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IFR Nationalisms Lab

To the Right of Putin: The Wartime Dynamics of Russia’s National-Patriots


Matthew Blackburn is a Senior Researcher in NUPI’s Research Group on Russia, Asia and International Trade. He is also an affiliated researcher at the Institute of Russian and Eurasian Studies at Uppsala University. His research mainly focuses on the politics of contemporary Russia and Eurasia, including both domestic political systems and interstate relations. He is engaged in research on Iran-Russia-China cooperaiton for the Norwegian Geopolitics Centre and is a research coordinator for the New Civilizationalisms Project based at Stanford University.

Project Description

As the relations with the West and certain neighbouring countries deteriorated from 2012-2014, a scholarly consensus emerged that the Putin system became more ideological in terms of discourses, policy concepts, and laws. Putinism, as an emergent ideology, has a rather tense relationship with nationalism, which has been both a threat to regime stability (ethnic separatism, xenophobic disturbances, liberal nationalism) and a tool of legitimation (Russia’s status in the international system, the need to “protect” compatriots abroad or the annexation of Russia’s “historic lands” in Ukraine). Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, there are indicators that Putinism is developing into a more coherent ideology, with notions of Russia as a “Civilization-state” and “anti-colonial force” or the bastion of “Spiritual Values” embedded as policy concepts or presidential decrees in 2022 and 2023. This project examines the role of Russia’s “national-patriots”: actors and organizations outside of the Kremlin power networks and ruling party United Russia whose illiberal ideologies often are more radical than mainstream Putinism. National-patriots avoid crossing the regime’s ideological red lines but have their own illiberal agendas and can on occasion openly criticize state policy. Unsurprisingly, national-patriots overwhelmingly supported Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022; most of them had called for this during the “Russian Spring” of 2014. Yet, over the erratic and unsteady course of Russia’s invasion, there have been repeated demonstrations of “critical patriotism” where supporters of the war expose official incompetence, corruption, and wrongheadedness.

The central research aim of the project is to explore how Russian nationalist groups have adapted to wartime conditions and whether a consolidated “critical patriotism” platform may emerge in the future. To answer this, three sub-questions are set: (1) what are the points of convergence and conflict between Kremlin discourse and national-patriots? (2) Is a new ideological consolidation visible inside and among national-patriot actors? (3) Where do national-patriots cooperate, what common platforms, forums, and groups, personal ties can be identified? To answer these three questions, the following methodological approach is taken: A database of national-patriotic textual discourse is created and analyzed over the period from February 2020 to February 2024. Quantitative analysis will be conducted with CorporaExplorer, which facilitates the identification of recurring keywords and deeper qualitative close readings. In addition, existing databases of state discourses will be expanded to include textual outputs of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Army. This will allow an understanding of where national patriots are positioned vis-à-vis the classic triad of “official nationalism”: the church, the state, and the army. Finally, incidents of critical patriotism will be identified through analysis of the Integrum media database. Case studies will be examined through the prism of “critical patriotism” to establish how illiberal actors dissent state policy, where nationalist or populist discourse is used, and how divergent outcomes of such activity can be explained.

Intern Workload

Both interns would spend the first month finalizing a systematic literature review, deciding the key nodal points of nationalism to be examined, learning how to use the programs and databases, and creating a project work plan with deadlines.

Over the next three months, the interns will have different tasks. Intern 1 will seek the convergences and divergences between state-church-army discourses and doctrines, and those of a selected set of national-patriotic circles. Another would spend three months with the Integrum database, obtaining evidence of shared platforms, forums, and personal ties inside the national-patriot groups, and also selecting cases of “critical patriotism”. For the next one month, the two interns would work to establish the degree of ideological unity or fragmentation among the studied national-patriot groups. Finally, the last two months of the workload are spent writing up the project outputs.

Intern Requirements

Student level requirement: master’s students or PhD students.

Language requirements:

Russian C1 or native.

Other requirements:

For one or both of the mentees to have the capacity to learn to do data scraping, willingness to learn to use CorporaExplorer, produce visualizations of textual data.

Internship applications to this laboratory are accepted in English only.