Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 this year, the Kremlin has sought in every way to downplay the reality of war. The description of the invasion as a “special operation” and the persecution of anyone who dares to call it by any other name is intended to underscore the supposedly temporary and limited nature of the armed conflict. It seeks to blur the line between war and peace. This principle continued in Vladimir Putin’s speech on September 21, in which he announced a “partial mobilization”.
But fierce resistance from Ukraine turned the situation around. While some Russians have opposed the attack on Ukraine from the start and publicly protest against the mobilization that has just been declared, others, on the far right, believe that Russia is holding itself back too much and are calling for more and more to total mobilization, carpet- the bombing of Ukrainian cities, and even the use of nuclear weapons.
Understanding who these ultranationalists are and what they represent is essential to deciphering the Kremlin’s war strategy.
The men behind the Russian far right
While almost no one in Russia openly claims to be “extreme right”, there is nevertheless a “heterogeneous coalition” to the right of Vladimir Putin’s regime made up of orthodox fundamentalists, various shades of nationalist opposition (ranging from “national- Democrats” to New Democrats). Nazis), so-called “patriotic” militias, military bloggers (the woodcutters) and Donbass veterans. The latter’s figurehead, Igor Girkin, also known as Strelkov (“shooter”), briefly served as “defence minister” of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in 2014.
This political fringe has no parliamentary representation. The ill-named Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) of Vladimir Zhirinovsky (1946-2022) was certainly ultranationalist in the 1990s but was then integrated, alongside the Communist Party, into the “systemic” puppet opposition.
The Kremlin also banned many far-right movements it considered dangerous or violent on the grounds of “extremism” and denied nationalist opposition parties permission to register officially.
However, the regime tolerates, even encourages, the presence of spokespersons for these movements in the Russian media on condition that they are loyal to it. With the exception of a handful of anti-war figures, Russia’s far-right praised her for restoring Russia to greatness, emancipating it from the West (and its supposedly decadent values) and especially defended the “Russian world”.
While most of these radicals welcomed the announcement of Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization, some even recognizing it as a “sign of Providence”, many nevertheless claimed that it was too little, too late.
Calls for total war
The withdrawal of the Russian armed forces from the vicinity of Kyiv at the end of March 2022 and the series of military failures that followed in several conflict zones exposed the Russian military command, its Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and Russian political leaders to severe reviews. As a result, nationalists are now urging the Russian state to hit Ukraine harder. According to them, it is time to put an end to the “special operation” and move on to “total war”.
This appeal is common to the two main ideological branches of Russian nationalism. The first branch is of imperialist inspiration. It underlines the greatness of the Russian state in the face of the outside world, that is to say the West, and encourages the state to exercise its domination over various spaces and populations, Slavic and non-Slavic. Here, Russia is defined as an imperial entity dedicated to extending its borders into the space of the former Soviet Union.
The second branch, ethnocentric, is above all interested in the interests of the Russian people, understood in the ethnic sense of the term, both in Russia and abroad. This branch seeks to transform the Russian Federation, which it considers “too multinational”, into a Russian national state. One of the keys would be irredentism, preferably peaceful but also belligerent if necessary.
These two nationalist logics tend to converge in the context of the war in Ukraine. Russia’s present attitude towards her neighbor contains both an imperial and an ethnic element. Imperialists emphasize the power of the Russian state and its territorial expansion, while ethnonationalists focus on defending Russians (or Russian-speaking Ukrainians) as an ethnic or cultural community.
For the ethnonationalists, critics of the Putin regime, the enemy is above all national; it is the Ukrainians and their identity, framed as a “negation of Russianness”. For example, veteran nationalist Alexander Sevastyanov insists that the war in Ukraine constitutes “the frontal opposition of the Ukrainian project to everything Russian”. Insofar as the people and the Ukrainian authorities are “animated by a visceral hatred” towards the Russians, the “denazification of Ukraine and its re-russification constitute the most urgent task”, he concludes.
Despite these differences in interpretation, the two camps agree on one point: victory must be obtained at all costs, even if it means deploying the nuclear arsenal on Ukraine. “If the choice is between a Ukrainian victory and a global nuclear war, nuclear war is preferable,” says Yegor Kholmogorov, a national-imperialist opinion columnist on Tsargrad and RT (Russia Today), who has long served as an intermediary between nationalists loyal to the Kremlin and opposition nationalists. For, in the words of ethnonationalist activist Alexander Khramov, if Western-backed Ukraine wins this war, Russia will be divided into “a multitude of microstates,” and the Russian people will be wiped out.
Galvanized by the war, these actors call for an effective “purification” of Russian society that goes beyond the declarations of the Kremlin. Members of economic, intellectual or political elites are considered “compradores” because of their attachment to the West and the assets they hold there. Alexander Zhuchkovsky, a nationalist activist living in eastern Ukraine since 2014, goes so far as to implore the creation of a new oprichninathe Russian term for a regime of terror introduced by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century.
Can the Kremlin channel the growing warmongering zeal? Given the intensity of the rhetoric from the various wings of the Russian far right, supported recently by several of Putin’s allies, including the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, it is doubtful: whatever the outcome of the war in Ukraine, the nationalist pressure risks becoming a serious and lasting threat to Russia’s internal stability.
Jules Sergei Fediunin, Post-doctoral fellow at the Raymond Aron Center for Sociological and Political Studies (EHESS), Doctor in political science associated with the Europes-Eurasia Research Center (CREE) of INALCO, National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (Inalco)
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Read also | Doomsday Bunkers, Mars and ‘The Mindset’: The Tech Brothers Try to Thwart the Doomsday