The Kremlin encourages the militarization of a society “surrounded by enemies”

MOSCOW.– Six teenagers in military uniforms and walking boots stood on a podium to receive an award in recognition of an increasingly important discipline in Russia: patriotism.

Over several days, students from across the country competed in activities such as map reading, shooting, and history quizzes. The contest was funded in part by the Kremlin, whose priorities now include “patriotic military” education.

“Parents and children understand that the aggressive armor that surrounds our country is becoming increasingly tense”says Svyatoslav Omelchenko, a veteran of the KGB special forces who founded Vympel, the group that organized the event.

“We are doing everything possible to make sure that our children are aware of that and are willing to go and serve,” added the former intelligence services agent of the former Soviet Union.

Military parade on Red Square in Moscow. Militarist doctrine indicates that Russia is surrounded by enemiesAFP

In the past eight years, the Russian government fostered the idea that the motherland is surrounded by enemies, a concept that has infiltrated national institutions such as schools, the military, the media, and the Orthodox Church. And he even raised the possibility that the country might have to defend itself again as it did against the Nazis during World War II.

Now that Russia is piling up troops on the border with Ukraine and feeding fear in the West of an imminent invasion of that country, the constant militarization of Russian society under President Vladimir Putin has suddenly taken on central importance, and many seem to have gotten used to it. to the idea that a conflict is brewing.

“The authorities are actively selling the idea of ​​war,” Russian newspaper editor Dimitri Muratov said in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize this month., who shared the award with Maria Ressa. “People are getting used to believing that war is possible,” added Muratov.

While there are no indicators of an increase in war fervor, there are many signs that the government has been fostering a willingness to conflict.

This year, the Kremlin launched a $ 185 million program that aims to dramatically increase the “patriotic education” of Russians, for example, through a plan to add at least 600,000 boys to the ranks of the Youth Army.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia is on the defensive and surrounded by the West, according to the new teachings
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia is on the defensive and surrounded by the West, according to the new teachings

Adults learn their lesson on state television, where political programs broadcast the tale of a fascist coup in Ukraine and a West hell-bent on destroying Russia. And all agree to pay tribute to the almost sacred memory of the Soviet victory in World War II, a milestone that the state appropriated to forge an identity of a triumphant Russia that must be ready to take up arms again.

Alexei Levinson, director of sociocultural research at the Levada Center, an independent Moscow pollster, He said the trend represents a “militarization of conscience” of the Russians.

In the center’s regular polls, the Army became the most trusted institution by Russians in 2018, surpassing even the president. This year, the percentage of Russians who say they fear a world war jumped to 62%, the all-time high since the polls began in 1994.

However, Levinson went on to point out that this does not mean that the Russians would welcome a bloody conquest of the territory of Ukraine. Instead, it means that many people were conditioned to accept that Russia is locked in an existential rivalry with other powers and that the use of force is a possibility.

Russian military in Crimea
Russian military in Crimea

In the Levada poll released last week, 39% of Russians said war between Russia and Ukraine is inevitable or highly probable. Half said the United States and NATO are to blame for the recent spike in tensions, and no more than 4% – across all age groups – said Russia is to blame.

The widespread conviction in society that Russia is not the aggressor reflects a fundamental ideology dating back to Soviet times: that the country only fights defensive wars. The government even allocated funds for films that exploit this theme.

In April, the Ministry of Culture decreed that “Russia’s historic victories” and the “Russian peacekeeping mission” were among the priority issues for film producers seeking government funding.

Peace lovers?

“Now they insist that Russia is a country that loves peace and is permanently surrounded by enemies,” says Russian film critic Anton Dolin. “Some facts contradict that idea, but it appears in the movies and they insert it in the context of the Great Patriotic War. It is something that we all know from childhood.

On Russian state television, the tale of a Ukraine controlled by neo-Nazis and used as a foothold for Western aggression has been a recurring motif since the 2014 pro-Western revolution in Kiev. After the revolution, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine, sparked a war in eastern Ukraine and insisted with the message that Russia is “a besieged fortress.”

A radar installation on Alexandra Land Island near Nagurskoye, Russia.
A radar installation on Alexandra Land Island near Nagurskoye, Russia.Alexander Zemlianichenko – AP

Some analysts fear that the rhetorical escalation serves as the foundation for an intervention that Russia could pass off as defensive action aimed at preserving their safety and protecting Russian speakers in Ukraine.

Yevgeny Popov, a new Member of Parliament and host of a well-known political show on state television, said in an interview that his ratings had grown in recent weeks. “The tension is mounting,” he said.

“I think that in Russia, the majority of the people would only be in favor of an intervention if we defended the Russians living in those territories,” Popov said, referring to the separatist areas of Ukraine where hundreds of thousands of people received Russian citizenship. .

The effectiveness of militarized state communication is under debate. Polls show that young people have a more positive view of the West than older Russians, and the pro-Kremlin sentiment generated by the annexation of Crimea appears to have dissipated due to economic stagnation.

But the Kremlin is stubborn. His drive to increase “patriotic education” includes funding groups like Vympel, the “patriotic military” group that has about 100 chapters across the country and which organized a talent competition that ended last week.

(Translation by Ignacio Mackinze)

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The Kremlin encourages the militarization of a society “surrounded by enemies”