The Russia Program at GW Online Papers, no. 8, october 2023
What role did ideology play in triggering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

Juliette Faure

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 followed to the letter the program prescribed for years by the Izborsky Club, a think tank created in 2012 comprising conservative elites advocating the restoration of Russia's imperial, great-power status as part of a cultural and military confrontation with the West. Today, the Izborsky Club’s ideologues such as Alexander Dugin and Alexander Prokhanov are the war’s chief ideologues.

While these Russian hawks were marginal in the 1990s, the regime has increasingly relied on them to justify an authoritarian consolidation around strong state power, enforce social discipline based on traditional values and pursue a revisionist foreign policy. In my PhD research, I have tried to understand why, despite the prohibition of a state ideology in the Russian Constitution of 1993, Russian hawks have risen to political prominence as one of the major sources of legitimation used by the regime.

This question addresses a central political science debate on how to assess the influence of ideas on policy decisions. In the Russian case, scholars have pointed to the ruling elite’s genuine support of conservatism and imperialism.1 Others, on the contrary, have exposed the regime’s lack of adhesion to ideological values and principles, pointing to the Kremlin’s mere cynical use of ideology as an instrument that hides pragmatic goals, such as legitimizing the ruling circle holding onto power and attracting international support for Russia among conservative political audiences.2

To understand the place of ideology in contemporary Russian politics, I have examined the public careers of the Russian hawks over the past 30 years, focusing on the evolution of their social and material interactions with policymaking elites. My research shows that, starting from the mid-1990s, the ruling elites resumed Soviet practices of state sponsorship of ideology production. Unlike in Soviet times, however, the current regime does not rely on an institutionalized ideological apparatus, but rather on transactional relations with networks across intellectual and political milieus.

In this regard, I build on the literature that has argued that, despite the centralized and patrimonial nature of the Russian political system, the Russian state functions as a network state in which the power of informal networks matters more than institutions in terms of influencing political decisions and organizing the distribution of economic resources.3 However, whereas most models of Russia as a network state see the networks as displacing ideology – drawing actors away from collectivities based on abstract concepts and into collectivities based on personal connection and material exchange – I put forward the concept of “idea networks” to highlight that ideology is one the dimensions, alongside material factors, that determine the construction of elite groups.

In lieu of the binary opposition between theories of ideology as pure commitment to norms versus positivist views of ideology as a cover for material interests, I follow in the footsteps of authors who have restored the significance of ideology as a form of symbolic language constitutive of social life. As Karl Mannheim explains, ideology is a collection of shared meanings and evaluative interpretations dependent on group existence and rooted in action. It is a collective language that contains a “crystallization of the experiences of a certain group” and defines membership in that group.4 More recently, Michael Freeden has linked the study of ideological recombination with the processes of mutation of groups from which ideologies emerge.5

Instead of looking at ideology as a purely discursive thought-product of individual authors, my approach stresses the social and relational aspects of ideology as a variety of group language that has meaning in relation to the ideology of other groups. In this respect, while the literature on Russian ideology has often spotlighted Alexander Dugin, I decided to highlight the role of Russian hawks as an elite group bound by a set of common ideas, interests, beliefs, attitudes, experiences and emotions that have set them against other elite groups. The production of ideology by Russian hawks has played a key role in defining and substantiating the identity and contours of their group.

Analysis of the public careers of Russian hawks shows that they have been increasingly able, starting from the 2000s, to compete against more liberal groups for access to state-sponsored resources such as media visibility, honorific status and financial support.
State support for ideology production, however, was not aimed at implementing a specific ideological programme but rather at cultivating a set of lines and narratives opening up policy courses.
At least until February 2022, the regime has been committed to the principle of “managed pluralism” and thus the maintenance of a certain degree of ideological polarization within the ruling elite. To evidence this claim, I show that state support for Russian hawks has gone through cycles, going up and down, and that it severely contracted ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While a core ideological substratum consolidated over the years in official speech around concepts such as strong state power and multipolarity of the world order, further ideological content remained variable. Different idea networks were promoted or demoted through the distribution of state resources depending on how it would contribute to maintaining policy flexibility in a changing strategic environment. This variation can explain the major changes in Russia’s foreign policy and most importantly the evolution of the Kremlin’s Ukraine policy whereby the preference went from diplomatic negotiations to resolve the Donbas conflict in 2014 to a fully revisionist use of force in 2022.

