Toxic Narratives Supported by the Kremlin
Russian propaganda has become a household term recently, but much less discussed is the fact that there are narratives in the West that, deliberately or not, help the Kremlin promulgate its disinformation, doublethink, and perverted stone-age values.
Although these narratives arose independently, often long before Putin and modern Russia were born (and will outlive Putin and modern Russia), at some point the Kremlin’s spin doctors realized that they can be used for furthering their imperialistic interests and subverting the Western order, and thus invested significant resources in nurturing, supporting, infiltrating, and manipulating them. It should come as no surprise, then, that the proponents of these narratives today justify Russian military atrocities and inhuman politics even despite often running into cognitive dissonance by simultaneously advocating contradicting views.
Below, I’ve grouped these toxic narratives into nine general and most notable categories.
1. Conspiracy theories
This is number one on my list because many advocates of the other narratives believe in at least one conspiracy theory. Have you noticed how many anti-vaxxers and COVID deniers are now cheering Russia’s aggression? The same is true for other conspiracy mavericks.
This all goes back to the prominent Putinist ideologist Aleksandr Dugin’s early book Conspirology (1992) where he describes conspiracy theories as useful political tools. They are good for manipulating the masses, the profane, while the initiates (and Dugin counts himself in their numbers) know they are but bleak shadows of “esoteric truths”.
And since Putin now acts out what Dugin was writing about back in the 1990s, these tools, too, are extensively implemented by the propaganda. Deep state, Soros, ZOG, you name it — the usual roots of all evil in the eyes of conspiracy freaks are now being blamed for the Ukrainian crisis.
Russia is actively supporting separatist movements not only in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, but also in the West. Catalonia, Corsica, Bavaria, Texas, California, Cascadia… everyone should have the right for self-determination, says the Moscow’s agitprop. But how about Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, or Karelia, to name a few? No way! Kosovo, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Tibet are also denied this right for obvious reasons. And it’s telling how Russia keeps repeating the “Western Ukraine is Poland” mantra but never says the same about Western Belarus which was also part of Poland before World War II.
3. Far-left ideologies
Stalinists, Maoists, Castroists and the likes supporting another dictator is nothing new, but when those still enchanted by early communism (as well as anarcho-communism and other far-left theories) that fought for the rights of the common folk root for a bloody fascist tyranny, you know there’s a screw loose somewhere. And no, criticizing capitalism doesn’t automatically require siding with a disgrace to humanity spewing anti-American rallying cries.
4. Far-right ideologies
This group is in fact more logical than the previous one since Putinism is indeed a far-right, nationalist, fascist ideology. Not all Western right-wingers are pro-Russian, but those with the largest media influence and financial backing, from Hungary’s Viktor Orbán to France’s Marine Le Pen to Alternative für Deutschland to American “alt-right”, explicitly side with their Kremlin abettors.
5. “Anti-liberal” US Republicanism
The United States of America was the world’s first liberal country with the world’s first liberal constitution, and the country’s two major parties from the very beginning were also intrinsically liberal, even though their views on liberalism (and many other issues) may have differed. Thus, it is disturbing to see how some people identifying themselves as Republicans use “liberal” as an offence and attack the very foundations of the US Constitution. And an East Slavic accent of this rhetoric is too pronounced to be ignored.
6. “Conservative” libertarianism
The very etymology shows that libertarianism and liberalism go back to the same root and both defend liberty. Libertarianism is sometimes even used as synonymous with classical liberalism (which is questionable). Of course, both liberalism and libertarianism came a long way, diverging on many points all along, and criticism of modern liberalism from the libertarian standpoint is relatable and well-justified. However, when self-styled libertarians, usually of the “conservative” breed, literally view liberals as their mortal foes and at the same time extol Putin and other dictators, this smells a red flag (pun intended).
7. Orthodox Christianity
Of course, we should not associate all Orthodox churches with Russia, especially since the Russian Orthodox Church broke up with Constantinople in 2018 over the latter’s recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. However, Orthodox Christianity is an integral part of Russian imperialism and is actively portrayed as one of the last havens for traditional values, contrasted with Catholicism and Protestantism which succumbed to the “decadent” Western tendencies (see the aforementioned Dugin’s The Metaphysics of the Gospel and many other works).
The Kremlin’s agenda is evangelized through the Russian Orthodox Church’s branches in various countries, but also, with various degrees of deliberateness, via some seemingly independent churches. Serbia and Athos are the most obvious suspects, but believers from Romania, Bulgaria and other countries should watch out too. And generally, if your priest, Orthodox or not, endorses violence, tyranny and bloodshed, this should set off alarm bells.
Russia sees in Islam a strategic ally in its conflict with the modern world. Islamic countries are not always eager to reciprocate, but this does not stop the Kremlin from using Islam as a tool of its propaganda machine. On the one hand, it exploits the topic of Muslim refugees to demonstrate the ostensible “decay” of the West, while on the other hand Muslims in Europe are one of the target groups for its brainwashing which it tries to radicalize against the “deluded” and “unjust” Westerners. The next time an Islamist terrorist attack happens in Europe watch the difference between the Russian and Western media’s reaction.
The ideas of René Guénon, Julius Evola and their ilk, popularized in Russia, again, by Dugin, present a fertile ground for cultivating useful — from the Kremlin’s perspective — manpower among the Western intellectuals. This narrative’s flirting with the Putinist agenda is the least loaded with cognitive dissonance since Russia literally promises to build a traditionalist society, which makes it more difficult to debunk. And it’s also the most overlooked due to the elitist nature of traditionalist circles, which makes it particularly dangerous because intellectuals from those circles often have a subtle influence on other trends and narratives.
Calling out these narratives as toxic does not mean they must be censored or canceled out. However, they should be always approached carefully and with a critical mind. One should always question their assumptions and reasoning. And if you’re a proponent of any of them, ask yourself, why supporting X should necessary mean also supporting Y, and why being contrarian should necessary mean being morally bankrupt.