Yves here. John Helmer does the important service of summarizing and discussing the implications of the increasingly overtly ideological themes in Putin’s speeches, and his criticism of US policies of hegemony, conflict-fomenting, and touting its self-serving “rules-based order” as contrasted with multipolarity. Note the latter can and per Putin does imply stronger nation states and cultural identities. Putin has also taken to touting Russia’s multi-ethnicity and (without using these words) arguing that it is subsumed under a national identity without the loss of cultural identity, while “wokeness” sharpens divisions….which is a feature, not a bug.
Helmer also sets forth some internal contradictions in Putin’s views, as well as his consistency of application, particularly with respect to terrorism and the conflict in Gaza.
By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears
Between 1917 and right now in Russian history, it has been clear that the horse pulls the cart. That’s to say, the ideas people have, or the ideology of groups and the propaganda of media, churches, and governments are pulled along by their economic interests, by the class structure of the underlying society.
Not the horse in the picture. That’s the icon image, popularised in the Georgian Orthodox Church from the 11th century, depicting St. George, patron saint of believers, spearing to death the Roman emperor Diocletian. Actually, Diocletian ruled the Roman empire from 284 until 305 AD, when he became the first emperor to resign voluntarily and retire harmlessly. Before that Diocletian, a professional soldier, did a lot of spearing of Gauls, Balkan tribesmen, and Persians, as well as Christians in Syria, before he decided to rusticate in his garden on the Adriatic.
The icon doesn’t represent what really happened. Long after Diocletian was forgotten, the icon has come to represent the victory of Orthodoxy over the anti-Christian empire. The icon image was mentioned last week by Andrei Ilnitsky, an advisor to the Russian Defense Ministry and lead ideologist for the United Russia party, in a speech to the Patriarch and President Vladimir Putin. According to Ilnitsky, St George represents Russia, and the spearing of Diocletian represents what Russia is doing to the US empire on the Ukrainian battlefield.
Now — most precisely at the World Russian People’s Council meeting in Moscow on November 28 — Ilnitsky, the Patriarch, and Putin are reversing the order of history. It’s now the cart of Russian ideology pulling the horse of Russian forces into battle with the Americans.
“They are fighting with us,” declared Ilnitsky, “for the way people think, for the way they perceive the world. Right now we are fighting a civilisational war for the future. It is this war that we are waging on the battlefields of our own. We will win and revive ourselves by being reborn, or our identity will be wiped out. This is exactly what happened in the Ukraine for thirty years before the start of the SVO [Special Military Operation].”
Putin went further than spearing the emperor. “Our fight”, he declared, “for sovereignty and justice is, without exaggeration, one of national liberation, because we are upholding the security and well-being of our people, and our supreme historical right to be Russia – a strong independent power, a civilization state. It is our country, it is the Russian world that has blocked the way of those who aspired to world domination and exceptionalism, as it has happened many times in history. We are now fighting not just for Russia’s freedom but for the freedom of the whole world.”
This is the first time Putin has identified the doctrine of national liberation in ideological, economic, and in battlefield war against the US doctrine of hegemony and exceptionalism.
“We can frankly say that the dictatorship of one hegemon is becoming decrepit. We see it, and everyone sees it now. It is getting out of control and is simply dangerous for others. This is now clear to the global majority. But again, it is our country that is now at the forefront of building a fairer world order. And I would like to stress this: without a sovereign and strong Russia, no lasting and stable international system is possible.”
During the World Russian People’s Council, Ilnitsky said the threats of the US empire are emanating from three directions of US strikes on the country and the people. “I will not talk about purely military aspects, but about how we do not lose the world. This is what is called ideology. A month ago, the US national security strategy was adopted. The Americans position themselves as the global hegemon. The so-called autocracies have been declared enemy number one; in fact, they are the nation states which are pursuing a sovereign policy. Russia is mentioned in this document 69 times! Even more often than China. And Ukraine is cited only as anti-Russia. Russia is the civilisational opponent of the West. Without the elimination of Russia, the development of the Western world is impossible. It will not be possible to normalise relations because of the deepest difference in goals and values.”
“At the same time,” Ilnitsky went on, “violence has become the defining concept of Western politics. War is a component of such a world of violence. How are they going to implement this violence? Everything is said in the US national defence strategy. They confront us on land, in the air, at sea, in space. And also in the information sphere. But now they are striving for informational and cognitive dominance. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff identified three areas of their attack: technological warfare (including artificial intelligence); the war in the city; the transition from informational to cognitive-mental dominance. Psychological operations will be enhanced as much as possible. This is no joke. This is the same mental war where the destruction of the enemies’ self-consciousness is the goal,” Ilnitsky emphasised.
