‘Russian Imperial Nationalism’ Kremlin Using In Ukraine Is Threat To Regime’s Survival Regardless Of How War Ends – OpEd
By Paul Goble
“The imperial-civilizational nationalism of ‘the Russian world,’” something the Kremlin is now using to legitimate its campaign in Ukraine, “is a significant threat for the Kremlin regardless of the outcome of the war now going on in Ukraine,” Aleksandr Tevdoy-Burmuli says.
If Russia wins, the Kremlin might find itself the prisoner of the monster it has promoted; but if Russia doesn’t win or doesn’t meet all the goals the Kremlin has set, the men returning from the front are likely to become a threat to the system just as was the case in the countries of inter-war Europe.
Some of them may be integrated into the state and make that political system ever more fascist that way, the MGIMO scholar says; while some may remain outsiders who will seek to replace the current state with a new one (moscowtimes.ru/2023/04/08/russkii-natsionalizm-segodnya-vnutrennyaya-dinamika-fenomena-i-ee-vnutripoliticheskie-posledstviya-a39485).
Russian nation building remains incomplete, Tevdoy-Burmuli says, still trapped by the daily experience of the Russian ethnic group in the imperial and soviet periods, where Russian identity did not mean the acquisition of political subjecthood but rather only loyalty to the all-powerful state.
“Russian identity as an identity of the imperial ethno-cultural core was displayed discursively in super-national imperial or international soviet narratives,” something that reflected the fact that that the RSFSR not only was not ethnically homogeneous but that it did not have its own institutions of the kind that the other union republics did.
Nonetheless, “the collapse of the USSR plunged the RSFSR into a post-imperial reality; and since the 1990s, three stable versions of Russian nation building can be distinguished: a political nation (based on the super-ethnic rossiyane), an ethnic nation (“Russia for the Russians”) and an imperial “civilizational” one (Putin’s Russian world idea).
The first has largely failed because of its associations with Yeltsin and the 1990s, the second has been largely suppressed by the police powers of the state, and so the third has become the dominant one, although it contains within it ideas and people who may slide off into one of the others under certain conditions.
What this means, Tevdoy-Burmuli continues, is that “Russian nation building is beginning to depart ever further from the principles of modern citizenship toward the side of the principles of civilizational loyalty.” But this idea is far from unified either ideologically or in terms of the people who are part of it.
Instead, it includes imperial nostalgia, militarism, left populism, traces of paganism, and even techno-futurism; and while these may work together now, they are at risk of pulling part in the even of either a victory or a defeat of Russia in Ukraine. What they resemble most of all is the early fascist phenomenon of the 1920s in Europe.
That in turn means, the Moscow analyst says, that “the nationalism of ‘the Russian world’ is a serious threat for the existing regime, whose entire domestic policy over the course of decades as directed precisely at the suppression of risks arising from the self-organization of society from below toward whatever goals this was directed.”
And as a result, “in a paradoxical way,” the ideas of the Russian world that the Kremlin is now using with success may come back to become “the most dangerous opponent of its creator,” forcing it to be transformed in an ever more fascistic direction or putting itself at risk of being overthrown by forces more committed to that idea than it is itself.