The fascist war model: plundering land and mindsets + violence to ‘purify’ sin + scorn for the evils of democracy – all to serve crusading nationalism
Puzzles remain. Why this unilateral, overwrought plunder against Ukraine now? Why devastate a nation full of what the invader brags are “brotherly” kin? Why instantly threaten weapons of mass destruction, whether nuclear, chemical or biological? Why exalt the primitivism of might makes right, inciting global outrage (and all the more mortifying when it fails)?
Is Putin’s aggression the smartest, most defensible response to prolonged western pressures – or a self-defeating set of blunders? Whether “evil” or justified, is there method in the madness of this war? Is it worth the cost, per historian Benjamin Sawyer, “Ukraine is now bringing Russia to the verge of financial ruin once again”?
As this era teaches all too well, genocidal war crimes don’t just happen: they result from a mania to crush an already bloodied (sub-human) foe. Especially in the fascist mode, unprovoked takeovers seek not just economic predation but to co-opt the heart and soul of a (decadent) culture. Putin’s militarism qualifies as a messianic bombardment by a presumptive master race – plus warning others not to impede Making Russia Great Again.
To avenge lost “Russian glory” is understandable, but Putin wants to reconstruct, even resurrect Ukraine in his own image, with czarist muscle. An historic motherland for Russian religiosity (and plagued by civil unrest), Ukraine provides the first round for Putin’s power-play. He told French President Macron last week the offensive will continue, “his fallback” being halving Ukraine “along the Dnieper River,” formulating a new eastern “Ukrainian Republic.” Remaking borders (that bust up illegitimate nations) is what zealous empire-builders do.
According to This Week’s apt summary, “Putin’s messianic mission,”
In his mind, Mr. Putin finds himself in a unique historical situation in which he can finally recover for the previous years of humiliation,” said Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar . . .To see Ukrainians building a Western-style democracy within those old borders is a “mortal threat to his imperial ambitions. Putin has embraced the Russian Orthodox Church as a core element of nationalistic Russian identity. He wears a baptismal cross and is shown in state media engaging in religious rites. The church’s leaders share his vision not only of a morally decaying West but of restoring a svyataya Rus — Holy Russia — that extends to Russian Orthodox believers in former Soviet republics.
As the site of the founding of Russian Orthodoxy, Kyiv holds great significance, and church leaders were affronted when in 2019 the Ukrainian Orthodox Church asserted its independence from the Patriarchate of Moscow, whose jurisdiction it had been under for centuries. The nationalistic head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has formed a close bond with Putin, calling him a “miracle from God.” The extent to which Putin sees himself as a messianic figure on “a spiritual quest” to save Russia is underappreciated by many in the West, writes British journalist Giles Fraser [my bold face].
The Daily Beast augments the holy war theme, “Putin Isn’t Just Insane. It’s Far Worse Than That.” Depicting a messiah complex, A. Craig Copetas fleshes in Putin’s inner mental sanctum:
The Imperial Kremlin has two masters, one temporal, the other spiritual. The tsar and the Russian Patriarch of All Moscow and All Rus. The tsar and his hierophant-in-chief worked and lived and ruled in tandem. “There’s no difference between the secular realm and the spiritual realm,” explains the Byzantine and Russian historian Henry Hopwood-Phillips. “The tsar and the patriarch are meant to occupy the same body and the same mystical mind. That’s the anvil of Russia’s domestic Byzantine statecraft.”
And Putin’s hammer is wielded by God.“Let God save the Russian soil,” Putin’s Patriarch Kirill earlier this week on TV told his flock of 90 million devout parishioners.“When I say Russian, I use an ancient expression from the chronicles of where Russian soil started, which includes the Ukraine and Belarus. God forbid,” Kirill thundered, “that the evil forces that have always fought against the unity of Russia and the Russian church get the upper hand in brotherly Ukraine.”
