How Putin Created a Russian Nationalist State

"Russia should belong to Russians, and all others dwelling on this land must respect and appreciate this people." – Alexander III.

Originally appeared at: The Unz Review

For the first time in more than a century, the Russians have a state that they can call their own, a state run by and for the Russian people – the hallowed “Russian National State” (RNS) that has been the holy grail of Russian nationalism in the post-Soviet era. At first glance, this seems like a questionable, if not extraordinary, assertion. As I have myself pointed out in the past, Hillary Clinton’s claim in 2016 that Putin is the “godfather of extreme nationalism” is something that is only taken seriously by the political horseshoe that is neoliberalism.txt and the American Alt Right, the sole difference between them being that the former think it bad and the latter think it good, whereas in reality both of them are merely projecting their own parochial fears and fantasies onto Russia. More importantly, this would also seem strange to significant numbers of Russian nationalists, who would immediately bring up Putin’s claim that the slogan “Russia for Russians” – a sentiment that is consistently supported by half of Russians in opinion polls – is the preserve of “fools and provocateurs.”

However, it is actions, not words, that count, though I would note that even so far as words go, Putin now saves his invective for proponents of “Russia only for Russians”; although this is a strawman so far as Russian nationalism is concerned, the quietly inserted qualifier is nonetheless acknowledged and appreciated. As regards actions, the Putin administration in the first half of its third term has adopted the core Russian nationalist program nearly wholesale and embarked on its practical implementation. So broad and all-encompassing is the shift that, just as academics came to classify what happened between Putin’s rejection of Western moral supremacism in the Munich speech of 2007 to the gay propaganda law in 2013 as a “Conservative Turn” (Nicolai Petro), so I believe future historians will classify the 2018-21 period as a “Nationalist Turn.” Thus, just as the First Age of Putinism in the 2000s was marked by unideological technocracy, and its Second Age during the 2010s was defined by conservative retrenchment, so I believe that the Third Age, the 2020s, will be defined by the political ascent of ethno-aware (as distinct from ethno-nationalist) Russian nationalism.

Russians as the State-Forming People

The linchpin of the Nationalist Turn are the constitutional reforms of March 2020, which implicitly defined ethnic Russians as the “state-forming people” of the Russian Federation. This rejected the post-Soviet bureaucracy’s ingrained tendency to deny Russianness, sometimes fearing to even utter the word “russkie” (ethnic Russians) as opposed to “rossiyane” (anodyne PC term for denizens of Russia) in any context. In their worldview, the Russian Federation was a “multi-national” entity, despite some 81% of its inhabitants being ethnic Russians and almost 85%, Slavs (as nationalist critics consistently pointed out, despite only being 75% Jewish, this has never stopped Israel from unapologetically declaring itself a Jewish State). After this update to its American-written Constitution, which was imposed on it in 1993 by tank barrels, Russia has joined a panoply of other post-Communist European states – as well as some ethnic minority republics within the Russia Federation itself – that acknowledge their titular ethnicities as peoples to whom they owe a special degree of responsibility. In addition to affirming the rights of Russian compatriots abroad, Russia’s historical belief in God, and the family as a union of woman and man, the amended Constitution also alluded to the thousand-year legacy of Russian statehood, thereby asserting cultural continuity with the Russian Empire and explicitly rejecting the joint Soviet-Western “noviop” vision of the Russian Federation as just a historyless shard of the Soviet Union.

Consequently, the Constitutional amendment became the base to what has become a comprehensive embrace of the mainstream Russian nationalist program.

In April 2017, I had defined its three key principles as follows:

  1. The cessation of political prosecutions for “hate speech” under Article 282.
  2. An end to mass immigration from Central Asia.
  3. The regathering of the Russian lands, including Belorussia, North Kazakhstan, Novorossiya, and Malorossiya.

All of them have essentially been fulfilled.

In terms of personal freedoms to voice their worldviews, Russian nationalists are in an infinitely better position that they were five years ago. Back then, prosecutions under Article 282 “hate speech” laws were veering out of control, having quadrupled from 2011 to 2017. Towards the end, the cases were reaching Kafkaesque levels of absurdity: Konstantin Krylov, convicted for saying “it’s time to do away with this strange economic system” [of federal subsidies to the Caucasus]; Dmitry Bobrov, convicted for using the term the “great Russian people” (according to the judge, a graduate from the Faculty of Scientific Communism at Kazan University (sic!), this was offensive to minorities); Roman Yushkov, for quoting statistics on who subsidized who during the Soviet era. In 2015, Egor Prosvirnin, who at that time ran Russia’s largest nationalist magazine, Sputnik & Pogrom, had his apartment searched and his computer confiscated for making anti-Ukrainian statements at a time when separatists covertly supported by Russia were fighting the Ukrainian military and Neo-Nazi battalions; the magazine itself was blocked by Roskomnadzor a couple of years later. The offices of the Institute of Russian Civilization, a publishing house that specializes in reprinting historical Russian conservative texts, including publicists whom Putin has himself quoted in his speeches, were searched on suspicions of extremism. Bloggers were getting sentences for posting Nazi era posters in historical texts so that the next “Center E” operative could full his quotas. As I joked on a podcast at that time, it seemed that it wouldn’t be long before Russians started going to jail for justifying the return of Crimea.

