Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent appointees to posts that handle the administration's relations with civil society all have something in common: They embody the Russian autocrat's version of conservative ideology. Some of them have highly unorthodox ideas, and all have little sympathy for Western-style intellectualism.

The new appointments began in April, when Putin named Tatyana Moskalkova, a police general who had also been a legislator, to be Russia's human rights ombudsman. Moskalkova's police career is not the only reason she is a strange choice for the job. She is a fervent Orthodox Christian, and she was a vocal advocate of punishing the punk band Pussy Riot for trying to perform an anti-Putin song in a cathedral. She has also accused the West of using human rights as a political weapon. In a recent interview, Moskalkova insisted that there was no problem with gay rights in Russia, despite laws that ban "gay propaganda." She also asserted that Russia had no political prisoners, despite tough and arbitrary "extremism" laws.

In August, Putin replaced Sergei Ivanov, his chief of staff, with a career diplomat, Anton Vaino. In Russia, the presidential administration oversees politics and the civil society, so this is another important "interface" job. Vaino had co-written some dense academic papers on what is probably best described as futurology. Some of these mention an invention called the "nooscope," which is described this way in a book co-written by Vaino: