There is a pernicious belief held by many of my colleagues on the New Right in the West that Russia’s dictator, President Vladimir Putin, is some sort of defender of Western Civilization. Under his reign, Putin has made comments that would make many Right-wingers swoon.
For example, on Vladimir Lenin’s birthday in 2005, Mr. Putin lamented that Lenin was possessed of many “bad ideas” and whose Bolshevik regime “placed a time bomb” under the Russian state.
Putin has repeatedly struck at the ideological underpinnings of communism and he has correctly assessed that communism utterly eviscerated Russian prestige and power in the century that Marxist-Leninism ruled Russia in the form of the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin has restored, for example, the Christian Eastern Orthodox Church to its pre-Soviet standing in Russian society. Putin has attempted to reclaim traditional Russian civilization after almost a century of it being eroded by the Reds.
All of these things make many Right-wingers pleased–notably those who lived through the particularly frigid days of the Cold War. And, let’s face it, Putin has implemented extremely traditional social programs–ranging from pro-natalist policies to anti-homosexual laws that appeal to many Western conservatives (if not in practice, then certainly in theory).
Yet, all of that is a thin veneer meant to weaken and appeal to a sympathetic Right-wing in the West at a time when the Left has fallen out of love with Russia. Remember: it was the Western Left that routinely carried water for the old Soviet Union during the heady days of the Cold War. As I noted elsewhere many years ago, the problem the Left has always had with Putin was that he wasn’t enough of a communist for their radical liking.
And that for most Right-wingers in the West was enough to make Putin an appealing foreign ally. After all, those (such as myself) who believe there is really a Culture War raging between the Left and Right in the West–between domestic Cultural Marxists and defenders of the classical, Western Civilization–were heartened by many statements Putin has made in recent years.
Here is Mr. Putin speaking just a few years ago to an audience in Russia, in which he castigated Western Progressives:
“We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western Civilization. They are denying the moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious, and even sexual.”
This kind of rhetoric, especially that last swipe at LGBTQI lifestyles, is catnip to a certain sect of RIght-leaning people. For many of those people on the Right, they take these comments at face-value because they are, by nature and interest, not plugged into foreign policy generally or Russian politics specifically. They can–and should–be forgiven for not recognizing that they’re being played.
To be clear: not being a communist doesn’t mean that Mr. Putin is actually a friend or a fellow traveler of the Right or Western Civilization as a whole. Paul Gottfried, far from a neoconservative anti-Russian elite, had this to say in an incredibly thoughtful piece at American Greatness entitled “Paleos and Putin”:
But it was Putin, not the neocons, who invaded Ukraine, and Russian military forces, not Victoria Nuland or the Wall Street Journal editorial page, who are murdering Ukrainian civilians. I keep telling friends on the Right who want to stress those “other circumstances” leading to Putin’s invasion that by all means let’s discuss them. But we should preface that discussion by blaming Putin and his military for the havoc they have wrought. They have behaved outrageously no matter how defective American foreign policy has been and no matter how repugnant neoconservative rhetoric may sound. Looking at babies killed and maimed in the streets of Kharkov and Mariupol, it seems to me that the blame should be ascribed to someone more immediately responsible than blundering U.S. foreign policy mavens or rabid neoconservative journalists.
In fact, it has been clear for some time that Vladimir Putin and many who surround him are quite opposed to Western Civilization. According to Russia expert Jeffrey Mankoff, many of the elites who have ruled Russia since the 1990s–the siloviki–prefer greater relations with the East rather than the West and believe that Moscow should put as much distance between itself and the West as possible (because Russia, according to their beliefs, has little in common with the West).
As former KGB (well, there’s no such thing as a “former” KGB operative) operatives and hawkish ideologues, the siloviki believe that Russia must remain a part from the West; that the West is an adversary and for Russia to survive and thrive as an independent entity it must create “strategic triangles” throughout Eurasia to balance against unwanted reliance upon and influence of the West in Moscow (as they believed Boris Yeltsin’s regime had been far too dependent on the West for Russia’s own good).
Going beyond the reliance on the “Primakov Doctrine” the siloviki by-and-large are also sympathizers with “Neo-Eurasianism.” Created by an actual sympathizer of neo-Fascism, Aleksandr Dugin, Neo-Eurasianism is the belief that Russia is a “civilization-state”; an empire that exists apart, beside, and atop the decadent and declining West. So close has Dugin been to the Kremlin over the years that he has often been described as “Putin’s Brain.” While that may be an exaggeration, it is somewhat apt.
Dugin is infamous for having unapologetically said:
“An important aspect of the Eurasian worldview is an absolute denial of Western Civilization. In the opinion of the Eurasians, the West with its ideology of liberalism is an absolute evil.”
Here is a video on Dugin:
It is important now to balance these views with the views of many of my colleagues and friends on the Right. Why are we conservative and/or reactionary? The Right has been struggling for about century to maintain some degree of constitutional governance; to preserve the Judeo-Christian value set that the United States and wider Western Civilization was founded upon (the logic being that this was part of the roots of our democratic society today). Along with the Judeo-Christian value set is the love of family, community, and therefore, country. All of these ideals are at odds with modern Leftism.
Not to sound too hackneyed but the modern Left, despite its false labeling of being “Liberal” is extremely illiberal. From “cancel” culture to a deep and abiding loathing of the United States as it is and as it was founded, to an adoration of revolutionary Marxism (or, at the very least European-style socialism), nothing about the Left is “liberal.” And that which Putin, Dugin, and the Russian elite decry in the West is far from anything that actual Western Civilization represents.