Therefore, as I see it, ideology plays a structuring role in the Russian political system, as it forms the collective language constitutive of elite groups whose competition, administered through authoritarian control by the executive power, shapes the set of policy options available to the leader. In this respect, I depart from strictly realist approaches, which only consider material interests and capabilities as explanatory variables in policy choices. However, I also highlight what classic constructivist approaches may not be so good at seeing – the interactional and competitive process through which idea-producers seek policy influence.

On the one hand, the rise of the Russian hawks resulted from the strategy of cultural influence that they deployed to gain recognition of their ideas and move from the margins to the center of the public sphere. On the other hand, their ascension was fostered by their top-down co-optation by decision-makers seeking legitimizing and mobilizing resources for the regime’s distinction from Western liberalism.

The hawks’ strategy of media mobilization: A successful culture war (1991-2005)

The group of Russian hawks was formed at the end of the Soviet Union, when nationalist intellectuals and conservative members of the Soviet political establishment came together to criticize the liberalization led by Mikhail Gorbachev. The political unity of this coalition was welded into the Communist Party of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR), created in 1990 to compete with the reformist-dominated Communist Party of the USSR. The RSFSR’s Communist party’s chief ideologist, Gennady Zyuganov, proposed an alliance of “national-patriotic” forces against the liberals. At the same time, the intellectual Alexander Prokhanov founded the newspaper Den (Day) to serve as a media spearhead for this community, which he referred to as gosudarstvenniki (“supporters of the state”). Den brought together a broad spectrum of intellectuals who shared the goal of maintaining the Soviet Union as a military superpower in confrontation with the West.

Defeated and marginalized with the collapse of the USSR, the national-patriots nevertheless represented an active opposition to Boris Yeltsin's government, deploying both direct action strategies and a strategy of regaining cultural hegemony. Den, replaced by Zavtra (Tomorrow) in 1993, became the social and doctrinal factory of an ideology advocating the restoration of Russia as a strong imperial state that would combine the traditional and religious values of the Tsarist era with Soviet military and technological might. Some of the most popular Zavtra contributors included Zyuganov, the monarchist Orthodox clerics Father Dmitri Dudko and Metropolitan Ioann, the Eurasianist thinker Alexander Dugin, the National-Bolshevik writer Eduard Limonov, neo-Nazi nationalists like Alexander Barkashov and Islamic traditionalists like Geydar Dzhemal and Shamil Sultanov. This eclectic group was bound by their rejection of post-Soviet democracy, economic liberalization, the Westernization of Russian society, and US dominance of the international order.

While Zavtra authors railed against their exclusion from the public sphere, they were still directly engaged in the construction of the post-Soviet political order. Indeed, through their abundant publications, they contributed to structuring post-Soviet political cleavages by shaping the binary opposition between two groups: the “conservatives” and “patriots,” on the one hand, and “traitors,” “democrats” and “liberals” on the other.

In addition, their delegitimization and demonization of the ruling elites helped feed popular stereotypes about post-Soviet politics, such as the corruption and criminalization of politics, the theft of the country’s resources by mighty oligarchs, the influence of tycoons on the regime and the manipulation of popular opinion by media corporations. In this language, they painted the patriotic opposition as the group that represents Russian society’s grievances and collective traumas.

Although they remained in opposition, starting from the mid-1990s, some of the Russian hawks’ cornerstone political ideas gained traction within the regime’s official discourse. During the October 1993 crisis, Yeltsin’s unconstitutional decision to dissolve the legislature and his authoritarian resort to armed force to defeat the opposition challenged the liberal democratic ideals claimed by his party Democratic Russia and marked a conservative turn in his rule. Ironically, the crushing of the national-conservative opposition was followed by an effort to assimilate some of their ideas – justifying strong state power and promoting a national ideology and the celebration of Russia’s cultural and religious traditions. In particular, the launching of the First Chechen War in 1994 coincided with the Russian government’s effort to build a new official state patriotism to combat separatism. In 1996, Yeltsin’s decision to establish a commission to define “the Russian idea” and to “think about what national ideal, what national ideology is the most important for Russia” grappled with one of the long-term concerns of the conservative opposition.6

At the end of the 1990s, the hawks’ ideas attracted an even wider audience. In 1998, the country’s default, together with the devaluation of the ruble and the ensuing financial crisis, led to the resignation of then-Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko and bolstered the Russian people’s opposition to capitalist economic reforms. Subsequently, in 1999, anti-Western attitudes became predominant in Russian public opinion in reaction to NATO’s expansion to include Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic and to NATO’s military operations against Serbia without a United Nation mandate.

