The presence of a state ideology or an officially proclaimed “national idea” in Russia is the rule, not the exception. Since 1991 there has been no official ideology in the Russian Federation, however, the search for it has been conducted at the highest level, despite the direct prohibition in the 13th article of the constitution.
The main source of ideology in today’s Russia is Vladimir Putin, his personal views influence the country’s domestic and foreign policy. It can be confidently asserted that the triad: unlimited sovereignty (indistinguishable from imperialism) – conservatism/traditionalism (with an emphasis on homophobia) – patriotism (more precisely, loyalty to the state and to him personally) – constitutes the core of the president’s worldview, and therefore of the entire Russian state.
In the last few years, several attempts have been made to formulate the official Russian ideology, fitting the limits of the constitutional restrictions: “10 facets of patriotism”, “pentabasis” (in two versions), “four valuable constants” and “Fundamentals of Russian statehood”, which have absorbed previous developments (“facets” are dedicated to Rosmolod, the rest are within the framework of the “DNA of Russia” project of the Ministry of Education). “Fundamentals” are planned to be introduced as a separate course in Russian universities and in the occupied territories of Ukraine from September 1, 2023.
According to the previous version, the philosophical foundations of “DNA of Russia” are communitarianism, conservatism, Russian cosmism, and solidarity. There are five main permanent Russian values: “unity in diversity”, “idealism”, “sovereign statehood”, “constancy and steadiness”, “mastering the new, pioneering”. There are also five valuable reference points for the future: “sovereignty”, “creation”, “stability”, “ministry”, “solidarity”.
Despite the above-mentioned factors and the complexity of some explanations, we can state that this ideology is generally reduced to Putin’s “triad”. Perhaps other elements will be added to it, such as communalism or idealism, but in the end all the novelty of this product comes down to its study in education institutions – just as Marxism-Leninism was studied before. Therefore, many historians and philosophers will receive state funding for further study of the “DNA of Russia”, and students will have problems if they study this subject poorly.
І. Historical context
The roots of certain ideological constructs that are used today by Russian propaganda date back to the 15th century (which, in turn, were based on medieval Byzantine and Russian ideas). If some of them, which related to the divine origin of royal power and the apologia of the monarchy, have lost their relevance, the rest, on the contrary, are experiencing a renaissance.
One of the central elements of the state ideology of the Moscow state was the concept of “Kyiv patrimony” or “Volodymyr’s inheritance” – that is, the lands that were once part of Russia and claimed by the Moscow rulers – Kyiv prince’s descendants. The need to “return what was lost” justified the wars in Moscow and St. Petersburg against the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the 1480s till the 1790s.
Equally important was the concept of Moscoviya as the last Orthodox kingdom (not considering Montenegro), widely known as “Moscow is the Third Rome”. Until the middle of the 17th century, it was a distinctly isolationist ideology, aimed at preventing the defect of Moscow soul by foreign influences. Instead, after the annexation of Left-Bank Ukraine in 1654, Russian Orthodoxy turned into an expansionist one, directed at the “liberation” of co-religionists and, ideally, at the “placing the cross over Saint Sophia” in Constantinople-Istanbul.
The emergence of the ideology of pan-Slavism in Russia – the belief in the necessity to unify the entire Slavic world under the sceptre of the tsars – dates back to the same time (1660s) – although its heyday fell as far back as the 19th century.
The 18th century passed in the Russian Empire under the influence of the ideologies of absolutism embodied in the times of Peter I, and enlightened absolutism in the times of Catherine II and Alexander I.
The unsuccessful performance of the Decembrists (1825) and the November Uprising in Poland (1831) led to a sharp conservative turn in Russia. As early as 1833, the state ideology of the empire was formulated – “Orthodoxy, autocracy, nationality”. Despite the spread of alternative political ideologies in society (westernization, populism, Marxism), this triad maintained its dominant status at least until 1905.
The period from 1917 to 1991 was characterized by the total dominance of the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, although different interpretations of it took place in different periods of the existence of the USSR. Attempts to promote alternative political ideologies were punished by the state. The political influence of the Orthodox Church was reduced to an absolute minimum.
