Yury Fedorov*: Russia: towards fascism and disintegration


I have not too much time, so I’ll outline a few basic points only.

For many of us it is difficult to accept  that Russia is moving towards fascism or even that the current Russian regime, or “Putinism”,  is a fascist one; so called “fascism with a Russian face”. I’m sure that many Russians would strongly disagree with that; and not only Russians but also not a few Western scholars. There could be various reasons for that.

However, it is important to call things by their proper names, to call a spade a spade.

To answer the question: is “Putinism” a sort of fascism or not we have to look at distinguishing features of fascist regimes.

Such regime:

  1. is personalist dictatorship, often tyrannical, relying on security apparatus;
  2. its socio-political base includes large portions of middle and lower classes;
  3. it pursues economic dirigisme (state exerts strong directive influence over economy based on private property, especially investments) with a view to put it at service of state;
  4. it is motivated by ideology that combines a) glorification of the past; cult of “great leaders”; heroic myth; a concept of permanent “sacred war” between the Motherland and external and internal enemies; b) claims to be representing the interests of the nation as a whole; c) based on the image of a nation, state, or race as the “supreme and eternal realties and values”; d) cult of tradition and “traditional values” that had been lost during historic development; f) glorification of a state that prevails over an individual physically and spiritually; i) assumption that national or racial affinity overrides social differences; and j) militant anti-liberalism and anti-Westernism.

Putin’s regime has a number of essential characteristics typical of fascist regimes:

  1. personalist dictatorship centred around Vladimir Putin, who personally makes all pivotal economic and political decisions;
  2. key positions in Russia’s economic system are held
    by state-owned corporations that control the critical industries: fossil fuel extraction and export, the military industry, the railways, and others;
  3. in the Russian state propaganda, particular importance is given to the idea of “unity of the people,” which claims that ethnicity and being part of the Russian people prevails over any social or class differences;
  4. Putin’s dictatorship rests on the support of 80-85 percent of people; 
  5. “Putinism” as the ideological system
  6. a. includes almost all elements of just mentioned fascist type ideologies; such as cult of tradition based on so “spiritual tenets” rooted in the “traditional eastern orthodox values”;

    b. advocates “a strong state”;

    c. emphasizes the need for all social groups and classes to come together within the “unified,” obviously Russian, people and to be consolidated around the leader, that is Vladimir Putin.

Fascism is not something new for Russia. What is more, it was Russia, the country in which the first fascist, or proto-fascist, movement in Europe, so called “Black Hundreds” had arisen in early 20th century. and became an important player in Russian political life by the middle of the 1910’s.

The Black-Hundredist movement is usually viewed as an outburst of extremist activity, which largely manifested as anti-Semitic pogroms carried out by the lumpen proletariat and lower middle class, provoked by the Russian political police that tried to channel social discontent towards the Jewish population.

It is an undisputed truth that Black Hundreds were the main force of ant-Jewish pogroms of the early 20th century. It looks like that the militant anti-Semitism typical of the Nazism was borrowed from the Black Hundreds’ teachings. A tragically known anti-Semitic fake was created by the Black-Hundredist circles – the “Protocols of the elders of Zion,” which later became the handbook of Hitler’s Germany.

However Black-Hundredist movement did not only span the lower social classes, but included members of all classes and groups, including many prominent members of the Russian intelligentsia of the time; and, most importantly, the fact that its socio-political doctrine included many typically fascist elements.

I would mention the idea of a monarch who would be installed as an indisputable leader, whose powers would not be limited by laws or institutions. Such monarchic “leader mania” was considered the only political order suitable for Russia, due to the specifics of the Russian mentality and historical development.

Any limitation of the “monarch leader’s” power was viewed as an encroachment against the fundamental principles of Russian statehood. Shortly speaking in the first decade of the 20th century, a large part of the Russian society was ready to establish a fascist regime in an orthodox-monarchist form.

Next important stage in evolution of the Russian fascism began in 1960’s.

Fascist and proto-fascist views were spreading throughout the artistic intelligentsia, largely among the writers and journalists clustered around a few magazines published by the Central Committee of the VLKsm, primarily Molodaya Gvardiya (the Young guard).

Gradually, these views spread through the student communities, the technical intelligentsia, the army officer corps and state security agencies, the
clergy of the Russian orthodox church and the party apparatus.

