February 17, 2019 Special Dispatch No. 7894

Putinism 101: 'Kremlin Ideologist' Surkov Explains How Russia Plays With The Westerners' Brains, And Offers An Alternative And More Honest Model

February 17, 2019
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 7894

New Planet, 1921 by Konstantin Yuon.

Vladislav Surkov confers with Vladimir Putin (Source:

Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov, who some have called the "Kremlin's Ideologist" (while others dismissively say it is a self-anointed title) and the coiner of the terms "sovereign democracy" and "non-linear war", wrote an article, titled "Putin's Long State" that appeared in Nezavisimaya Gazeta on February 11.

In his article, Surkov sought to delineate Russia's ideology and outline Putin's system of governance. Surkov also likened Russia to a Nostradamus, capable of divining the West's future. "There is no prophet in their [i.e. Westerners'] homelands, and today, everything that is happening to them has been long predicted by Russia," Surkov stated.

However, Surkov explained that Russia is not only able to predict the future, but mainly it intrudes into the Western mode of thought, aiming to introduce an element of doubt in its political systems, and as a result Westerners do not know anymore what to do with their own "altered consciousness."

For example, Surkov stressed that when the West was still in love with globalization and talking about a world without borders, Moscow was there to remind people in Europe and in the US that sovereignty and national interests are what matters. And, a few years later - Surkov stated - people in the West did follow Russia's instructions. Westerners are turning against the neoliberal agenda and started supporting sovranist and anti-globalist movements and campaigns, such as Brexit, the MAGA campaign, the anti-immigrant border fencing in Europe, etc.

Surkov opined that the American dream of world domination failed to materialize. The end of history, predicted by Francis Fukuyama, intended as the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government, was almost becoming actual fact, but then came Putin's Munich speech of February 10, 2007 (it was no coincidence that Surkov's article marked the anniversary of that speech).

In his speech, Putin reminded the West that the unipolar world that had been proposed after the Cold War had not become a reality. Putin said back in 2007: "What is a unipolar world? However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day it refers to one type of situation, namely one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making.

"It is world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.

"And this certainly has nothing in common with democracy. Because, as you know, democracy is the power of the majority in light of the interests and opinions of the minority.

"Incidentally, Russia – we – are constantly being taught about democracy. But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves.

"I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today's world. And this is not only because if there was individual leadership in today's - and precisely in today's - world, then the military, political and economic resources would not suffice. What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilization."[1]

Commenting on Putin's speech, Surkov stressed that at the time the Russian President's words sounded as dissenting, but today everything that he expressed seems to be self-evident. The concept of sovereignty that Putin stressed in his speech became today's leitmotif in Europe and in the United States. According to Surkov, Putin's Munich speech represented a wake-up call for the Western people.

Surkov then added: "There is really nothing terrible in the proposed image of Western democracy … But the sediment remains, and the Westerner begins to turn his head in search of other patterns and ways of existence. And… sees Russia."

According to Surkov, Russia's political system is more "honest" than the Western one. He stressed that "more honest" does not mean "better", but surely with more appeal. Surkov explained that in Russia nothing is hidden: there is no division between "deep state" (i.e. the rigid, the undemocratic network organization of the real power of security services hidden behind the external democratic institutions), and what we see externally from the outside. "The most brutal designs of its load-bearing frame appear straight along the facade, uncovered by any architectural embellishment," Surkov explained.

The Kremlin aide then made the distinction that Russia does not have a "deep state"; it has a "deep nation".

Surkov underlined that it takes a rare ability to understand what the "deep nation" thinks, and this is exactly the advantage of Putin's state: the ability to hear and understand people, see through them, and act correspondingly. This ability makes Putin's state durable, since it manages to predict the future historical headwinds.

He then added that Russia adopted from the West the multi-tiered political institutions, but this was done just to look "like everyone else", in essence the Russian society, the "deep nation", trusts only the head of state. The feelings of the "deep nation" towards the Russian head of state, in the persona of Putin, cannot be simplified into the expression "faith in the good czar."[2]

Surkov concluded that Russia is on the right path to build a glorious history in this new century and the West will be forced to come to terms with this.

Below is Surkov's article:[3]

"'It only seems that we have a choice.' Words that are striking in depth and boldness uttered a decade and a half ago, are today forgotten and are not quoted. But according to the laws of psychology, what we have forgotten affects us much more than what we remember. And these words, going far beyond the context in which they were said, became as a result the first axiom of the new Russian statehood, on which all theories and practices of contemporary politics are built.

"Illusion of choice is the most important illusion, it is the main trick of the Western way of life in general and of western democracy in particular, which has long been committed to the ideas of P.T. Barnum rather than Cleisthenes. The rejection of this illusion in favor of realism of predestination led our society first to reflect on its own, special, sovereign version of democratic development, and then to the complete loss of interest in a discussions on what democracy should be and whether it should exist at all.

