The Influence of Radical Nationalists on Putin: The Kremlin started the "Eternal War"

"Putin is unable to offer anything more than an ultimatum"

by Sededin Dedovic
The Influence of Radical Nationalists on Putin: The Kremlin started the "Eternal War"
© The Guardian / Youtube channel

Vladimir Putin says he is ready to end the war he started, but his conditions are unacceptable to both Ukraine and radical Russian nationalists. Independent analysts warn that his "formula for peace" could actually lead to escalation, points out Kseniya Kirillova, a Russian journalist who studies Russian society, mentality, propaganda, and foreign policy, in an analysis for CEPA.

Putin made the statement on June 14, ahead of the Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland. To start peace negotiations, he said, Ukraine must withdraw its forces from the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, and Kherson. According to him, Kyiv must refrain from plans to join NATO and agree to a "neutral, non-aligned, non-nuclear status," as well as guarantee the rights of Russian speakers.

Ukraine must "demilitarize" and "accept new territorial realities," he added. The West, according to the plan, must lift all sanctions on Russia. Independent media have noted that Putin has repeatedly mentioned resuming peace talks in recent weeks and emphasized that Russia is open to discussions.

This may reflect the West's delayed release of about $166 billion in aid to Ukraine, organized by the US, the European Union, and the G7. It can also be interpreted as war fatigue in Russia, where polls show that one in five Russians can be considered radically pro-war.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attends a meeting with Ukraine President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, during day one of the 50th G7 © Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

But as always with Putin, it is wise to separate his public statements from reality.

By setting unacceptable preconditions, the Russian president is actually indicating that he will continue the war and refuse any concessions. Political scientist and publicist Vladimir Pastukhov suggests that this could actually lead to intensified confrontation between the Kremlin and the West, for example, through a sharp increase in sabotage and hacking attacks in Europe.

The response of radical nationalists close to the Kremlin to Putin's talk of peace suggests that they do not believe negotiations are near. The president's words were "a completely correct step," believes "Orthodox oligarch" and founder of the Tsargrad TV channel Konstantin Malofeev.

He openly expressed hope that the West would reject Putin's conditions (as it did), allowing the war to continue. This opinion is shared by Malofeev's associates. But some even more extreme ultra-radicals, allies of the imprisoned former FSB officer Igor Girkin (Strelkov), were openly negative.

They believe that Putin's demands would actually serve the interests of the US and China. According to Strelkov-Girkin ally Maxim Kalashnikov, if Putin's conditions are accepted, "the anti-Russian statehood of Ukraine will be preserved on 80 percent of its territory." Additionally, as Kalashnikov noted: "The NATO bloc is filled with Swedes and Finns," and the Russian economy will inevitably begin to weaken after a reduction in military orders, which would make Moscow even more dependent on Beijing.

At the same time, Kalashnikov admitted that the standard of living in the free territories of Ukraine will be higher than in the regions occupied by Russia (a modern echo of the clear differences in prosperity between West Germany and East Germany under Russian occupation).

These extremists claim that the war cannot end without the destruction of Ukraine as an independent state. This means they completely reject Putin's "peaceful" moves. This raises the question of whether Putin could end the war even if he wanted to.

Russian opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky has repeatedly stated that Putin cannot agree to peace due to his dependence on so-called national patriots. For this reason, their influence is actually growing. Take the expansion of "academic" clubs.

These are nationalist conservative student associations that have rapidly increased at universities across the country. The project is sponsored by Malofeev and promotes "philosophical conversations." In addition to lectures that glorify the war, students learn how to operate drones, weave camouflage nets, make trench candles, and participate in the persecution of war opponents, from popular artists to their own professors.

According to analyst Vera Alperovich of the Sova research center, the development of such projects promotes a growing level of violence as it is based on an extreme right-wing xenophobic ideology. "This ideology is, in principle, structured so that its adherents always persecute some part of society," wrote the human rights activist.

This is not the first time the Kremlin has created youth organizations to persecute the opposition and minorities. Previously, this function was assigned to the pro-Kremlin movement Nashi, founded in 2005. However, over time, the movement did not fulfill the hopes placed in it but became a springboard for young careerists.

The next attempt to engage young people against dissenters was the creation of organizations of followers of the "new ideologists," such as the communist Sergey Kurginyan. The movement "Essence of Time," which grew around his ideas, was leftist but performed the same functions of fighting the opposition.

Kurginyan's followers organized rallies against the Ukrainian Orange Revolution in 2012 and, together with conservatives, supported the war in Donbas. Most participants in Essence of Time believed they were members of an opposition-patriotic organization, while in reality, they were completely under Kremlin control.

Given the grim history of Putin's regime and its increasingly repressive approach, there is a high probability that the presidential administration will once again take control of the main nationalist associations. They will be tools of a system dedicated to maintaining the power of one man.

Putin himself seems to believe more strongly in a radical ideology and what he assumes is the "historical mission" derived from it. This 71-year-old may not be able to offer anything more than ultimatums, as he cannot and does not want to reverse the decision he made on February 24, 2022, and earlier. The Kremlin and radical nationalists are increasingly aligning.