Politics and Government, Russia and Eurasia

Is it Time to Drop the F-Bomb on Russia? Why Putin is Almost a Fascist

Maria Snegovaya – 4.6.17


The word “fascist” gets casually bandied about. After falling into relative disuse, it has once again become a go-to term to dismiss a person or government as irredeemably intolerant and totalitarian, and few hurl the F-bomb as liberally as the Kremlin. Following Russia’s invasion into eastern Ukraine in 2014, Russian nationalists called the democratic movement in Ukraine “fascist,” referencing the collaboration of Ukrainian independence leader Stepan Bandera with Nazi Germany. One of Russia’s most popular TV propagandists, Dmitry Kiselev, spent five minutes on air explaining how all 14 features of the Italian scholar Umberto Eco’s definition of fascism applied perfectly to Ukraine.

Nonetheless, more and more analysts see this rhetoric as projection; it’s the Russian state—not the Ukrainian one—that’s fascist. Russia expert Vladislav Inozemtsev, for instance, has argued that with the establishment of state corporations, Russia “can no longer be accurately described as an ‘illiberal democracy,’ something on the order of what the Polish or Hungarian governments have become in recent months and now years. It is becoming a fascist state—a moderate one so far, perhaps, but fascist all the same.”

Alexander Motyl, a political science professor at Rutgers University, agrees, but for a different reason: “Fascism may be defined as a popular fully authoritarian political system with a personalistic dictator and a cult of the leader—a definition that makes sense conceptually as well as empirically, with respect to Putin’s Russia and related fascist systems.”

The ambiguity of the term complicates a precise application, but determining whether or not Vladimir Putin’s ruling ideology constitutes fascism is useful. Classifying the key characteristics of a regime allows one to more accurately predict its future actions. In particular, Russia’s belligerence and revanchism can be more clearly understood if interpreted through fascist categories.

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