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Short Guide to the Russian "hybrid" imperialism

Short Guide to the Russian "hybrid" imperialism

The modern foreign policy of the Russian government has many characteristics of the empire in terms of a political system. The latest war against Ukraine, launched on February 24, is another fact that stresses this. But here, the question arises: what kind of imperialism is the current government building in the Kremlin? How exactly did Russian chauvinism move from the stage of internal nationalism to external imperialism?

Researchers have long identified the main characteristics of imperialism and the types of empires that have existed in human history.

The Russian type of neo-imperialism is more like a hybrid form of all these four basic types of imperialism. It can be considered a kind of "a hybrid type of modern imperialism." We should note that this type of imperialism has already received the name "rushism". For the most part, this term characterizes the whole block of Russian policy, both foreign and domestic. And in this study, we try to draw attention to the imperial features of that very "racism", as well as how the Kremlin authorities are trying to adapt historical Russian traditionalism to present-day conditions.  

Why should Russian imperialism be considered a "hybrid"? As it turns out, none of the classical types of imperialism is suitable for characterizing current Russian foreign policy. The concept of "hybrid imperialism" considers the factual side of the Kremlin's foreign and domestic policy over the past 20 years rather than a list of official political doctrines that the Kremlin does not follow or deems necessary to interpret in its own way.

Types of imperialism:

1. Colonial.

Means: This type is characterized not only by territorial assets but also by efforts to create their local administration, and power structures and seizes resources.

In Ukraine: This is partly happening in the Crimea occupied in 2014. But not in other territories, such as the TOT (Temporarily Occupied Territories). There are not many resources as such in the occupied territories of Ukraine. That’s why the cost of a military company will be higher than the benefit of the acquired and destroyed territories.

2. Economical.

Means: This is a type of imperialism where a weaker country or its economic capital is controlled by a stronger country or an alliance of companies. The stronger party dictates its economic conditions in which the business of the dependent party exists.

In Ukraine: If, until 2013, the dependence of the Ukrainian economy on Russia could be considered a problem, then after February 24, it became clear that the only economic weapon of Russia that they can use in Ukraine is blackmailing the world community and destroying critical infrastructure in Ukraine. But this is not what economic imperialism means.

3. Spheres of influence (or in the Russian version religious, cultural, and informational).

Means: The sphere of influence is the most intriguing variant of imperialism in this context. If there are signs of independence, another state is forced to make decisions dictated by a more powerful and influential state. The influence of Russia on Hungary or Serbia is a good example of this.

In Ukraine: This is one of the most commonly used methods of Russia's influence on the population of Ukraine and its governments. In the context of the history of relations between Ukraine and Russia over the past 400 years. It has all the hallmarks of cultural, religious, ideological, and informational interference in the internal affairs of an independent state. But unfortunately for the Kremlin, it does not have the comprehensive results expected from such influence.

This is not a cultural expansion as it was in the days of the classical empires of Britain or Belgium. Ukraine, as a state, has at least a 1,000-year history of its culture (if we do not engage in controversy about "whose culture is older"). Therefore, it is unlikely that Russia can put Ukraine on a par with the more backward countries of the once colonized lands of Africa or South America. Especially amid the unique contribution of Ukraine to the world cultural fund. We are talking about the entire previous history of political dependence and modern independence of Ukrainians in the political sense because spiritually, being part of several European empires of the past, the Ukrainian people have always been independent and self-sufficient.

4. Protectorate.

Means: With this type of imperialism, the country should have a government that the Kremlin can tell what to do and how exactly to do that.

In Ukraine: Examples are Belarus. Armenia, and Ukraine during the rule of pro-Russian President Yanukovych. Today, the government in Kyiv does not meet such characteristics, but Russia wants to return former president and criminal Yanukovych to ruling the country.   

The Kremlin's "hybrid imperial policy" within Russia itself

Superficial sociologism, as well as the religiosity of Russian political doctrine, were the causes of a deep worldview crisis among ordinary Russians. The sociologization of modern life inside the Russian Federation leads to its simplification. However, such simplification does not correspond to the reality surrounding the population in the Russian Federation for the last 20 years.

Modern Kremlin political doctrine looks back to the past, although, at the same time, Russian politicians are robbing the current life and taking the future from tomorrow's descendants. The whole system is rotten where no society or community takes responsibility for the individual fate of the average Russian. The reason is that such a community consists of the same passive people and behind them, there is no good ruler (as it seems to them). But there is just another oligarch or colonel of the FSB. In case, the doctrine does not work inside, such ideas cannot bring anything constructive and modern to the outside, except destruction and suffering.

