This is how Putin builds the victimist discourse of a Russia surrounded by Nazis and Russophobes | International

Vladimir Putin’s insistent rhetoric about his alleged goal of “denazifying” Ukraine and protecting the pro-Russian population by invading the country fuels a narrative that goes far beyond the attempt to justify an illegal war. The Russian president intends, at the same time, to feed his version of modern Russian nationalism of an ethnic nature by presenting Russia as a country surrounded by enemies that can only be victorious if it asserts its place in the world as a superpower. And the allusion to Nazism contains all the necessary elements to incite Putin’s neo-imperialist desire.

In his speech on February 24, just before the invasion of Ukraine, the president made this appeal to citizens: “Dear comrades! Your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents did not fight against the Nazis or defend our common homeland for today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine.” The phrase condenses in less than 30 words the vision of what the historian José María Faraldo, author of modern russian nationalism (Báltica Editorial, 2020), considers key elements of Putin’s neo-imperialism: victimhood, the exaltation of Russia as a superpower, and ethnic nationalism.

In the first place, with the call to fight the neo-Nazis, Putin appeals to the great suffering of the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, which caused the death of between 22 and 29 million people. At the same time, he praises the Great Patriotic War —the name by which World War II is known in Russia— which managed to stop the advance of Adolf Hitler, the fundamental myth of the Soviet Union, and which helps him present Russia as a world superpower. And, finally, he alludes to family ties —parents, grandparents and great-grandparents— in line with his ethnic nationalist vision, which only considers authentic Russians —not all citizens of the former Soviet republics— whether they live in the country or not. .

“It is a very powerful speech, very rooted in the population, and Putin has managed to relate the neo-imperialism of the great power that he wants with the idea that it is based on an enormous sacrifice of the Russian people, as if there had been no other Soviet people. that he had fought against the Nazis, like the Ukrainians, the Belarusians or the Kazakhs,” says Faraldo.


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But, in addition, the resort to Nazism also helps Putin to deepen his idea of ​​Russophobia when he accuses the West of supporting the neo-Nazi government in Ukraine. This is what the British political scientist of Ukrainian origin Taras Kuzio has called the “Weimar complex”, that is, the victimization of Russia as a country surrounded and threatened by hostile powers that could disintegrate, as happened to the Soviet Union.

The president was very eloquent in this regard in his speech on March 16, when he stated: “I want to be as direct as possible: the hypocritical speech and the recent actions of the so-called collective West hide hostile geopolitical intentions. They can’t stand—they just can’t stand—that Russia is strong and sovereign, and they won’t forgive us for our independent policy or defending our national interests.” And he added: “Just like in the 1990s and early 2000s, they want to try and take us down. (…) They failed then, and they will fail this time.”

“This victimist discourse that Russians have been persecuted for centuries, that they are always surrounded by enemies, that nobody wants them and that it is better that they fear them before they love them, has been consciously promoted by Putin for all these years”, adds Faraldo.

In the face of this hostility, Russia’s defense is “to claim its role as a world superpower”, which allows it to respond to “the identity traumas of the Russian population, such as humiliation due to the disappearance of the Soviet Union or the burden of oligarchs and corrupt politicians like Boris Yeltsin”, analyzes Eric Pardo, professor of International Relations at the University of Deusto and an expert on Russia and Ukraine.

And, ultimately, the defense of the Russian population of the Ukraine against Nazi attacks alludes to the idea of ​​“Russki Mir or the Russian world, which goes beyond what Russia is”, continues Faraldo. “These are Russophones or people who speak Russian or are related to Russian culture, who are found in any part of the world and whom the Russian state will protect.” It is what the historian describes as a “Russified Sovietism to which Russophone nationalists outside the Federation appeal, the same one that has promoted violence on the borders, whether in Ukraine, Georgia or Transnitria.”

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