At their core, these views were the primordial form of Russian fascist and rightwing
nationalist ideology. In brief, they came down to the following:

  1. the West, primarily the US, is the immanent enemy of Russia and of the “Russian civilization” founded on Eastern orthodox values, an enemy that strives to weaken and ultimately destroy Russia. In many ways, the West’s anti-Russian policy is inspired by Zionist circles, who hate Russia for being the main power standing in the way of Zionism’s world domination;
  2. the Bolshevik revolution was a result of a “Jewish conspiracy.” After coming to power, the Bolsheviks, acting on orders of Zionist circles, had systematically worked to destroy the “Russian civilization” and the Russian way of life. Stalin had managed to change the nature of the Soviet regime, giving it a Russian national character and limiting the influence of the Jews among the Soviet elite;
  3. after Stalin’s death, two groups have been battling within the Soviet establishment: the pro-West, liberal, largely ethnically Jewish group related to international Zionism; and the opposing Russian group fighting to preserve the USSR as a force that opposes either the American or the Zionist world hegemony (the later version being the more popular of the two);
  4. the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity and the Russian orthodox church are, to use modern terminology, the pivotal spiritual and institutional “tenets” of the Russian society that ensure its unity, social and political stability, and the ability to withstand the destructive ideological influences coming from Europe.

This concept became later a main part of the “Putinism”.

That’s history, however. What is going on now?

There are four trends worthwhile to mention.

  1. A large number of fascist and neo-Nazis groups emerged  in the late 1980’s – early 1990’s  are mostly marginalized became a conglomerate of loud organizations that had achieved no success in public policy. However a few new organizations fully controlled by the authorities have emerged and turned into a sort of Putin’s Sturm abteilungen (f.e. National Liberation Movement headed by Duma member Eugenie Fedorov).
  2. Establishment of a system of private or semi-private political “clubs” or networks that brought together various politicians, businessmen, Russian Orthodox Church hierarchs; high-ranking retired army and security officers who retained their connections with active members of the security sector (Izborsky club; Academy of Geopolitics; St Basil the Great Foundation headed by Konstantin Malofeev and a number of others).
  3. Their main mission is to develop conceptual and geopolitical views and concepts with a view to transform “Putinism” into an operational doctrine and to inculcate such concepts into nation’s political thinking.

    Some of them, like St Basil the Great Foundation are important instruments of Putin’s expansionism in Ukraine.

  4. The Russian Orthodox church plays a special part in development of just mentioned ideas and is transforming into an apparatus of ideological control; and the clergy evolves into a powerful political force, actively penetrating into the education sphere and army.
  5. The 18th World Russian People Congress  in November 2014 called to bring together all the best and most valuable things from different eras of Russian history “…in the great synthesis of the religious ideals of the ancient Rus, governmental and cultural achievements of the Russian empire, social imperatives of solidarity and equality pronounced in the soviet society, and the fair aspiration to exercise civil rights and freedoms in post-Soviet Russia. We believe that such synthesis will occur sooner or later, resulting in the creation of a government model that combines a strong power vertical resting on the foundation of higher truth, with support of the family and religious institutions, with broad social guarantees, and respect for civil rights and freedoms.”

    This is a typical example of the RO Church political rhetoric.  As for “respect for civil rights and freedoms” I think is nothing but a tribute to pseudo-democratic language used by a part of Russian top circles. 

  6. There is a growing likelihood of a transformation of a “soft fascist regime” which the current Putin’s regime is into a “hard fascist regime”.

Putin loses its political potential; he made a number a strategic blunders that are “worse than a crime”; his being in power for the next six years more and more contradicts interests of a growing part of Russian nomenclature and big business. Putin cannot but understand this and is afraid of being made a scapegoat. And with all good reason for this.

To avoid this he, as some well-informed Russian observers believe, plans to change the Constitution, become a lifelong leader. This logically to establishment a hard-fascist dictatorship based on just mentioned ideology.

The second trajectory of Russia’s development is a separatist trend resulting in the final end in the disintegration of the state. However paradoxical it may appear, an attempt to establish a hard-line fascist dictatorship in Russia may, and most likely will result in its disintegration.

Advocates of Vladimir Putin believe that one of his key political achievements was to prevent the fracturing of Russia by quelling centrifugal tendencies and separatist sentiments in the regions.

This is only true in the fact that Putin had formally preserved Chechnya as a part of Russia while de facto renouncing control over its territory; amended the legislation of several Russian republics (Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Tuva, and Sakha-Yakuta) to exclude provisions about the priority of republic laws over federal ones; and, with certain exception, strongly increased the regions’ dependence on the federal centre. Thus, the Kremlin had removed external manifestations of regional and ethno-regional separatism without addressing its underlying causes.

