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memri
October 31, 2018 No.
7740

Putin At Annual Valdai Discussion Club Meeting: 'I Am The Most Proper And True Nationalist'

At the 15th annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that he was the most "proper and true nationalist."[1] A few days later, U.S. President Donald Trump said at a campaign event, "You know what I am? I'm a nationalist. OK? I'm a nationalist."[2]

According to an article published by the nationalist Russian media outlet Regnum.ru, Trump's statement that he is a nationalist coming shortly after Putin's is not very surprising.[3] It stated that nationalism is antithetical to globalism and that both leaders have been critical of globalism. But, it noted, what the U.S. president calls nationalism is not what the Russian president has in mind when he uses the term.

The Regnum.ru article explained that the U.S. concept of nationalism in the public perception has always been a predominantly positive concept, and is the equivalent of patriotism in Russia – and that unlike Russia, the U.S. does not consider itself a multinational state. Russia is a multinational state in which the Russian ethnic group predominates, and Russian nationalism is recognition of the special role Russians play in the country's state-building process. Vladimir Putin's statements at the Valdai Discussion Club that the Russian people are a state-forming people in Russia were not aimed at flattering Russians, but were, said the article, a statement of fact. It also noted that Putin had emphasized in his statements speech that from the very beginning there was great mutual tolerance in Russia among all the state's ethnic groups and religions.

According to the article, public debate about fears of "Russian chauvinism," "great power," and "caveman nationalism" began in Russia in the late 19th century. In the 20th century, the concept of nationalism was exploited in Russia by authorities as well as by those promoting the idea of national consciousness. The positive definition of nationalism as a sense of sincere and creative national pride and love for one's people was deliberately forgotten, and was succeeded by the concept of "universalism" (universal humanity) of Vladimir Solovyov, a Russian religious philosopher who sought to heal the breach between Orthodoxy and Catholicism and sought fairer treatment for Jews. Since Solovyov was considered a "father" of Russian philosophy, his ideas had a long-term negative effect on the view of nationalism in Russia. During the perestroika era, the concept of "universal humanity" was integrated into modern Russian thought.

The article said that it is worth noting that Marxist politician Vladimir Lenin, whose ideas were diametrically opposed to Solovyov's, was an equally implacable opponent of nationalism. He wrote in 1913: "Marxism is irreconcilable with nationalism… Internationalism is the Marxist answer to all kinds of nationalism." Lenin obsessively prioritized internationalism over nationalism, the article explained, although nationalism cannot be expunged from internationalism. It added that nationalism is the root of the word "internationalism" itself and the essence of the corresponding concept, and stressed that the Leninist condemnation of nationalism was empty because only by experiencing love for one's own people can one feel esteem for other nations and their representatives, and based on this, can build close relations and cooperation. This sense of nationalism was predominant in Russia, said Regnum.ru.

Stating that Russian writer Leo Tolstoy had also attacked patriotism in his work "Christianity and Patriotism" (1893-1894), the article quoted it as saying: "Patriotism in its simplest, clearest and most signification is nothing else but a means of obtaining for the rulers their ambitions and covetous desires, and for the ruled the abdication of human dignity, reason, conscience, and a slavish enthrallment to those in power." However, it said, Tolstoy's criticism of his contemporaries does not mean that nationalism is bad in its essence; in fact, nationalism implies a sense of responsibility to the country, its history, and its current government. In today's Russia, many feel that such a responsibility is superfluous, and today's Russians appreciate the state that allows them to live in abundance and feel no shame if some of their people are in distress. Nationalists, in contrast, feel a sense of responsibility to all their compatriots.

Another argument presented by those who seek to discredit nationalism is to blame nationalists for the collapse of the USSR, said the article. But, it stressed, the pro-West liberals were chiefly responsible for this; they dreamed of renouncing socialism and establishing Western-style capitalism. "Was Yeltsin a nationalist? The Baltic separatists, who were supported by European and American liberals and globalists, were they the supporters of a true national identity?" the article asked. Undoubtedly, it said, some exploited bruised national sentiments to foster the breakup of the USSR but instead of denying the right to national consciousness, it is better to analyze why nationalism felt bruised.

