The vary of anti-Russian measures taken by international locations world wide because the begin of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is just about unprecedented and hearkens again to the darkest days of the Cold War.
They’ve assumed many types however broadly embody financial sanctions, army help for Ukraine and boycotts of Russian exports. Other types of resistance, undertaken primarily by nonstate actors, focus extra on Russian tradition – its music, literature and humanities – with the nation’s conductors dismissed from European live performance halls and items by Tchaikovsky excised from set lists.
Yet there isn’t any single nation, worldwide group or command heart directing these efforts.
This hasn’t stopped Russian President Vladimir Putin from arguing exactly that.
In a March 25, 2022, speech to Russia’s main cultural figures, Putin asserted that every one of those actions – whether or not army, financial or cultural – quantity to a single, concentrated plan by the West to “cancel” Russia and “everything connected with Russia,” together with its “thousand-year history” and its “people.”
The sweeping, uncompromising nature of his rhetoric might sound hyperbolic and even absurd to Western ears; nevertheless, in Russia that’s not essentially the case. Many individuals there appear to simply accept Putin’s premise, not simply because it appears to suit current circumstances, however as a result of the concept of the nation surrounded by its enemies has deep historic roots.
In my guide “Russia: The Story of War,” I discover how Russia has lengthy imagined itself as a fortress, remoted on the planet and topic to perpetual threats.
When offense turns into protection
For centuries, Russia has usually been derided as overly, if not pathologically, paranoid: at all times suspicious of outsiders whereas harboring plans of conquest.
Though it could be troublesome to disclaim that the nation has been responsible of aggression and has typically invaded neighbors – Ukraine being however the newest instance – Russians usually desire to focus on one other facet of its historical past, equally plain: It has been the goal of overseas invasion for hundreds of years.
From the Mongols within the thirteenth century, to the Crimean Tatars, Poles and Swedes within the sixteenth by 18th centuries, to La Grande Armée of Napoleon within the nineteenth century and Hitler’s Wehrmacht within the twentieth, Russia has routinely discovered itself keeping off assaults from foreigners. These chapters of Russia’s previous make it straightforward to color a picture of a rustic routinely battered and victimized.
Isolationism took on a distinct however associated type within the twentieth century: Before the top of World War II, Soviet Russia was the one nation on the planet professing a perception in Marxism and, because of this, was a pariah within the eyes of most different international locations.
The expanse of Soviet management over different nations after the conflict, subsequently, might be seen as a defensive maneuver – a hedge in opposition to future invaders.
An island of Christianity
Russia’s rendering of itself as a geopolitical fortress coincided with the event of its id as a bastion of Christianity.
In the sixteenth century beneath Ivan “the Terrible,” the ruling elite of Muscovy, because the land of Russia was recognized then, propagated the concept of it being the Third Rome: the God-ordained, sole house of true Christianity.
The two earlier capitals of Christianity – the Rome of the Vatican and the Rome of Constantinople because the capital of the Byzantine Empire – may now not aspire to such standing. After all, the primary was beneath management of schismatics – as Orthodox Christians would view Catholics – whereas the second had been occupied by the Ottoman Turks because the metropolis’s fall in 1453. That left Russia as the one place the place a pure type of Christianity may reside.
At that point, no different Orthodox Christians had been freed from overseas rule. This undergirded the idea that the Russian land was distinctive and, as such, at all times set it at odds with its neighbors such because the Poles, the Turks and the Balts, who, usually talking, had been of a distinct religion.
The thought of Russia as an island of true Christianity, nevertheless, actually gained traction within the nineteenth century as nationalists sought to outline what made their nation and folks totally different from – and, by implication, superior to – others.
Prominent figures akin to Fyodor Dostoevsky propagated this concept in his writings, as did Apollon Maikov, a well-known poet who likened Russia to a besieged monastery, beset by enemies on all sides and solely capable of depend on itself.
That Russia on the identical time was topic to overseas invasions, most notably by Napoleon, served to hyperlink the 2 concepts: Russia was a particular place, and for that purpose, others on the surface have sought to destroy the nation, its tradition and its faith by any means needed.
Victory in defeat
With the invasion of Ukraine, Putin and different Russian leaders have absolutely embraced this picture of Russia as soon as extra.
The nation faces an “organized, disciplined attack against everything Russian,” declared Mikhail Shvydkoi, an official within the Ministry of Culture. Putin has even gone so far as to say that boycotts in opposition to Russian literature are the equal of guide burnings by Nazis within the Nineteen Thirties.
This coy evocation of Nazi criminality not solely resurrects World War II as a reference level for right this moment, but it surely additionally aligns with Putin’s principal justification for launching his invasion over a month in the past: the alleged embrace of Nazism by the Ukrainian authorities and subsequent “genocide” of Russian-speaking Ukrainians. The costs, evidently, are absurd, and this motivating narrative for conflict has shortly fallen aside.
So Putin has turned to a extra secure and, as occasions have proven, extra viable fable to justify his actions: “Fortress Russia.”
The benefits in arguing this line are manifold. It deftly molds to the state of affairs now at hand. Western sanctions, in searching for to isolate Russia, can even perversely affirm the nation’s legendary view of itself as a particular place that outsiders search to destroy.
By this reasoning, the sanctions merely mirror the West’s persevering with antagonism in opposition to Russia relationship again centuries. That the invasion set these sanctions in movement could be swept beneath the rug.
It additionally paints Russia as as soon as once more defending itself in opposition to outdoors aggression and thereby flips the function of it being the villain within the battle with Ukraine. It enforces the concept of Russia because the perpetual sufferer, at all times the underdog within the face of historical past’s injustices and inequities. Moreover, it preserves the notion of Russia as an island of goodness and beneficence in a hostile world.
The emphasis of this new narrative shouldn’t be dismissed within the West as simply one other propaganda ploy. As the conflict has turned extra right into a stalemate, this line, as seen in Putin’s speech of March 25, 2022, has gained extra traction.
In reality, whereas many in Russia have opposed the invasion and a few have left the nation due to it, latest inside polling means that help for Putin has crystallized exactly round this picture of him as chief on the nation’s ramparts defending their important pursuits.
If this development continues, then – no less than when it comes to self-image and vanity – the nation might need discovered a passable ending it doesn’t matter what end result would possibly come from the conflict. For the “Fortress Russia” fable will at all times have the nation land on its toes – even in defeat.