MEMRI, an Israeli NGO that translates foreign media, has published a report on a somewhat overlooked speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin last October, described by a Russian academic as the “first major and strong call for reinventing Russian ideology for Russia and the world.” The MEMRI report concludes that Putin’s speech can be viewed as an ideological manifesto that tries to put Russia back in the center of the world’s political map. According to the report’s conclusion:
Putin has smartly introduced himself into the debate that already exists in the Western world about liberalism, and more specifically progressive liberalism. If Putin manages to outline a new conservative ideology, then Russia would become a political and ideological pole for conservatives also in the U.S. and Europe. This is already partly happening in some European countries. Ironically, we could witness a new Cold War, but with reversed roles: the West would be a pole for progressive-liberal-communist ideology while Russia would represent the conservative pole. Even more ironically, Eastern European countries that rebelled against the Soviet Union, mainly Hungary and Poland, now have conservative elected governments that in the future may look at Moscow as an ideological point of reference. Of course, when Putin talks about “healthy conservatism,” he is not referring to Ronald Reagan’s liberal-conservatism, since the main nature of the Russian regime remains authoritarian.
Read the full report here.
Putin’s full speech here.
The Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) urges interested readers to read the MEMRI report and the speech in its entirety, but we note that Putin is closely mirroring right-wing themes that dominate the so-called “culture wars” in the US. In this passage, for example, Putin asserts that “social progress” advocates are adopting Marxist ideas in their fight against racial discrimination:
The advocates of so-called ‘social progress’ believe they are introducing humanity to some kind of a new and better consciousness. Godspeed, hoist the flags, as we say, go right ahead. The only thing that I want to say now is that their prescriptions are not new at all. It may come as a surprise to some people, but Russia has been there already. After the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks, relying on the dogmas of Marx and Engels, also said that they would change existing ways and customs, and not just political and economic ones, but the very notion of human morality and the foundations of a healthy society. The destruction of age-old values, religion, and relations between people, up to and including the total rejection of family (we had that, too), encouragement to inform on loved ones – all this was proclaimed progress and, by the way, was widely supported around the world back then and was quite fashionable, same as today. By the way, the Bolsheviks were absolutely intolerant of opinions other than theirs.“This, I believe, should call to mind some of what we are witnessing now. Looking at what is happening in a number of Western countries, we are amazed to see the domestic practices — which we, fortunately, have left, I hope — in the distant past. The fight for equality and against discrimination has turned into aggressive dogmatism bordering on absurdity, when the works of the great authors of the past – such as Shakespeare – are no longer taught at schools or universities, because their ideas are believed to be backward. The classics are declared backward and ignorant of the importance of gender or race. In Hollywood, memos are distributed about proper storytelling and how many characters of what color or gender should be in a movie. This is even worse than the agitprop department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
The claim that the US social justice movement is Neo-Marxist has found its way into myriad blogs, podcasts, and even to the pages of the Wall Street Journal in this editorial about so-called “critical race theory,” a 40-year old academic concept based on the idea that racism is a social construct and not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, In June of last year, the GIOR reported on a Russian-backed media piece that defended an American conservative activist well known for his attacks on what the piece called “neo-Marxist critical race theory.”
Other Russian influence operations covered by the GIOR that echo Putin’s assertions include:
- A report from November 2020 on a Russian-backed media OpEd claiming that Democratic “Elites” are equally culpable as Trump in disseminating conspiracy theories because “these elites have themselves been peddling equally irrational views about catastrophic climate change, critical race theory, and identity politics.”
- A report from July of last year that actors linked to Russian disinformation operations were targeting American far-right audiences on alternative online platforms employing some of these same themes.
- A report from July of last year on Russian-backed media alleging that US families were seeking to immigrate to Russia to escape the US school curriculum.
We have also covered influence operations based on the same themes originating from the Republican Party and other elements of the US conservative movement, including:
- A report from June of last year on a new organization likely based in the Republican Party that announced it had launched with an initial “initial seven-figure national ad campaign of well over $1 million” to combat what it described as political influence in US schools.
- A report from August of last year on an organization that said that it had uncovered ties between the ultra-conservative Koch family and 28 conservative think tanks and political organizations who published extensive material Critical Race Theory.
- A report from November of last year on a group behind attacks on Critical Race Theory during the recent Virginia governor’s election that has ties to President Donald Trump’s allies and is funded by so-called ‘dark money.
- A report from January on the role of US right-wing influence networks promoting so Critical Race Theory as a hot-button issue in US politics.
It is impossible to ascertain whether or not Putin seriously holds the beliefs expressed in his speech or is simply positioning himself as the ‘Commander-in-Chief’ of the Russian influence operations targeting the US as described above. Nevertheless, the apparent attempt by Putin to position himself and Russia as the leader of a new center for global conservatism is extraordinary, to say the least. The GIOR will continue to follow these developments as they play out over the coming months and years.