Many Russians believe regional separatism to be a real threat to the country’s integrity.

A 2013 survey by the Levada analytical centre showed that 50% of Russians viewed separatism as a substantial problem. Most of the respondents – almost 80% – held negative views about the prospect of separation of any regions from Russia. 9%, however, had a positive stance on the possible “parcelling” of the country.

Source and prerequisites of separatism lies in:

  1. Interests of regional elites, which strive to lessen their dependence on the central government;
  2. discontent of regional elites, especially those of the donor regions, which are dissatisfied with the current budgetary system;
  3. cultural, value-based and psychological differences among people of the same ethnicity (in this case, Russians) that live in different regions, that have roots far in the past and that define its possible fault lines.

To find out how these prerequisites may be realized one  would look at how empires had crashed.

The dissolution of territorially integrated empires was largely caused by a combination of two factors:

  1. a surge of national movements and aspirations on one hand;
  2. and weakening and paralysis of the central government, on the other.

A paralyzed centre creates a power vacuum, and regional elites step up to fill it:

  1. either willingly, as they try to break free from the centre and control the economic and political institutions of their region;
  2. or simply to prevent a collapse of the governance system and the subsequent socio-political crisis and chaos in the respective region.

A crisis of the central government can result from:

  1. Rise of disagreements and controversies within the ruling elite caused by Putin’s attempt to establish his lifelong fascist  type dictatorship.
  2. Exacerbation of the economic crisis for instance as a result of oil prices dropping to a level of 20-25 dollars per barrel or economic sanctions.
  3. a. In this case, the fault line in the Russian political and business establishment is likely to run between the advocates of a soviet-type mobilization economy and the proponents of radical market reforms, military spending cuts, and government intervention in the economy.

    b. Many authors believe that an economic crisis will fuel separatist sentiments, especially in the north Caucasus, whose interest in staying a part of Russia will fall as the budget subsidies to the region decrease.

  4. Mass protests in Moscow, St. Petersburg and 2-3 other major cities, with the demands for Putin’s (or his successor’s) resignation. This may be followed by disputes on who should be the successor; and a power struggle among various groups within the top echelon of the government.
  5. Attempts by Russia to occupy the Baltic countries and its defeat in a short-term conventional clash with NATO forces. A schism in the top echelons of power can rise from a disagreement on the prospect of further military escalation that may result in a nuclear conflict.
  6. Drawing Russia into a so-called “large war” against Ukraine. A large part of the political apparatus, the military command, and business elites will view it as a needless waste of resources and diversion of military strength from the more important (in their opinion) directions, combined with the risk of increased popular discontent due to casualties, and an economic nosedive due to tightened western sanctions.

These days autonomist and separatist sentiments (which remain largely passive) are observed in the “Russian” regions of Siberia and the Far east, the Volga River basin regions, the Sakha-Yakutia Republic, the Kaliningrad oblast, St. Petersburg, and Karelia.

Siberia is a special case. If Russia disintegrates this will start in Siberia and then spread over other regions.

The idea of creating an independent Siberian state first emerged in the early 18th century.

The first attempt to implement the autonomist and secessionist ideas in Siberia took place in 1905-07, when the mass upheavals (known during the Soviet times as the first Russian revolution) had weakened the central government, allowing dormant separatist sentiments to become more explicit. those years saw the creation of the Party of Siberian independence and the Siberian Regional union.

The February Revolution of 1917 and the fall of autocracy had immediately resulted in a drastic weakening of the central government.

The centralized governance system was essentially paralyzed. Similarly, to the events of 1905-07, these circumstances enabled the rise of national movements in non-Russian parts of the empire, as well as, importantly, autonomist and secessionist movements in Siberia and a few other predominantly Russian regions.

In December 1917, the extraordinary Siberian Regional congress met in Tomsk and decided on the necessity of forming a provisional Siberian government, which  was elected in January 1918. In July 1918, this government adopted the Declaration of the independence of Siberia. However, by the end of the year autonomist and secessionist projects had failed. In November 1918, as a result of a coup, power was assumed by the government of admiral Kolchak, which supported the principle of a “united and indivisible” Russia.

During Gorbachev’s Perestroika the gradual paralysis of state’s top leadership due to the growing infighting within the Politburo, and the ultimate collapse of the USSR provided for another resurgence of separatist sentiments in Siberia’s politics.