As reported by figures from the polling and research institute Levada Center, in 1999 75% of Russians agreed with the statement that “the U.S. is taking advantage of Russia’s troubles to turn it into a second-class country,” while 60% were confident that “the U.S. wanted Russia to break into several parts.” Criticism of the West even grew significantly in important liberal media outlets such as Izvestia and Segodnya. In addition, the military campaign against Chechnya launched by then-Prime Minister Putin in September 1999 drew unanimous support and fostered a “patriotic ecstasy” among the various political parties represented in the Duma.7 In this context, the campaign for the presidential elections held in March 2000 resulted in what the scholar Sergei Prozorov has described as the dispersion of conservatism as the “hegemonic discourse” in Russian politics.8

Although Putin was positioned as the direct heir to Yeltsin, his first term as president in 2000-2004 selectively departed from Yeltsin’s legacy. Political scholar Harley Balzer has put forward the concept of “managed pluralism” to qualify the Putin regime’s balance between authoritarian and liberal principles, which Balzer interprets as an endeavor to limit “the diverse cultural influences accompanying globalization while still reaping economic benefits from the international economy.9

This context of general backlash against the West and the legacy of the 1990s provided a favorable environment for the circulation of national-patriotic discourse, which even started reaching a segment of the liberal intellectual elite. A case in point is the editorial volte-face of the Ad Marginem publishing house. Known in the 1990s for publishing Russian translations of French Theory philosophers such as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida, the editors decided, staring from the 2000s, to turn to ultra-nationalist Russian authors such as Limonov and Prokhanov. In an interview for Zavtra, Ad Marginem’s founder and director Alexander Ivanov explained that his initial “excitement with the West” had grown “into a subsequent monstrous disappointment.” Ivanov held capitalism and consumerism as responsible for the “decline in interest for Russia.” He associated the “need to play by Western standards” with Russia’s loss of self-identity and “dignity.” Ivanov’s about-turn is indicative of the new, more populist understanding of left-wing identity in Russia at that time, which shifted from emulating Western liberalism to promoting the country’s “own history,” “self-reliance” and specific “path of intellectual and cultural development.”

In addition, in the early 2000s, a new generation of hawkish intellectuals entered the Russian public sphere and began to formulate an updated version of Russian conservatism. Born in or close to the 1970s, these “Young Conservatives” had studied philosophy and history at Moscow State University (MGU) in the 1990s and shared an interest in religious Russian philosophy, political conservatism, nationalism and traditionalism. Prominent members of this group include Vitaly Averyanov (1973-), Egor Kholmogorov (1975-), Konstantin Krylov (1967-2020), Boris Mezhuev (1970-) and Mikhail Remizov (1978-).

Although they did not share their forerunners’ nostalgia for the past and ambition of restoring the Soviet Union, they did concur with their rejection of globalization and ambition to restore Russia’s great-power status based on both the country’s civilizational identity and technological might. In contrast to the older generation, however, the
Young Conservatives engaged in a new form of ideological entrepreneurship drawing on their intellectual formation as social scientists and their professionalization as Internet and media intellectuals.
Their combination of learned discourse, scholarly references and polemical style made for a new type of intellectual with tools that differed from the older generation’s use of radical rhetoric. Between 2000 and 2005, they became some of the most visible intellectuals thanks to their use of the Internet and social networks. Influential members of the liberal intellectual elites, such as Gleb Pavlovsky (1951-2023) and Stanislav Belkovsky (1971-), contributed to their rise on the public scene by recruiting them as authors and editors for their online political outlets, the Russkii zhurnal (The Russian Journal) and Agentstvo politicheskikh novostei (APN; Agency of Political News), where intense debates about society and politics were held among a community of intellectuals across a wide ideological spectrum.

