Russia’s War on Woke Putin Is Trying to Unite the Far Right and Undermine the West

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01/02/2024

In March of this year, Russia will hold presidential elections. The contest, like ones past, will be highly choreographed, and its outcome is preordained. President Vladimir Putin, who has ruled Russia for more than 23 years, will dominate the race from the beginning. Every media outlet in Russia will promote his candidacy and praise his performance. His nominal opponents will, in fact, be government loyalists lined up to make the contest appear competitive. When all the ballots are counted, he will easily win. Yet even though the election will be a farce, it is worth watching. That is because it is an opportunity for Putin to signal his plans for the next six years and, relatedly, to test different messaging strategies. Analysts can therefore expect him to do two main things. One is to play up Russia’s struggle against the West. But the other is something that Westerners will find familiar from domestic politics: decrying socially liberal, or “woke,” policies. Putin will, for example, talk a lot about family values, arguing that Russians should have traditional two-parent households with lots of children. He will denounce the so-called “LGBT movement” as a foreign campaign to undermine Russian life. And he will rail against abortions, even though most Russians support the right to have them. The parallels with the American right are not coincidental. Putin and his advisers have adopted the views and rhetoric of conservative American firebrands, such as anchors on the Fox News channel. The Kremlin has done so because, by embracing the culture wars, it believes it can win over support from populist politicians in Washington and elsewhere. In fact, Russia has already won international right-wing fans. Conservative leaders across the United States and Europe, including former U.S. President Donald Trump, have praised Putin. Some of them have suggested they are happy to compromise over Ukraine’s future.

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