Much like Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution, the West has been hijacked by radical Marxists seeking to remake the civilization into something that is not and never has been. It is this thing that the Right rages against–and that the Western Right believes Putin also hates. But, Putin’s actions are directed not only against Leftist ideologues in the West. They are directed against all of Western Civilization. Putin’s recent horrific invasion of Ukraine is yet another assault on the Westphalian nation-state system that most American Rightists defend and support.
And, Putin is as opposed to democracy and freedom that undergirds Western Civilization as the Woke Leftists are today.
And it’s strange that so many who purport to be “nationalist-populists” on the Right are at least sympathetic to Mr. Putin’s movement.
While Putin is a Russian nationalist, his nationalism is not the kind of nationalism that many on the New Right in America and throughout the West claim to support. A good definition of “nationalism” as most American Rightists understand it can be found (however sloppily) in former President Donald Trump’s definition of the word from 2018. Drawing comparisons between his brand of nationalism and globalism, Trump said:
“A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country very much […] I’m a Nationalist […] I love our country, and our country has taken second-fiddle, we’re giving all of our money, all of our wealth to other countries and then they don’t treat us properly.”
While rough, this statement gels with that which most Rightists in the United States believe about “nationalism.” Yet, the nationalism that Putin practices does not comport with this definition. What’s more, Putin is an imperialist in a way that most American Right-wingers would abhor–notably those who were strongly opposed to the Iraq War in 2003. As I’ve written at The Asia Times, Putin’s recent invasion of Ukraine is essentially his version of George W. Bush’s foolish war of choice in Iraq. We on the New Right have little in common, therefore, with Putinism and should shun him and his ideas at every turn.
This, then, gets us to the religious element of Putinism.
A purported champion of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the official religion of most Russians since the founding of the Kievan Rus, Putin has used the Eastern Orthodox Church in Russia as a cudgel against his reputed enemies. What’s more, he has coopted so much of the church in Russia that the Russian side of the Eastern Orthodox Church acts as a gun-running entity for Russia throughout Eurasia–in Georgia, for example, Russian Eastern Orthodox churches have been used to hide weapons and the religion has been used by Russian intelligence services as a cover for their agents in foreign countries. It’s become such an organ of the state that the Greek Eastern Orthodox Church has renounced their Russian co-religionists in the wake of the despicable Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Putin uses the Eastern Orthodox faith the way Usama Bin Laden used the Islamic faith; as a tool for furthering his own political ambitions. Many are being duped and abused by these reprehensible, wholly un-Christian practices.
Setting that internal Eastern Orthodox squabble aside, it’s imperative to understand the danger of American Rightists supporting or sympathizing with Mr. Putin’s ideology. After all, a majority of American Rightists are Roman Catholics. While Christians both, there are stark ecumenical differences between Catholics and Orthodox Christians–especially those in Russia. And for the Catholic community of Ukraine, should Putin prevail there and occupy the country, they can expect horrific treatment by Putin’s regime.
Those on the New Right who aren’t Catholic are likely Baptist or Evangelical. Again, these sects of Christianity have little in common with the Russian version of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and it makes little sense for these elements to be combining with–or even being sympathetic toward–the Putin-dominated Russian Eastern Orthodox Church.
Lastly, the claim that Mr. Putin is some kind of defender of Christianity falls flat on its face when one considers the (unconfirmed) reports that Putin is deploying Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Syrian fighters belonging to Bashar al-Assad’s military into Ukraine. Here are two groups of non-Christians who are violently opposed to Christianity and all of its tenets. They are being sent to a European, Christian state, Ukraine. Putin is sending them there precisely because so many of his own Russian troops are performing poorly in combat–partly because of many of the Russian troops’ antipathy to killing or harming their fellow Slavic Christians–and he correctly believes that Muslim troops from Iran and Syria will have little compunction in doing what must be done to pacify the recalcitrant Ukrainians.
Who reading this believes that the Islamist fighters Putin is asking Tehran and Damascus to send up to Ukraine will treat the Ukrainian people with any dignity? Who believes that the Christian women–the mothers of the Christian people–will be left unmolested by such elements? What’s more, once ensconced in Ukraine, whatever the final result, who believes these Islamist forces will return home?
Remember, Putin made great political hay throughout the 2010s by chastising the European Union’s immigration policies; arguing that Germany’s Angela Merkel and her fellow European leaders were leading Western Civilization to their ruin by allowing for so many non-Western Muslims to migrate to their lands. Yet, here we have Putin not only encouraging such migration but encouraging the migration of openly militant Islamist elements to maim, terrorize, torture, rape, and kill fellow Christians in Ukraine.
Some defender of Christian values!
Consider this also: last summer, Mr. Putin, the great defender of the West, came out and stated that anyone expressing an insult of the Prophet Muhammad is “not expressing free speech.” While I personally do not condone rude behavior, such as insulting another religion’s founder, I also do not believe that anyone should trample on the rights of another person to insult anything or anyone they want. And if Putin were as staunch of a defender of the West as he and his defenders in the West believe, then such comments are antithetical to Putin’s claim.
All of this is to say that there’s little in common Putinism has with the American Right. Yet, bizarrely, so many on the Right today are attempting defend Putin and insist that his ways are the ways of our movement. They are not. And Putin is not only opposed to the things that American Rightists support, but he seeks to create a new world order in which the very values the American Right is currently struggling to defend–namely the general ideals and underpinnings of Western Civilization–are destroyed.
Based on his actions, his rhetoric, and his associations with men like Aleksandr Dugin, then, Vladimir Putin is no defender of Western Civilization. On the contrary, Mr. Putin is attempting to destroy Western Civilization. And he just might get what he wants.