In 2005, the Young Conservatives gathered as a group of 70 signatories to author the “Russian Doctrine,” a document setting out a full-fledged ideology of conservative modernization, which they called “dynamic conservatism.” Advocating authoritarian economic and technological development based on Russia’s traditional historical and religious values, the “Russian Doctrine” inspired the subsequent adoption of programmatic documents by some of the most authoritative conservative political and religious organizations. Metropolitan Kirill, who would later become Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, publicly praised the “Russian Doctrine” and recommended taking the document for “practical use.” He suggested using it as an “organic part” of a nationwide dialogue on the “core values of Russia.”

The hawks inside the regime’s market for ideology (2005-2012)

In the aftermath of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2005 mass protests in Russia against the monetization of social benefits, the Kremlin fomented an ideological counter-reaction to ward off domestic revolutions based on the legitimation of strong state power.10 This conservative inflection of the regime’s party was mainly orchestrated by Vladislav Surkov, the deputy head of the Presidential Administration and the chief ideologue of the ruling United Russia party. In the first half of 2006, Surkov theorized the concept of “sovereign democracy” as Russia’s model of government. It was intended to be both a buffer against destabilizing “color revolutions” inside Russia and an assertion of Russia’s great-power status within the global economy.

At this time, United Russia was primarily concerned with ideological indoctrination of the youth and started relying on the two generations of Russian hawks for social and ideological support against liberal and nationalist oppositional forces. Dugin and Prokhanov were invited as guest lecturers to address the pro-government youth movements Nashi (Ours) and Molodaya Gvardiya (Young Guard).11 Their public careers and media visibility subsequently took off. In 2008, Dugin became a professor of philosophy at Moscow State University. He and Prokhanov became regular guests on major TV talk shows dealing with society and politics. Meanwhile, the Young Conservatives were tasked with running a think tank within United Russia, the Russian Club, to feed the party with ideas and recommendations on how to formulate a pro-government response to the rise of anti-Kremlin ethnic nationalism.

The years 2007 and 2008 laid the foundations for the regime’s rhetorical embrace of some of the hawks’ key ideas. Three significant turning points in this direction can be identified in Putin’s policies and discourse by the end of his second term. First, the Kremlin adopted protectionist measures and state investment policies that the hawks had been advocating, as opposed to the principles of a free market. Second, Putin put forward the concept of “spiritual security,” which was one of the core concepts advocated in the “Russian Doctrine.” During one of his public addresses in 2007, Putin compared Russia’s traditional religions with its nuclear arsenal as the two pillars of the country’s security. Finally, Putin took a clear anti-Western turn in foreign policy at the 2007 Munich Security Conference, when he expressed his dissatisfaction with the post-Cold War world order and condemned its US-centered unipolar character.

Despite the conservative consolidation initiated during Putin’s second term, the ruling elites remained ideologically mixed.
The regime, at the time, did not seek to endorse a single state ideology, but rather to contextually give more power weight to some idea networks versus others while maintaining ideological pluralism.
Upon coming to power as president in 2008, Dmitri Medvedev kept the hawks at arm’s length. His reformist approach, critical of the centralization of power, relied on expert groups outside state institutions. The Institute of Contemporary Development (Institut sovremennogo razvitiya, INSOR), which was headed by the liberal economist Igor Yurgens and at which Medvedev was the board of trustees chair, became the leading center for consulting and policy recommendations. As Edwin Bacon has highlighted, INSOR’s reports focused on modernization and advocated Russia’s full integration into the West through comprehensive democratic reforms and cooperation with Western powers, including Russia’s membership in NATO.12

In the winter of 2011-2012, mass demonstrations triggered by election fraud and the rejection of Putin’s candidacy for a third presidential term led to an unprecedented degree of polarization within the ruling elite. In contrast with liberals such as Minister of Finance Alexei Kudrin, who played an active role on the tribune at the December protests calling for fair elections, the siloviki, along with the ruling elites associated the security services, supported the regime’s authoritarian consolidation and its contestation of what they perceived as the West’s hand in spreading color revolutions.