The constant change in the methods of direct and indirect control over the population has led to the results that the Kremlin expected and to which all domestic policies were directed:


              strengthening authoritarian rule,

              formation of a closed pro-government top,

              absence of opposition, discrediting of democratic forms of government,

              lack of transparent local self-government,

              strengthening control over the population,

              support for the further occupation of Ukraine against the background of economic catastrophe,

              the attention of the population shifted from internal problems (catastrophic consequences of COVID-19, total corruption, lack of reforms, environmental catastrophes, etc.) to external ones.


Theoretical foundations of such Kremlin domestic policy

 Such propaganda successes of the authorities within the country have a well-founded methodological basis. Considering the whole complex of the domestic and foreign policy narratives of the Kremlin as a system, we can distinguish not only binary parameters (i.e., those that have only two values) but also linear ones. These parameters have their scale and correspond to the value of "more or less". One of the linear parameters characteristic of the Kremlin's ideology can be considered "ideological completeness".

Some systems on this parameter may be more complete than others. For example, an official football match in the international arena is a more complete system, although there are nuances in the events or interpretation of the rules during the game. Therefore, this parameter — "completeness" — is linear. We can go a long way to the ideal of refereeing a football match, but we can't achieve it. Such a football match is a "more" complete system than a football match among UAF soldiers on the front line, where rules and refereeing are relative or non-existent.

Such incomplete systems are unique systems. The completed ones, in turn, are universal systems. These systems have fewer elements that need to be compared with the same elements in other systems. For example, nationalism or imperialism does it through propaganda based on pre-established ideology. Elements of the system of such an ideology do not always correspond to the real state of affairs. Such an ideology is primitive and sometimes even absurd. It does not take any effort to understand it. For instance, the socialist ideas characteristic of the Russian Federation regarding the development of society are used to consider any community as a society without attaching unique importance to individuals and special rights, because it arises in people and makes any social formation unique. Here, the universalism of Russian propaganda and the simplification of the idea of ​​reality is manifested. The ones who do not conform to such universalism, may either be physically destroyed or suffer for the rest of their lives.


Features of modern Russian imperialism

 The hybrid nature of the Russian imperial paradigm is confirmed not only factually (as mentioned above in the examples of Russia's external and internal aggression against Ukraine), but also in the analysis of Russian imperial narratives.

-          Antagonistic in nature. Hybrid imperialism can be both socialist and religious. The official propaganda uses these historically mutually exclusive Russian worldviews to achieve the greatest effect. There are many such examples in the last 20 years.

-          It has messianic goals. Under the influence of imperialist ideas of power, Russian local nationalism as a manifestation of something concrete in politics turned into a radical form of Christian messianism. Such messianism is purely Russian, all-encompassing and obligatory. It is obligatory for all other nations, especially those who cannot immediately protect themselves from direct imperial influence. That is why Russian messianism has apocalyptic features. It is directed to the future in time, but it brings only destruction. The destruction of the physical and spiritual is perceived as the fulfilment of messianic Orthodox prophecies about the purification of the "world from Evil." In Russia, the ideas of saving Christian messianism have fallen into the negative tendencies of nationalism and imperialism. A nature of mass murder and destruction is manifestations of such messianism. As it turned out, such ideas are hazardous without a healthy society. There is no chance to jump over. It is the same as trying to build communism among the backward Russian peasantry.

-          External declarative goals do not correspond to the methods of achieving them. The external goals of the "special military operation" (this is the official name of the war in Ukraine) do not correspond to the internal methods by which Russia is trying to achieve the occupation of Ukraine: bombing cities, killing civilians, naval blockade, cyber-attacks, and more.

-          Already captured peoples in the Russian Federation do not have their right and voice. The internal situation of the peoples of Russia, oppressed and disenfranchised, by its very nature, shows that the means used by the Kremlin in the already occupied territories cannot be other than destruction, deportation, blackmail, deception, and famine. But the pinnacle of imperial policy was the Russification of the entire population. What variant of the imperialist vision of the life of violently conquered peoples can the Russian Federation offer when the world has already entered the fourth industrial or technological revolution?

