5. Censorship and independent media. With the start of the war, Russia adopted new legislation penalizing what it calls “the discrediting of the Russian military.” This legislation has been used as a tool to close down the last of the independent media outlets. The remaining quasi-independent media have to use the language of the Ministry of Defense in their coverage of “the special military operation.” Russian universities are also supplied with the right accounts of what Russia does in Ukraine in the form of ready-made lecture notes and slides. This element would be typical of authoritarian regimes, and, in fact, of Russia’s own pre-revolutionary history. As under any authoritarian regime, the “whispering” of truth or the Aesop language are still possible. The degree of such liberty is somewhat greater than under the totalitarian regimes but it requires certain skills and pliable morals.
6. Security apparatus’ involvement in politics. The Russian security apparatus is deeply involved in the public life and government of the country. This is one of the distinct features of the Russian political regime. Historical fascist regimes formed as a result of fascist movements, including paramilitary organizations, seizing power and the security apparatus and reconfiguring these to their ideological ends. The Putin movement in Russia sprang from within the security apparatus. Putin himself is a prime example of this movement. Some of his key associates (Alexander Bortnikov, Sergei Ivanov, Nikolai Patrushev, Sergei Naryshkin) also come from a security background. Nowadays, the FSB tries to control most significant economic and public activities. We hear constant reports of siloviki (security and other law enforcement officers) seeking rent from lucrative businesses. What is more important, however, is the presence of the security officers (sometimes formally retired) in all more or less significant organizations as deputies to presidents, university presidents, directors, or simply as officers monitoring international students. The security apparatus is probably one of the key transmitters of the ideological images and esthetics of Russia’s military past and imperial might. It is safe to assume that this apparatus is an active consumer of the far-right discourses produced by Alexander Dugin, Alexander Prokhanov, the Izborsk club and the like. This would be a central element in the Russian variant of a fascist regime. Many representatives of this security apparatus are not just cogs in the machinery of secret police, they are ideologues dreaming of a great Russian empire and espousing nationalist chauvinism.
7. Youth organizations. The Kremlin has been sponsoring so-called patriotic youth organizations since the early years of Putin’s presidency. Most recently, they decided to resurrect one for adolescents, the Pioneer organization, which used to be the primary organization in the USSR for young students, forming a middle layer in the youth organizations hierarchy: Oktyabryata (1st–3rd graders), Pioneers, and the Komsomol. Yet, this initiative remains far from being institutionalized. In the 2000s, these youth movements were used to harass writers and activists. These days, Kremlin-sponsored youth events are attended by young opportunists seeking entrance to the new nomenklatura. The movement overall lacks popularity and cannot be seriously compared to the Hitler Youth.
8. The cult of personality. This began with the early efforts to introduce Putin to the Russian people before his first election, and it has never stopped. A notoriously famous popular song, “I Want Someone Like Putin,” was just the beginning of the process that recently ended with the parliament speaker Volodin saying, “There is no Russia without Putin.” Yet, if one compares this to the personality cults from the 1930s, it is still mild. Putin is not a big fan of the rallies that Hitler or Mussolini liked to organize. His rare rally appearances would be connected to election night results or the invasion of Ukraine. Putin is more comfortable with carefully-orchestrated endless press conferences or “direct lines” (Q&A sessions) with the people. One can find Putin’s portraits hanging in many public spaces, but people can still get away without having Putin’s face in their offices.
9. Unity of the nation and rallying round the flag. Normally, one would expect to rely on public opinion data in assessing the degree of public support for a certain idea or a political figure. However, the data collected by Russian pollsters does not seem reliable. If one were to walk the streets of Moscow and Saint Petersburg now, one would see nothing comparable to the Nuremberg and Munich of the 1930s. Only a few private cars display the Z-sign. Municipal info boards that contain Z-propaganda quickly get painted over by civil resistance groups. Authorities have to mobilize civil servants or other employees dependent on state institutions or public contractors to fake pro-war rallies. Pro-war performances of all kinds (Z-lightshows in dormitories or administrative buildings, or Z-arranged photos of kids in school courtyards) are all organized by administrators of all sorts either by request from a regional administration or proactively to score points and secure their own positions. All of this conveys a sad spirit of disingenuousness. Most people in the populous urban conglomerations show little enthusiasm for the war. Yet, this can be deceiving. There is a significant share of the population, especially outside of the major cities and in the older cohorts of the population, who cheer on the Russian military campaign. They are prepared to justify any brutality and demand a total conquest of Ukraine, with further restoration of something akin to the Soviet empire. These people can quickly form a critical mass that would take over the whole country. One need only remember how quickly the Nazi electoral results rose from a few percent to a little over 40%, which happened to be sufficient to throw the whole country into hell. Russia is not yet there, but it has the potential for drifting in the wrong direction despite the wavering urban population.
10. Propaganda. The Russian propaganda machine is now absolute. The last remaining fully independent media were closed or banned with the help of the new censorship laws. State-owned media wage a total ideological war. The education system is more overtly than ever embedded into this machinery. The security forces’ crackdown on higher education had started even before the war. They found particularly threatening the liberal arts programs, which are now in disarray and face “reorganization.” After the start of war, we saw attempts to organize national patriotic lessons for students in vocational schools. The universities were advised to arrange propaganda classes for students explaining the context of the conflict, Russia’s global role and ambition, as well as threats the country perceived. This propaganda machine is so strong that it does confuse and deceive many people, but at the same time its purpose to deceive is so obvious, and the manner in which it operates so aggressive, that many people refuse to buy into it. The students in my university simply mocked the propaganda materials because of their nonsensical nature. On the symbolic scale of regime measurement, this element would fall toward the fascist end of the spectrum.
11. The cult of tradition. The “conservative turn” has been prominent in Russian mainstream politics for a few years now. It’s been on the agenda of high-profile Putin loyalists, state media, and right-wing intellectuals. The cult of traditional values helps to sustain the practices of male chauvinism, gender expectations, gender inequality in everyday life and in professional environments, and homophobia—although its levels tend to decline despite the discourse. Noteworthily,