This context provided a major opportunity for the first- and second-generation hawks to organize a massive collective action to counter the protesters’ demands for reforms, which they viewed as portending the collapse of the country. When a third wave of demonstrations took place on February 4 on Bolotnaya Square, the conservatives held a parallel meeting on Poklonnaya Hill with around 140,000 participants under the banner of the “anti-Orange coalition.” In September 2012, under the leadership of Prokhanov and the Young Conservative Vitaly Averyanov, the Poklonnaya Hill participants converted their contextualized group mobilization into a permanent institution, the Izborsky Club, which became the largest representative group of conservative ideologues in today’s Russia.
A new icon commissioned by the Izborsky Club, “The Great Power Virgin Mary” (Bogomater’ derzhavnaia) showing Stalin as a holy figure. The icon was blessed in a small parish and exhibited on a tank for the May 9 military parade, a gesture criticized by the Moscow Patriarchate. Source: Livejournal
The Izborsky Club: An influential idea network (2012-2022)

The Izborsky Club institutionalized the existence of a conservative idea network bound by shared interests and beliefs and by its common opposition to other, more liberal elite networks.

Named after an ancient fortress near the Estonian border, the club intends to be “a powerful political and ideological coalition of patriotic statesmen, an imperial front that opposes the manipulations of foreign centers of influence and the ‘fifth column’ from within the country.” Prominent members include the philosopher Alexander Dugin, the Nobel laureate physician Zhores Alferov (1930-2019), the economist Sergei Glazyev, an advisor to Putin on the development of Eurasian economic integration from 2012 to 2019, the journalist Mikhail Leontyev (1958-), deemed to be among Putin’s favorites, and Metropolitan Tikhon Shevkunov, rumored to be Putin’s personal confessor.

In addition, the participation of then-Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky and Pskov Governor Andrei Turchak in the inauguration ceremony demonstrated the political support enjoyed by the club within ruling circles. Such practices are characteristic of what Alexander Graef and Anton Barbashin call the “informal” type of state sponsorship of the Russian think-tank industry, where “material and symbolic support can be secured by unofficial relations with major enterprises and political stakeholders.” Izborsky Club activities have also benefited from other types of state-sponsorship practices such as financial support from the Presidential Administration and partnership agreements between the club and the government on education issues. The Russian hawks thereby achieved one of their long-term demands, namely the recognition of their ideology as a major, state-sponsored strategic resource.

The club’s ideas clearly gained traction in official speeches and policy documents of Putin’s third presidential term. Domestically, Putin articulated a development strategy for Russia based on the conservation of its traditional identity and values as a distinct civilization. In foreign affairs, the language of the Izborsky Club was directly used by the Russian president to justify Russia’s expansionist policy, which culminated in the annexation of Crimea in 2014. During his speech to the Federal Assembly to justify the annexation, Putin closely echoed Prokhanov’s language to argue that Crimea constituted the spiritual and political center of Russia, substantiating Crimea’s Russian identity by referring to the baptism of Prince Vladimir in Chersonesus and the subsequent Christianization of Kievan Rus.
A Russian Tupolev-95 bomber, which carries strategic missiles, named after the city of Izborsk and decorating with the club’s logo (2014). Source: Twitter
The Izborsky Club’s active contribution to Russia’s annexation of Crimea was officially acknowledged by the new Crimean leadership. In July 2014, Dmitri Polonsky, minister for internal policy, information and communication of the self-proclaimed Republic of Crimea, conveyed his “gratitude” to club members for their “important role in the events of the ‘Crimean Spring.’” The Russian military also lent official recognition to the Izborsky Club’s strategic role in the country’s security by naming a Tupolev Tu-95 bomber, which carries strategic missiles, after the city of Izborsk and decorating it with the club’s logo.

However, Putin explicitly distinguished the Russian state’s official position from the Izborsky Club’s campaign in support of the separatists in the Donbas. As one of the most active conceptualizers and propagators of the concept of “Novorossiya” (New Russia) to justify the integration of the Donbas with Russia, the club played an instrumental role in the legitimation of the insurgency.13 By contrast, in May 2014, the Kremlin refused to recognize the validity of the referenda held to proclaim the independence of the Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics. On September 5, 2014, the Novorossiya campaign was halted by the Kremlin’s decision to replace the insurgent governments with new elites who would sign the Minsk agreements along with Russia and Ukraine, providing for the reintegration of Donbas into Ukraine with a “special status of local self-government.” Instead of the official diplomatic track, the Izborsky Club argued in favor of a “Stalinist recipe” involving a “total military operation” with the intervention of a “liberation army” manned with volunteers from Russian private military companies and supported by missile strikes against strategic targets.

