Latvian security service offers insight on Russia's 'ideologization'

Latvia's Constitution Protection Bureau (SAB) has published the latest in a series of pieces of analysis it occasionally provides on matters of topical interest.

This time the subject under surveillance is Russian domestic politics. The piece is published without a specific author's name but aims to "provide expertise on important issues for Latvian society, in order to supplement the informational space with reliable information that would serve the citizens as an explanation of current processes in the country and a forecast for their development." More articles are available at the website, including this consideration of a very similar topic a couple of years ago.

The Constitution Protection Bureau is one of three state security services, the other being the State Security Service (VDD) and the Defense Intelligence and Security Service (MIDD). The main tasks of SAB include intelligence, counter-intelligence and protection of official secrets. SAB also ensures protection of NATO and EU classified information in public institutions engaged in work with such information.

The latest thinking from SAB is reproduced in full below.

Russia's ideologization: building a self-sufficient empire

Ever since Vladimir Putin became President of Russia in 1999, there has been a gradual increase in repression of democratic freedoms and rights in Russia and a centralization of decision-making.

With the strengthening of authoritarianism, there has been an increased tendency to use ideological explanations for legitimization of this process. For example, portraying Russia as a so-called “sovereign democracy” and thus explaining the limitations of individual rights and freedoms in Russia.

In recent years, especially since Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, there has been increased ideologization to explaining and justifying the domestic and foreign political activities of Russia’s ruling regime and offering a certain narrative about the relationship between the society and the ruling elite.

At the same time the ideologization process does not mean that there exists a single, unified ideology in Russia. One area where ideologization is evident is Russia's international role. Traditionally, Russia's international status and role is based on the legacy of the Russian Empire and the USSR. It is possible to observe the selective use of historical examples to highlight Russia's importance to European security, such as the role of the Russian Empire in defeating Napoleon in the early 19th century, and particularly the role played by the USSR in the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

More similarities with the USSR's ideology have been emerging since 2014 as tensions in Russia's relations with the West intensified. Antagonism towards the West, has been placed at the heart of modern Russia's geopolitical view and is manifested in several sectors.

In the rhetoric of senior Russian officials, using NATO expansion and Western aid to Ukraine as examples, the West is portrayed as Russia's primary security threat. Western aggressive security policy is contrasted with Russia's supposedly constructive and open approach, for example by offering to be part of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture. Western and especially U.S. aggression toward Russia is illustrated through their arms deliveries to Ukraine, including the supply of weapons systems to be used against targets on Russian soil and allowing strikes to take place.

The West is being positioned as a threat to Russia's “unique values”. Russian society is told that Russia is the only guardian of Russian values. Much of the public rhetoric is devoted to emphasizing the special place of Russia's supposedly unique culture, values and even Russia as a specific civilization in the world, while maintaining these principles relatively abstract and therefore applicable at selected opportunities.

Given Russia's geopolitical positioning, it is often accentuated that the struggle with the West is not just political or military, but ideologically existential. It is not only Russia's political survival, but Russia's survival as a civilization, that is at stake. It is important to emphasize that in its civilizational view Russia considers not only Russian citizens, but also compatriots living outside Russia.

Consequently, Russia's political and ideological confrontation with the West is framed for internal society as an existential battle for the survival of Russia as a nation and civilization, confronting an aggressive and imperialist West. Russia's role as the guardian of “unique Russian values” and civilization is important for mobilizing the country's society and justifying the authoritarian political regime. As a necessity to protect the public against Western “aggression” and values, the creation of an appropriate highly centralized decision- making system has also been enshrined in amendments to the Russian constitution in 2012 and 2020, fortifying what is known as the vertical of power with Vladimir Putin as a key figure.

With Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the cult of Putin's personality as Russia's leader has become increasingly apparent. Putin's stay in power has been tied to Russia's survival and stability, while his re-election as President is a testament and public legitimacy to the decisions he has made. Putin's own image has become inextricably linked to the qualities and objectives, interests and mission attributed to Russia in the international system.

Within the country, Putin is designed as a guarantor for the economic stability and development of society and embodies Russia's values - traditionality, Christianity and development. Russian authorities and the political elite which includes both those close to the President and a wider range of officials whose prosperity is directly linked to the regime are being consolidated around Putin's personality.

In the current ideological construct Russia’s society has been allocated the role of supporting political elite and its worldview and given the opportunity to participate in the fight for Russia's unique values and the protection of its civilization. This manifestation of Russian patriotism includes the concept of a “hero's death” (preparedness to sacrifice) highlighted in Kremlin propaganda messages related to the invasion of Ukraine.

In exchange for supporting the regime and its interests, the Russian “social contract” of Putin's time provides stability in the country and protection from the threats imagined by the Kremlin, as well as the possibility for individuals to be part of Russian society, that is portrayed as rooted in history, united and superior in terms of values and morals to others.

The transformation of the country's economy has become a priority in Russian politics. This is determined by the resources needed to wage war in the Ukraine and the impact of international sanctions. The ability of Russian domestic producers to offer better products in terms of quality and price than Western ones is increasingly emphasized in Russia’s public space. This is used to highlight Russia's ability to develop not only the economy, but to create an economic model and financial system that is independent and self-sufficient in the long-term.

The high degree of control of the information space in Russia provides a favorable environment for ideologization to take place. The regime also dominates the cultural space – media, film and theatre, books – by introducing censorship and restrictions on the distribution of certain authors works. There is a growing focus on youth indoctrination, including the realization of patriotic education in schools and universities based on a politicized interpretation of Russian history and so-called traditional values (stemming from Orthodox and other cultural and historical aspects).

Russia's education policies demonstrate a strategy that includes political propaganda, such as demonstrating Putin's official addresses, military training and the promotion of aggression against gender, sexual, ethnic, racial, religious groups. Students are taught “politically correct” history and support is being given to behaviors that include censorship of the views of “foreign agents,” or denial of liberal-democratic values, and full acceptance of the state's teachings.

Russia's ideological tendencies mark the vectors of Russian policy development. The antagonistic approach to international policy, especially in relation to Western countries, illustrates Russia's readiness for further confrontation, not only in the field of security and economics, but also in the field of values.

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, Russia will tend to build cooperation with non-Western countries, primarily to mitigate economic losses and form a group of anti-Western countries. The inclusion of the Russian diaspora into Russian civilization, in turn, provides the basis for Russia to continue to present itself as the defender of the diasporas living outside Russia and of everything Russian, implying potential interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

Internally, ideologization is focused on the stability and survival of Russia's regime, not the broader Russian state or society. The interests of the ruling regime have become the interests of the state, but the primary guardian of these interests – Vladimir Putin – has been placed at the center of it. Such an ideological construct illustrates the leading regime's interest in maintaining its positions also under war conditions, giving the public the illusion of no alternatives.

The investments made in the indoctrination of young people show the willingness to maintain its power position in the long-term as well and to dissuade the strength of the political opposition. The intensification of ideologization in Russia may signal the regime's efforts to create additional resources for mobilization and its legitimization for the society in the face of a gradual socio-economic decline. At the same time, the regime's control over political, economic processes and the information space makes it possible to adapt elements of ideological content to changes in external or internal situations.


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