Philippe Raynaud, the French philosopher, has coined the pro-Putin public in France (the same holds for all western countries) as a “force field”. In it, he underlines the strength of Putinian lobbying, its ability to catch even smart and good faith people inside a framework of gross lies, where they can no longer acknowledge facts. The force field attracts many, from German and Hungarian neo-Nazis to French and Greek leftists, as well as reasonable politicians and academics. What is the underlying logic of such an improbable convergence between extremists and moderates, tough “realists” and hotheads fascinated by brute force, anti-EU nationalists and regionalist extremists relying on Europe (and Putin!) for weakening nation states, conservative Christians and leftists aiming at “democracy without capitalism”?
The pro-Putin party is by no means dominant, at least for now: French government holds on its position on sanctions and on the non-delivery of Mistral warship; leaders and public opinion have a growing awareness of Putin’s cynicism. But it is nevertheless an influential party thanks to its organized networks, and its layer cake feature, which seduce seemingly incompatible interests and parties. Bribery and fear put aside, the Russian force field relies on two main components.
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One is a strong feeling of self-hatred in liberal countries fuelled by the damages of globalization and an even stronger distrust towards political leaders since 9/11. The US is the focus of this hatred and distrust because a lot of people dislike (often with good reasons) both the imperial arrogance of neo-cons with the failures in Iraq, and the vacillating policy of Obama with its impotence. Due to cultural gaps and harsh economic competition between European countries and the US, the unity of western interests and civilisation is not so obvious now as it used to be.
Hence the other component: a desire of alternative that the new Third Rome tries to ride, using the illusion of greatness and higher values, and the reality of cynical force, lies, and military capability. The very inconsistency of Putin’s neo-totalitarianism is an asset for leading astray western interlocutors and dividing them. The Empire is not an alternate system fighting ours in a regulated war, but rather a hooligan playing dirty in a globalized and intertwined world. So the Russian “alternative” can seduce both those who are fed up by the transatlantic way of life, and those who believe that the West should defend itself and is, whether you like it or not, dependent on Russian military and political support in the clash of civilization: war on terrorism or the rise of Asian powers. The Islamic war against Eastern Christians is a crucial issue here: despite his fake Orthodoxy, Putin cannot be a wise and trustworthy ally for protecting the threatened minorities of the Middle East nor for building a front of decent regimes against terror. But for those worried by Jihad as a threat to Western civilization, acknowledging that Russia is probably for a long period not a reliable partner, is unbearable, so they refuse to see the facts. This is the “rational” core of the force field, its best argument, who convey its persuasion to dubious themes, such as the so-called humiliation of Russia after 1991, the perjury of NATO, the defence of Russian minorities, the ancient love of Russia for Crimea and “Little Russian” brothers, the divisions of Ukraine, and other rubbish communication devises. Our arguments must address to this. It is not enough to reinstate facts against propaganda lies and to praise the values of Ukrainian revolution and the nobility of its heroes; one must speak the language of geopolitics and of national and European interests.
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The pro-Putin realism is misguided because it mistakes the Kremlin regime with a decent partner, and relies on a gross binary vision of the world. Meanwhile, we live in an era of disseminated and overlapping conflicts. It is an unsettling fact, and many people prefer the solace of Manichaeism. This might be a repercussion of the naïve hope in the end of history and a peaceful millennium under the aegis of the US or of WTO after the collapse of USSR. Both the extremists aiming at exploding the world order and the frightened reactionaries are attracted by the Russian field force in this context.
It is a pity that smart liberals and wise conservatives join them too often. Whenever I meet a catholic and/or patriot French conservative who is not pro-Putin, I am grateful because so many of these people whom I respect and often agree with (on the need of common culture and political identity, or a demanding education in the name of equal easy access for everybody) seem bewitched by Putin, as if it were a necessary corollary of their political bent. It is important that the Ukrainian or Euro-Ukrainian cause does not identify with yuppies and bohos, but is also appealing to people concerned about preservation of European cultural heritage. To be fully convincing, we must not only defend the justice and beauty of Ukrainian liberties, but break the framework of the force field by showing the world order as it is.
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