The Kremlin’s choice of diplomacy over force represents a key tipping point in the relation between the political and the ideological fields. It clearly showed that despite the transactions occurring between them, the rules guiding Russia’s strategy were defined in interaction with other military, economic and political interests that influence policy choices.

Although the Izborsky Club was demoted from its position as the hegemonic ideological group toward the end of 2014, it remained influential as a strategic subculture in specific policy niches such as patriotic education and Russian soft power in the post-Soviet space. In December 2015, the club received RUB 10 million (around €150,000 at the time) from the Presidential Administration, one of the largest grants to civil society organizations that year. The grant served to finance the club’s work on the concept of the “Russian World,” a central issue of Russian strategic thinking pertaining to the definition of an expanded Russian civilization beyond the limits of Russian territory.14 Published in 2016, the club’s “Doctrine of the Russian World” offered a “new offensive strategy” aimed at “the reconstruction of the Russian state of an imperial kind,” which involved “the formation of Russia’s spheres of interests” to compete with the West in the Balkans and Black Sea region, as well as the protection of ethnic Russians’ rights against the “Russophobia” of the Ukrainian ruling elites, dominated by “neo-Nazis.”

The changes in state sponsorship for civil society organizations, however, demonstrated that the Kremlin sought to downplay the conservative-authoritarian repertoire and promote liberal-democratic groups (such as Kudrin’s Center for Strategic Research) as a counterbalance. An important signal of this was sent by the shift in management of the Presidential Administration after the September 2016 legislative elections. Vyacheslav Volodin, who espouses radical, anti-Western conservative rhetoric and informally supports the Izborsky Club, was moved from the key executive position of first deputy chief of staff of the Presidential Administration, which is in charge of supervising domestic politics, to the less influential role of chair of the Duma. His successor, Sergei Kiriyenko, had stronger ties with the liberal, technocratic elites. Under Kiriyenko’s watch, each of the Izborsky Club’s applications for Presidential Administration funding were rejected.15

The Izborsky Club, however, continued to rely on the support of conservative ruling elites. Most importantly, the club strengthened its ties with the influential monarchist oligarch Konstantin Malofeev. This evolution of the Izborsky Club, from a state-sponsored think tank to a private lobbying group, demonstrates the Kremlin’s merely selective and contextual endorsement of the club’s ideology.

After February 2022: From idea networks to a repressive ideological apparatus

Important changes in the domestic and international environments might account for Putin’s pivotal shift from rejection of intense armed involvement in the Donbas in 2014 to his decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Among these changes are the Russian army’s combat training during the Syria campaign, Russia’s massive buildup of financial reserves, the development of a closer partnership with China to resist the costs of Western sanctions and the preparation of the domestic audience to accept the war following two years of Covid-related travel restrictions that isolated Russian society from international exchanges and allowed for an authoritarian crackdown on the opposition culminating with imprisonment of Alexei Navalny.
The invasion of Ukraine concretely enacted the hawks’ conception of Russia as an imperial great power that should rely on its technological and military might to assert its civilizational distinction from the West.
Ahead of the war, Putin’s article “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” published in July 2021, fully endorsed the rhetoric put forward by the Izborsky Club since 2014, which labeled Ukraine a failed state, artificially created by the Soviet Union, ruled by “neo-Nazis” and engaged in “Russophobic” policies. Although the Izborsky Club leadership has acknowledged their lack of influence over Putin’s decision, depicting the invasion of Ukraine as a “revolution from above” that occurred “contrary to our own expectations,” they have enthusiastically praised it as the advent of the “fifth empire” that they had “prophesized.”

Having shown that state support of the Izborsky Club has waxed and waned over the years, and that it severely contracted ahead of the war, my research provides a counterargument to teleological narratives describing the war as the fatal, ultimate result of a linear ideological radicalization of the Russian regime; instead, it highlights the regime’s previous caution not to pledge allegiance to a unique state ideology and cultivation of a certain degree of ideological polarization within elite groups in order to maintain ambiguity and flexibility in its policy choices. Unlike Putin-centered analyses, the idea network concept suggests that the war was one of the policy outcomes made possible by the mode of administering ideology that the Russian regime has put in place over the past decades to balance the influence between elite groups representing different strains of strategic culture.