Andrei Ilnitsky speaking to the World Russian People's Council in Moscow on November 27. Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTbHrAS0EyY
Ilnitsky has provided a written summary of his speech on his website here.
Andrei Ilnitsky has been employed at the Ministry of Defense as an advisor to Minister Sergei Shoigu since 2015. He is ranked State Councilor of the Russian Federation 3rd class, and is deputy chief of the Central Executive Committee of the United Russia Party and head of the ruling party’s Department for Work with Environments, Public Associations and the Expert Community. At the Defense Ministry he is considered an expert on information warfare, and is reputed to have been the inventor of the “Z” symbol for the Special Military Operation. Before his military job, he worked on election campaign strategy for the governor of the Moscow Region, Andrei Vorobyov.
“Russian is a spiritual and political concept. We are great integrators. We jointly build the common, without destroying the particular. We are being led to hell. So if we want to defeat the West, we have to defeat it in our heads. Victories on the battlefield will follow victories in the field of thinking, ideology. But ideology is not a product of the mind of political scientists. It follows from the whole of Russian history. In the West, by the way, the main threat is considered to be the Russian conservative offensive. And here our opponents are right. Therefore, Russia needs a mental security strategy.”
In last week’s Council speech, Ilnitsky was summarising the detailed analysis he had given in an interview with a Kazan internet publication last May. The significance of his remarks then have been missed in Russia and abroad: he was spelling out that the Defense Ministry’s war objective, and thus the Kremlin’s, is not simply to destroy the Ukrainian military, but to “demilitarise NATO” on the territories of the Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic states. In short, to roll back NATO to the alliance frontiers of 1997 – before Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined the pact in 1999, followed by Romania, the Baltic and Balkan states in 2004.
Ilnitsky has prefaced his public statements with the disclaimer that they are his personal views only.
Notwithstanding, he is making an explicit official repudiation of claims by Ukrainian, Israeli and US officials, as well as of reporters repeating what they have been told by the CIA, that an end to the war can be negotiated with Moscow on the terms of the purported Istanbul agreement of April 2022. In what Ilnitsky thinks aloud and is saying in public, there is the clearest hint from the General Staff and the Stavka that the war cannot end without NATO’s capitulation, not just the defeat of the regime in Kiev and Lvov.
This is also the official position of the Russian Foreign Ministry in the non-aggression treaties it presented the US and NATO on December 17, 2022. Follow the analysis of those treaties and the escalation to war when the terms were summarily dismissed by Washington and Brussels, beginning here and concluding four weeks later here.
In Ilnitsky’s May elaboration, “now we are not fighting with Ukraine, but with NATO. World War III has already begun. Not only is Ukraine now a de facto member of NATO, but also Germany and France have become secondary partners of NATO. Paris and Berlin did not know that the Americans, British and Poles had already armed Ukraine sufficiently to wage an expanded war… the main axis of NATO had shifted. It now looks like this: Washington —London — Warsaw— Kiev. That is, behind the back of Old Europe, the North Atlantic Alliance of NATO was reassembled, and Ukraine is a de facto member of NATO to a much greater extent than many of its de jure members. Therefore, today our army on the territory of the USSR is engaged not only in the demilitarisation and denazification of this territory, but also in the demilitarisation of NATO.”
Ilnitsky’s remarks are the clearest sign from the Stavka of what he describes as the turning of Clausewitz’s dictum on its head. “Yes, the popular widely quoted ideology of the 19th century military analyst Clausewitz that war is the continuation of politics by other means is no longer relevant. Today, war is politics itself. The most important element of such a policy is mental warfare.”
“The movement that directly led to the armed conflict began in 1994, when the decision was made to expand NATO. Prior to that, Western strategists tried to implement a slightly different project on the territory of the USSR: to create a showcase of Western democracy on the territory of the Russian world. But this plan failed rather quickly and miserably. Ukraine turned out to be a failed state — an insolvent state for which the West assigned the role of a frontline anti-Russian entity, the function of which was reduced to a process of constant pressure on Russia. In 2014, this took the form of a coup d’etat, as a result of which a junta came to power, and the transition to the hot stage began. The process of creating a mercenary country with anti-Russian functionality from the entity called the Ukraine then accelerated dramatically.”