In December 2018, seemingly out of the blue, Putin decided to decriminalize Article 282. Now, you only get a fine for a first offense, and a criminal conviction can only occur as a result of a repeat offense within a year. In practice, cases seem to have fallen to essentially zero. At this point, you would have to try really hard – marching down the street in an SS costume, throwing “Sieg Heils” level hard – to fall afoul of it, so to the extent that Article 282 remains relevant, its function is more of an IQ test to filter out the most moronic nationalists than anything else. Otherwise, for all intents and purposes, pro-nationalist/HBD speech is now as free as in the Visegrad countries – and, needless to say, more so than in either Western Europe (which remains subject to classical “hate speech” laws) or in the United States (where a bottom-up “Society 282” of banks, journalists, and Big Tech “cancels” and “deplatforms” its critics as effectively than any police state). Meanwhile, the brunt of the repressive apparatus has shifted against the pro-Western opposition and NGOs, with many of their leading figures now in jail (Alexey Navalny) or in exile (Leonid Volkov).[1]

Since late 2018, immigration policy has tilted in a much more ethno-particularist direction, privileging Russian compatriots and All-Russians (some of the proposals I had directly proposed, hence my recurring jokes about Putin reading this blog). By April 2021, this had culminated in a comprehensive immigration reform that included the expansion of repatriation programs, ruling out deportations to Ukraine, and making it easier for skilled foreigners to acquire Russian citizenship (including no longer having to give up their old citizenship). Citizens of Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, and Kazakhstan who held Russian residency permits were no longer required to live in Russia to apply for citizenship. That these policies were limited to those four countries in particular is as good refutation as any of lingering nationalist suspicions that the reforms are a covert means to instigate “population replacement” on the West European model. In comments made this June, Putin as good as confirmed this, repeating his frequently voiced opinion that Russians and Ukrainians “are one people”, while also noting that the restoration of the USSR would be undesirable in light of “the demographic processes happening in the former USSR, which could lead to the erosion of the state-forming ethnic core.” Tortured a formulation as this is, it basically translates to an acknowledgement that there are too many Central Asians for integration to be realistic, and that this is not something that would be in Russia’s interests to attempt. Putin seems to be more forthright in private conversations, reportedly telling Svetlana Gannushkina, a human rights activist helping migrants, “I agree we need migrants, but preferably well-educated Slavs of a fertile age.” In comments made on signing the law in July 2020, Putin remarked that the law is aimed at compatriots, “carriers of the Russian language and culture.”

As regards “mass” immigration from Central Asia, this was always more trope than reality. Although over 6 million citizens of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan were put on the migration roll in 2020, this translated into fewer than 100,000 new citizens from those countries (some of whom will have been ethnic Russian repatriates anyway). For perspective, Sweden issued 80,000 new citizenships in 2020, of whom Syrians constituted almost a third. Whereas Russia issued 650,000 new citizenships, a comparable number in per capita terms, the vast majority of them went to Ukrainians (410,000), Kazakhs (43,000 – of which most would have been of ethnic Russians), and Moldovans (21,000). At the end of the day, the reality is that virtually all countries – including some of the most “based” ones in the Alt Right imagination – are desperately looking for cheap labor. So long as Central Asians remain both poor and demographically vigorous, their denizens will continue going to work as taxi drivers, waitresses, and manual labor in Russia, where they do not switch to South Korea or even Poland, as is increasingly happening[2]. But as we see above, this isn’t translating into vast numbers of Central Asians acquiring Russian citizenship[3]. And the authorities seem to intend to keep it that way. It is, ironically, the photos of thousands of Muslim worshippers on the streets of “Moskvabad” beloved of /pol/ shitposters and Ukrainian svidomy that most succinctly demonstrate the point – the very reason such scenes are possible is that there are only four mosques in all of Moscow, so they naturally get extremely crowded during Islamic holidays. There are no plans to construct additional mosques, whereas thousands of new churches are constructed or renovated in Russia every year. This is not consistent with conspiracy theories that Putin wants to replace Russians with United Russia-voting Tajiks, and as if to undergird the point, even as I write this, an activist for migrant labor rights in Russia, an Uzbek citizen who has complained about “institutional racism” in the Russian police, has just been ordered deported to Uzbekistan, with a ban on re-entry until 2051. It’s always worth keeping things in perspective; so far as “diversity” and “multiculturalism” go, “core Russia” is both much less “advanced” than Western Europe, and “progressing” at a much slower pace.

The master of the Russian lands is the Russian (Great Russian, Malorossiyan, Belorussian – they are all one), and this shall be so forever. – Fyodor Dostoevsky.

As regards the third plank of Russian nationalism, the White Guardist vision of a “Russia That is Great, United, and Undivided” has become enshrined in state policy. The capstone to the Nationalist Turn was laid by Putin in his seminal July 2021 article “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians“, in which affirmed that the Ukrainians are a colorful and distinct, but nonetheless inseparable, part of the All-Russian nation, drew a straight line between Ukraine as a de facto colony of Germany following Russia’s exit from World War I and its relation to the West today, repeated his long-standing view that the Bolsheviks laid a time bomb by including the right of secession in the 1924 USSR Constitution, and noted the coercive nature of “Ukrainization” as an ideological project aimed against “so-called” Great Russian chauvinism, thus securing at the state level “three separate Slavic Peoples” – the Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians – as opposed to the “large Russian nation, a triune people comprising Great Russians, Malorossiyans, and Belorussians.”[4]

The article ends on an affirmation that Russians and Ukrainians are one people, inextricably bound to each other, and that opinion polls suggest that this is a point on which many millions of Ukrainians agree. He furthermore notes that the Ukrainians themselves do not benefit from allowing foreigners to make an “anti-Russia” out of the Ukraine, citing the economic failures of its post-Maidan years, and never have benefited from such experiments historically. He ends the article on a warning that Ukraine’s “path of forced assimilation” towards Russians within Ukraine is “comparable in its consequences to the use of WMDs against us.”

These are no longer empty words, but the culmination of a 180 degree shift on official Russian positions on Ukraine over the past few years. Following the “Russian Spring” of 2014, which saw the return of Crimea and the Donbass Rebellion, the kremlins evidently became scared of the thymotic energies they had unleashed, and ordered their propagandists to pipe things down. While they talked of “clever plans” and “multi-move chess combinations” to “shove back” the Donbass into Ukraine, the leaders of the Donbass resistance were getting regularly assassinated, and it was never even clear whether it was the Ukrainian SBU or the Russian GRU behind them. Discussions amongst Russian nationalists centered around the seeming inevitability of “Putinsliv”, i.e. abandonment of the Donbass. The “Russian Spring” was washed out of the discourse, and replace by the fake and absurd “Crimean Spring.” But just when the prospects for Russian irredentism seemed bleakest, there was a reversal. LDNR documents were recognized in 2017, and in 2018, Russian began a mass passportization program to give out citizenships to residents of the long-suffering Donbass. The region is now de facto integrated into Russia, with Russian as the official language, the ruble as the official currency, and Sputnik V as the official vaccine (while Ukraine has flatly rejected it). Russian cell phone operators are working in the LDNR, easing residents’ access to Russian e-government services, and the state has recently committed to raising state worker salaries and pensions to that of neighboring Rostov oblast by 2024.

