Putin And The Militarization Of Russian Society

Jun 8th, 2024 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

One of the key elements of the new world order emerging in the 21st century is Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Putin is a delusional tyrant who is building a fascist state that loathes democracy, freedom and individualism.  He is not a friend; he is not to be emulated; he is not a defender of Christian values.  He is a ruthless dictator, who regards Stalin as a Russian hero who needs to be restored to his rightful place as the savior of Russia.  The war in Ukraine is the beginning of his delusional vision of a new world order. These delusional ambitions of Putin, the fascist tyrant, cannot be ignored.  What if he does not achieve these goals?  Will he use nuclear weapons to preserve his ultimate goals and plans?  Vladimir Putin is not acting rationally or wisely.  But fascist dictators rarely do.  Consider Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.  Their delusional fantasies resulted in 20th century wars and internal policies that killed nearly 100 million people.

In 2022 The Economist argued that “The Kremlin has built a cult of personality around Mr. Putin and a cult of the dead around the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45.  Mr. Putin’s regime yearns to restore a lost golden age and for Russia to be purged by healing violence . . . [Putin is] drawing on the fascist thinking that had re-emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union . . . Putin got caught up in a cycle of grievance and resentment that has left reason far behind.  It has culminated in a ruinous war that many thought would never happen precisely because it had defied the weighing of risk and rewards.  Under Mr. Putin’s form of fascism, Russia is set of a course that knows no turning back.  Without the rhetoric of victimhood and the use of violence, Mr. Putin has nothing to offer his people.  For Western democracies this onward march means that, while he is in power, dealings with Russia will be riven by hostility and contempt . . . there can be no true peace with a fascist Russia.”

Robyn Dixon of the Washington Post observes that “As Vladimir Putin persists in his bloody campaign to conquer Ukraine, the Russian leader is directing an equally momentous transformation at home—re-engineering his country into a regressive, militarized society that views the West as its mortal enemy.  Putin’s inauguration [in early May] for a fifth term will not only mark his 25-year-long grip on power but also showcase Russia’s shift into what pro-Kremlin commentators call a ‘revolutionary power,’ set on upending the global order, making its own rules, and demanding that totalitarian autocracy be respected as a legitimate alternative to democracy in a world re-divided by big powers into spheres of influence.”

In a series entitled, “Russia, Remastered,” The Washington Post documented the historic scale of the changes Putin is carrying out and has accelerated with breathtaking speed during two years of brutal war even as tens of thousands of Russians have fled abroad. It is a crusade that gives Putin common cause with China’s Xi Jinping as well as some supporters of former president Donald Trump. And it raises the prospect of an enduring civilizational conflict to subvert Western democracy.  “To carry out this transformation, the Kremlin is:”

  • “Forging an ultraconservative, puritanical society mobilized against liberal freedoms . . .  in which family policy and social welfare spending boost traditional Orthodox values.
  • Reshaping education at all levels to indoctrinate a new generation of turbo-patriot youth, with textbooks rewritten to reflect Kremlin propaganda, patriotic curriculums set by the state and, from September, compulsory military lessons taught by soldiers called ‘Basics of Security and Protection of the Motherland,’ which will include training on handling Kalashnikov assault rifles, grenades and drones.
  • Sterilizing cultural life with blacklists of liberal or antiwar performers, directors, writers and artists, and with new nationalistic mandates for museums and filmmakers.
  • Mobilizing zealous pro-war activism under the brutal Z symbol, which was initially painted on the side of Russian tanks invading Ukraine, but has since spread to government buildings, posters, schools and orchestrated demonstrations.
  • Rolling back women’s rights with a torrent of propaganda about the need to give birth—

young and often—and by curbing ease of access to abortions, and charging feminist activists and liberal female journalists with terrorism, extremism, discrediting the military and other offenses.

  • Rewriting history to celebrate Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator who sent millions to the gulag, through at least 95 of the 110 monuments in Russia erected during Putin’s time as leader. Meanwhile, Memorial, a human rights group that exposed Stalin’s crimes and shared the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, was shut down and its pacifists co-chairman Oleg Olav, 71, jailed.
  • Accusing scientists of treason; equating criticism of the war or of Putin with terrorism or extremism; and building a new, militarized elite of ‘warriors and workers’ willing to take up arms, redraw international boundaries and violate global norms on orders of Russia’s strongman ruler.”

“They’re trying to develop this scientific Putinism as a basis of propaganda, as a basis of ideology, as a basis of historical education,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. “They need an obedient new generation — indoctrinated robots in an ideological sense — supporting Putin, supporting his ideas, supporting this militarization of consciousness.” Putin’s descriptions of the West as “satanic” and the war as “sacred” are increasingly echoed by officials and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Dixon adds further that “Long obsessed with Russia’s population decline, Putin is urging Russian women to have eight or more babies, while also seizing chunks of Ukraine’s population by force. Russia has issued more than 3 million passports in eastern Ukraine since 2019, according to the Russian Interior Ministry . . . ‘In Russian families, many of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had seven or eight children, and even more. Let’s preserve and revive these wonderful traditions,’ Putin said in a November speech dedicated to ‘a thousand-year, eternal Russia’ . . .  “In occupied Ukraine, it is virtually impossible to work, drive, or obtain health care, humanitarian aid, benefits or other services without having a Russian passport—a potential violation of the Geneva Conventions, which state that ‘it is forbidden to compel the inhabitants of occupied territory to swear allegiance to the hostile power.’  In Crimea, Russia issued more than 1.5 million passports after invading and illegally annexing the peninsula in 2014 . . . The emphasis is on a special and powerful state dominated by Putin, on centuries-old Russian self-reliance and stoicism, and the sacrifice of individual rights to the regime. Men give their lives in war or work. Women should give their bodies by birthing children.”