“By 2022, the project of a pseudo-state built exclusively on an anti-Russian basis and ready not only for defensive, but also for offensive actions against Russia had been implemented in a fairly complete form on the territory of the former Ukrainian SSR… [This project is not] without its limits — moreover, they are at their limit now. The West is already concerned about the emptying of its military reserves, which has begun to directly affect and undermine the level of national security and defence of both the United States and NATO. In this regard, it is interesting to learn that in the early spring of 2023, the Pentagon used an American ammunition depot in Israel to supply 150-millimeter shells to Ukraine for those US-supplied M-777 howitzers. The fact is that this warehouse was created in 1973 for special purposes and could only be used in emergency situations. Before that, Israel was allowed to unpack it only once — in 2006 in the war with Lebanon. Nevertheless, according to Israeli and American officials, as of April, more than half of the 300,000 shells from this warehouse have already been shipped through Poland to Ukraine. Thus, in 2022, arms supplies to Kiev exceeded the volume of the previous eight years by ten times. The United States has spent more than $50 billion on this, more than all other countries combined.”
“The ‘Hyena of Europe’ [Poland in Winston Churchill’s characterisation in his memoir, The Gathering Storm] has now become very lively and is beginning to justify its purpose in practice. So, there was information that recently several thousand professionals, mainly from intelligence and management structures, abruptly left the Polish army. This was explained by their dissatisfaction with their pay, but my version is that this may be an element of a completely different process.”
“Let us recall how at the beginning of 2023, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) became intensely active on the territory of the USSR – de jure Ukrainian, and de facto a purely Western special service. Dozens of mid-level specialists were arrested almost every day, there were noisy resignations of major officials, and threats to continue doing this ‘regardless of the situation’ still persist. And here the question arises: are these processes interrelated, given that last summer laws were passed allowing Polish citizens to take up positions in the civil service of Ukraine, move quietly and live on the territory of the USSR? What is happening is very similar to a kind of cleansing with the elimination of the remnants of Ukrainian statehood and officialdom with the prospect of their replacement by Polish and other Western officials. That is, it seems that while our [NATO] colleagues are placing staff advisors in the bunkers, and Ukrainians are massively dying in the trenches for the interests of the West, the latter has launched the process of personnel training of an occupation administration to lead the population and territories of the USSR. This is my working version.”
“We — it must be clearly understood — are a stumbling block, a fundamental civilisational obstacle to the development of the West. Therefore, their policy will be aimed at the destruction of Russia over the next decade. The goal of the West’s mental war is our history, culture, and education — the substantial core of our civilisation, the organisational basis of which is a strong state that ensures the security of the country. Mental warfare, like others, has three levels: tactical, operational and strategic. Its tactical, lowest level is information confrontation. Its operational level is cognitive information operations, including the use of artificial intelligence elements. Simply put, if the first level is what people hear and see, then the second is how they interpret information, how they think. Its strategic level is ideological. This is how people see themselves — what they are, who they are, and what they live for.”
“Ideology is a field of mental warfare. Highly organised states do not exist without ideology. On the territory of the USSR, we are waging an ideological/mental war precisely for our Russian — in the ontological sense — understanding of how we live. We are fighting against the world of lies, waging a civilisational war in which the events on the territory of the USSR are only a stage of global confrontation with the West.
Following Ilnitsky at the Congress, Putin explicitly adopted the idea that the ideology horse is now pulling the national survival cart – and not only for Russia. “Friends,” the President declared, “our fight for sovereignty and justice is, without exaggeration, one of national liberation, because we are upholding the security and well-being of our people, and our supreme historical right to be Russia – a strong independent power, a civilisation state. It is our country, it is the Russian world that has blocked the way of those who aspired to world domination and exceptionalism, as it has happened many times in history. We are now fighting not just for Russia’s freedom but for the freedom of the whole world. We can frankly say that the dictatorship of one hegemon is becoming decrepit. We see it, and everyone sees it now. It is getting out of control and is simply dangerous for others. This is now clear to the global majority. But again, it is our country that is now at the forefront of building a fairer world order. And I would like to stress this: without a sovereign and strong Russia, no lasting and stable international system is possible.”
The hats in the front of the auditorium signify the predominance of churchmen at the event.
What end-of-war terms was Putin setting out?
“We know the threat we are opposing. Russophobia and other forms of racism and neo-Nazism have almost become the official ideology of Western ruling elites. They are directed not only against ethnic Russians, but against all groups living in Russia: Tatars, Chechens, Avars, Tuvinians, Bashkirs, Buryats, Yakuts, Ossetians, Jews, Ingush, Mari and Altai. There are many of us, I might not be able to name every group now, but again, the threat is directed against all the peoples of Russia. The West has no need for such a large and multi-ethnic country as Russia as a matter of principle. Our diversity and unity of cultures, traditions, languages, and ethnicities simply do not fit into the logic of Western racists and colonisers, into their cruel plans for total depersonalisation, separation, suppression, and exploitation. That is why they have started their old rant again: they say that Russia is a ‘prison of nations’ and that Russians are a ‘nation of slaves.’ We have heard this many times throughout the centuries. Now we have also heard that Russia apparently needs to be ‘decolonised’. But what do they really want? They want to dismember and plunder Russia. If they cannot do it by force, they sow discord.”