The outbreak of the war, however, marked a shift in the Russian regime’s use of ideology. The former managed pluralism, which sought to combine different ideological factions within the elite, gave way to the development of a single ideological state apparatus. The banishment of opposition media and the adoption of a war-mongering, aggressively anti-Western discourse by members of the political elite previously deemed the most liberal, such as Medvedev and Kiriyenko, point to the dispersion of conservative imperialism as the ruling elite’s new hegemonic discourse, dominating, through its legitimation of the invasion, the expression of other systems of thought and other considerations such as the human or economic costs of the war. Vladimir Medinsky, a longtime Izborsky Club loyalist, the former culture minister and now a personal adviser to Putin, is now leading the charge to turn this imperialist ideology into official state propaganda, which is currently taught at schools through his new history textbook.
[1] See, for instance, Aleksei Chadaev, Putin. Ego ideologiia (Moskva: Evropa, 2006) and Maria Engström, “Contemporary Russian Messianism and New Russian Foreign Policy,” Contemporary Security Policy 35, no. 3 (2014): 356–79.

[2] See, for instance, Marlène Laruelle, ‘Conservatism as the Kremlin’s New Toolkit: An Ideology at the Lowest Cost’, Russian Analytical Digest, no. 138 (2013): 2–4; Anton Shekhovtsov, Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir (London: Routledge, 2017) and Mark Galeotti, We Need to Talk About Putin: Why the West Gets Him Wrong, and How to Get Him Right (London: Ebury Publishing, 2019).

[3] Vadim Kononenko and Arkadii Moshes, Russia as a Network State: What Works in Russia When State Institutions Do Not? (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011); Alena V. Ledeneva, Can Russia Modernise?: Sistema, Power Networks and Informal Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Henry E. Hale, Patronal Politics: Eurasian Regime Dynamics in Comparative Perspective, Problems of International Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

[4] Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge (Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing, 2015), 19.

[5] Michael Freeden, “Confronting the Chimera of a ‘Post‐ideological’ Age,” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 8, no. 2 (June 2005): 257.

[6] Kathleen E. Smith, Mythmaking in the New Russia: Politics and Memory in the Yeltsin Era (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002), 158.

[7] See Thomas Parland, The Extreme Nationalist Threat in Russia: The Growing Influence of Western Rightist Ideas (London: Routledge Curzon, 2004), 156.

[8] Sergei Prozorov, “Russian Conservatism in the Putin Presidency: The Dispersion of a Hegemonic Discourse,” Journal of Political Ideologies 10, no. 2 (June 2005): 121–43.

[9] Harley Balzer, “Managed Pluralism: Vladimir Putin’s Emerging Regime,” Post-Soviet Affairs 19, no. 3 (1 January 2003): 191.

[10] See Clémentine Fauconnier, Entre le marteau et l’enclume : La fabrication d’une hégémonie partisane dans la Russie de Poutine (Villeneuve-d’Ascq : Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2019)

[11] See Véra Nikolski, National-bolchevisme et néo-eurasisme dans la Russie contemporaine: La carrière militante d’une idéologie (Paris: Mare & Martin, 2013), 173–74.

[12] Edwin Bacon, “Policy Change and the Narratives of Russia’s Think Tanks,” Palgrave Communications 4, no. 1 (December 2018): 4.

[13] See Marlène Laruelle, “The Three Colors of Novorossiya, or the Russian Nationalist Mythmaking of the Ukrainian Crisis,” Post-Soviet Affairs 32, no. 1 (2016): 56–65.

[14] For a definition of the “Russian world,” see Marlène Laruelle, “The ‘Russian World’: Russia’s Soft Power and Geopolitical Imagination,” Center on Global Interests, 2015, 6.

[15] The club applied in 2018, in 2019 and in 2020. All the applications are recorded on the website: https://xn--80afcdbalict6afooklqi5o.xn--p1ai/public/application/cards.
  • Juliette Faure

    Teaching and Research Attachée at Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas, Research Associate at Sciences Po-CERI
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