This integration has made a reversal of Russian policy on Donbass increasingly unrealistic from a political perspective. As such, when it looked like the Ukraine was preparing a military offensive against the Donbass this spring, Russia moved tens of thousands of troops to its borders to “dissuade” the Zelensky regime from attempting an Operation Storm to reconquer the Donbass.

On their part, the LDNR have one upped up even developments within the Russian Federation, explicitly declaring themselves “Russian nation-states” in a foundational document called the Doctrine of the Russian Donbass:

Russia is the only historical state of the Russian nation. Its mission was and is to politically unite this nation. Any separation of certain parts of the Russian nation from Russia, any political formations that include Russians and are not Russia are exclusively temporary.

It was presented at a plenary meeting of Donbass activists and Russian nationalists in Donetsk. The Russian nationalist philosopher Egor Kholmogorov, best known for developing the concept of “Atomic Orthodoxy” and coining the term “The Russian Spring”, had a direct hand in drafting it. But what is perhaps even more notable about that meeting is that it was attended by RT’s chief editor Margarita Simonyan, where she demanded that “Russia take back Donbass”. It seems unlikely that she would randomly turn up to such an event without sanction from above, and it is also curious that immediately afterwards Kholmogorov got a top slot at RT Russian on YouTube. Meanwhile, a subset of Russian nationalists – many of whom had spent years seething about Simonyan’s Armenian heritage – were protesting in Moscow against the imprisonment of Alexey Navalny, who has never hidden his contempt for Russian nationalists who oppose the Maidanists. As such, she ended up acting more like a Russian nationalist than some Russian nationalists.

Several years ago, pro-Russian dissidents from Ukraine were getting deported back into the loving clutches of Maidanist “justice” with depressing regularity. This has since been halted by a directive from Putin. Meanwhile, United Russia – the party of power – is now openly cooperating with the Union of Donbass Veterans, with its chief secretary even going so far as to proclaim that their core objective – securing the Russian World, the Russian language, and the Russian genetic code – coincide. Alexander Borodai, a former PM of the DNR, has won election to the Russian Duma from the United Russia list, upon which he immediately called for the destruction of Ukraine. Again, the three main demands of Russian nationalism – all of them openly, unapologetically embraced, in word and deed, and not just by Putin himself, but by Russian officialdom at large.

Tired of winning yet? We haven’t even gotten started.

The Rise of the Russian National State

Already in 1990 I wrote that Russia could desire the union of only the three Slavic republics [Russia, Ukraine, Belarus] and Kazakhstan, while all the other republics should be let go. It would be desirable if [a resulting Russian Union] could be formed into a unitary state, not into a fragile, artificial confederation with a huge supra-national bureaucracy. – Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Russia today is a country where “White Revivalism” is all around us. There are monuments being built to Tsarist era statesmen, to the heroes of World War I, and to the White Resistance. In a competition over the naming of Murmansk Airport, victory went to Nicholas II, the founder of the city, over Ivan Papanin, a Soviet polar explorer who committed atrocities while serving the Bolsheviks during the Civil War. In December 2018, Putin unveiled a monument to Alexander Solzhenitsyn in Moscow. It is within close walking distance of the Museum of the Russian Diaspora, which catalogs the crimes of the Bolsheviks against Russians, their sentiments towards Russians in their own words, their expulsions of its leading intellectuals in the philosophers’ ships, and the achievements of Russian émigrés like Igor Sikorsky abroad.

Russia today is a country where Russian nationalists can go to Russian nationalist bookshops to drink coffee, debate various topics, and listen to lectures ranging from the literacy campaigns of late Tsarist Russia to modern dysgenics (courtesy of yours truly) without fear of Antifa breaking the place up. In Russia today, the police fabricate cases against Antifa, not in service of them, as in the West. Corporate associations with nationalism are not unhandshakeworthy, as they are in the US, so Russian nationalists can come dressed in LevelSuit‘s [yes, this is a blatant plug] modern adaptations of traditional Russian costumes. Every year, Moscow sponsors a historical festival called Times and Epochs, in which recreationists come in to show off their wares and costumes. Many cities host similar events. Russia today is a larpers’ paradise in the best sense of the word.

Russia today is a country where the schools teach children that Lenin was a German agent, before having them march off with toy guns and sing, “We are Russians – God is with us!”[5] School textbooks describe the annexation of Crimea as an expression of “moral responsibility” in statecraft. Whereas in 2008, Russian high school textbooks on Social Science were discussing gay marriage and pondering the transitory nature of “national values”, in 2020 they flatly declared that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that the “Russian soul” is anchored in the conversion to Christianity a millennium ago. Liberals and Communists can only seethe in the comments threads.

Russia today is a country where cyber-brigades of angry, aggressive, and high T young men from the so-called “Male State” troll and harass companies that feel obligated to engage in Woke virtue signaling gestures like propping LGBT “families” and subliminal messaging encouraging Russian women to miscegenate with Black men (a decidedly strange fetish to push in a country that is <0.05% Black) into disavowing and apologizing for their misteps. It isn’t always successful, but the police tend to be uninterested in prosecuting them. With rightoid cyber-vigilantes and SJWs preoccupied with each other, and the government intermittently helping out by prosecuting the most unstable characters from the former while declaring the latter’s organizations “foreign agents“, normal people are free to go about their lives in peace while Woke tyranny is kept at bay.

Russia today is a country where churches, manor houses, and other sites of historical significance are being restored and renovated throughout the land after the Bolsheviks dynamited them in the 1930s. It is happening in Tver. It is happening in Bryansk. It is happening in my home town of Volokolamsk. It is happening in the outskirt of Moscow where I live. It is happening everywhere where you care to look. Meanwhile, in Western Europe, ancient churches are being turned into pubs and mosques.