"The new paths towards free state-building were opened, directed not by imported chimeras, but by the logic of historical processes, thereby by the 'art of the possible.' The impossible, unnatural and counter-historical disintegration of Russia was, firmly stopped even if belatedly. Having collapsed from the level of the USSR to the level of the Russian Federation, Russia stopped crumbling, began to recover and returned to its natural and only possible state of a great, expanding and land gathering community of nations. The sizable role assigned to our country in world history does not allow us to exit offstage or play the role of the understudy, does not bode well for peace and predetermines the complexity of our polity.

"And nowadays the Russian state continues, and now this is a state of a new type, which we have never experienced. Formed as a whole by the mid-2000s, it is still meagerly studied, but its uniqueness and sustainability are obvious. Stress tests, which it passed and now passes, show that just such an organically formed model of political structure will be an effective means for the survival and rise of the Russian nation not only in the coming years, but also for decades, and most likely for the entire next century.

"Thus, Russian history is aware of four main models of the state, which can be provisionally named after their creators: the state of Ivan the Third (Grand Principality of Moscow / Kingdom of Moscow and of all-Rus, XV – XVII century); the state of Peter the Great (Russian Empire, XVIII – XIX centuries); the state of Lenin (Soviet Union, XX century); Putin's state (Russian Federation, XXI century). Created by people, to put it in Lev Gumilev style, “people of long-haul will”, these big political machines, replacing each other, being repaired and adapted as they went, century after century, provided the Russian world with a tenacious movement upwards.

"Putin’s big political machine is only gaining momentum and configuring itself for a long, difficult and interesting job. Its output at full capacity is far ahead, so that after many years Russia will still be Putin’s state, just as modern France still calls itself the Fifth Republic of de Gaulle, Turkey (despite the fact that the anti-Kemalists are in power right now) still relies on Atatürk’s Six Arrows ideology, and the United States is still addressing the images and values of the semi-legendary founding fathers.

"It is necessary to understand, comprehend and describe Putin’s system of government and in general the entire complex of ideas and dimensions of Putinism as the ideology of the future. It is precisely a future ideology, since the current Putin is hardly a Putinist, just as, for example, Marx is not a Marxist and wouldn’t necessarily have agreed to be one had he known what it would mean. But this must be done for everyone who is not Putin, but wishes to be make the application of his methods and approaches in the coming times a possibility.

"The description should not be made in the style of two propagandas, ours and theirs, but in a language that both Russian bureaucracy and anti-Russian officialdom would perceive as moderately heretical. Such a language can become acceptable for a fairly wide audience, which is required, since the political system made in Russia is suitable not only for [our] domestic future, it clearly has significant export potential, the demand for it or for its individual components already exists, its experience is being studied and partially adopted, it’s being imitate by both ruling and opposition groups in many countries.

"Foreign politicians blame Russia for interference in elections and referendums around the globe. But in fact, the matter is even more serious - Russia interferes in their brains, and they do not know what to do with their own altered consciousness.

"Once our country, after the failed 90s, abandoned ideological loans, it began to produce meanings and switched to an information counter-offense against the West. European and American experts began erring in their forecasts ever more frequently. They are surprised and exasperated by the peculiar preferences of the electorate. Confused, they announced an onslaught of populism. You can say so, if at a loss words.

"Meanwhile, the interest of foreigners in the Russian political algorithm is understandable - there is no prophet in their homelands, and today everything that is happening to them has long been predicted by Russia.

"When they were still obsessed with globalization and making noises about a flat world without borders, Moscow distinctly reminded that sovereignty and national interests matter. At that time, many people accused us of a 'naïve' attachment to these old things, supposedly long outmoded. They taught us that there is nothing of nineteenth century values to hold on to, but we must bravely step into the twenty-first century, where no sovereign nations and national governments would exist. However, the twenty-first century turned out our way. The English Brexit, the American “#greatagain”, anti-immigration fencing of Europe are only the first items of an extensive list of ubiquitous manifestations of de-globalization, reattainment of sovereignty and nationalism.

"When everyone praised the Internet as an inviolable space of unrestricted freedom, where everyone presumably can do everything and where everyone is supposedly equal, it was from Russia specifically that a sobering question to a duped humanity rang out: "And who are we in the world wide web - spiders or flies?" And today everyone rushed to unravel the Network, including the most freedom-loving bureaucracies, and to accuse Facebook of complicity with foreign interventions. The once free virtual space, advertised as a prototype for an approaching paradise, captured and marked out by cyberpolice and cybercrime, cybertroops and cyberspies, cyberterrorists and cybermoralists.

