Published: April 29, 2019

Student Name: Sergey Gitalov

Course: PSCI 3022

Instructor: Prof. Sarah Sokhey

Published: March 15, 2019

The 2014 events in Crimea and Ukraine are commonly seen in the West as a rise of Russian nationalism. Russians overwhelmingly supported the government despite Western sanctions [1]. However, Putin is not a nationalist, but a pragmatist. His internal policy is diametrically opposite to nationalism. He avoids instability in an ethnically diverse country, while keeping the federal authority supreme. This is a dangerous strategy that could create long-term destabilizing effects. 

From the start, Putin never had a concrete national ideology. In fact, it is dubious whether the current government has a national idea at all [2]. Patriotic attitudes seeded by the government seem to focus on Russia’s vastness and natural beauty, and its unique position, rather than ethnic Russians [3]. Putin has no problem prasing both imperial Russia and the Soviet Union, both of which differ radically from modern Russia. These statements seem to be patriotic and pragmatic in nature rather than in any degree nationalist.

State-centralization in the early 2000s also cannot be called a nationalist move, since it did not benefit the Russian-majority regions in the long run. The federal government heavily subsidizes the republics. Dagestan, Yakutia, Chechnya, Crimea, Buryatia, Tyva, and Bashkiria are among the top ten subjects of the federation receiving subsidies in 2019 [4]. Dagestan alone received 66 billion rubles from the federal budget. So all centralization did for Russians in the regions is take away the regions’ much-needed self-governance and replaced it with the omnipresent Kremlin’s directives.

Another unpopular move by Putin is his lenient migration policy that resulted in negative attitudes towards worker-migrants. The Russian government remains pro-migration, and only episodically cracks down on illegal migrants. Central Asian countries, where the majority of worker-migrants come from, remain visa-free. The Russian public does not seem to approve of this though. In Levada’s polling question of whether to limit the influx of migrants or not, 80% of people responded positively in March 2016 as opposed to only 45% in July 2002 [5]. This is also reflected in the Russian nationalist movement, which mostly targets migrants in their ideologies [6].

This disparity between the government policy and the Russian attitudes can prove to be detrimental if the regime weakens. Various Russian opposition groups can use nationalism as a leverage against Putin. In fact, a prominent opposition leader, Navalniy, openly opposed the visa-free regime and subsidies in the past [7]. He even participated in the “Khvatit Kormit’ Kavkaz” (Stop Feeding the Caucasus) movement in 2011 [8]. Navalniy gained prominence with his anti-corruption charges, but they may not last that long. Keeping up an anti-corruption campaign in the current post-election climate lacks sensationalism. The government had been elected, the new elections are far in the future. For long-term opposition campaigns to gather support, they would require an ideological backbone. Nationalism could  be this backbone, and would be very problematic to address by the government.

One way to prevent far-right movements from gaining large scale support in the future is for the Russian government to address the ethnic issues today. Putin cannot keep being vague about migration and the republics forever. The government can use its media influence to create a more cosmopolitan climate in Russia, and directly admit issues related to migration. This could ease the tensions and present the government as honest and eager to admit it is not perfect.

The Russian government, however, prefers to use censorship against the far-right. The infamous 282th article was used to arrest prominent far-right activists like Maxim Martsinkevich, Aleksandr Potkin (Belov), and Konstantin Krylov. Far-right media are regularly censored [9]. This is part of the larger campaign of the Russian government to silence any opposition. These policies seem effective against the far-right right now. Nationalists are fractured and have no single strong movement [9]. Far-right movements have gone low-profile.

This hardline censorship may seem effective in the short term, but it does nothing in the long term. Persecuted groups still can find ground and support on the internet. Shutting down one website will prompt creation of another. A modern 21st century government physically cannot control all the flow of information. All censorship does is anger the opposition groups and radicalize them even further. So if nationalist attitudes are one day on the rise in Russia, these groups will resurface and spread their extremist views with unprecedented fervor. One great example of this resurfacing is the rise of nationalism in the USSR in the 80s. However, unlike in the USSR, there is no need for glasnost’ to trigger it; the internet is sufficient.

Putin is a pragmatic leader, who bends ideological beliefs to his benefit. His actions can be seen as nationalist by an outside observer, but a closer look reveals that his internal policies anger both the Russian public and the far-right. Far-right groups in Russia could potentially use that to their advantage. To counter that, the government should directly and honestly address these issues to ease the tensions, instead of censoring the opposition.

[1] Frye T, Gehlbach S, Marquardt K.L, Reuter O.R. (2017) Is Putin’s popularity real?,
Post-Soviet Affairs , 33:1, 1-15, doi: 10.1080/1060586X.2016.1144334
[2] Remington, T. F. (2016). Politics in Russia . London: Routledge. Ch 1.
[3] Laruelle, M. (2018, November 02). Putin the Geographer.
[4] FINCAN (2019). Дотации регионам России 2019.
[5] Levada-Center (2017, May 29). Attitudes Toward Migrants.
[6] Laruelle, M. (2010). The Ideological Shift on the Russian Radical Right. Problems of
Post-Communism, 57 (6), 19-31. doi:10.2753/ppc1075-8216570602
[7] Navalniy, A (2015, November 15). Где проходит «оргия толерантности»?
[8] Navalniy, A (2011, September 30). Общенациональная кампания "Хватит кормить
[9] Chistyakov, P, Krylov K. (2018, October 22) Константин Крылов — о русском нацдвиже,
Украине и провокаторах. YouTube . 49:40 - 1:01:00.