The Ideology of Putinism: Is It Sustainable?
Does Vladimir Putin have an ideology? The authors of this report argue that he does. Borrowing heavily from czarist and Soviet themes, as well as other intellectual sources like the twentieth-century radical right, Putinism elevates an idea of imperial-nationalist statism amplified by Russian greatness, exceptionalism, and historical struggle against the West. Statism, a key pillar of Putin’s ideology, includes deference to a strong, stable state, allowing Russians to be Russians; such statism is based on exceptionalism and traditional values. Another pillar is anti-Westernism, which, when combined with Russian exceptionalism, promotes a messianic notion of Russia as a great power and civilization state, guarding a Russo-centric polyculturalism, traditional family and gender roles, and guarding against materialism and individualism. That this ideology is not spelled out in philosophical texts but most often absorbed through signs, symbols, and popular culture makes it both malleable and easily digestible for less-educated people.
Will this ideology help keep Putin in power? This report suggests that it could. Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine and its radical break with the West have prompted the regime to mount even more sustainable ideology-building effort. It is hard to see where challenges to the Putinist ideology could emerge in Russia. Societal resistance to Kremlin propaganda has remained marginal, even during more liberal periods. An alternative pro-Western identity able to challenge the Kremlin’s propaganda has failed to emerge and is less likely following the massive exodus of Russian liberals as a result of the Ukraine war. The flexibility of Putin’s ideology machine and the simplicity of the narratives it spreads suggest that Putinism is not going anywhere soon and may become further entrenched in the Russian social sphere.
This report is made possible by the generous support of Carnegie Corporation of New York.