Russia today is a country where nationalist-in-all-but-name governors have been able to govern and implement de facto nationalist programs, such as Igor Rudeny in Tver oblast, who drove out illegal Tajik laborers from his province and instituted a Ministry of Demographic and Family Policy in 2019. It is an interesting Ministry, and has very interesting competitions, including one for the best “Family Farmstead”, conducted over VK and somewhat redolent, at least in its aesthetic aspects, of the “Fitter Family” contests in the America of yore. The Transfiguration Cathedral of Tver, a late 17C construction (though older churches had stood here back to 1285) dynamited by the Soviets in 1935, was finished this year against a background of liberal-Communist protests. Meanwhile, new fast rail connections have cut travel times from Moscow and ushered in gentrification. (Voters have recently rewarded him with 53% of the vote for this, which is 17% percentage points above United Russia’s performance in the region). Now the catch is, Rudeny himself – a devout Orthodox believer with five children – would probably never call himself a nationalist, and would stridently deny being one if asked. But given his demonstrated policies, does it actually matter?

Russia today is a country that has erected a veritable Fortress-Monastery of the Imperium of Man, a Neo-Byzantine monolith constructed from melted down German weaponry and dimensioned to arcane numerology (e.g. a 19.45 meter diameter main dome), surrounded by brass urns containing the remains of soldiers from the “brothers’ graves” of World War II and a monument to the Mother of the Victor within whose primordial and vaguely but not vulgarly vaginal aperture burns an eternal flame, the air around it suffused with eternal choral chants from loudspeakers, the mosaics within uniting Russia’s champions across the ages from the Varangians to the heroes of Donbass with the Saints and Christ.

The central apse features a metallic relief dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ, the God-Emperor of the Russians, irradiating into the infinite blue, star-studded heavens. I am told that the 3D effect was created by the application of techniques used in Buddhist stupas. Run directly by the Ministry of Defense, and at least as much of a war shrine as it is specifically Christian, it can in some ways be considered the apotheosis of the Victory Cult that has become Russia’s real ideology and religion under Putinism. First conceived a decade ago, millions of Russians now mark Victory Day by marching through the streets with photos of their ancestors who fought in Russia’s wars, constituting “Immortal Regiments” binding past generations to present and future ones.

Has the Victory Cult gone into overdrive? Perhaps. I used to think so. Then again, just a couple of years after I wrote that, Americans decided to make a religion out of a criminal who OD’ed on fentanyl. At that point, I decided to never counter-signal the Victory Cult again.

Russia today is a country where I can wake to loudspeakers playing Soviet-themed music calling me on to vote in the elections, in which even I in my humble suburban Moscow district can choose between a commie QT endorsed by Navalny, an IRL soyak who promises to dismantle the Putler dictatorship, a mulatto Green who supports Donbass and claims he is not a fascist and insists he is a racist instead, and a United Russia candidate who speaks darkly of a people who “sprang up in the Pale of Settlement with Nagants in 1917 and destroyed our churches… and who are now working in respectable places like radio stations and legislative assemblies and continuing that work.” Where else can you get such a wide variety of diverse and powerful electoral choices? Sure, there is extensive fraud in these elections, but I couldn’t care less. Having voted from my cell phone app – Russian governance and bureaucratic procedures are thoroughly digitized these days – I can then go down to the gym and a bowl of pho at my local food mall, owned by an Armenian businessman (who else?) and opened a few months ago in a ceremony that included a performance from the Moscow Cossack Choir.

Russian nationalists in Moscow in January 2020, including the late Konstantin Krylov, deliberating on proposals for the Constitutional amendment. The results were handed over to Bogdan Bezpalko, the chairman of the NGO “Russian Ukrainians” and a member of the Presidential working group on Constitutional reform. Two months later, contra pessimistic expectations, most of their proposals – including the key ones – found their way into it.

Russia today is a country where the adoption of the nationalist platform by the powers that be has been so thorough and comprehensive, that the nationalist movement as such has self-annihilated. There is nothing bad about this. Ultimately, the aim of any nationalist movement is for the “national idea” to become so “normalized” wit

hin society, across all ideological lines – centrist, conservative, liberal, Communist – that its original champions either reintegrate into mainstream society, becoming normies, “vatniks”, and spiritual boomers who just want to grill, or become confined to marginal subcultures of political freaks and larping svidomists.

In my assessment, this is exactly what happened in Russia over the past few years. In the streets, the “Russian March”, a yearly event that once drew 10,000-20,000 oppositionist nationalists, splintered apart after the Ukrainian crisis and has now dwindled to zero. Its last remaining participants are a motley crew of pro-Ukrainian “national democrats” and White Nationalists, universally despised as turncoats by mainstream Russian nationalists, as Nazis by Communists, and as moskals by Ukrainians who don’t return their naive affections; only the non-systemic opposition recognize them as potentially useful cannon fodder. Otherwise, skinheads are dead as a class in Russia – as one of the many toxic remnants of the 1990s, they are now either reformed, or literally dead, fighting in the Azov Battalion, or providing muscle for the next State Department-sponsored color revolution in the post-Soviet space. In electoral politics, the LDPR’s share of the vote has cratered, now that United Russia has adopted most of their platform while the KPRF has swung hardcore populist on coronavirus vaccines. As regards individual personalities, many formerly opposition-leaning Russian nationalists, such as Egor Prosvirnin and the Russian Democrats, now range from neutral to regime loyalists. Meanwhile, those who remain in the opposition, such as Roman Yuneman and Obschestvo.Buduschee, are arguably making themselves look rather foolish by going out into the streets on behalf of Communists endorsed by Navalny’s point man, alleged sexual harasser, and Lithuanian resident Leonid Volkov (who had, during a prior election, insinuated that they were Sieg Heiling fascists and effectively handed over victory in their district to the United Russia candidate by sidelining them and endorsing an uncompetitive Communist candidate instead). Then there are, of course, the wingnuts – the Galkovsky drones who believe that the Russian Federation is a “crypto-colony” ruled by the British aristocracy, or that Putin is an Ingrian separatist, a Jew who serves ZOG, and/or a crypto-globalist who answers to the WEF, Klaus Schwab, and their Great Reset agenda. Powerful as these disparate takes doubtless are, their promoters are marginals now and always have been, only “widely known in narrow circles” as the Russian expression goes.

