Six months into the leader's third term as president,
conservative ideas harking back to the country's experience of
Western occupation and rejecting Western liberalism are resurgent.
Over 12 years as the principal leader of Russia, Vladimir V.
Putin has brought the same ruthless pragmatism to a wide range of
problems -- separatist wars, gas wars, rebellious oligarchs and a
Now he is facing a problem he has never encountered before, one
that is an awkward fit with his skeptical, K.G.B.-trained mind. Six
months into his third presidential term, after a wave of unsettling
street protests, Mr. Putin needs an ideology -- some idea powerful
enough to consolidate the country around his rule.
One of the few clear strategies to emerge in recent months is an
effort to mobilize conservative elements in society. Cossack
militias are being revived, regional officials are scrambling to
present "patriotic education" programs and Slavophile discussion
clubs have opened in major cities under the slogan "Give us a
"Definitely he is thinking about ideology," Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr.
Putin's press secretary and close aide, said in an interview.
"Ideology is very important. Patriotism is very important. Without
dedication from people, without the trust of people, you cannot
expect a positive impact of what you are doing, of your job."
Ideas are changing inside the ruling class, as well. The pro-
Western, modernizing doctrine of President Dmitri A. Medvedev has
been replaced by talk about "post-democracy" and imperial nostalgia.
Leading intellectuals are challenging the premise, driven into the
country 20 years ago, that Russia should seek to emulate liberal
Western institutions. "Western values" are spoken of with disdain.
Every year, scholars from around the world gather for a meeting
of the Valdai Discussion Club, where they sit around an opulent
dinner table, peppering Mr. Putin with questions for hours. Mr.
Peskov said this year there were few questions about democracy and
human rights -- because those questions are no longer of interest.
"World experts nowadays are losing their interest in the
traditional set of burning points," he said. "Everyone is sick and
tired of this issue of human rights." He added, "It's boringly
traditional, boringly traditional, and it's not on the agenda."
Events of the past year have breathed life into this anti-
Western argument. The debt crisis stripped the euro zone of its
attraction as an economic model, and then as a political one. The
Arab uprisings have left Russia and the United States divided by an
intellectual chasm. The Russian Orthodox Church casts the West as
unleashing dangerous turbulence on the world.
Mr. Peskov said that Mr. Putin "understands pretty well that
there are no general Western values," but that he views this as a
period of severe historic crisis.
"We have a tremendous collapse of cultures in Europe, less in the
States, less in South America," Mr. Peskov said. "But we have it in
Africa and we have it in Europe, and they will be torn apart by
these contradictions. Because there is no harmony in coexistence of
different cultures, they cannot ensure this harmony."
"The wave of revolutions in Maghreb, in the Middle East, in the
Gulf, in Yemen, it brought disaster," he said.
While Russia has no intention of drifting from the West in its
foreign policy and seeks closer bilateral relationships, Mr. Peskov
said, it will no longer tolerate interference by outsiders in its
This message is unambiguous, but it is difficult to know what
concrete changes it may bring in a country whose top political and
business figures have homes in Western Europe and send their
children to study there.
In September, during a discussion on "nationalizing the elite," a
Kremlin-connected lawmaker proposed barring officials from owning
property overseas, saying it makes them beholden to foreign
governments and could lead them to betray Russia. …