“I would like to emphasise that we view any outside interference or provocations to incite ethnic or religious conflict as acts of aggression against our country, and an attempt to once again wield terrorism and extremism as a weapon against us, and we will respond accordingly.”
In theory, this new doctrine of Russian national liberation and Russian support for the national liberation of others fighting against the US empire ought to back the Hamas fight against Israel in Gaza, the Palestinian struggle against Israel, and the wider Arab and Iranian fight against the American-Israeli combination. This isn’t new in Russia – Vladimir Lenin initiated the idea of support for worldwide national liberation; Nikita Khrushchev expanded it to be Soviet foreign policy in January 1961.
What is a stumbling block in current Russian thinking and planning is the war in Palestine, and what stance – military, ideological – Putin should take towards Israel and Palestine. Ilnitsky did not mention the Arab-Israeli conflict in his speech last week, nor in his May interview. Putin did not refer to it either. Putin did mention Jews, however, but only in a list of groups comprising Russia’s multi-ethnic society. Putin’s implication was that he is preserving Russia’s even-handed support for both the Jewish state and the Muslim states of Palestine, the Arab world and Iran in order to forestall and combat “any outside interference or provocations to incite ethnic or religious conflict as acts of aggression against our country, and an attempt to once again wield terrorism and extremism as a weapon against us, and we will respond accordingly.”
It is unclear from Putin’s remarks how the policy of support for wars of national liberation outside Russia and the fight against “terrorism and extremism” inside Russia can be interpreted without contradiction. A detailed assessment by Russian legal academics and criminologists concluded in 2018 that attempts to define terrorism and extremism in the criminal code “rely mostly on trial and error methods… [and] as a result of the excessive politicisation of the lawmaking process, the scope of criminally liable actions have been expanding continuously…It is necessary to clearly and distinctly disclose the nature of the crime for subsequent application – that is, for both the potential criminal and the law enforcement official.”
The conclusion of this review is that “the main problem (and this includes both terrorism and extremism) as a result of the political conjuncture in the legislation [is that] the scope of the ban began to expand uncontrollably, which led to excessive congestion in the dispositions of norms and the uncertainty in the composition of the crime…Wrong or limited theories about the causes and consequences of the changes, embodied in the amendments to the laws, also slow down the process of counteracting.”
A well-connected Moscow political analyst concedes there is a potential contradiction between national liberation and terrorism in Russian policymaking and ideology, and that the Kremlin has yet to resolve it between its apparent sympathy for Israel and the majority of Russians and the military who support Palestine. “Being for or against Hamas now makes no difference at all,” the source says, “because its ability to provide any administration in Gaza is now decimated, even if its guerrilla warfighting is not. Statements of a two-state solution carry even less potency and credibility. The government’s actions and narrative must shift to keeping Gaza alive, then autonomous without Israeli occupation, and then pumping in enormous aid and support into the West Bank while beefing up the Northern forces [Hezbollah].”
Left to right: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Mousa Abu Marzouk, head of international relations for Hamas, and Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas Political Bureau, meeting in Moscow in September 2022. Also attending were Sheikh Saleh al-Arouri, deputy head of Hamas, and Maher Salah, a Hamas Politburo official in charge of the Palestinian diaspora.
Left to right: Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Envoy to the Middle East Mikhail Bogdanov, and Mousa Abu Marzouk of Hamas, during their trilateral meeting in Moscow on October 26, 2023.
“I believe the Russian and Chinese failure is not in being critical of Hamas. Hamas is an entirely different matter and you can understand that no one is willing to identify publicly with them. The failure is in not supporting the Palestine cause through the decades. To go into Syria and not defend all of it, this is a failure. To not stand up to Israel in Syria is an even bigger failure. To not stand up against US phobias in every shape and form executed through their wars has been a failure – until now.”
“For Russia, what we are looking at is the start of a new decade-long cycle – the Fatah leadership is old and terminal. Hamas will be largely destroyed. No one will come to its help. Hezbollah will emerge intact – even if it fights now. I therefore see the necessity for an intervention – purely humanitarian – to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza which is at once significant and yet does not provide a military cover to Hamas. The future should be an overwhelming domestic and international movement within Russia and China to break the blockade of Gaza; followed by an air cover against the Israelis for Gaza, Syria and Lebanon.”