A particularly significant point made by the Russian military adviser was that, “If in classical wars the goal is to destroy the enemy’s workforce [and] in modern cyber wars [it is] to destroy the enemy’s infrastructure, then the goal of the new war is to destroy self-awareness, to change the basis of civilization of the enemy’s society. I would call this kind of “mental” warfare. Furthermore, while manpower and infrastructure can be restored, the evolution of consciousness cannot be reversed, especially since the consequences of this ‘mental’ warfare do not manifest immediately but only after at least a generation, when it will be impossible to fix something “(Arsenal Otechestva, 31 March).
Ilnitsky asked to “prepare for a geostrategic revenge”. But his reference to “revenge” is actually less geostrategic and more mental. That is to say, the opposition of the current Kremlin rulers and propagandists to the West is based on their rejection of the fundamental basis of modern democracy: the regular replacement of authorities in free elections. From this point of view, the United States, with its regular presidential elections, and Ukraine, which has already had six presidents since it gained independence from the Soviet Union, are in stark contrast to Russia, where Putin he didn’t just rule. in fact uninterrupted for 21 years, but recently signed a law that allows him to run for two more 6-year terms.
Ilnitsky specifically stated that the West is waging a “mind war” against Russia to “change the basis of civilization in our society”. This abstract formulation implies that the “base of civilization” in Russia is something historically continuous and ignores the fact that it changed at least twice in the 1920s.th century: in 1917, when the Russian Empire collapsed and the Communists took power, and in 1991, when, in turn, the Soviet Empire collapsed.
During the times of Mikhail Gorbachev Perestroika and Boris Yeltsin’s reforms in the 1990s, Russian citizens wanted their country’s “civilization base” to resemble and integrate with that of the modern developed world. Of course, they reserved the right to national cultural specificity, but without the opposition to the West imposed in the Soviet era. This precise confrontation was echoed during Putin’s rule, but the Kremlin today seeks to portray its ideological foundations as “eternal” (see EDM, May 8, 2017, August 12, 2020, January 6, 2021)
These “spiritual ties” (dukhovniye skrepy, as Putin said (Kremlin.ru, December 12, 2012), also loosely labeled as “traditional Russian values”, are a syncretic blend of three rather dissimilar elements.
- The first is Orthodox clericalism medieval type, with its mission “to save the world from sin”. Although, after 70 years of forced Soviet atheism, this statement seems rather presumptuous.
- The second is the file cult of the “Great Victory” of the Soviet Union of 1945, which, under Putin, began to be celebrated with even more pomp and spectacle than under Leonid Brezhnev. But the former allies in World War II are today described as enemies.
- The third “spiritual link” is painful nostalgia for lost global imperial greatness.
All these “traditional values” are forming in a single narrative, whose task is to oppose the West.
Yet, in reality, the Kremlin’s “mental warfare” against the West targets its own citizens whose preference is to live in a modern society – an inclination that authorities interpret as “pro-Western”, even when it is limited to rights encoded in the Russian constitution. For example, by law, the governors of the Russian regions must be freely elected, but in reality they are appointed by the Kremlin. Direct elections of mayors in most Russian cities have also been eliminated (see EDM, 17, 20 November 2017).
In this interview, Andrei Ilnitsky explicitly praised the “imperial order” and declared the need to ensure “regional connectivity” in Russia. But these two notions are in direct contradiction to each other. Almost every empire, starting with the Roman one, was built on the principle of absolute centralism. And just as in ancient times “all roads led to Rome”, all quality roads in today’s Russia also lead to Moscow, and there are practically no direct trans-regional highways. A similar situation can be seen in domestic passenger air travel: often, flying from one Russian region to another requires a transfer to Moscow (see EDM, 6 October 2015 and 2 April 2020).
Connectivity between regions requires both mutual interests and equal and contractual federative structures. But while the name “Russian Federation” continues to appear on official government documents, the country does in fact has been transformed into a hyper-centralized statist entity (see EDM, 19 October 2017). The regions of Russia have little interest in developing direct links between them because each depends, above all, on the financial generosity (ie subsidies) of Moscow.
The advisor to the defense minister specifically defines Russia as a “great power”; but in reality, that label only rings true when it comes to the country’s geographic size (and perhaps its nuclear arsenal), not in reference to its internal development. The Kremlin is trying to compensate for the lack of a modern economy with threats to neighboring countries and the West as a whole, but will almost inevitably lose this “mind war” due to its archaism. The modern Russian empire, like its historical predecessors, combines the desire for external aggression and conservative isolationism. Ilnitsky’s calls to organize a “sovereign Internet” and to block foreign social networks certainly speak of these impulses. It seems that, in keeping with the centuries-old tradition, real change can only begin after the Tsar’s death.