"When the hegemony of the "hegemon" was not contested by anyone and the great American dream of world domination was almost fulfilled and many hallucinated about the end of hisstory with the final remark "peoples are silent" was imagined by many in the silence that followed, the [Putin's 2008] Munich speech fiercely resounded. Then it seemed dissident, today everything expressed in it appears self-evident- everyone, including the Americans themselves, is dissatisfied with America.

"Not so long ago, the little-known term “derin devlet” from the Turkish political dictionary was popularized by the American media as a “deep state”, and from there it was distributed to our media. In Russian it was translated as a "глубокое" or "deep state глубинное государство". The term means the rigid, absolutely undemocratic network organization of the real power of security services hidden behind the external window-dressing of democratic institutions. This was a mechanism that effectively acted through violence, bribery and manipulation and remained hidden deep beneath the surface of civil society; a mechanism time that simultaneously verbally condemns (hypocritically or innocently) manipulation, bribery and violence.

"Having discovered an unpleasant 'deep state' inside its own political system, the Americans, however, were not particularly surprised, because they had long surmised its presence. If a deep net and dark net exists, why shouldn't a deep state or even a dark state exist? From the depths and darkness of this behind the scenes and discrete power, the bright mirages of democracy emerge made there only for the masses - the illusion of choice, the sense of freedom, the feeling of superiority, etc.

"Mistrust and envy, used by democracy as priority sources of social energy, necessarily lead to the absoluteness of criticism and to an increased anxiety level. Haters, trolls, and evil bots that joined them formed a shrill majority, displacing the honorable middle class that once set a completely different tone from dominant positions.

"Now no one believes in the good intentions of public politicians, they are being envied by people and therefore are considered to be tainted, crafty people, or even scoundrels. Famous politographic series like “Boss” and 'House of Cards' draw naturalistic pictures of the turbid everyday life of the establishment.

"A scoundrel should not be allowed to go too far for the simple reason that he is a scoundrel. And when scoundrels are all around (presumably), to deter the them you have to use the same bastards. You must fight fire with fire, a scoundrel is kicked out by a scoundrel ... There is a wide choice of scoundrels and intricate rules designed to reduce their struggle among themselves to draw a more or less. Thus arises the beneficent system of checks and balances - the dynamic equilibrium of meanness, the balance of greed, the harmony of deception. If someone still flirts and behaves disharmoniously, the vigilant deep state hurries to the rescue and with an unseen hand drags the apostate to the bottom.

"There is really nothing terrible in the proposed image of Western democracy, actually it suffices to slightly change the angle of view, and it will again be ok. But the sediment remains, and the westerner begins to twist his head in search of other patterns and modes of existence. And he sees Russia.

"Our system, as well as everything in our state, looks, of course, inelegant, but instead more honest. And although not everyone regards the word 'more honest' as synonymous with the word 'better', it is not unappealing.

"Our state is not divided into deep and external, it is built in its entirety, with all its parts and manifestations in the open. The most brutal designs of its load-bearing frame appear straight along the facade, uncovered by any architectural embellishment. The bureaucracy, even when trying to act cunningly, does not do it very carefully, as if assuming that ' everyone understands everything anyway.'

"High internal tension associated with the retention of huge heterogeneous spaces, and remaining constantly in the thick of the geopolitical struggle makes the military-police functions of the state most important and decisive. They are not traditionally hidden, but on the contrary, they are demonstrated, since Russia has never been ruled by merchants (almost never, except a few months in 1917 and a few years in the 1990s), who consider warfare less important than trade, and the merchant-associated liberals, whose doctrine is based on rejection of everything that smacks of police. There was no one to drape truth with illusions, shyly pushing into the background and stashing deeper the immanent property of any state - to be an instrument of defense and attack.

"There is no deep state in Russia, it is in full view, but instead, a deep nation exists.

"The elite shines on a glossy surface, century after century, it is active (we must give it its due) incorporating the people in some of its activities - party meetings, wars, elections, economic experiments. The people participate in the events, but somewhat remotely, they do not show up on the surface, living in their own depths with a completely different life. Two national lives, superficial and deep, sometimes live in opposite directions, sometimes in coinciding ones, but never merge into one.

"The deep nation has a mind of its own, untouched by sociological polls, campaigning, threats, and other methods of direct analysis and influence. Understanding what it is, what it is thinking and what it wants, often comes suddenly and belatedly, and not to those who can do something.

"Rare are the social scientists, who will assume the task of determining precisely whether a deep nation is equal to the population or it is part of it, and if so, which part? At different times, peasants, then the proletarians, the non-partisan, the hipsters, the state employees were all considered to be a deep nation. They 'sought it', and engaged it. The deep nation has been called God-bearer, and the exact opposite. Sometimes it was decided that deep nation was a fictional concept and did not exist in reality, state began some galloping reforms without looking back, but quickly busted its forehead on it, then arriving at the conclusion that 'there is something to it after all'. The deep nation repeatedly retreated under the pressure of its own or alien captors, but always returned.

