It’s just that Putin hasn’t embraced it…
Russia: Dreaming of a Return to the West
- Russia may be talking in Slavophile tones but deep in its heart, desires to be readmitted into the Western camp. This is seen in the way Russians dress, the kind of food they eat, the beverages they drink, the music they listen to, the TV shows and the films they watch, and the books they read. Queues in front of McDonald’s joints may be a vulgar sign of creeping Westernization.
- The results of this month’s municipal elections, declared last week, show a clear setback for Putinism in its Slavophile version. The president’s United Russia party lost more than a third of its seats in Moscow that, as in other metro-centric countries, has set the tone for national politics at least since the 1920s.
- Putin wants to fool the Western democracies into helping negotiate a bad patch before he returns to his old shenanigans. President Macron’s call for reintegrating Russia into the G7 summit last month was dismissed by other participants even before it made it onto the agenda.
If every nation, like every language, has its grammar, what is the grammar that might help us understand Russia today?
Even the least observant foreign visitors to Russia these days are likely quickly to discover the first rule of that metaphorical grammar: the unity of opposites. On one side, we have a Russia that is attached almost obsessively to its “otherness”. On the other, we have a Russia that craves after “sameness” as a member of the family of Western nations.
This “otherness-sameness” duality is not new in Russian history.
Initially, Russia built its identity around its claim of “otherness” by casting itself as “The Third Rome”, after Rome and Constantinople, the last standard-bearer of Christ in a rapidly de-Christianized Europe. Two centuries of wars against the Muslim powers of the time, notably the Ottoman Empire and Iran, added over 12 million square kilometers to Christendom as the Tsarist Empire expanded into Central Asia, Siberia, the Caspian Basin, and the Caucasus.