Flying Russian Tricolor Part of Putin’s Nationalist Revival

The Russian president appeals to Russian patriotism and tradition to shore up his working class support.

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside Moscow's Kremlin, February 23, 2011
Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside Moscow’s Kremlin, February 23, 2011

President Vladimir Putin on Thursday advocated a law that would increase the use of the Russian national anthem and flag. Claiming he wants to boost patriotism, “especially among the younger generation,” the move is Putin’s latest appeal to conservative values and an attempt to lift his popularity ratings.

The Russian leader, who was elected to a third term last year with 63 percent support, told university law teachers at his residence west of Moscow he had sent a bill to parliament that would widen use of state symbols such as Russia’s tricolor in schools.

Putin earlier revived Soviet-style military parades and a labor medal that had been introduced during Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship. Since his most recent reelection, ties between the Kremlin and Russian Orthodox Church have also warmed while Russia has taken an increasingly adversarial stance in world affairs to its former Cold War rival America.

The nationalist revival seems an attempt to shore up Putin’s working-class support. Especially urban and middle-class Russians, whose economic prospects improved during the last decade in large part because of the liberal economic reforms Putin enacted, are increasingly dissatisfied with corruption and nepotism at the top as well as the president’s authoritarian tendencies. Rural and working-class voters, by contrast, have seen little economic improvement in recent years and are turning to communist and nationalist rather than leftist opposition parties. Putin’s appeals to Russian patriotism and tradition, including an infamous ban on gay “propaganda” that was enacted earlier this year, are apparently designed to charm those constituencies — despite his warning last year that Russia’s “multiethnic society” would lose its strength if it was “infected by nationalism.”

The appeal also shapes Russian foreign policy. As Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, argued earlier this year, Russia has been looking for a distinct international role since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. “Now the Kremlin appears to have found it.”

It is based on conservative nationalism; support for traditional international law with its emphasis on national sovereignty and noninterference in internal affairs of states; and a strong preference for evolutionary path of development over revolutionary upheavals. Thus, Russia is strongly opposed to liberal interventionism; democracy promotion; and regime change instigated from abroad.

The state-sponsored comeback of the church also has a policy foreign dimension. Russia has been increasingly vocal about the plight of Christians in the Middle East, including Syria, where its ally, President Bashar Assad, is battling an uprising of mostly Sunni Muslims against his secular regime.