The collapse of the Soviet Union put an end to the ideological monopoly. According to Article 13 of the 1993 Constitution of Russia, “1. In the Russian Federation, ideological diversity is recognized. 2. No ideology can be established as state or obligatory one”. However, the need for a general societal ideological consensus has led to a sharp rise in the popularity of the concept of “national idea”. Although it is related to the 19th century German philosophical term “Volksgeist” (“people’s spirit”), the concept is almost unknown outside Russia and its neighbours. Given that it is problematic to talk about the existence of a political nation of Russians separated from the state, it can be argued that the national idea and the state ideology are inextricably linked (although the first concept seems to be somewhat broader).
In 1996, President Boris Yeltsin announced a competition for a national idea, but this initiative did not come to an end (review of ideas in 1996, critical reviews in 2004, favourable reviews in 2016). “We have an old Russian pastime – the search for a national idea, something like the search for the meaning of life,” President Vladimir Putin said in 2007. In 2012-2013, a contest was held no longer for texts, but for art concepts of the national idea. It was won by the image “Russia – Nevalashka”. The Vanka-Ustanka country”, but it did not gain general popularity.
ІІ. Putin’s ideology
What is called “Putinism” today is a complex of theories and practices of the modern Russian government. But in contrast to the same Leninism, Putinism is not a separate self-sufficient ideology, but is based on the concepts of the Russian imperial and Soviet era.
One of the first and most important ideological pillars of Putinism was the concept of “sovereign democracy”, developed in 2005-2006. The key word here was the first, in the opinion of political scientist Volodymyr Pastukhov, the absolute intolerance of even a hint from external influence is the subject of a complete consensus of the Russian elites and the people. Accordingly, “sovereignty” as the ability to take any action regardless of other people’s opinion is an immutable value for the Kremlin and most Russians.
In the course of 2019-2023, Putin’s use of constructions such as “digital sovereignty”, “full sovereignty”, “technological sovereignty”, “economic and financial sovereignty” or “the task of increasing the country’s sovereignty is extremely important” or “if there is no sovereignty, in the future we will buy everything” has significantly risen. What’s more, according to Putin, “the doctrine of human rights is used by the West to destroy the sovereignty of states”. Propagandists close to the administration expand this discourse, inventing “personnel sovereignty” and the like.
The concept of “independence” is interpreted in a similar way in Russia. According to the Russian leadership, true independence is inseparable from the ability to autarky. Therefore, very few states – hegemons of global or regional level – can be really independent. The independence of most others is a fiction, a manipulative slogan that serves as a tool for a hybrid struggle between the real players on the geopolitical chessboard. From this point of view, Russia is an independent country, while Ukraine is not. Hence Putin’s views on the Crimea as a part of Russia, on Ukraine as a “false” country, and on Ukrainians as “one nation” with Russians.
At the same time, economist Branko Milanovych directly contrasts the sovereignty and wealth of countries using the example of the DPRK and Belgium: “Sovereignty means the freedom to make political and economic decisions that are as little limited as possible by other countries; wealth means the presence of a high-level income (high GDP per capita). The problem is that there is no compromise between these two goals. Countries can become rich only if they become less sovereign, i.e. more globally integrated… Russian isolationism chooses full sovereignty, free from treaties and rules and free from the Western ideologies of Marxism and liberalism.”
After all, Senator Andriy Klishas, one of the co-authors of the amendments to the Russian constitution, directly emphasizes that the ideology of modern Russia is sovereignty.
This understanding of Putin’s sovereignty in general and the independence of Ukraine in particular is perfectly consistent with the concept of “Kyiv heritage” inherited by Russian society from imperial times. This makes Russian “sovereignty” almost identical to Russian imperialism.
On December 12, 2013, in a message to the Federal Assembly, Putin declared himself a conservative in the spirit of Mykola Berdyaev and stated that Russia would be a world leader in the defence of conservative morality. And on October 21, 2021, at a meeting of the Valdai Club, Putin announced that Russia will be guided by the ideology of conservatism, the importance of which has grown many times over recently. Putin used four interchangeable definitions: “sensible conservatism”, “healthy conservatism”, “moderate conservatism” and “optimist conservatism”.
An important, if not the main, part of Putin’s conservatism is traditionalism, or more precisely, “traditional values”. According to the “Fundamentals of State Policy on the Preservation and Strengthening of Russian Traditional Spiritual and Moral Values” (2022), the list of traditional values includes life, dignity, human rights and freedoms, patriotism, serving the Motherland, high moral ideals, a strong family, creative work and priority of spiritual over material.