There’s also the National Bolsheviks, who are cool. Like Limonov (RIP). The successors of the smenovekhovtsy. But these days, their schtick is more art performance than real opposition politics.

At this point, my rejoinder to nationalists who claim that the “Resource Federation” is a scam ran for the benefit of its “multi-national” elites is: Do you ever actually get out?

The Third Age of Putinism and its Discontents

As Bismarck noted, politics is about the art of the possible – not ideal, abstract fantasies. So far as possible alternatives to Putin are concerned, Zyuganov missed his train in 1996. Zhirinovsky’s potential was always capped, and his platform was poached by United Russia. While there are some promising nationalist politicians on the horizon, such as Roman Yuneman, he has no name recognition outside Moscow. As such, the only even minimally credible challenger to Putin or his nominated successor is Alexey Navalny. I will note from the outset that this is extremely unlikely to happen, at least so long as Putin retains his current approval ratings of ~65% while Navalny’s remain in the doldrums, as in the polls so too in the streets.

In one of the most curious “horseshoes” of international politics, there was a curious convergence of views amongst Kremlin propagandists and Western leftists that Navalny is a hardcore ethno-nationalist (a theme that RT in particular has pressed on its Anglophone audience). The main evidence in support of this come down to Navalny’s expulsion from Yabloko for his nationalist views and racist comparison of Gastarbeiters to cockroaches in a video from 2007 (!), as well as his past participation in the Russian Marches, where one of his “contributions” involved getting the organizers to drop the slogan “Russia for Russians” (i.e., less nationalist than the ~50% of Russians who agree with that). For their part, Navalny’s Western supporters seek to downplay or deny a history for which any American public figure would get “canceled.”

Curiously, the one side that never gets asked for its opinions – if not unsurprisingly, given their total absence from “handshakeworthy” discourse in the Anglosphere – are actual Russian nationalists. And their opinions are quite unambiguous:

In a 2017 poll amongst members of a discussion group for readers of the erstwhile Sputnik & Pogrom, a sample that leans very much anti-Putin, found that precisely zero out of 86 of them considered Navalny a Russian nationalist. Opinion was split between him being being a “potential or former” Russian nationalist (49%), a “multi-national liberal Westernist” (43%), or a “Ukrainian nationalist” (8%).

Ever since 2014, Navalny has progressively distanced himself from Russian nationalism in line with the growth of his international status. The sharpest divergence, of course, concerned Navalny’s opposition to the annexation of the Crimea and Russian support for the Donbass. Having spent years complaining about how Russia was “feeding the Caucasus”, in a post on March 12, 2014 he raised the specter of the Crimean Referendum being subsequently used as a template in Chechnya – hardly a major concern for Russian ethno-nationalists who would be quietly happy to see such an outcome. Meanwhile, just six days later, Putin issued his seminal Crimean Speech, in which he called Crimea a Russian land, Sevastopol – a Russian city, and the Russian people – the “largest divided people in the world.” Although Russian nationalists would subsequently have cause for disappointment in the coming years with Putin’s rollup of the Novorossiya project, it was Navalny who would discredit himself amongst them entirely through his subsequent calls for sanctions against Russia in the international press, promises to carry out a second referendum in Crimea, and his commitment to halting Russian military support for the LDNR and handing over border control to the Ukrainians.

Even taking the Ukrainian Question aside, Navalny’s commitment to any part of the nationalist program was always questionable. Navalny’s complaint was instrumental in the arrest of Tesak in 2007 and his first prison sentence on Article 282, which raises questions over his freedom of speech bona fides. He criticized Putin as a “right-wing reactionary” who is “trying to create a new monarchy”, and came out against the renaming of Murmansk Airport after Nicholas II, the Tsar who founded that city in 1916. As discussed above, his “Smart Vote” opted to support an uncompetitive Communist over Roman Yuneman in the 2019 Moscow Duma elections, with the result that the mandate went to the United Russia candidate. Even so far as cultural coordinates are concerned, where Putin most often quotes classical Russian writers and conservative Russian philosophers, Navalny topped off his appeals process this February by referencing Rick and Morty, and comparing Putin to… Lord Voldemort.

What’s more, even though Navalny retains some lingering links to his nationalist past, his followers tend to be far more radical. When he wished his flock a “Happy Easter” on Twitter, he was inundated by triggered Internet atheist autists. When he expressed condolences on the death of nationalist intellectual Konstantin Krylov, he was subjected to a torrent of abuse from his SJW followers screeching “good riddance”. Although Navalny himself came out against Twitter banning Trump, on account that such a “precedent” would be “exploited by the enemies of freedom of speech around the world”, many of his close allies in the opposition, such as Lyubov Sobol, Maxim Kats, and Vladimir Milov, rushed to “explain” or disavow him before shocked #Resistance Americans who couldn’t possibly understand why any decent anti-Putinist could possibly stick up for the Bad Orange Man, no matter how hedged with caveats.

Although Navalny continues to support cognitively elitist immigration policies along the lines of Canada’s points system – ideas that have in any case been substantially adopted in official policy – many of his supporters are militant “anti-racists” and “Open Borders” blank slatists. One of his most visible allies in Moscow is Alyona Popova, a telegenic but intellectually unremarkable blonde who failed to win a seat in the recent Duma elections. She made her name Tweeting out international comparative statistics that boiled down to Russia being poorer than Germany and the United States, observations that were as banal as they were eagerly lapped up by her pro-Western followers. As a supporter of “increasing human capital” through immigration – the foundation she heads is literally called “Human Capital” – I once asked her what her position is on Central Asian immigration, bearing in mind the region’s unimpressive average IQ scores. She responded that Central Asia is afflicted with hunger, that its IQ scores will even out given “normal conditions”, and that she is opposed to “eugenics and similar theories.” Good job on knocking down that strawman! Meanwhile, a Russian semiconductor company has just poached dozens of Taiwanese engineers to modernize their processes, even as Navalny’s lieutenants fantasize about using undiscovered Central Asian geniuses to build their “Beautiful Russia of the Feature”.

