Part 3: Putinism’s Global Impact and Future Implications

The critique of Western hegemonism and normative universalism is easily relatable to the majority of non-Western audiences, who agree with Putinism’s model of independent multiple civilizations with their unique sets of core values. Putinism piggybacks on this critique by offering a messianic vision of Russia as a beacon of anti-hegemonism and the creator of a “more just world order. This messianic thrust deserves special attention.

I argue in the book that in line with the crystallization of conservative communitarian and right-wing populist ideology, traditional Russian messianism is also transforming into a new form, which I call “low-cost messianism” to capture its essence as the messianism of “just being oneself”. Russia’s mission, according to this conceptualization, is to “be Russia” and prevent attempts at hegemonic takeovers in the world. Media figure and Orthodox priest Ivan Okhlobystin put it this way, noting that Russia destroyed the Golden Horde, Napoleon, and Hitler: “If another globalist comes along, we will punch him in the face. The clear implication is that today’s Russia is destroying another globalist: the West. 

Without any religious extravagance, the idea of low-cost messianism found its way into the mainstream debate in the form of the concept of Russia as a provider of global stability, entertained in the Valdai Club, Russia in Global Affairs, and other pro-Kremlin expert groups. It is important to note that low-cost messianism does not exclude an assertive, annexationist policy. The relatively recent (2023) debate on Russia’s preemptive nuclear strike against one of the Central European countries, initiated by Sergei Karaganov and taken up by Dmitry Trenin, is a good example: Trenin positively evaluated Karaganov’s idea on the grounds that a limited nuclear attack could prevent the imminent apocalyptic scenario of a full-scale war between Russia and NATO. So Russia could still save the world by, paradoxically, dropping a nuclear bomb or two. 

It is tempting to use hindsight to explain the war in Ukraine, but the study of Putinism clearly shows that war is inscribed in the conceptual core of this ideology. Thus, the clarion call of the book is to pay full attention to the ideological aspects of the Russian political regime and to realize that the main problem with Russia is not its imperial legacy and policies – after all, we have many other imperialist countries – but that its ideology is anti-liberal. Moreover, if Putinism succeeds in reconciling right-wing and left-wing iterations of anti-liberalism, it will emerge as a global anti-Western force, eclipsing religious fundamentalism and Latin American Bolivarianism.

The death of the oppositional leader Aleksei Navalny in Russian prison on 16 February 2024, which many experts reasonably assess as a cold-blooded murder of Putin’s major political opponent, does not only mark out a decisive move of the regime towards a more repressive and hegemonic version of authoritarianism. It also shows that the Putinist elite is inspired by the sense of self-righteousness and self-confidence. It is exactly Putinism as an ideology, which supplies the Russian elite with systematic argumentation and emotional comfort to believe that they stand “on the right side of history”. 

More about the book, available here. Cover images were generated by the AI.


  • Mikhail Suslov

    Mikhail Suslov is Associate Professor at Copenhagen University. His work focuses on intellectual development of Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet political philosophy.

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