By Giorgi Bilanishvili, Research Fellow at Rondeli Foundation
At the end of June this year, the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, gave an extensive interview to the Financial Times in which he speaks on various issues of international politics, using a convincing tone characteristic to him. Even though this interview did not cause a big reaction, some of the topics covered there were still picked up by the international mass media. Among those, the most noticeable was the sharp criticism offered by the Russian President towards liberalism.
And surely, Putin does speak a lot about liberalism in the last part of the interview. He claims that the “liberal idea has outlived its purpose.” “Our Western partners have admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable.”
It must be noted that the Russian President does not limit himself to this assessment alone and returns to the topic of liberalism while answering other questions as well, reiterating his opinion about it. He states that the supporters of the liberal idea, who are in power in the Western states, do nothing to solve the most difficult problems in the world. Putin focuses specifically on migrants, who are indeed considered a problem by parts of Western societies lately (such problems are current to the countries like us, too). According to Putin’s assessment, the disregard for such problems by political elites also confirms that “the liberal idea has become obsolete and has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.”
At the end of discussing this issue, Putin states that in the light of human customs and morality, “traditional values are more stable and more important for millions of people than this liberal idea which, in my opinion, is really ceasing to exist.”
This last excerpt from Putin’s interview clearly indicates what the Russian President intended to communicate. It is clear that attacking liberalism and claiming that it is coming to an end is the same as attacking the West and claiming its demise. At the same time, the Russian President indirectly stresses the idea that liberalism is supposedly categorically against traditional values and causes their disappearance.
Of course, this whole claim is one of the main parts of the Russian narrative. The Kremlin’s aim is to portray Russia as the foremost protector of traditional values in an artificially created informational framework constructed by strong propaganda in order to boost its influence on the international arena.
Underscoring traditional values as a counterweight to liberalism has become more and more pronounced on the Russian political agenda for the past couple of years. In addition, it must be noted that this dimension of Russian propaganda is directed more towards the post-Soviet states. Given this background, it is not at all surprising that the issue of protecting traditional values is becoming more and more profound in our country, further confirmed by a more recent activation of certain groups associated with this issue.
In general, Russian propaganda has managed to gain some popularity in this and other directions; however, the scale of its popularity is much lesser than Moscow would like it to be.
This has its own objective reasons. Despite mobilizing rather serious resources for ensuring the success of its propaganda, Moscow still finds it hard to convince societies at large that the West, which is way ahead institutionally, technologically, economically and in many other fields, should be associated with negativity while Russia, which has a myriad problems internally and externally – is associated with positivity.
What the focuses of Russian propaganda are, apart from liberalism and traditional values, was clearly revealed in Putin’s interview as well. It is precisely in this light that we need to consider the Russian President’s specific opinions, namely:
- The dissolution of the Soviet Union was a tragedy as 25 million ethnic Russians ended up outside the borders of the Russian Federation. It was not right legally either as according to the referendum conducted within the Soviet Union, over 70% supported maintaining the USSR. However, later, when the decision of the dissolution of the Soviet Union was made, nobody asked the population about it.
- There are no more rules in today’s international system. It is worse than the international system during Cold War where at least some rules existed. Hence, the world today is less predictable.
- Given the lack of international order and armed conflicts, the oppression of weak states by strong states has become a more frequent practice. Libya and Iraq are the most vivid examples of the fact that the use of military force by the West did not solve the problem but, in fact, aggravated the situation. After the tragic events in Libya and Iraq, many countries had a natural desire to ensure their security with whatever means necessary. Among these, the desire of North Korea to build nuclear weapons is also natural. Overall, though, such a trend harms the stability of the world.
- For the past years, the leading role of Western states has gradually been weakening given the accelerated economic growth of other countries. For example, the share of the G7 economies in the overall GDP of the world has reduced from 58% to 40%. This trend in economics must adequately be reflected in the international institutions as well where the role of countries with fast-growing economies must increase at the expense of the Western states.
- There are no uniform and universal standards of democracy. Even the West itself realizes and recognizes this. Despite that, they are still trying to facilitate the spread of democracy even in the regions that have a history and a culture that is cardinally different from that of the West.
- The political system in the West has been substantially weakened as the governing elite has been alienated from the ordinary population. The divergence between the interests of the elites and the vast majority of the population has become very vivid, creating demand for politicians such as the US President, Donald Trump.
These messages delivered by Putin clearly indicate that Russian propaganda is mainly built on the negative aspects where the discreditation of the West is considered to be practically the only way of Russia being successful. In reality, Russia does not have much of an alternative choice as it has traditionally found it difficult to popularize itself, even in the countries that have a lot in common with Russia culturally and historically.
At the same time, the attempts of linking Russia’s desired developments with the actual facts are clear. They are rather artificial in a number of cases, ultimately delivering nothing positive for Russian propaganda and, therefore, failing to serve the purpose of boosting Russia’s prestige.
The fact that almost all of the topics reflected in the aforementioned messages delivered by Putin, including liberalism and traditional values, are currently on the forefront of discussion in our society, has to be considered as a major challenge for Georgia’s national security.
The main goal of Russian propaganda in Georgia is to discredit the West and Western values. In order to achieve this goal, the Kremlin is attempting to use the topics of liberalism and traditional values which, apart from discrediting the West, also facilitates division and confrontation in society – and this, unfortunately, has been successfully done by Russia in Georgia many times in the past.