In 1989, the Siberia committee was created in Tomsk in 1989, with the declared objective to create a sovereign confederacy of Siberian Lands. A year later, the same city saw the creation of the Party for Siberian independence, Siberian media began a lively discussion of the region’s prospects, including the idea of seceding from Russia, and printed many documents written by the “regionalists” in 1917-18. many of these documents were viewed as manuals for building the future independent Siberian state

In 1990, the inter-Regional association “Siberian agreement” was formed, headed by Vitaly Mukha, chairman of the Novosibirsk Regional council at the time, and the former First secretary of the Novosibirsk Regional committee of CPSU. The association included heads of Altai and Krasnoyarsk Krais, Kemerovo, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tomsk, Tyumen’s oblasts, and the Khakassia autonomy. In many ways, the emergence of this organization was the regional leaders’ response to the weakening of the centre.

In other words, in late 1980’s – early 1990’s, the regional elites were forced to gradually accept more and more responsibility over the governance of Siberian regions and to coordinate their efforts among themselves, because the centre was becoming progressively more paralyzed. Also, the regional leaders had to spearhead (or at least, attempt to) the possible process of separation of Siberia from Russia – because otherwise, the groups and movements fighting for the region’s independence would have pushed them out of power. Finally, the local political and economic figures could hope to become full-fledged leaders of one or several independent states, instead of simply following Moscow’s orders

The conflict between the democratic powers consolidated around Yeltsin and the “Red-browns” concentrated around the supreme soviet had resulted in another paralysis of the central government in summer-autumn 1993, bringing about more uncertainty about the eventual winner of the power struggle. Under these conditions, Siberian regional elites again turned to the idea of an independent Republic of Siberia, which was heavily discussed during the summer of 1993 at the sessions of the Siberian Agreement.

According to the Levada centre, in 2013, an average of 8-9% of Russian citizens were ready to support the idea of their region’s autonomy – compared to 22% of respondents in Siberia. Sociological data from Krasnoyarsk and Altai regions shows that in the late 2000’s, the average prevalence of separatist and autonomist sentiments in the Siberian Federal District was 22.8%; some 7% of Siberians agreed with the demand to separate Siberia from the Russian Federation as a sovereign state, and 16% supported the idea of a Siberian Republic within the Russian Federation.

An opinion poll among the residents of Krasnoyarsk Krai in 2012 showed that 44% of the population have a purely negative view of the federal government, and 28%, a purely positive. “there is discontent towards the centre’s “colonial policies,” while the regional authorities are viewed in a better light than the federal. The later are often accused of being corrupt and lobbying in the interests of monopolies.” In industrially developed parts of Siberia, the share of separatism-minded respondents is several times higher compared to the under-developed rural regions. Radical-secessionist or republican-autonomist sentiments were typical for 40% or more of adult citizens in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Kemerovo oblast, and Novosibirsk oblast, while the corresponding value was 26% for Chita oblast, 10% for the Altai Republic, and only 2% for Altai Krai.

Separatist and autonomist sentiments are the most widespread among long-term residents of Siberia, as well as high status groups: businesspeople, state officials (especially on the municipal level) and intellectuals.

To sum up, the chance of separatist and autonomist sentiments becoming more explicit and transforming into a significant political factor is higher in Siberia than in many other parts of Russia. among the factors contributing to this are:

  1. region’s history;
  2. discontent with the region’s economic discrimination among the elite and parts of the population;
  3. and, most importantly, a real economic possibility for independent existence, built on the foundation of export of fuel and other natural resources

Two potential trajectories:

The first one would replay processes that had already taken place in Siberia’s history: a weaker centre results in the upsurge of separatism; influential groups and movements emerge to speak for the region’s independence; regional elites take a separatist stance; until ultimately, Siberia is either declared independent or becomes a confederate unit within Russia.

The second trajectory entails the establishment of an orthodox fascist dictatorship in Moscow, supported by the army, the state security agencies, and the military-industrial complex. Such a regime would almost certainly attempt to establish a centralized planned mobilization-type economic system. This means that the key sectors of the Siberian economy – extraction of fossil fuels and other natural resources – would be strictly controlled by Moscow, and the regional authorities would be entirely powerless to make any meaningful decisions.


*Information about the author:

Yury FedorovDr., Prof., PIR Center, Italy/Russia.

The article is based on the address at the «round table» «The current political regime in Russia: Quo vadis?»


08.06.2019 08:00:00