tolerate Putinism. As conservatives, we will await the day that we can become international equals, co-operating with a nation that respects both its citizens and neighbours.
The ideas represented in this article are not reflective of the values held by UCL Conservatives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely representative of the author.