A few more important conclusions from Dixon’s important article:

  • “Stalin, who oversaw the deaths of millions in famines, purges and the gulag, has been promoted as a strong wartime leader, with 63 percent of Russians expressing a positive view of him in a 2023 survey by the Levada Center polling agency, and 47 percent expressing respect for him.  Putin’s admiration for him goes back decades. In 2002, when Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski met the Russian leader for nearly five hours one-on-one, Putin professed strong admiration for three leaders—Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Stalin—and a desire to rebuild ‘Great Russia.’”
  • “Putin has long obsessed over the idea of a civilizational battle against the West, distorting history to claim that Russia is merely retaking its ‘historical lands’ in Ukraine.  Putin’s first Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, said he and other 1990s reformers assumed that, like them, Putin had embraced democracy and market reform. ‘But he didn’t,’ Kasyanov said. ‘He pretended.’ Kasyanov said he was horrified by Putin’s approach to two hostage crises in 2002 and 2004—ordering forces to storm in, causing hundreds of deaths.  ‘That was already a demonstration of his real nature, his KGB nature: no negotiations, no compromise, because they can’t come to a compromise because of the belief they will be seen as weak people,’ he said.”
  • “In Russia, schoolteachers are used to indoctrinate children and even to police their parents’ views.  Spending on patriotic education and state-run militarized organizations for children and teens increased to more than $500 million in 2024 from about $34 million in 2021, according to federal budget statistics reported by RBC, a Russian business daily.  Starting in September, all schoolchildren will get military training from soldiers who fought in Ukraine; since last year, university students take a compulsory course in patriotism that conveys distorted history and the idea that Russia has no borders when it comes to Russian-speaking ‘compatriots.’  Students of all ages are inundated with pro-war activities, including talks from war veterans clad in camouflage and black balaclavas. In Novosibirsk, children made drones for the front and in Mamadysh in Tatarstan, they produced drone tail fins. Others have made crutches for wounded soldiers or knitted stockings for the stumps of military amputees.”

Putin seeks to reset the European order.  After World War II, the world entered a bipolar world, defined as a Cold War—the democratic, capitalist, Christian US (and the West) vs. the totalitarian, communist, atheistic Soviet Union.  During the years of 1989-1991, that bipolar world collapsed.  The Soviet Union was dismembered and, most would argue, the US won the Cold War.  This resulted in the collapse of the Russian economy and the emergence of democratic, capitalist nations in Eastern Europe, with most of those nations joining NATO and/or the European Union.  Max Fisher correctly observes that “Moscow is demanding an overhaul to the security architecture of Europe itself, by ending or even rolling back NATO’s eastward expansion.  Such a change, however it came about, would mean altering the rules that have governed the continent since the Cold War’s end.  And it would mean formalizing a line between West and East, with Moscow granted dominance in the latter.  Rather than seeking to manage the post-Cold War order in Europe, in other words, Moscow wants to overturn it.”

Finally,  Putin’s Christian values are not biblical values.  The situation is even worse when one looks at Putin’s response to the gospel itself.  Russell Moore shows that “He has indeed carefully cultivated the Russian Orthodox Church, even to the point of approving mosaics of himself, Stalin, and the Crimean invasion being placed in a Russian Orthodox cathedral dedicated to the military. In so doing, the Russian regime has relentlessly pursued snuffing out the freedoms of minority religions—especially those of the relatively tiny band of evangelicals and evangelical missionaries from abroad  . . . And, indeed, religions are useful when they focus on protecting nationalism and national honor. In that sense, religions can turn already-passionate feelings of tribalism and resentment of outsiders into transcendent and unquestionable sentiments. All of that makes perfect Machiavellian sense . . . If the church is a cultural vehicle for national stability and pride, then one can hardly expect dictators to do anything other than manipulate it . . . That would be true even in a place that actually followed more or less Christian values. Yet it’s all the more true when the church is blessing an authoritarian, like Putin, who is known by his own people for poisoning his enemies . . . Evangelical Christians should watch the way of Vladimir Putin, and we should recognize it whenever we are told that we need a Pharaoh or a Barabbas or a Caesar to protect us from our real or perceived enemies.”  Vladimir Putin is no friend of genuine biblical Christianity.  He is a violent dictator, a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing.  It is abominable that some Christians see him as a protector of Jesus’ values!

See The Economist (30 July 2022), pp. 9, 17-20; Robyn Dixon, “Under Putin, a militarized new Russia rises to challenge U.S. and the West” in the Washington Post (6 May 2024); Max Fisher in the New York Times (30 January 2022); and Russell Moore, “Moore to the Point” (17 February 2022).

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