Henry Hale holder seminar på NUPI.

CRUCIAL: Although many perceive Russia as an authoritarian state, Henry Hale believes that politically popular support remains vital in order to win elections.

Nationalist turning not to Putin's advantage

Published: 13 Feb 2014

Nationalism is important in Russian politics, but contrary to popular belief, nationalism rather works against Putin than in his favor, said researcher Henry Hale, George Washington University when he visited NUPI this week.

“The role of nationalism in Putin's political machine” was the theme for a NUPI seminar February 10 with Henry Hale, associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University in the United States.
Hale described the Russian economy as a "political machine" where power is largely related to personal networks and acquaintances. To retain power, Putin must balance the influence of these networks so that no single network becomes too dominant . If anyone should be able to challenge Putin, they would have to rely on collective action. But because it is risky to be the first one to challenge the system, rival groups are kept within the system.

Political support crucial

Although many perceive Russia as an authoritarian state, Hale believes that politically popular support remains vital in order to win elections.

“Everyone wants to be on the winning side,” said Hale, who encouraged researchers on Russia to look into the sources of political support within the country.

Hale has conducted several surveys in Russia. The results show that Putin has broad political support in the population - in part because people like his leadership style and the economic policies he stands for.

Various forms of nationalism

Hale highlighted three types of nationalism in Russia. The first is "anti-Westernism".

According to Hale Russians view Putin as someone who wants to link the country closer to the rest of the world, albeit on Russia's own terms. Nationalists who see the West as a rival or enemy will therefore rather vote for the Communists and Vladimir Zjirinovksij’s ultra nationalists.
Another form of nationalism is ethnic Russian nationalism coupled with xenophobia. Xenophobia tends to be directed against ethnic minorities from the North Caucasus and labor migrants from Central Asia. But one of Putin's major political projects is collecting former Soviet republics into a great Eurasian Union.

“It becomes problematic to impose stricter immigration control while simultaneously promoting greater regional integration. There are clear limits to how far Putin can go in using this type of nationalism, and a resurgence of ethnic Russian nationalism is not likely to lead to increased support for Putin”, Hale said.  

The last form of nationalism is patriotism, linked to Russia as a great power. This is not nationalism in the sense that it appeals to - or are targeting - a distinct ethnic group. Hale's conclusion is therefore that nationalism not is a source of political support for Putin.
“A clearer nationalist agenda could cause problems in other areas, as in the work of gathering former Soviet republics in a common Eurasian Union”, said Hale.

Watch the whole seminar on YouTube.