Putin’s Russia on path of fascism? Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu



All the more the dimensions of this danger are expanding, in case of security, to the sovereignty and the very existence of such states as the Republic of Moldova. The acceleration of the de jure and de facto incorporation of the Republic of Moldova's space into the defense shield of NATO and the EU becomes the only possibility of avoiding the danger of fascist practices spilling over into Moldovan society...


Anatol Țăranu

For decades, the Soviet Union, associated with Russia, had the reputation of a country that essentially contributed to crushing fascism in Europe in World War II. The red flag hoisted on the bullet-riddled Reichstag building in May 1945 cast a shadow of oblivion over Soviet leader Stalin’s complicity with German fascism leader Hitler in starting the most devastating war in human history. After all, what mattered in public perception was the annihilation of Hitlerism and the ideology of Nazi fascism embodied by Hitler’s regime, which ultimately eclipsed a multitude of crimes of Stalinist communism, not less horrible than those committed by Hitlerism.

Resurgence of fascism

Almost eight decades after the end of World War II, the resurgence of fascism on the European political arena seemed an implausible project. But the military aggression of Putin’s Russia against the sovereign Ukrainian state has shaken the patterns of this idealistic perception. Throughout the democratic world, the policy pursued by Putin, who recently won a new six-year presidential term, is increasingly associated with fascist ideology and practices to which characteristics typical of today’s neo-Nazism are attributed. According to many scientists, Russia today meets most of the criteria underlying the definition of fascist ideology and policy.

A special role in intensifying the debate around the fascist label of the policy of Putin’s Russia belongs to the American historian, Yale University professor and established author of books on fascism and totalitarianism, Timothy Snyder. In a New York Times article titled “We Should Say It: Russia Is Fascist”, professor Snyder described the similarities between Hitler’s Germany and Putin’s Russia, which begin with the existence of the cult of a single leader in society. These similarities continue through the existence of a cult of the dead built around World War II in Germany and after that war in Russia. The myth of a past golden age of imperial greatness to be restored by a war of healing violence – in the case of Putin this is the murderous war on Ukraine – is characteristic of both regimes.

Fascism reproduced

In most scientific definitions of the phenomenon of fascism, a dictatorial system of government marked by chauvinism, militarism, xenophobia, revisionism and expansionism is indicated. According to historian Timothy Snyder, Putin’s Russia undoubtedly meets all these characteristics. In 1941, Hitler saw the destruction of the USSR, which then included Ukraine, as the seizure of a Jewish state. Hitler planned to claim Ukraine’s fertile agricultural soil as vital space of the Germans, thinking that he would easily achieve this because he considered the USSR an artificial creation and the Ukrainians a colonial people in the composition of Soviet Russia.

The similarities to Putin’s war are striking. The Kremlin defines Ukraine as an artificial state, whose Jewish president proves it cannot be real. According to the Kremlin, after the elimination of a small elite, the inchoate masses would happily accept Russian dominion with open arms because the Ukrainians are not a distinct nation, but a part of the Russian people with a distorted national consciousness. A kind of inferior nation in the edited Hitlerist racial theory.

Fascist Ilyin reburied in Moscow

The American historian draws attention to the evolution of the phenomenon of “antifascism” in the 21-century Russia, which has simply evolved into the Russian leader’s right to call enemies of the Russian state anyone who is not liked by the Kremlin. Real Russian fascists like Dugin and Prokhanov were offered the propaganda platform in Russia. Putin himself in public speeches on his position uses the works of the Russian philosopher with fascist views Ivan Ilyin, which were published in the interwar period. For the Russian president, a “fascist” or a “Nazi” is simply someone who opposes his plan to destroy Ukraine. While the Ukrainians are “Nazis” because they don’t consider themselves Russians and resist.

It is significant that Putin’s favorite, philosopher Ivan Ilyin, all his life was a sincere, open and convinced fascist, an admirer of Hitler and Mussolini. Putin often quotes the émigré philosopher and even initiated his reburial in Moscow. So, after an attempt to annex five Ukrainian regions, the current owner of the Kremlin ended one of his fatidic addresses with a quote from this philosopher who is little known outside Russia. “I would like to end my speech with the words of the true Russian patriot Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin: “If I consider Russia my homeland, then I love, feel and think in Russian, sing and speak in Russian,'” the Russian president said on September 30, 2022.

Who was Putin’s spiritual idol

Several points from Ilyin’s biography are relevant. In the 1920s, he was expelled from Soviet Russia on the so-called philosophical ship and settled in Switzerland, where he wrote most of his works. After a trip to Italy in 1925, Ilyin became a follower of Benito Mussolini’s fascist ideology, calling it “a healthy phenomenon during the onset of leftist chaos”. Ilyin was even jealous because the Italians, not the Russians, had invented fascism, which was to soon inspire the German Nazis. And although Ilyin later argued with the Nazis, his belief in fascism remained unwavering: “Italian fascism expressed in its own, Roman way the things that Russia had for centuries been standing on,” he wrote in 1948. Even in the depressing ruins of postwar Europe, Ilyin considered the modified ideology of fascism — with the addition of orthodox religiosity — the only correct ideology for Russia after the (then hypothetical) fall of Soviet power.

Not at all by chance, Ilyin became Putin’s spiritual idol as namely he postulated that post-communist Russia should be governed by an all-powerful leader, idolized by the people, at the helm of a highly centralized state, where elections are nothing more than a ritual confirming public loyalty to the leader, while real voting results do not matter. Judging by the political practices of present-day Russia, Ilyin proved to be a true “prophet” for Putin, even if behind him there were not the forces of light, but rather the darkness of the fascist dictatorship.

With time machine from fascism to fascism

A time traveler from the 1930s would have no difficulty identifying the Putin regime as fascist. The symbol Z, the rallies, the propaganda, the war as a cleansing act of violence and the death pits around Ukrainian towns make it all very plain. The war against Ukraine is not only a return to the traditional fascist battleground, but also a return to traditional fascist language and practice. Other people are there to be colonized and become vital space for the conquering nation. In Putin’s opinion, Russia’s historical past absolves it of any guilt complex, and the existence of the state of Ukraine is due to an international conspiracy, the war being a legitimate response to annihilate the consequences of this alleged conspiracy.

In Snyder’s view, fascists calling other peoeple „fascists” is fascism taken to its illogical extreme as a cult of unreason. It is final poin whwere hate speech inverts reality and propaganda is pure insistense. Calling others fascists while being a fascist is the essential Putinist practice. Jason Stanley, am American pfilosofer, calls it „undermining propaganda”, while Snayder called in „schizofascism”, noting that the Ukrainians have the most elegant formulation, calling it „ruscism”.  

The safest path

The accumulation of features of a fascized society in the case of Putin’s Russia, the state with a huge nuclear arsenal, becomes an existential danger to human civilization. All the more the dimensions of this danger are expanding, in case of security, to the sovereignty and the very existence of such states as the Republic of Moldova.

The acceleration of the de jure and de facto incorporation of the Republic of Moldova's space into the defense shield of NATO and the EU becomes the only possibility of avoiding the danger of fascist practices spilling over into Moldovan society. And repeating the saving scenario applied to this area by the vote of the People’s Council on March 27, 1918, the 106th anniversary of which we will mark in the coming days, is the safest way to guarantee the security of Moldova eastward the Prut River in the current conditions.

Anatol Țăranu
doctor of history, political commentator

IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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