Russia’s hardline advisers have caught Putin’s ears

MOSCOW – The West is legalizing human-animal marriage. Ukraine’s leaders are just as bad as Hitler, and the country’s nationalists are “inhumans”.

These are the views found within President Vladimir V. Putin, one of Russia’s top security officials, who will likely sit at the table when their leader decides to have launch an open war against Ukraine or not.

In remarks published by Russian media last year, these powerful men – many of whom were born in the 1950s Soviet Union, like Mr. Putin – outlined more reactionary views than the president. theirs, a sign of a tougher line. The transformation the Kremlin is doing as it escalates its war with enemies at home and abroad.

The rise of security officials in the president’s orbit marks Mr. Putin’s evolution from a young leader who displayed a friendly face to the West in the early 2000s – while all around him. Advisors range from famous liberals – to the man who is now implicitly threatening to start a major war in Europe.

It is also the story of the Kremlin’s years-long struggle to forge an ideology to underpin Putin’s rule: one that increasingly relies on the image of the West as the enemy, Ukraine. threat and Russia as a bulwark of “traditional values. ”

“This is a collective effort to form a reactionary ideology, because Putin does not have an ideology,” said Konstantin Remchukov, a Moscow newspaper editor with ties to the Kremlin. . “The important postulate is that everyone is against Russia.”

No one really knows how Putin makes decisions or to whom he listens the most as he considers his next steps. Russia’s president, the Kremlin said, is reviewing written responses the United States and NATO sent to Moscow last week about their security requirements – including assurances that Ukraine will never become a member of NATO.

On Friday, the Kremlin said Western responses did not address Russia’s biggest security concerns. But Mr. Putin himself has kept quiet, has avoided public comment on Ukraine since December, despite appearing on camera almost every day.

That caused the hawks around him to give clues to his thoughts. Some of them first met Mr. Putin working with him in the Soviet KGB, and have been accused of surveillance by Western officials. assassinations, affect operations, cyber espionage and brutal war that helped separate the Kremlin from Europe and the United States.

Mr. Putin is known for his misleading anti-Western antics, but his main national security adviser, Nikolai Patrushev, espouses them with the greatest enthusiasm. Putin paints a picture of enemies trying to distort Russia’s glorious past, but the director of his foreign intelligence service, Sergei Naryshkin, has made going against history a special priority. .

Mr. Putin has accepted more state participation in the economy, but his Defense Minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, has taken that trend to an extreme by launching a colossal effort led by State leadership to build new cities in Siberia.

“Some sort of time machine is taking us back to the worst years of the Hitler occupation,” Naryshkin said of Ukraine this month, describing its pro-Western government as a “regime” true dictatorship”. He is opening an exhibition in Moscow titled “Human Rights Abuse in Ukraine.”

Mr. Shoigu last month summon Ukrainian nationalists “nonhumans.” Mr. Patrushev has described “Russian fear” in Ukraine as the outbreak of a Western propaganda campaign dating back to the jealous European letter writers who had besieged Ivan the Terrible.

“They don’t like that the Russian tsar does not recognize their political and moral leadership,” said Patrushev speak of the 16th century tyrant known for his fearsome secret police.

Now, as Mr. Putin considers how far he will raise his stake in Ukraine, the question is how far he has adopted the conspiratorial thinking of his hawks. In Moscow, some analysts still see pragmatism in Putin. They say he weighs the grievances and paranoia of confidants like Mr. Patrushev, against the more sober input of the likes of Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, a technocrat tasked with keeping for the economy to function.

“These people are conservative radicals,” said Remchukov, who ran the 2018 re-election campaign of the mayor of Moscow and Putin’s former chief of staff. “It may be a conservative center, but Putin is central.”

However, there are many signs that the “radicalization” is faltering. The most obvious change has been within Russia, where opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny was poisoned in 2020, followed by a sweeping crackdown last year on activists, media, and activists. media and even academia. Western officials say Mr Navalny was poisoned by the Russian government, but Naryshkin, the director of foreign intelligence, described the poisoning as designed by Western agents in search of a “holy victim”. born” to help bring down Mr. Putin.

As they work to quash dissent, hardline security officials are also at the forefront of espousing “traditional values” as a superior Russian alternative to a decadent West. morally. A TV channel was recently fined for showing a man with long hair and nail polish – “which does not correspond to the image of a man of traditional sexual orientation”. Two bloggers have sentenced to 10 months in prison for a provocative photo in front of St.

“Father and mother are being renamed parents number one and number two,” Mr. Patrushev said in a September interview, which describes the “foreign” values ​​of the West. “They want to give children the right to determine their own gender, and in some places they have gone to the point of legalizing animal marriage.”

Putin repeats the saying about “parents number one and number two” in one appearance a month later, but removed zoophilia.

As Russian troops landed near Ukraine, another element of security officials’ ideology abounded again: glorification of the Soviet past. Patrushev said that the collapse of the Soviet Union “completely untied the Western neo-liberal elite,” allowing it to impose its non-traditional values ​​on the world. He and his colleagues see Russia as a country redefined as a bulwark against the West, with Ukraine and other post-Soviet states within Moscow’s legitimate sphere of influence.

“This is one of the darkest movements of Russian nationalism, multiplied by imperialism,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. The goal of Russia’s security elite, he said, is “to restore the empire.”

Putin himself described the collapse of the Soviet Union as a “geopolitical disaster”. But he also often sought the advice of a wide range of officials, including liberals. Now, those officials have largely been pushed out of government, while technocrats like Mishustin hardly ever speak out on issues beyond their direct responsibilities.

That has led to the elite class of security officials collectively known as “siloviki,” many of whom – like Mr. Patrushev, Mr. Naryshkin and Aleksandr Bortnikov, Russia’s domestic spy chief – have worked in the KGB alongside Mr. Putin.

Their influence extends beyond security matters: Mr. Patrushev, an avid volleyball player, heads the Russian Volleyball Federation, and his son is the Minister of Agriculture. Mr. Naryshkin oversees the Russian Historical Society, helping to head the charge of glorifying – and, critics say, bleaching – Russia’s past. Mr. Shoigu, the Defense Minister, loves Mr. Putin’s interest in the outdoors as president of the Russian Geographical Association and takes him with him often. holiday in the Siberian forest.

For these officials, analysts say, rising tensions with the West are a good thing, helping to increase their influence within the ruling elite.

“Confrontation and sanctions do not frighten siloviki but, on the contrary, open up more opportunities for them,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of a political analysis firm, R. Politik. wrote recently.

Russian analysts are now wondering if Mr. Putin is pragmatic enough to avoid an overt war with Ukraine. Russia closed last month’s Memorial Internationalthe Moscow human rights group that has long angered Russia’s security establishment for exposing the crimes of the Soviet secret service, represents a twist by Mr. Putin to siloviki’s views.

But Western sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine could have wide-ranging consequences, as demonstrated by plunge on the Russian stock market amid fears of war in recent weeks. And military casualties could have unpredictable consequences in domestic politics and tarnish Mr. Putin’s legacy.

“If we have a war with Ukraine and fraternal fraternity, that will be all he will be remembered for,” said Remchukov, the newspaper’s editor. “He couldn’t understand what guilt would be.”

Alina Lobzina, Khava Khasmagomadova and Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting. Russia’s hardline advisers have caught Putin’s ears

Fry Electronics Team

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