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The New Look Global Fascism Is Russian Authoritarian Strongman Rule, Spiced With A Cult Of Personality


The Oasis Reporters

February 12, 2022


Russian leader, Vladimir Putin

By Theo Horesh

Ukraine’s borders now mark the new front lines of the fight against global fascism, and it is only the threat of crushing sanctions that is stopping its spread.

Russia is perhaps the most fascist state in the world today. Its fascism can be witnessed in its rule by an authoritarian strongman with a cult of personality.

It can be observed in its assault on independent power centers within the state and its complete merger of oligarchs with the state.

It is present in its endless disinformation campaigns, its reliance on extralegal violence to intimidate dissenters, and its effort to restore the patriarchy through a rollback of women’s and gay rights.

It is the same toxic brew of militant nationalism and brutal authoritarianism found in the Third Reich and Mussolini’s Italy, Trump’s America and Modi’s India—and in all of them we find the same assault on truth itself.

But perhaps the most worrisome sign of Russian fascism lies in Putin’s revanchist claims over former imperial possessions.

Putin is the only leader to have taken major pieces of territory from sovereign states since Saddam Hussein tried to annex Kuwait in 1991.

He partitioned South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia in 2009 and the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and since that time he has been trying to annex Eastern Ukraine.

In short, while the rest of the world learned that nations are not the private estates of rulers, the extent of whose territories are defined only by the satiation of their appetites for power, Putin engaged in a form of blunt imperialism that is otherwise obsolete.

Yet, if he believes he can dissolve Ukraine’s partially democratic government and annex its territories this time around, it is only because he has already gotten away with it on several occasions.

The difference this time is that the very idea of democracy is under threat, and democratic leaders are coming to stake their leadership on their ability to preserve it.

Democracy is under threat from rightwing nationalists and fascists within developed countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. But it is also under threat from authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. Major democracies have been encouraging weaker states to adopt their institutions in an effort to build an ever wider coalition of democratic states since the end of the Cold War.

Yet, the last decade has seen increasingly confident authoritarians seeking to erode these democratic gains, and Putin has led the charge with disinformation campaigns in elections in every major western democracy.

The danger is that developed democracies will not have the stomach to stand against these heavily militarized nationalist regimes, and as the number of democracies declines, they will become increasingly divided and conquered.

In the end, the world could be left with a small handful of weakened democracies amid an increasingly dominant coalition of autocratic states, which make life harder for the remaining democracies—but only if we fail to take a stand.

Hence, when President Biden claimed that we were in a fight for the very soul of democracy, in what legal scholar Laurence Tribe described as one of the greatest speeches in American history, he was not only speaking of the fate of American democracy but the very survival of democracy itself.

And when he speaks of joining with other states to level crushing sanctions against Russia, he is taking the kind of stand that has long been required to save it.

The Putin regime should have been dealt crushing sanctions after taking the Crimea and then again after illegally interfering in the 2016 election in favor of Trump.

If Putin is given another chance to carve up Ukraine, it will send a signal that he can do the same to other former imperial possessions like Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus.

And it will send a signal to China that its claims will go unchallenged if it invades democratic Taiwan.

Of course, the United States has routinely interfered in the affairs of other states and often violently. But there is no reason we can’t simply say that the United States should have been sanctioned for invading Iraq, that Israel should be sanctioned for colonizing the West Bank, that Saudi Arabia should be sanctioned for starving Yemen, and that Russia should be sanctioned for carving up Ukraine.

Just because we can’t muster up the political will to bring justice to our own states and their allies does not mean we should not join in condemning their enemies when they are violating international law in profoundly dangerous ways—especially when doing so sets a precedent for reining in America and its allies.

The idea that America can do nothing to stop Putin because it has engaged in many of the behaviors it condemns is self-defeating. Premising who you will work with politically on the cleanliness of their record is a good recipe for paralysis—and the empowerment of the worst political actors who simply do not care.

But the idea that Putin is just doing what America does is simply false. The number of times a state succeeded in outright stealing a major piece of territory from another since 1967, when Israel took the Palestinian occupied territories, can be counted on a single hand—with Putin taking up the bulk of it. Meanwhile, Putin’s wars in Chechnya and Syria involved routine crimes against humanity in an era that was otherwise characterized by decreasing civilian casualties in war.

In short, Putin is both destabilizing the world order and making the world a lot more dangerous. Hence, the condemnation of strong talk about sanctioning Putin if he invades Ukraine is not pro-peace, for it actually encourages his land grabs and crimes against humanity.

None of this rules out the possibility that Putin has no intention of intensifying his ongoing invasion of Ukraine. His buildup of troops on Ukraine’s border may be an attempt to extract concessions from Nato, an effort to exploit splits in the alliance, a form of psychological warfare with Ukraine, a ploy to undermine Macron in the coming election, a vie to build a stronger alliance with China, or a distraction from his own disastrous response to covid.

Yet, whatever his intentions, he has simultaneously managed to weaken his own international standing while strengthening the European Union and NATO, which have seen all time highs in their levels of support over the past couple of years.

The fascist moment might not be over, and it may last for some time to come, as elected fascists like Bolsonaro and Modi destroy their state’s democratic institutions.

Meanwhile, an aspiring democracy of 44 million people may be devastated by a dictator flexing his increasingly flabby muscles, with casualties reaching into the hundreds of thousands—if Putin’s attack on Syria is any indication of how things will proceed.

But the willingness to crush a fascist state with devastating sanctions is the most heartening sign that the world is increasingly ready to put an end to the fascist moment.

~ Theo Horesh, author of The Holocausts We All Deny

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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