"With its gigantic super-mass, deep nation creates an irresistible force of cultural gravity, which connects the entire nation and attracts (presses) the elite to the earth (to their native soil) [when that] elite, occasionally essays to soar to cosmopolitan heights. Nation, whatever that means, precedes statehood, predetermines its form, sets limits to the theorists' fantasies, and compels forces practitioners to take certain actions. It is a powerful attractor, to which all political trajectories inevitably lead. You can start in Russia with anything - from conservatism, socialism or liberalism, but you will have to finish with about the same. That is, what, in fact, we have.

"The ability to hear and understand people, see through them, to the full depth and act accordingly is the unique and chief merit of Putin’s state. It is appropriate and opportune for the people, meaning that it is unaffected by the destructive overloads from of historical headwinds. Therefore, it is effective and durable.

"In the new system, all institutions are subordinated to the main task – trust-based communication and interaction of the supreme ruler with citizens. The various branches of power converge into the person of a ruler, not being considered intrinsically a valuable asset, but only to the extent that they can maintain a connection with the leader. Aside from these, the informal means of communication bypass the formal structures and elite groups. And when stupidity, backwardness or corruption interfere with communication lines with people, vigorous measures are taken to restore audibility.

"The multi-tiered political institutions adopted from the West are sometimes considered partly ritualistic, instituted more for the sake of being 'like everyone else', so that the differences in our political culture do not attract our neighbors' notice that much, do not irritate and frighten them. They are like Sunday best clothes, in which people go to neighbors, while at home, we act informally and everyone knows what he should wear.

"In essence, society trusts only the leader. Whether it’s a matter of pride of a never-subdued people or whether it’s a desire to get a shortcut to truth or something else, it’s hard to say, but it a fact and not a new one. What is new is that the state does not ignore this fact, takes it into account and departs from it in state endeavors.

"It would be simplistic to reduce the topic to the proverbial 'faith in the good king.' The deep nation is not at all naive and hardly considers royal dignity good-naturedly. Rather, he could think of the right ruler as Einstein said about God: 'Subtle, but not malicious.'

"The modern model of the Russian state begins with trust and holds on to trust. This is its fundamental difference from the Western model, cultivating mistrust and criticism. And its strength rests in this.

"Our new state in the new century will have a long and glorious history. It will not crack. It will act in its own way, receive and retain prizes in the premier league of geopolitical struggle. Sooner or later, all those who demand that Russia 'change behavior' will have to accept it. After all, it only seems that they have a choice."





[2] It is worth noting that Surkov's thesis on the Russian society that puts its faith in the "good czar" is shared also by other pro-Kremlin intellectuals. In an interview, published by the Russian newspaper Kommersant October 4, 2018, Sergey Karaganov, a former Putin advisor and one of Russia's leading intellectuals, explained one of his major theories: Russian authoritarianism is not imposed on Russians from above but is solicited from below by the people themselves.

Karaganov argued that authoritarianism is the product of Russia's historical experience, which shaped the Russians' "genetic code". He further explained that a giant country like Russia would be unable to survive and defend its borders without centralized power.

Karaganov considers authoritarian regimes as having "an advantage over modern democracies," since they better consolidate resources and promote a consistent long-term policy. However, Karaganov is also aware of authoritarianism's negative aspects, but he predicted that in the intermediate term difference between Russia and the West will narrow. Russia, he believes, needs 15 more years of peaceful development, and then the country will become "more democratic" and "more humane." In contrast, European countries, which now enjoy democracy, will become more authoritarian in order to survive current global challenges, such as immigration. He thus recalls the convergence theories popular in the 1960s and 1970s but his convergence is based on strategic rather than industrial dictates. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7730, Former Kremlin Advisor Karaganov: Our People Are Anti-Western; Authoritarianism Is Not Imposed On Us From Above, History Shaped Our Genetic Code, October 25, 2018.

See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7699, Former Kremlin Advisor Karaganov: We Have Exhausted The European Pantry… Russia Is An Authoritarian Power By Its 'Genetic Makeup', October 7, 2018.

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7667, Former Kremlin Advisor Karaganov: The West Has Started A New Cold War… Today's Russia Has Every Chance To Win Over The West, As It Acts Not All By Itself But As A Vanguard Of The Non-Western World, September 12, 2018.

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7132, Former Kremlin Foreign Policy Advisor Karaganov: The Future World Order, October 13, 2017.

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6846, From Western Post-Modernism To Russia's Neo-Modernism – Director General Of Government-Funded Think Tank, Kortunov: 'International Relations Today Are Entering A Neo-Modern Period', March 28, 2017.

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6833, Russian FM Lavrov: 'The World Is... Becoming Post-Western... It Is Time To Get Used To The Multi-Polarity Of The World', March 19, 2017.

[3], February 11, 2019.

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