Skip to main content
The Illusion of Russia’s "Great Power" Ideology
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the military parade on Red Square. (Media from the Office of the President of Russia)

The Illusion of Russia’s "Great Power" Ideology

Peter Podkopaev

Kremlinologists are bouncing around a new idea: That Vladimir Putin’s Russia has not only developed an ideology—one derived from its self-regard as a “Great Power”—but that this ideology is now ascendant over what has previously been understood as the Kremlin’s modus operandi: kleptocracy. That is, those in power are using their positions to enrich themselves through systematic mass-theft, instead of providing security and welfare to the population that elected them in a supposedly democratic and open process.

In fact, the post-Soviet Russian state has never exhibited any coherent national ideas. The only consistent theme we have seen over time has been antagonism and hostility towards the West. This hostility serves to draw the attention (and ire) of the Russian public away from domestic issues—largely caused by predatory looting of the state and private coffers—towards an external enemy.

Those in the Kremlin may be influenced by Great Power thinking, but so far their actions have been motivated purely by personal gain. The reshuffle in the Kremlin, which began with the ousting of Vladimir Yakunin and continues to this day, is more about Putin’s lack of power and security than some grandiose, organized Stalinist putsch for control.

Those at the top have been systematically enriching themselves for years, amassing support and wealth, and solidifying their clans’ powerbase. Essentially, Russia has a network of neo-thieving-boyars, minus the beards, who reside at the pinnacles of power and are engaged in a deep struggle for clout and limited resources.

Putin presides over this court and is growing uneasy with the situation. With the elections approaching in Russia, the powerful clans can easily make a move, especially when Putin, the manager of Kremlin Inc., has caused them serious financial strain under Western sanctions. When a mere Russian senator can purchase one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in London (and the largest after Buckingham Palace), it is clear that the boyars have become accustomed to a certain way of life. Combine this with their clout, immense resources, and the intelligence services background of many “courtlings” Putin helped to engender, and one can see that Russia’s main arbiter of power would be desperately clutching at any chance to keep things from going topsy-turvy in the Kremlin.

Putin isn’t pushing for a neo-Stalinist governance pattern. The simple reason is that the Soviet leader based his rule on power and ideology. Putin doesn’t have an ideology, other than playing the blame game for his government’s failures. He is a scared, isolated leader, who relies solely on short term, stop-gap measures.

Like a well-trained judoka, Putin doesn’t lead: He reacts and exploits others’ weaknesses to his advantage. Right now, he is exploiting the West’s lack of leadership, and it is working well for him. Putin is not so much winning, as we’re allowing ourselves to lose.

Related Articles

Turkey's Russian Missile Deal Indicates Alliance Shift

Blaise Misztal

In an ABC Radio interview, Blaise Misztal discussed the Turkish government's decision to buy Russia's S-400 surface-to-air missiles and what it could ...

Listen Now

Transcript: The Arms Control Landscape ft. DIA Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley, Jr.

Rebeccah L. Heinrichs

Following is the full transcript of the May 29st, 2019 Hudson event titled The Arms Control Landscape....

Continue Reading

China, Russia, Iran Look to Displace the US as the World’s Superpower

Arthur Herman

In an interview on Fox Business, Arthur Herman discussed his recent op-ed on the Moscow-Beijing-Tehran axis. ...

Watch Now