The war in Ukraine has prompted much soul-searching among Russia watchers and policymakers, to try to consider where we might have got Russia wrong, what we might have missed, and what this now means about how the West looks at Russia.
One of the most pressing concerns highlighted by this war has been the growing acceptance in Russia of previously fringe views on both Ukraine and the West. Several particular events in the past few weeks have illustrated this well. The first was the death in early April of nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and the legacy that he leaves behind. The second was an important interview that head of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev gave on 26 April to the government-owned newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta. These, and other comments by the Russian senior leadership, have illustrated how peripheral ideas and ways of talking about Ukraine and the West have now become mainstream discourse.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic party (LDPR), died on 6 April from complications related to COVID-19. Much of Zhirinovsky’s racist, misogynistic and boorish commentary over the years tended to be dismissed as a colourful addition to an occasionally dull line-up of mostly grey-suited men in the Duma (parliament). But many of the views that he held – particularly on Ukraine and the West – have over the years seeped into mainstream Russian discourse, and are now being regurgitated at the very top levels of power. [Continue reading…]