“They have only one objective: to prevent the development of Russia. They are going to do it in the same way as they did it before, without furnishing even a single pretext, doing it just because we exist.”
These were Vladimir Putin’s words on 21 February, in his now notorious speech on Ukraine. They repeat the argument already formulated in his speech on Crimea in March 2014: “The politics of the containment of Russia, which continued throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, continues today. There is a constant attempt to push us back into a corner because we have an independent position, because we stand up for ourselves.” Putin’s vision of Russian history is one of an emergence continually blocked by enemies.
The contemporary “west”, in this vision, battles to contain Russia out of jealousy. Europe has collapsed into decadence, crushed by the weight of its humanism and political liberalism: tired, divided, at the mercy of every passing wind. The United States, mired in an instrumental, materialist culture and the contradictions of its own history, is in the process of losing its pre-eminence. Russia, by contrast, like its emerging ally, China, is on the rise in civilisational terms.
Putin leans here on a strange theory advanced by the 20th-century historian and ethnographer Lev Gumilev. The son of two of Russia’s most famous poets, Nikolai Gumilev and Anna Akhmatova, Gumilev maintains that every people possesses a distinct life force: a “bio-cosmic” inner energy or passionate substance that he calls passionarnost. Putin may have known Gumilev in St Petersburg at the start of the 1990s. At any rate, he has embraced his ideas and never misses an opportunity to refer to them. In February last year, he said: “I believe in passionarnost. In nature as in society, there is development, climax and decline. Russia has not yet attained its highest point. We are on the way”. According to him, Russia carries the power and potential of a young people. “We possess an infinite genetic code”, he has said. [Continue reading…]