Ditto from Wash Post’s David Ignatius: “A month into war, Putin’s mind-set is complex — and dangerous:”
Vladimir Putin is obsessed with Ukraine, angry at his generals, paranoid about enemies at home and abroad, and wrapping his bloody deeds in spiritual language almost mystical in its vision of Russia’s past and future. Putin’s mind-set was on display at a stadium concert last week, as he invoked a Russian Orthodox warrior-saint who spoke of his own battles as “thunderstorms” that would “glorify Russia.”
Putin’s short remarks [reinforce] his personality is more complex — and perhaps more dangerous — than the usual stereotype of him as an ex-KGB officer . . . [as] a Russian Orthodox Christian believer rather than an atheist, with an ideology closer to Benito Mussolini’s fascism than Vladimir Lenin’s communism . . . he has entered a realm where his decisions are driven by a grandiose sense of his place in Russian history. In his own mind, his mission is transcendent. . . Putin’s religiosity is a little noted but powerful part of his personality.
Ignatius quotes Putin’s earlier writing where “He noted that the roots of his faith were in Kyiv, where St. Vladimir in 988 converted from paganism to Orthodoxy. The Orthodox faithful [abused and repressed] persisted in Russia and Ukraine . . . “We are one people,” he declared [decrying Ukraine as] a separate republic carved out of Mother Russia . . . “One fact is crystal clear: Russia was robbed.” And a desecrated mamma mia to boot!
In place of communism, Putin personifies what esteemed Yale professor Timothy Snyder terms “Russian fascism . . . Russia as a spiritual organism served not only all of the Orthodox nations … but all the nations of the world.” Putin is no imperial bully or craven opportunist, “swayed by economic pressure or vanquished by arms. He believes deeply in the evil that he is doing. He sees the destruction of an independent Ukraine almost as a religious duty.”
In short, Putin feels anointed by Orthodox Eastern Catholicism to redeem “lost Russia” with all the fire and purist violence at his disposal while expressing the radical white nationalist rejection of modernity. From Biblical times through New World conquests and massive European religious strife, capped by the Nazi Holocaust and subsequent genocides, war and death from racial/tribal/religious passion surpass that from imperialism and/or unhinged leaders. Not that the categories don’t overlap. Imposing an invader’s take-no-prisoners domination is so much easier when entrenched, unelected, missionary prelates promote holy wars.
The brain behind Putin’s brain
Finally, we confront Aleksandr Dugin, the visionary fascist prophet called Putin’s brain who pushes a maximal Russian imperium. Dugin’s 1997 “The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia” foresees [after Ukraine is dispatched] a “gradual dividing of Europe into zones of German and Russian influence, with Russia very much in charge thanks to its eventual stranglehold over Germany’s resource needs . . . China, too, must fall. Russia’s ambitions in Asia will require “the territorial disintegration, splintering and the political and administrative partition of the [Chinese] state.” Say what?
Weirdly, Dugin sees Japan, not China, as Russia’s best Far East partner, wildly twisting history: “The wrong alliance won World War II. If only Hitler had not invaded Russia, Britain could have been broken. The United States would have remained at home, isolationist and divided, and Japan would have ruled the former China as Russia’s junior partner.” What a world! If Putin reveres this fascist revisionist, the world is Russia’s oyster for the taking – and before dying, Putin imagines himself alongside history’s most domineering conquerors.
In part this terrifying, world-tilting vision explains per AlterNet why “far-right White evangelicals are among Vladimir Putin’s strongest American supporters,” endorsing stances on “homosexuality, authoritarianism and fealty to former President Donald Trump.” Imagine your willfully-blind, next door neighbor positing Putin’s Russia is “the way America should be.” Though Putin is today the world’s most conspicuous crusader, here is backwoods, evangelical Protestantism aligning itself with equally ultra-conservative Russian Catholic orthodoxy.
Now that’s scary, a most curious finale to past centuries of vicious, religious strife wherein millions died because their internal thought patterns (called faith) differed. Thus does such absurdity make our Founders look downright civilized when banning all religious tests for office-holders. That aspect of our democracy rocks.