Regnum.ru approvingly quoted Stalin's 1938 address to the Tartar Bashkir Soviet, in which he said: "Nationalism is the last position from which the bourgeoisie must be driven in order to vanquish it completely. But nationalism cannot be smashed by disregarding the national question, ignoring and denying its existence, as some of our comrades do. Far from it! National nihilism only injures the cause of socialism, because it plays into the hands of the bourgeois nationalists. In order to smash nationalism, it is necessary first of all to tackle and solve the national question."[4]

The article stated that just as Stalin prioritized solving the national question, Putin too stressed at the Valdai meeting that there is a need to solve the national question, in this case by protecting civilization from globalization. Trump, in his speech, likewise condemned globalists who want things to go well in the entire world, but are unconcerned about their own country.

While Putin and Trump each have a different understanding of nationalism, the article said, their fight against the "evils of globalization" and the "globalists" themselves is the same, said the article. It added that this is very significant, because the main contradiction of today's era lies precisely in the struggle between the globalists and those who want to preserve the sovereignty of states and the national identity of peoples. It went on to ask whether Trump and Putin would leverage their shared views into achieving a common goal.

Below are excerpts of Putin's statements at the plenary session of the Valdai Discussion Club meeting, which was moderated by Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club research director Fyodor Lukyanov:[5]


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian intellectual Fyodor Lukyanov, at the plenary session of the 15th anniversary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club. (Source: Kremlin.ru, October 18, 2018)


(Source: Kremlin.ru, October 18, 2018)

I Want Russia To Survive

Fyodor Lukyanov: "You once coined a wonderful phrase (a well-known metaphor that compares Russia to a bear): 'The bear will not ask anyone for permission. He is the master of the taiga and he will not move to other climatic zones, but he will not give up his taiga to anyone, either. And everyone should be clear about that, that's all there is to it.'

"Is anyone encroaching on our taiga today, or are we already living in the 'that's all' era?"

Vladimir Putin: "'That's all' has always been there. It is 'that's all' time now as well.

"Look, we live in a world where security relies on nuclear capability. Russia is one of the largest nuclear powers. You may be aware, I have said it publicly, we are improving our attack systems as an answer to the United States building its missile defense system. Some of these systems have already been fielded, and some will be put into service in the coming months. I am talking about the Avangard system. Clearly, we have overtaken all our, so to speak, partners and competitors in this sphere, and this fact is acknowledged by the experts. No one has a high-precision hypersonic weapon. Some plan to begin testing it in one or two years, while we have this high-tech modern weapon in service. So, we feel confident in this sense.

"Naturally, there are many other risks, but they are shared risks, such as environment, climate change, terrorism, which I mentioned, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. If we are unable to put an effective end to this, it is not clear where it will lead to, and in whose hands this deadly weapon may end up.

"So, in this sense, nothing has changed. We are not going anywhere, we have a vast territory, and we do not need anything from anyone. But we value our sovereignty and independence. It has always been this way, at all times in the history of our state. It runs in the blood of our people, as I have repeatedly said. In this sense, we feel confident and calm."

[...]

Fyodor Lukyanov: "You have repeatedly said, including at Valdai forums, that nationalism and chauvinism of any kind cause a lot of damage, first, to that people and to that ethnos, whose interests nationalists are allegedly concerned about. In 2014, you told us that you are Russia's biggest nationalist. Are you still?"

Vladimir Putin: "You are well-prepared, Mr. Lukyanov."

Fyodor Lukyanov: "I am prepared."

Vladimir Putin: "He is trying to take me at my word. No, there is no contradiction here. I will explain what I meant. What are the things that nationalists say, exhibit and flaunt all the time? They say that they are the best defenders of the interests of one ethnos or another, one people or another, one nation or another. While the Russian Federation initially shaped itself, from its very first steps, as a multi-ethnic state.

"There are many people in this hall who deal with these matters professionally. I see the director of the Hermitage, who, though being an expert on the Middle East, knows well how the Russian nation was formed. So how did it emerge? The Russian nation did not exist forever. It was composed of various Slavic tribes. There were no Russians at a certain point. And then, on the basis of a common market, the power of the prince, a common language and, later, a common faith, the Russian nation emerged. But it consisted of various tribes. And then, when statehood started to form, the primeval form of Russian statehood, it comprised many Finno-Ugric peoples. Today, we find material evidence proving that Finno-Ugric peoples also inhabited central areas of the European part of modern Russia, and not just the Ladoga region.

