In the Cold War days, the KGB relied on an extensive network of Communists and leftist fellow travelers for espionage and propaganda. As the motherland of socialism, the USSR could draw on allegiances from foreign leftists too in love with all the infrastructure projects to care about the prisoners building them.
But the easy ideological solidarity was faltering even during the Cold War. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the temporary anti-war line demanded of Western Communists and fellow travelers put a bigger strain on the relationship than the assorted trials and executions of domestic Communists had. Khrushchev’s exposure of Stalin drove away the Stalinists and left the apologists. The USSR lost its radical edge and those seeking it turned to Communist regimes in Asia and Third World terrorists.
Putin has tried to rebuild a non-ideological Soviet Union leaving him with few ideological allies, but he has always excelled at turning disadvantages into advantages by focusing on a single resource. The new Russian propaganda network draws not on sympathy, but on opposition. Outside of Russian nationalists, there wouldn’t be much sympathy for his desire to carve out a chunk of Ukraine to stay in power.
But the leftovers of the KGB running the country understood that reframing the issue as hostility to Western “imperialists” in NATO and the EU would win over allies who otherwise would not care about the issue one way or another. On one side are the farthest fringes of the far left, the kind who argued, that the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks in Iraq were the work of a resistance movement, who are obsessed with ‘Globalization’ and the heroism of Latin American Maoist terrorists.
Take a bunch of Trotskyite splinter groups, mix them in with assorted anti-war maniacs always ready to brandish their “US Out of X” posters, and out come the apologists for a regime run by the organizational successors of Trotsky’s assassins. It’s a perverse combination, but not the most perverse one out there.
On the other side, Putin has made common cause with assorted Euroskeptics, who have decided that the EU assailing the sovereignty of nations with banks and bureaucracy somehow justifies Putin doing the same thing with tanks and armies. On this side of the ocean, the paleoconservative grouping of Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan, often misidentified as libertarian, threw in with Putin to stave off the neo-conservative menace. This affinity no doubt helped Moscow attract Edward Snowden.
Individually there’s a certain logic of mutual enmity to these alliances, but together they form an incoherent noise glued together by RT video clips of guests randomly ranting about America.
The old history of the Cold War is replaying itself as farce.
Aging movie stars with legal trouble, like Steven Seagal and Gerard Depardieu, hang out in Moscow as if they were atom bomb spies. The actual equivalent of atom bomb spies, man-children like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, pose as peace activists, with big data substituted for big atom. It’s strangely absurd to see the gay Glenn Greenwald doing the dirty work for a regime that markets itself as homophobic, but then the old Soviet Union was about as kind to gay men as Saudi Arabia. It didn’t stop Guy Burgess or the rest of the so-called Homintern from giving the Communists their allegiance.
(For that matter it doesn’t stop gay leftists from allying with Hamas and Hezbollah today.)
But it does highlight the confused absurdity of Putin’s propaganda. This is a regime run by former Communists that markets itself to libertarians as capitalist and free market, when it’s as much of a free market as the mob and where doing business depends on a constant flow of bribes and kickbacks.
It defends its actions to European nationalists, as a nationalistic response to NATO and EU aggression, when Putin is actually attempting to construct a Eurasian version of NATO and the EU. Putin is not a Russian nationalist, though he plays the card quite effectively at home. Having learned nothing from the Romans, he’s displacing Russians with Muslims from the cities to the military.
And anyone still looking to Putin as the Christian savior of the West might want to consider his Eurasianist comment that the Russian Orthodox Church is much closer to Islam than to the Catholic Church. Obama’s attempts at pandering to Islam are easily dwarfed by Putin whose allied Muslim clergy are an ultimately futile attempt to create an Islamic Jihad loyal to his political and military ambitions.
Under those conditions, the propaganda network that keeps his regime going becomes a house of mirrors. America’s War on Terror tactics are condemned as civil rights violations using lefty and libertarian fellow travelers, right before America is accused of being behind Al Qaeda and ISIS.
America is accused of violating the human rights of terrorists by droning them right before it’s accused of secretly being behind the terrorists.
These aren’t serious critiques, just weapons of mass distraction. Under Obama, Putin has managed to damage the United States, but mostly as a way of keeping attention away from his own activities.
Western Communists were slow to realize that the USSR no longer had a foreign policy, it had a domestic policy. The same eventually became true of China and Cuba. The useful idiots were used by regimes that no longer shared their revolutionary vision except as a means of projecting their power.
Putin’s priority is staying in power while grabbing as much wealth as possible. His regime is not much different than that of the mafia boss or oligarch who burns through ridiculous amounts of money with very little thought for the future. Eventually such regimes have to become empires or die. The Nazis had to expand their looting across Europe or everything would fall apart. Putin lacks the military for the forward momentum he really needs, but invading Crimea resolved his political crisis at home.
In Russia, the miserable little war in which bandits, soldiers and soldiers disguised as bandits slug it out in a conflict that can have no actual winner has been sold as the second coming of WW2. The 70th anniversary of VE Day has cranked the commemorations and revisionism to a hysterical fever pitch.
Children, mothers and even performing seals are being dressed up in Red Army costumes while Putin, like Brezhnev and any number of other Communist leaders, is trying to pretend that he won the Great Patriotic War all over again. Underlying all that is a revisionist history, often marketed by leftist historians in the West, in which the USSR was betrayed by the West and forced to fight “Fascism” on its own. Never mind that Putinism looks a lot more like Fascism than anything else, the circus atmosphere reveals how too many Russians take refuge in grievance instead of coming to terms with their history.
Before the USSR fought Hitler, it allied with him. So many Russians died in WW2 because their government botched the conflict in every way possible. Now the grandson of Stalin’s cook is trying to salvage his cult of personality by borrowing the myth of that dead monster.
Stalin eventually achieved his conquests, not because he knew what he was doing, but because he was willing to fight to the last Russian. The Russians lost millions and gained territories that they had to subsidize. By the time the USSR fell apart, most were happy to see the “ungrateful bastards” they had conquered go. And now they’ve forgotten all that and are eager to roll back the clock so that they can govern, at great expense and difficulty, peoples who hate them and whom they hate.
And if Putin gets his way, the burden of the conquests will fall on increasingly Islamized armies who may begin by fighting for Russia, but will end by ruling Russia.
If the old USSR at least appeared to have an ideology, Putin’s Russia runs on phony machismo that tries to plug a hole in its self-esteem by finding weak countries to bully. Putin’s economic failures and the cost of his corruption have been buried under a pile of moldy Red Army uniforms and world power nostalgia.
And Westerners are treated to shrill propaganda from a coalition of useful idiots on the left and the right who are united by nothing except their willingness to be used by an enemy of their country.
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