-          In the imperial paradigm, time is reversible, i.e. reversed, but it is considered future. The currently occupied by Russia peoples in the future will face what happened in the past: what has already been rejected and has its own negative historical experience. The "golden age", according to Russian propaganda, has already happened, and they are just trying to resurrect it. The peoples under Kremlin rule have already experienced these horrors of the empire one or more times. In this context, a speech by Putin on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the birth of Russian Emperor Peter I raises interest. No wonder the symbol of the empire, the Kremlin, has turned from a fortress into a ritual burial place of those "leaders" who once created a previous version of the empire. Among them were Stalin, Voroshilov, and Brezhnev. The socialist empire, in contrast to the religious one, where the power of the emperor was sanctified by the church, and through it by God. Although the emperor himself was chairman of the Synod, i.e. the civil administration of the church.

-          It uses the achievements of those against whom it "fights". Rejecting many of the achievements gained by Western countries and the entire "collective Western civilization" as harmful and as having negative consequences for the "Russian spirit", the empire still continues to use the achievements of the West in everyday life and, most importantly, for its further growth. The empire is manipulative in nature. Some "isms" here should be considered miserable, such as feminism or liberalism. At the same time, communism or authoritarianism are considered fruitful and used by the authorities. No wonder Russia became the only country of its time to impose the Western ideology of communism around the world by force. Although the founders of communism themselves considered it the last phase in the development of the productive forces and Western society only after capitalism and socialism, respectively.

-          Policies aimed at consciously ignoring global and national NGOs that have become leaders in their fields. The last World Economic Forum in Davos clearly emphasized this. There, the most of the leading figures were from NGOs and various foundations, not governments. These private entrepreneurs will shape the future trends of the world economy for the next few years.


-          Outright anti-globalism as a state policy. Undoubtedly, Russia takes it into account but considers it a principle to ignore modern globalization processes in the world. Globalization has long been news for both states and the people who live in them. The principle of "disregarding" globalism looks rather strange. Russia is considered one of the world leaders in the fight against modern globalization processes. Once again, we need to cite the example of governments that are allies of Russia - Belarus, Iran, Syria, North Korea and the like. Despite all this, thousands of international companies have left the Russian market since the beginning of the direct aggression against Ukraine. Some have done so forcibly through international government sanctions against the Putin regime. That is, again under pressure from global society. It is not surprising to Russians that they are building some "own" anti-global empire that receives taxes in the domestic market in part through the globalization of the world economy.


Problems of the "collective West" amid "hybrid" Russian imperialism

 Due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, European states and other developed countries have faced challenging and sometimes tough choices. The social theories on which the existence of this society is based have not proved to be universal for all countries of the world. Liberalism, neo-conservatism, democracy, stock markets, electric cars and gluten-free diets are certainly impressive factors in the formation of the state in the 21st century. But as Russia is trying to prove, without this, it is also possible to create a "derzhava" (the Russian version of the "country" as represented by Russian propaganda and as created by Emperor Peter I).

Therefore, Europe is, again, threatened by a wave of barbarism. This time it is a classic case of external aggression. While the previous waves had their roots in Europe — the world wars, although they were conducted partly in the outer territory of Europe, this time, the threat is purely external. Therefore, diplomacy is unable to help and restrain the Russian imperial attempts. The Kremlin resorted to diplomacy only when it was necessary to delay time. In an authoritarian Russian-style society, negotiation is a manifestation of weakness in democratic societies.

The Europeanization of Russia did not take place. Although since the early 2000s, Putin has emphasized efforts to modernize Russia's economy. The worldview has not changed, while the changes that have taken place in Russia over the past 30 years have been, in large part, external. That is why today's threat to Europe has an external character. But such an external threat can rather unite Europe internally, not destroy it from within. Because today's Russia is not able to be inside the European worldview. It remains a dark, barbaric country with vast abandoned lands, cheap resources and nuclear weapons.

The historical goals of the Russian Federation in the world were reduced to local provincial conflicts. In this sense, the allies that the Kremlin has managed to find are either world criminals (such as Afghan ISIS) or world economic outsiders. These countries, which now support Russia's political mission, also indirectly indicate that the Russian mission is understood only by them.

Modern politics, as well as the politics of the future (I hope so), are compromise, unification and dialogue. Russia's version of the policy of "hybrid coercion", which is "rushism", will have no prospects for the future of mankind. Blackmail, threats and mass killings for the "greatness of the Russian derzhava" must be stopped by external means. But within Russia itself, people need to understand the unsustainability of this way of doing business.

There is no chance for Russia of becoming an equal force next to Europe, the collective West, and China. Instead of innovation and dialogue, they chose destruction and war to retain power. 

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