This New Cold War Is Ideological Too

Russia is borrowing Western beliefs. That only makes the ideological challenge it poses more insidious.

The skyline of Moscow, Russia, March 27, 2017
The skyline of Moscow, Russia, March 27, 2017 (Julian Buijzen)

Because Russia promotes an agenda that is native to Europe, few seem to realize this Second Cold War is just as ideological as the first.

If anything, the fact that Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine can tap into a homegrown Western reactionary movement that shares its beliefs makes the ideological challenge he poses more insidious.

The Putin agenda

Russia promotes the following beliefs:

  • Faith and family against secularism and the individual.
  • Patriarchy and heteronormativity against feminism and LGBT rights.
  • An unhealthy admiration for strongmen and a cynicism about liberal democracy.
  • A relativism about the truth that is summed up by the title of Peter Pomerantsev’s famous book: Nothing is true and everything is possible.
  • A mistrust of the EU and multilateralism generally.
  • The weakening of the Atlantic alliance in favor of a closer European-Russian relationship.
  • The dismantling of rules-based international institutions in the name of geopolitics.

Suspect

We shouldn’t assume that whatever Russia promotes is wrong and the opposite must be right.

Conservatives can credibly argue that rampant individualism has sapped Western societies of their sense of cohesion.

Realists can credibly argue that we shouldn’t put too much faith in liberal institutions and pay closer attention to states’ interests.

However, the fact that Russia shares these beliefs, and packages them as an alternative to the Western consensus, does make their components suspect.

Not free

Russia is after all not a free society. Opponents of the regime are barred from standing in (rigged) elections. Some have been killed. Journalists can’t do their jobs without fear. Women are not treated equally to men. Ethnic and sexual minorities are routinely harassed, including by the state. Russia’s economy is barely the size of Spain’s, a country with a third of its population.

Few of the Western reactionaries who, wittingly or unwittingly, do Putin’s bidding would trade the freedom of the West for the suffocation of Moscow.

Remember that next time somebody rehearses talking points that sound like they could have been written in the Kremlin.