At the end of the day, making a few throwaway racist comments more than a decade doesn’t qualify you as a nationalist. The best way to understand Navalny is that he’s someone who just really, really wants to become Russia’s President, and is open to alliances of convenience with various factions from Communists to nationalists to that end, while hanging on to his core supporters, pro-Western liberals, and above all, the “international community”. Neither are exactly interested in promoting Russian national interests, at least to the extent that they contradict the American-dominated world order. Likewise, for precisely this reason, the partisans of this order are quite correct to support Navalny and to stress, like Masha Gessen has done, Navalny’s “evolution” beyond nationalism. This is not only factually correct, but also politically logical. If Navalny does overthrow the regime, he can always be subsequently sidelined or “canceled” should his lingering aversion to Wokeness become a pressing problem.[6]

Front-Running the Zoomers

Egor Kholmogorov, a consistent if long-suffering loyalist, has said that Putin once told him in a private conversation, “You know, Egor, I am a Russian nationalist too.” Take it for what it’s worth. Putin is a spy, and his job involves telling people things they like to hear. He has also claimed, if clearly in jest, to be the world’s only true democrat, and has compared Communism to Christianity. Christianity advises us to trust not in the kings of this world.

Even so, looking back, I get the impression that Putin’s repetition of the Russian nationalist narrative – that Lenin laid a time bomb in the foundations of Soviet statehood; that Russians are the world’s largest divided nation; that Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians are one people (according to reports that now seem entirely credible, he told George W. Bush that the Ukraine was not a real country, and that much of its territory was “given away” by Russia back in 2008) – has been too sustained and too enthusiastic over the years to be explainable through disciplined pretense. This is a man who has “donated” a part of his official salary to a monument to Stolypin, who has taken a personal interest in the return of Denikin’s remains to Russia, who presides over the unveiling of monuments to Stalinist repressions[7]. The Canadian academic Paul Robinson, poring through the archives of Putin’s speeches, discovered that the political philosopher whom he cites most is the White émigré Ivan Ilyin. In a series of articles written in the late 1940s to early 1950s posthumously collated in a book called Our Tasks (1956), he correctly predicted that the collapse of Communism would be accompanied by moral dissolution and an orgy of looting by the nomenklatura elites. In Ilyin’s view, the optimal vehicle to navigate this rocky transition would be a strong, unitary state dedicated to restoring a sense of “legal consciousness” within, while engaging in the cold-nosed pursuit of Russian national interests without. So impressed was Putin with Ilyin’s works that he reportedly assigned them as required reading for state officials, as well as other materials by national-conservative thinkers like Nikolay Berdyaev and Vladimir Solovyov. Even before the Nationalist Turn, the policies pursued under the Putin administration – reigning in the oligarchs, “managed democracy”, the rollback of federalism, expansion of jury trials – were all consistent with that vision.

However, even leaving questions of internal conviction aside, a “Nationalist Turn” made increasingly self-evident political sense in the late 2010s. As I have often pointed out, opinion polls since at least the 2018 elections have registered an increasing tilt towards not just greater liberalism, but also greater nationalism amongst Russian youth. However, the dominant political trends around the mid to late 2010s, characterized by increasingly stultifying conservatism coupled with the persecution of nationalism, did not seem to have bright prospects. Hence, my intermittent predictions during that period that the return of competitive politics to Russia would sooner result in a “a right-wing populist in the mold of Orban or Netanyahu” than a handshakeworthy #ReadAnotherBook candidate. Conversely, any halfway conceivable Russian color revolution would, as in the Ukraine in 2014 or Serbia in 2000, involve an “overarching alliance between liberals and nationalists.”

Putin’s genius, or at any rate that of his advisors, was to front run this by adopting the nationalist program. Essentially, the Putin people decided that they were not going to let a future Orban win. They were going to Orbanize themselves.

Could there be a “zrada”, or betrayal, in store for nationalists? There’s no sure things in politics. Nonetheless, this policy has to date been a resounding success. Many nationalists have drifted back to the regime from both Navalny and the LDPR, while a significant proportion of the rest have been forced to acknowledged that they ultimately prioritize their pet causes – liberal democracy, Ukrainian nationalism, globalist White Nationalism, petty hipster racism – over the interests of the Russian nation (and have marginalized themselves in so doing). The Navalnyists have been forced into an uneasy alliance of convenience with the Communists. The Communists, from their Orthodox Stalinophilia and pro-Donbass sentiments to their populist stance on coronavirus vaccines, do not make for comfy partners. Meanwhile, the liberal movement has itself become fragmented between Navalnyist anti-regime maximalists, Yabloko “purists” who wish to remain unsullied by associating with anti-liberal forces be they Right or Left, and the “New People” who want to focus on moderate, non-confrontational economic liberalism. Consequently, even though the recent elections were as marred with fraud as any during Putin’s rule, and his own approval ratings at ~65% are similar to what they were a decade ago, there are scant prospects for a repeat of the Bolotnaya protests in 2011.

Radical Centrism: Rejecting the SJW-Rightoid Horseshoe

Could there, conversely, be “too much” nationalism? Again, if there is one defining thing about Putin’s statecraft, it is that it is a cautious, incremental, two-steps-forwrds one-step-back affair. For instance, much has already been written about the “Conservative Turn” that preceded the Nationalist Turn. But what did it really involve so far as domestic policy went? A law on “gay propaganda” whose equivalent in the United Kingdom was only abolished in 2003. The construction of many churches, whose main aesthetic impact has been to beautify post-industrial shitholes, but no cardinal increase in church attendance. Restrictions on gambling, alcohol sales, and hardcore sex on TV that merely brought Russia into line with “civilized world” standards relative to the Russia of mundane public drinking and ubiquitous “one legged bandits” (slot machines) of the 1990s. Abortion has been brought down from extremely high levels to more “normal” levels. At the same time, the Putinist brand of conservatism is intelligent enough not to engage in culture wars that would alienate the younger generations on issues such as abortion bans, as conservatives in Poland and Texas have recently seen it fit to do (even in the case of Down’s Syndrome babies). Attitudes towards homosexuality aside, Russia today is not a particularly “conservative” society. Young Russians are about as religious as young Poles (i.e. rather secular), and every Thursday, Russian thots grace the world with their goods under the #нюдсочетверг hashtag on Twitter.

