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Putin gambles on culture war with the West

Russia leader embraces ideology that patriotism can revive nation

Reuters

Oleg Makarenko wants to set the story straight and answer the “Russophobes” who he says are trying to split and humiliate Russia.

His website, www.ruxpert.ru, is on the front line in what Makarenko calls an information war with the West.

As President Vladimir Putin has embraced an increasingly nationalist ideology in his third term as president, evidenced by his seizing of Crimea from Ukraine, Makarenko’s anti-Western ideas have become mainstream. His website, designed to be a “patriot’s handbook,” has mirrored and presaged Putin’s thinking.

Makarenko denies receiving money or support from political groups. But his website fits in to a seemingly well organized Russian media campaign that has blamed the West for the protests that drove Viktor Yanukovych from power in neighboring Ukraine.

Offering notes on subjects ranging from Crimea and New Russia to liberal myths and sexuality, Ruxpert says it provides “the truth about Russia — without dirty, enemy propaganda and without embellishments.” All good background information to equip “Russian patriots” with reliable arguments.

Makarenko, a prominent blogger in Russia who uses the name Fritz Morgen, said his site and others like it are needed after the collapse of the Soviet Union enabled America “to swallow countries up, like they were nuts, one after the other.”

“If we fail to win the information war then it will be easy for the Americans to get people onto the streets,” he said, reflecting mistrust, fanned by Putin, of the West. The danger of instability is a continual refrain.

Makarenko started his blog in 2007 and set up Ruxpert last year. He says the site runs on contributions from readers and articles are written for free.

“Russia has an ideology of traditional conservatism. People have a choice — on the one hand they see the West, where there is individualism taken to the extreme, tolerance to the extreme, gay parades, the lack of a traditional family,” Makarenko said.

“Russia has more traditional values. I cannot say that this is a route of development that offers a brighter future, but it is not the dead-end that Western liberalism faces.”

A review of Putin’s public comments since he came to power in 2000 shows a consistent emphasis on restoring Russia’s pride and its place as a geopolitical power. This has become an even greater priority in his third term as president.

Living through the chaos of the 1990s after returning home from his KGB post in eastern Germany, Putin blamed the West for all but destroying post-Soviet society.

In 2005, he lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union and urged Russia to make its own path.

Last year, he went further, calling for a new and fierce patriotism to save Russia from Western ideology which, he said, was “denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual.”

Drawing on at least three schools of thought and contemporary Orthodox beliefs, the former KGB spy has buttressed his ideas with the work of Russian thinkers from the 19th and 20th centuries — a period characterized by debate about Russia’s identity.

Putin’s vision of a Eurasian Union stretching from the Polish frontier to Pacific shores would group together former Soviet states and cement an alternative economic system.

“The Eurasian Union is a project for maintaining the identity of nations in the historical Eurasian space in a new century and in a new world,” Putin told visiting journalists last year.

In a speech on March 18 shortly after annexing Crimea, Putin set out his vision of a Greater Russia.

Historian Valery Solovei noted Putin’s use of the word “Russky” (ethnic Russian) for Russian instead of the more usual “Rossissky” (person from Russia) — a possibly significant linguistic shift suggesting Putin sees himself as leader of all Russians, not just those living within Russia’s borders.

“He used the word Russky 27 times. This has never happened before,” Solovei said of a word that is used to describe someone by their ethnicity rather than their citizenship. “So the Eurasian Union has been taken over by some kind of vague notion of ‘a Russian world’. It’s an ideological innovation.”

But by laying claim to lands outside Russia, Putin may be breaking with a role he has played since he came to power after the chaos of the 1990s — the guarantor of stability.

“We are not talking about the former Soviet Union, but the unification of Russians, like a kind of community. The question is how do you interpret this? Is it cultural, ethnic or biological even?” Solovei said. “The other thing is, is the move ideologically entrenched or not? It’s a very risky move for Putin.”