"Russia developed as a multi-ethnic state first, and then as a multi-religious state. But it has lived for a thousand years and remained stable primarily because a very tolerant relationship was initially established between all the ethnic groups within the state and the representatives of different religions. This is the groundwork for Russia's existence. And if we want Russia to remain as it is, to develop and gain strength, while Russians remain a state-forming nation, then the preservation of this country serves the interests of the Russian people. But if we huff out this caveman nationalism and throw mud at people of other ethnic groups, we will destroy this country – something the Russian people are less than interested in. I want Russia to survive, including in the interests of the Russian people. In this context I have said that I am the most proper and true nationalist and a most effective one too. But this is not caveman nationalism, stupid and idiotic and leading to the collapse of our country. This is the difference."

Fyodor Lukyanov: "If there is only you, then this is not enough. Do you have like-minded people, the same kind of nationalists?"

Vladimir Putin: "Yes. Almost 146 million of them."

Fyodor Lukyanov: "Great.

"Ok, Mr. President, then it is agreed that Russia should not be destroyed. But you also made one very harsh statement not long ago."

Vladimir Putin: "Pestering me with these statements again."

Fyodor Lukyanov: "Well, I'm sorry, it's my job, they pay me for it."

Vladimir Putin: "Will there be just the two of us debating?"

Fyodor Lukyanov: "One minute please. Everything in its time.

"Can you please explain to me? You didn't say this at Valdai: 'Why do we need the world if Russia isn't in it?' Many interpreted this in their own way, that you meant 'after me, the deluge,' you know the expression. Is this what you meant, or, I suspect, you meant something else?"

Vladimir Putin: "No. First, King Louis XIV said that in response to the accusations that he was spending too much money from the treasury on all sorts of palaces and entertainment. By the way, it was not such a waste, because after him a lot of things remained, palaces included. And second, he was also a statesman. If I remember correctly, he created the first regular army in Europe. Therefore, all the talk of his extravagance probably had real reason behind it, but this does not mean that he actually did what he once said during an argument.

"As for my statement you quoted, I don't remember, but I probably said it to [Russian journalist] Vladimir Solovyov."

Fyodor Lukyanov: "Yes, in the film."

Vladimir Putin: "But you cannot quote things out of context. I will remind you what this was about. I was asked whether we were ready and whether I was ready to use the weapons we have, including weapons of mass destruction, to protect ourselves, to protect our interests. And that's what I answered.

"I will remind you of what I have said. I have said that our nuclear weapons doctrine does not provide for a pre-emptive strike. I would like to ask all of you and those who will later analyze and in one way or another interpret my every word here, to keep in mind that there is no provision for a pre-emptive strike in our nuclear weapons doctrine. Our concept is based on a reciprocal counter strike.

"There is no need to explain what this is to those who understand, as for those who do not, I would like to say it again: this means that we are prepared and will use nuclear weapons only when we know for certain that some potential aggressor is attacking Russia, our territory. I am not revealing a secret if I say that we have created a system which is being upgraded all the time as needed – a missile early warning radar system. This system monitors the globe, warning about the launch of any strategic missile at sea and identifying the area from which it was launched. Second, the system tracks the trajectory of a missile flight. Third, it locates a nuclear warhead drop zone.

"Only when we know for certain – and this takes a few seconds to understand – that Russia is being attacked we will deliver a counter strike. This would be a reciprocal counter strike. Why do I say 'counter'? Because we will counter missiles flying towards us by sending a missile in the direction of an aggressor. Of course, this amounts to a global catastrophe but I would like to repeat that we cannot be the initiators of such a catastrophe because we have no provision for a pre-emptive strike. Yes, it looks like we are sitting on our hands and waiting until someone uses nuclear weapons against us. Well, yes, this is what it is. But then any aggressor should know that retaliation is inevitable and they will be annihilated. And we as the victims of an aggression, we as martyrs would go to paradise while they will simply perish because they won't even have time to repent their sins."

 

[1] Kremlin.ru, October 18, 2018.

[2] Politico.com, October 22, 2018.

[3] Regnum.ru, October 24, 2018.

[4] See Marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1918/05/10.htm.

[5] Kremlin.ru, October 18, 2018.