The Ukrainian Institute for the Future has already reviewed the “Concept of Humanitarian Policy of the Russian Federation Abroad”, according to which “the historical experience, rich cultural heritage and spiritual potential of Russia have allowed it to occupy a special place in the world cultural space and created opportunities for the successful promotion of traditional Russian spiritual and moral values abroad “. State homophobia is another component of “traditional values” in Russia, the analysis of which has also been carried out by the UIF.
And finally, Putin paid a great deal of attention to patriotism. In the summer of 2015, he emphasized that patriotism is a sacred duty of Russians, and in October he called it a “moral reference point” for teenagers. In February 2016, Putin emphasized that “We do not have and cannot have any other unifying idea except patriotism… This is the national idea”. In December 2018, he said that “in the best, unleavened meaning of this word, patriotism cannot but be the basis of strengthening our state, in the broadest and noblest meaning of this word”, and in May 2020 he once again repeated that Russian national idea is patriotism. In April 2022, Putin called patriotism to be one of the key foundations of Russian statehood and one of the most important values of Russian society, and in September he said that “being a patriot is the essence of nature and character of Russian nation”. Back in 2017, a book of the president’s speeches and articles was published under the title “Patriotism is the national idea of Russia”.
However, as critics point out, Putin’s understanding of patriotism is different from that of the developed world. In the opinion of some people (2016), this “patriotism is hysterical, its degree is absolutely abnormal. This is not the case for societies which are not at war”. Putin deliberately supports this state of affairs in order to distract the majority of the population from economic problems. Consolidation around the idea of patriotism (or rather, national patriotism) is a way of maintaining power. According to others (2022), patriotism has turned into a cult for Putin, which can be sent only in one correct way – by supporting the war and him personally. Thus, as it happened regularly in Russian history, patriotism turned from love for the country into love for the state and power.
So, this triad: unlimited sovereignty (i.e. imperialism) – conservatism/traditionalism (with an emphasis on homophobia) – patriotism (i.e. loyalty) – constitutes the ideological base of Putin himself and also influences the rest of the Russian population. The aspirations to “catch up with Portugal” in terms of GDP per capita (1999), “competitiveness” (2004) or “population conservation” (2011), declared as national ideas, did not make it into the final version. And considering the results of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, we should not expect changes in Putin’s ideology.
ІІІ. The nationwide ideology of Russia
Despite the constitutional ban, attempts to develop and implement a national ideology did not cease in Russia. For obvious reasons, they became more active last year. So, on June 2, 2022, the Expert Institute for Social Research (EISD) held a round table on the topic “The ideology that we need”.
At the meeting of the World Russian People’s Council in October, the head of the “Fair Russia” faction Serhii Mironov insisted on the necessity to cancel the “anti-ideological” article of the constitution. There were also talks about cancelling Article 2, according to which a person, his rights and freedoms are the highest value. An ultra-conservative model was offered: faith, family, Motherland.
On November 4, the speaker of the Federation Council, Valentina Matvienko, wrote in her blog that “the formation of ideology in our country is already in fact underway. I mean, first of all, the ideas, provisions, assessments contained in the speeches, reports, and articles of the head of the Russian state V.V. Putin”. At the same time, Matvienko noted that she does not call for the creation of a state ideology that is mandatory for everyone.
On November 21 of the same year, State Duma deputy Mykola Novichkov published an article entitled “Why Russia Needs a State Ideology” (in which, in addition, the introduction of censorship was explicitly proposed).
On December 31, Olga Kovitidi, a “senator” from the occupying authorities of Crimea, emphasized in an interview that “the SWO exposed the public demand for the development of a general ideology of Russia: the ideology of the multinational unity of the Russian Federation”. It is noteworthy that she said almost the same thing back in 2017, “today there is a public demand in society for a clear and concise national idea, national ideology”, and a year before there were rumours about her preparation of a draft law on ideology.
And although the amorphous but all-encompassing doctrine of “Russian Peace”, despite its unofficial status, fulfils most of the ideological tasks assigned to it and serves as a connecting link between the state and Russian Orthodoxy, the search for a “true” state ideology does not stop. Only in the past two years have several “approaches” been made to solving this problem.
In 2021, the federal project “Patriotic education of citizens of the Russian Federation” was launched, the implementation of which was entrusted to the “Rospatriot Centre” within the structure of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs (Rosmolod). At the end of the summer of that year, the head of the centre presented the results of the “10 facets of patriotism” project, which were later printed as a separate brochure. They are as follows: pedagogy, culture, media, serving the Motherland, sports, science, family, history, ecology, volunteering. In the “Methodical recommendations” on the basics of patriotic education, issued by the Rospatriot Centre in the autumn of 2022, the meaning of “facets” and “profiles of the patriot personality” have been disclosed.