Fundamentally, it is the basic observation that the Putin regime has embraced mainstream nationalism, such as respect for its traditional heritage and commitments to Russian compatriots abroad, while rejecting rightoid obsessions masquerading as nationalism, that makes me so whitepilled about its sustainability and future prospects.

Contra both Western propaganda and Alt Right fantasies, the fact that Russia hasn’t embraced the religion of endless lockdowns and double masking doesn’t mean it is some kind of obscurantist anti-vaxxer shithole. Sputnik V is one of the world’s most effective coronavirus vaccines and has been universally available since mid-2021; although vaccine skepticism in Russia is unfortunately high, it is worth stressing that it is Putin supporters who are most likely to get vaccinated, while Communists are the most “vaccine-hesitant” (extra tragic given the high median age of their voters). The Russian Orthodox Church, while rejecting vaccine mandates, has condemned the spreading of false information and conspiracy theories about vaccines as a sin. Marginal Internet weirdos who rant about microchips and the Mark of the Beast while larping as Russophiles/Orthodox do not speak for Russians, the ROC, or Russian nationalists.

Since their peak in the late 2000s, violent hate crimes have plummeted to practically zero. While it is unclear what concrete benefit the boorish thugs inspired by Tesak and the like ever brought the Russian people, they probably were responsible for the runaway prosecutions of Russian nationalists and pro-Russian activists during the early to mid-2010s. The extinction of this 14/88 skinhead culture, which is itself ultimately a Western import, is an unalloyed good. As Putin has recently clarified, his main problem is with “Russia only for Russians”, which is not something that any mainstream Russian nationalist would disagree with. Their complaints were that Russians, as well as other minorities like Bashkirs, were having to learn Tatar just because they lived within the Soviet-drawn borders of Tatarstan. When these regulations were abolished a couple of years ago, freeing non-Tatar schoolchildren from having to waste hundreds of hours learning a language with zero global significance, that did not impinge on the rights of Tatars to develop their national culture[8].

The “Male State”, an Internet subculture of Telegram vigilantes inspired by imported MRA and MGTOW ideas, is largely left alone by the authorities as a useful cudgel against Woke Capital, while individual harassers who take the memes about “thot patrols” unironically are prosecuted, with its founder now reportedly living in exile in Poland (where, ironically, he would be surrounded by “multicultural” ads for The Witcher Netflix series). Although Russians reject toxic Western “gender ideology”, this does not mean that basement-dwelling misogynists get to have any influence in the country that that was the world’s first to implement equity feminism and which has the world’s highest percentage of female business leaders.

Alexander Dugin, the “gray cardinal of the Kremlin” in Western propaganda, was fired from the Sociology Department of Moscow State University in 2014 following his deranged calls to exterminate Ukrainians, rhetoric that is fundamentally antithetical to Russian nationalism and its love for Ukrainians as an inseparable part of the All-Russian ethnos (not that Dugin ever identified as a Russian nationalist). He remains free to rant about how “transhumanism is transgenderism” and his plans to construct “the most awful ghettoes for surfers” (surfing being the “ultimate expression of anti-Eurasianism”) on his blogs and video channels and Alex Jones appearances, where he probably has a bigger audience than amongst actual Russians. Happily, Warhammer 40K larpers – seriously, his brand of Eurasianism adopted the Eight-Pointed Star of Chaos as its emblem – do not get to define state policy.

So what we see here is that even as it has adopted most of its core demands, the Russian authorities have sidelined all these fringe, cringe people who have attached themselves like leeches to Russian nationalism (or been attached to it by foreigners and liberal journalists). This is a very good thing. “Powerful” as their takes might intermittently be, associating with them is a sure path to failure.

The Future of the Russian National State

Nationalism, in my opinion, is so natural, that it will never, under any political order, be wished away by the “internationalists”… – Dmitry Mendeleev.

Russia had a catastrophic 20th century. The 500 million people that Mendeleev was projecting for the Russian Empire by 2000 fell two thirds short: Half of the gap accounted for by the cumulative democides of Lenin, Stalin and Hitler; the other half a result of the fragmentation of the Russian World thanks to the Constitutional time bomb laid by the Bolsheviks in the foundations of Soviet statehood. The demographic catastrophe was accentuated by an economic one. The Soviet Union by the 1970s was a vast expanse of unproductive rustbelts, unable to compete with the capitalist world and kept afloat by an oil windfall that would peter out by the late 1980s. The distortions of central planning postponed Russia’s ultimate convergence with the developed world – a near inevitability in the long run, considering its First World tier human capital – for more than half a century.

Although Mendeleev’s projections were tragically severed by the discontinuity of 1917, the one silver lining is that, a century on, the Russian political leadership seems to have at least taken his imprecations against internationalism to heart. As Putin wrote in his recent Ukraine article, the Bolsheviks exploited “the Russian people as inexhaustible material for their social experiments”. Today, their successors within Russia – sometimes direct biological ones – desire to revive the project. They want Russians to reduce their living standards in the name of containing climate change, even though Russia stands to benefit from global warming more than any country as the cities built up by the Soviets in the Far North become economically viable for the first time in history. They want to replace the Great Russian chauvinism of yore with “white privilege” as the new bogeyman, to lay the groundwork for Russia to accept millions of “doctors and engineers” from a Sub-Saharan Africa whose population is expected to quadruple this century. They want Russians to “atone” for Soviet crimes by serving as cannon fodder in the West’s ongoing provocations against China, which have now escalated to “Black Legend” levels with allegations of “Uyghur Genocide.”

