Vladimir Putin presented the annexation of Crimea as a mystical personal transformation, an exultant passage into eternity. Crimea had to be part of Russia, explained Putin, because the leader of ancient Rus, Volodymyr/Valdemar, whom Putin called Vladimir, had been baptized there a thousand years before. That act by his namesake was recalled by Putin as the powerful gesture of a timeless superhero who “predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization, and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus” (concepts that did not exist at the time). If the events of our time are “predetermined” by a millennial myth, then no knowledge of the past is necessary and no human choices matter. Vladimir is Volodymyr and Russia is Rus and politics is the eternal pleasure of the wealthy few—and there is nothing more to be said or done.
The parliamentary deputy Tatiana Saenko cited Ilyin to claim that the annexation of Crimea meant the “resurrection and rebirth” of Russia. She claimed that Western objections to the Russian invasion of Ukraine were a matter of “double standards.” This common Russian argument made of law not a general principle but a cultural artifact located among non-Russian peoples. Because Western states do not always follow every law, it ran, law had no validity. Russia, too, might violate laws; but since Russia did not accept the rule of law, this was not hypocritical. Since Russia was not hypocritical, it was innocent. If there are no standards, went the reasoning, then there are no double standards. If Europeans or Americans mention international law during a time of such Russian innocence as the invasion of Ukraine, this makes them a spiritual threat. And so references to international law only demonstrated Western perfidy.
This was Ilyin’s politics of eternity: a cycle back to the past replaces the forward movement of time; law means what Russia’s leader says it means; Russia is repairing God’s failed world with violence. Putin was the redeemer from beyond history who emerged to alter time. Putin himself took up this theme on April 17, characterizing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a spiritual defense against a permanent Western attack: “The intention to split Russia and Ukraine, to separate what is essentially a single nation in many ways, has been an issue of international politics for centuries.” For Malofeev, the Russian invasion was a war against eternal eviclass="underline" “for those who do battle there, the war looks like a war against hordes fighting under the banner of the anti-Christ with Satanic slogans.” What could be more eternal than the campaign against Sodom?
The fall of Crimea encouraged Russian leaders to repeat the same scenario throughout southern and eastern Ukraine. On March 1, Glazyev telephoned confederates in the regional capitals of Ukraine’s southern and southeastern districts to help plan coups d’état. Putin’s Eurasia advisor ordered that the scenario of Crimea be repeated in other regions of Ukraine: a crowd would “storm the regional state administration building,” then some new assembly would be coerced to declare independence and ask for Russian help. In Kharkiv, a crowd of locals and Russian citizens (brought by bus from Russia) did indeed break into the regional state administration building, after first storming the opera house by mistake. These people beat and humiliated Ukrainian citizens who were seeking to protect the building. The Ukrainian writer Serhiy Zhadan refused to kneel and had his skull broken.
In April, Putin publicly recited the goals of Russian policy as outlined in the February memorandum. The idea was still the “disintegration” of the Ukrainian state in the interests of Russia. Dozens of Ukrainian state institutions and companies suddenly faced cyberattacks, as did the most important institutions of the EU. In the southeastern Ukrainian district of Donetsk, a Russian neo-Nazi named Pavel Gubarev proclaimed himself “people’s governor” on May 1, on the logic that “Ukraine never existed.” The duo of Malofeev employees sent to Crimea, Igor Girkin and Alexander Borodai, returned to Ukraine in April. Borodai would name himself prime minister of an imagined new people’s republic in southeastern Ukraine. His justification was similar: “There is no longer any Ukraine.” His friend Girkin proclaimed himself the minister of war, and asked Russia to invade the Donbas and establish military bases.
The Russian intervention in the Donbas was called the “Russian Spring.” It was certainly springtime for Russian fascism. On March 7, 2014, Alexander Dugin rejoiced in “the expansion of liberational (from Americans) ideology into Europe. It is the goal of full Eurasianism—Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok.” The fascist commonwealth was coming into view, boasted the fascist. A few days later, Dugin proclaimed that history had been undone: “Modernity was always essentially wrong, and we are now at the terminal point of modernity. For those who rendered modernity and their own destiny synonymous, or who let that occur unconsciously, this will mean the end.” The coming struggle would mean “real liberation from the open society and its beneficiaries.” According to Dugin, an American diplomat of Jewish origin was “a dirty pig,” and a Ukrainian politician of Jewish origin a “ghoul” and a “bastard.” Chaos in Ukraine was the work of “Mossad.” In the same spirit, Alexander Prokhanov, speaking with Evelina Zakamskaia on Russian television on March 24, blamed Ukrainian Jews for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—and for the Holocaust.
This was a new variety of fascism, which could be called schizofascism: actual fascists calling their opponents “fascists,” blaming the Holocaust on the Jews, treating the Second World War as an argument for more violence. It was a natural next step in a Russian politics of eternity, in which Russia was innocent and thus no Russian could ever be a fascist. During the Second World War, Soviet propaganda identified the enemy as the “fascists.” According to Soviet ideology, fascism arose from capitalism. During the war against Nazi Germany, Russians could imagine that Soviet victory was part of a larger historical shift in which capitalism would disappear, and all men would become brothers. After the war, Stalin celebrated a national triumph, not so much of the Soviet Union as of Russia. This suggested that the “fascist” enemy was the outsider rather than the capitalist, and thus a more permanent conflict. In the 1970s, Stalin’s heir, Brezhnev, located the meaning of Soviet (and Russian) history in the victory of the Red Army in the Second World War. In so doing, Brezhnev definitively changed the sense of the word “fascism.” It no longer suggested a stage of capitalism that might be overcome, since history was no longer expected to bring change. “Fascism” meant the eternal threat from the West, of which the Second World War was an example.
Thus Russians educated in the 1970s, including the leaders and war propagandists of the 2010s, were instructed that “fascist” meant “anti-Russian.” In the Russian language it is practically a grammatical error to imagine that a Russian could be a fascist. In contemporary Russian discourse, it is easier for an actual Russian fascist to call a non-fascist a “fascist” than it is for a non-fascist to call a Russian fascist a “fascist.” Thus a fascist like Dugin could celebrate the victory of fascism in fascist language while condemning as “fascist” his opponents. Ukrainians defending their country were “junta mercenaries from the ranks of the Ukrainian swine-fascists.” Similarly, a fascist like Prokhanov could describe fascism as a physical substance that spilled in from the West to threaten Russian virginity. In June, Prokhanov wrote of fascism as “black sperm” that threatened “the golden goddesses of Eurasia.” His lapidary expression of racial and sexual anxiety was a perfect fascist text. Glazyev also followed the schizofascist protocol. While endorsing Nazi geopolitics, he set a standard for calling Russia’s enemies “fascist.” Writing in September 2014 for the Izborsk Club, Glazyev called Ukraine “a fascist state, with all the signs of fascism known to science.”