In October 2022, the conference “Problems of worldview and social sciences. DNA of Russia”, in which more than 200 teachers and heads of institutions of higher education from all over the country took part. Professor Andriy Polosin from Moscow State University was appointed the scientific supervisor of “DNA of Russia”. According to him, the project’s activities will be aimed at researching both the “state of worldview systems” and the “design and development of common ideas about the acceptable parameters of the worldview system”.
During the conference, the idea of creating a university course “Fundamentals of Russian Statehood” was discussed. The head of one of the departments of the Putin administration, Oleksandr Kharichev, stated that the future course will consist of three components: national ideas (which “must be clearly announced and understood”), historical experience, and sociological inquiry. It was assumed that by September 1 next year, 6,000 employees of institutions of higher education will be trained to teach this course.
On November 17, the “Journal of Political Studies” published an article by Polosin, Kharichev and two more co-authors under the title “Perception of Basic Values, Factors and Structures of Social and Historical Development of Russia”. It described the five-part model of Russia’s values. The value of “creation”, family – “tradition”, society – “consent”, the state – “trust in public institutions”, the country – “patriotism” corresponded to the level of a person. The entire structure was named “pentabase”. The authors directly recommended the practical application of the results in “applied developments” (i.e. state propaganda).
On January 29, 2023, Putin instructed the Ministry of Science and Higher Education to develop and implement the “Fundamentals of Russian Statehood” in institutions of higher education.
On February 8, a new article about the “DNA of Russia” by Polosin and Kharichev was published. In it, they offered another version of the “value and cultural portrait of Russia”: “creation is for a person, love is for a family, unity is for society, order is for the state, and mission is for the country”. The term “pentabase” was no longer mentioned this time. And already on February 9, a round table dedicated to “DNA” and “Foundations” took place in the EISD, at which Polosin listed “four valuable constants” characteristic of Russian statehood throughout all historical periods. The first is “one’s own way”, the second is “messianicism, the presence of a supergoal”, the third is “hyper adaptability”, the fourth is “community”.
Finally, on March 22, the journalists had a presentation of the “DNA of Russia” project with an outline of the basics of the course content.
The philosophical foundations of “DNA of Russia” are communitarianism, conservatism, Russian cosmism, and solidarity. There are five main permanent Russian values: “unity in diversity” (mutual assistance, community spirit), “idealism” (scale, scope, spirituality), “sovereign statehood” (independence, own path of development, originality), “stability and sustainability” (hyper adaptability, stability), “mastering the new, pioneering” (an alternative to globalism, catechin). There are also five valuable guidelines for the future: “sovereignty” (independence, self-sufficiency and originality), “creation” (development, mastery, pioneering, progress), “stability” (reliance on tradition and sustainability), “serving” (ideals, country, family), “solidarity” (cooperation, mutual aid, unity).
The course itself consists of five blocks:
- What is Russia? (the country in its spatial, human, resource, ideological-symbolic and regulatory-political dimension);
- Russian state-civilization (historical-geographical, institutional foundations of the formation of Russian civilization);
- Russian worldview, value constants of Russian civilization (worldview and its significance for a person, society, state);
- Political system of Russia (objective presentation of Russian state and public institutions, key cause-and-effect relationships of recent years of social transformation);
- Challenges of the future and development of the country (scenario of prospective development and the role of the citizen in such a scenario).
Starting from March 23, a number of universities in Russia (Rostov, Nizhny Novgorod, Yaroslavl) and the occupied Sevastopol announced discussions within their walls concerning the concept of the course “Fundamentals of Russian Statehood”, the teaching of which will begin on September 1.
Thus, it can be assumed that the Kremlin came very close to the introduction of official ideology in Russia. Most likely, it will include the “Putin’s triad”: sovereignty – conservatism – patriotism, additing a few more positions, for example, idealism/messianism or catholicity/community. Most likely, the ideology will not have its own name and will not be established in legislation. However, if the course “Fundamentals of Russian Statehood” becomes obligatory at institutions of higher education, there will be no fundamental difference from the teaching of Marxism-Leninism in the Soviet era.
After the publication of the course materials in full, the UIF plans to analyse their content.