Vladimir Putin has fundamentally transformed Russian society by imposing his own personal convictions on the country and convincing large numbers of Russians that everyone steals and is corrupt, freedom and democracy are covers for the organization of revolutions, and “objective truth does not exist in principle,” according to Kseniya Kirillova.
Those three horrific ideas were very much part of Putin’s worldview from the very beginning, and thus it is not the case that he has changed as some commentators would like to insist in order to justify their earlier support for him but rather that the Kremlin leader has imposed them on Russian society and in part on people abroad.
What makes this especially dangerous, the analyst suggests, is that Putin is having his own values reinforced rather than challenged and thus is likely to feel ever more validated and ever freer to push them, an outcome with disastrous consequences not only for Russian society but also for the world that for the time being must exist with him.
In a commentary for Novy Region-2 today, Kirillova reviews the recent debate between Viktor Shenderovich and Nikolay Svanidze on the Ekho Moskvy portal. The former argues that Putin’s personal views have remained unchanged, while the latter talks about the evolution of his regime.
Many Russian commentators and intellectuals are lining up on one side or the other, but “in fact,” Kirillova points out, “there is no contradiction between these two positions” because “’Putin’ and ‘Putin’s regime’ are somewhat different things” and should not be conflated as they often are.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”left”]What has happened is that “’Putin’s moral constant’ has gradually been transformed into ‘the moral constant’ of the majority of Russians” as a result of the blurring of all moral absolutes, values, and guides” concerning corruption, democratic values, and the status of truth as such.[/quote]
In democratic societies, the views of the leader affect some things but far from all whereas in authoritarian and even more totalitarian ones, “the personal qualities of a specific individual [leader] are reflected in society,” Kirillova argues, “and the level of this over the last 15 years in Russia has changed essentially.”
What has happened is that “’Putin’s moral constant’ has gradually been transformed into ‘the moral constant’ of the majority of Russians” as a result of the blurring of all moral absolutes, values, and guides” concerning corruption, democratic values, and the status of truth as such.
Regarding corruption, the US-based analyst says, there is “a paradox” in that Putin’s Kremlin has not tried very hard to conceal the amount of theft and illegality it is engaged in but rather it has promoted the idea that everyone who can steal does, including representatives of the liberal opposition.
This effort has convinced the Russian population that “there is no sense in ‘changing one group of thieves for another,’ that theft for Russia is the norm, and that anyone who has power will invariably steal.” That is why someone like Boris Nemtsov who didn’t was such a hated figure in Kremlin circles.
Moreover, Putin and his regime have succeeded in convincing a majority of Russians that those in power now who steal for themselves are superior to those out of power who want to steal for others, Kirillova says. That is why efforts to unmask Kremlin thievery have had so little resonance with the Russian population.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]“Putin has done everything to ensure” that Russians associate [democratic values] not with what they are but with revolts, revolutions, crime, blood, death and anarchy.[/quote]
“The immune system of the social organism,” she suggests, “has already become so infected with this virus that it is incapable and doesn’t even consider necessary of coming up with an anti-body. Russian publicists write big articles justifying corruption … and Russians are not able to believe that states exist where the level of corruption is quite low.”
The same pattern with the same source and same methods, Kirillova continues, can be seen in the case of Russian attitudes toward democratic values. “Putin has done everything to ensure” that Russians associate these not with what they are but with revolts, revolutions, crime, blood, death and anarchy.
And most critically, it can be seen in the attitudes of Russians toward truth itself. She cites the argument of Peter Pomerantsev who wrote in The New York Times last December that people like Putin with their Soviet way of thinking and their acceptance of duplicity as the basis of life have created a society in which everything is false but is accepted as if it weren’t.
That produces extreme cynicism, and this cynicism is “useful for the state: when people cease to believe all institutions or lose values, it is easy to impose on them a conspiratorial worldview” and to get them to accept almost anything be it “Crimea is Ours” or “hybrid war” even though they know that these things are based on lies.
According to Konstantin Borovoy, a Russian opposition politician, “70 percent of those who support Putin know he is lying. They know that Russia is conducting a war in the Donbas, they know that their fellow citizens shot down the Boeing, but they continue to support Putin” because they accept the notion that the Kremlin’s lies are “a means of war.”
And in a further sign of the moral degradation of Russians thanks to Putin’s actions to bring them into correspondence with his own values, Borovoy says and Kirillova quotes him with approval, they are even prepared to accept the Stalinist notion that there are no Russian prisoners of war in Ukraine and that those who obviously exist are traitors and deserve no pity.