But to the mutual chagrin of pro-Western liberals and rightoid ideologues, Putin has decided that Russia will not again be a tool for foreign interests and globalist ideologies. Russia will pursue its own internal development, safe and secure under its nuclear shield (“Atomic Orthodoxy”), repairing the extreme damage to its demographic and economic potential inflicted upon it during the past century. Despite the stabilization of the demographic freefall of the 1990s-2000s, Russia will not not have the population and economic heft to set the global agenda this century in a way that the United States, China, and potentially India will be able to. However, even discounting the possibility of a restoration of the “Russian World” (integration with Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan) that may yet push up Russia’s population by another 30%, Russia’s current population of 150 million people enjoying upper-middle incomes constitute sufficient economies of scale to maintain political sovereignty and to run a largely self-contained technological civilization, complete with its own IT ecosystem (read: sovereign memetic space), space program, and what is – to the plaudits of biohackers and the despair of Western neo-Lysenkoists – a remarkably open stance on human genetic editing for an ostensibly “conservative” country.

So far as I am concerned, Putin has in the past three years built the perfect state, superior to both the Western and Chinese models. It is a Russian national state, one that is at least the equal of any other in Eastern Europe, and more sustainable by dint of its geopolitical sovereignty, its double-headed eagle at once looking to the Tsarist past and its Cosmist future.

Acknowledgements: Although I mostly came to these conclusions of my own accord over the past few years, I want to specifically acknowledge Vile Varangian (probably the earliest champion of “Putinist nationalism”), Kholmogorov translator Fluctuarius Argenteus (used to be @CalmEuropean on Twitter), the blogger acer120, @shanggyangg, and several other Russian nationalists on Twitter, blogs, and IRL who had begun to think along broadly similar lines on this issue.

[1] I allow that this is on account of Putin, whose sympathies have long leaned Tsarist, observing too many uncanny parallels, from the Bolshevik-dominated “soviets” of 1917 and the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s network of regional HQs down to Navalny coming back to Russia from Germany in a sealed airplane. Be that as it may, a political choice has been made to lean on Russian nationalism in the struggle against the pro-Western liberal opposition. Most Russian nationalists have no problem with this – after all, it was that same crowd who were instrumental in drafting anti-nationalist legislation like Article 282 in the first place, so it’s not like they owe them any favors.

Moreover, I would add that as an enthusiastic supporter of Assange’s imprisonment, it’s not like Leonid Volkov has any genuine concern for human rights beyond their weaponization in service of American interests. Sadly, this applies to many Russian liberals, whose distinguishing feature is not so much their supposed “liberalism” as their conflation of liberalism with kneejerk adulation of the West and hatred for their own country.

[2] Poland’s only real distinguishing feature from Russia in this respect is that it is located next to impoverished Ukraine, as opposed to Muslim Central Asia. Furthermore, I would note that hardline attempts to shut down these labor flows may even end up backfiring, as in the case of Germany, whose Turkish minority only became entrenched after the Gastarbeiter program was curtailed in 1973 and the threat of not being allowed back in incentivized foreign workers to stay put.

[3] Although it is likely that a “Little Dushanbe” will develop in Moscow over the next generation, it is not as if even a one million strong Tajik diaspora – a people that would be considered Whites under American racial classifications – would drastically change the ethno-racial demographics in a country of 150 million people that remains 85-90% Slavic in its capital and basically as homogenous as Poland within the Russian heartlands.

[4] Putin even recounts the story of Carpathian Ruthenia, which was shoved into the UkSSR in 1945 against its own wishes to either join the RSFSR, or as its own independent republic.

[5] OK, this is certainly not typical of schools. But it does illustrate the expanding Overton Window on this topic.

[6] There are already examples of this, e.g. libertarian former economic advisor to Putin turned anti-Putin oppositionist in exile Andrey Illarionov, who was fired after 15 years of loyal service at the CATO Institute for endorsing the conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

[7] One thing that can never be stressed sufficiently is that Putin is not a Stalinist. The very idea that a regime which repatriates the remains of White generals and puts up plaques to Mannerheim can be Stalinist is absurd. As I have argued, the resurgence of Stalinophilia is an entirely grassroots phenomenon, one that largely arose as a nativist reaction against liberal dominance over Russia’s historical discourse during the 2000s. Neither faction are interested in history as such. In what is yet another funny horseshoe of politics, the Russian liberals of that period pushed Viktor Suvorov’s conspiracy theories that the Nazi invasion was a preemptive strike against the USSR and fantasized about how Russians would be drinking Bavarian beer in the event of its success (positions now largely adopted by Western Alt Righters). For their part, their Stalinist opponents invented an alternative “imagined past” in which Stalin championed social justice and recreated a Russian Empire (in which the victorious Russians, whom he toasted in 1945, were starved as late as 1947-48 to free up grain exports to support Communist regimes in the countries that they had ostensibly “defeated”). But given that modern Russian Stalinism has zilch to do with “really existing” Communism and boils down to non-oppositionist fantasies about a Russian Führer, it is understandable why the Russian government hasn’t deemed it worthwhile to expend political capital on suppressing it.

[8] Ethnic minorities within Russia do not disagree with this assessment, with opinion polls suggesting that the vast majority of them do not feel discriminated against. These are all problems that only exist in the fevered imaginations of liberal journalists.

[9] Me in 2019: “However, Putin still needs to formally disavow his prior comments that people who believe that “Russia is for Russians” (i.e. ~50% of the Russian population) are idiots or provocateurs before I will be ready to acknowledge him as PUTLER.”

Putin in 2021: “Caveman nationalism, whose slogan “Russia only for Russians”, harms Russians, harms Russia, and enables its destabilization from within. And we must not allow this. Of course, we must ensure that the culture of each nation, its history, the origins of each nation are honored, developed and respected in our country.“

  • Shqip
  • العربية
  • English
  • Français
  • Deutsch
  • Bahasa Indonesia
  • Italiano
  • Português
  • Русский
  • Español