HomeTop StoriesVladimir Putin is breeding a generation of Russian militants

Vladimir Putin is breeding a generation of Russian militants

Despite an attempted coup, the stuttering invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing heavy casualties, Putin and his regime are still safe in the Kremlin. This is testament to his continued strong hold on Russia – after all, autocracies function differently. But it is also due to the support, or at least the inertia, of the majority of the Russian people.

Putin’s 24 years in power have been defined by a social contract signed with the Russian people: its citizens would receive stability and security in exchange for staying out of politics. This unspoken agreement was based on the fact that many still remember the hardships of the Soviet Union and the turbulence of the 1990s. Few Russians wanted to return there.

The invasion of Ukraine represented a major test of this social contract for the Kremlin: with young Russian men sent to the front to die and people forced to make many sacrifices at home, would it hold? Remarkably, the answer so far has generally been yes.

This is largely due to the social and cultural isolationism that Putin began cultivating long before last year’s invasion. It was neatly encapsulated in the retaliatory food import ban he introduced in 2014 on products from the EU and the US, among others, in response to the sanctions they imposed on Russia following its invasion of Crimea. The message to the Russians was: “We’ll manage just fine without them.”

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The Kremlin is conducting an aggressive propaganda campaign to justify its actions to its citizens. Now Russia is sinking deeper into the quagmire of Putinism, and there are few signs of popular opposition to the path the president is leading them. Polls by the Russian independent pollster Levada Center showed that in July, Putin’s approval among Russians was 82 percent. Three-quarters of those polled said they support the actions of the Russian army in Ukraine.

It’s no coincidence that the highest level of support for the Russian military came from those who trust television (platform for the most rabid pro-Kremlin rhetoric) as their biggest source of news (86 percent).

The Kremlin doesn’t just want compliance from its adult citizens. In two weeks, Russian children will start the new school year with an updated curriculum designed to give them a “patriotic” education. They will receive new textbooks that teach them about the “special military operation” and how to handle Kalashnikovs, grenades and drones.

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Anecdotal reports suggest that there are plenty of teachers eager to facilitate this spread of the Kremlin’s worldview, indoctrinating a new generation of cannon fodder into an isolationist, jingoistic mindset. No doubt this brainwashing will make it all the more difficult to “de-Putinize” Russians once the president and his regime are out of power – whenever that may be.

Many are concerned about being taken over by more radical military officials, but there has been less talk about the potential of a more radical generation below. It may take decades for the West to win the hearts and minds of this generation and avoid more devastating conflicts.

This is not to say that there is no hope. Ongoing drone strikes on Moscow since May have succeeded in partly undermining morale: Russians have come to question Putin’s image as their great protector more directly – even though the Kremlin has tried to distort the story by hammering the line that Ukraine, not Russia, is the aggressor.

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There will be presidential elections in Russia next March. Since votes are guaranteed, it is hardly controversial to predict that Putin will win. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov recently admitted in unguarded comments.

We don’t yet know who the Russian leaders will conjure up to play the role of Putin’s opponents. But the president knows that his survival depends on winning a war that can only continue as long as the people support him.

Putin is likely to capitalize on the fear he has sparked to win those votes that have really been cast in his favor: “Vote for me or we, Russia, will be destroyed.” How long people will continue to swallow his lie remains to be seen; the world will watch as the man who considers himself tsar inevitably proclaims himself president for a fifth term.

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