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“Comrade Putin, you're a great scientist.” How pro-Kremlin scholars study “Russophobia” and justify war

The Russian science community has suffered greatly due to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Scientific ties have been severed, talented scientists are leaving the country, and academic freedom is disappearing from institutions. However, there are those within the academic world who remain loyal to the state and are taking advantage of the situation to further their own interests. These individuals include young graduate students, professors, and entire institutes within the Russian Academy of Sciences who are seeking to justify the attack on Ukraine and studying those who do not support military aggression. The Insider has investigated academic journals published during wartime and found links to Maria Zakharova's Facebook, Pikabu posts, and other pro-war public internet resources. Below are some of the examples of this so-called scientific and patriotic work.

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  • The Pope is to blame. How scholars look for the roots of “Russophobia”

  • “Democratic” Russia vs. “Ukrainian Nazis”

  • “The People's Narrative of Suffering.” How scholars analyze Z-papers

  • Inexperienced soulless egomaniacs. How scholars condescendingly study dissenters

  • Bring back the death penalty, keep an eye on the relatives of those who left. What scholars propose to suppress dissent

The Pope is to blame. How scholars look for the roots of “Russophobia”

“Resentment and jealousy towards all things Russian. Only in Russia, during times of war and even in times of peace, can individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds such as Russians, Chechens, Buryats, Tatars, Ossetians, Bashkirs, and Yakuts refer to each other as brothers. Ukrainians and Englishmen, on the other hand, do not have this privilege as they are deemed unworthy of it.” This is not a mere social media post on Odnoklassniki or a quote from a Vladimir Solovyov TV show, but rather the final paragraph of an academic article published in the Education and Law Journal, which focuses on philosophy, ethics, and religious studies. This journal is highly respected and has been listed by the Higher Attestation Commission (VAK); it is authorized to publish dissertations of those pursuing a candidate or doctoral degree. The author of this article, Yevgenia Makoeva, is herself a candidate of philosophical sciences and holds the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the police force. Additionally, she is a lecturer at the Krasnodar University of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

If you were to search any scientific publication database using the propaganda phrase “special military operation,” it would generate over a thousand scientific papers published in the past year alone. Among the authors, some are routinely subjected to censorship. In a situation where using the word “war” in an article about the Russian economy in 2022 could result in imprisonment, the notorious “SMO” becomes unavoidable. However, at least half of these papers are devoted to the concept of “special operations” itself - exploring its necessity, public benefits, and how it can be employed to combat dissenters. While some Russian scientists have opposed the war by attending rallies and signing petitions, others have fully integrated themselves into the current situation and are attempting to legitimize it through scientific research.

“After the start of Russia's special military operation in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, a staggering barrage of Russophobia from Western countries fell upon our country,” states a group of authors from the Philosophy Department of the Ural State Agrarian University with surprise. They do not understand the reason for such a reaction from foreigners.

Alexei Ilyin of the Omsk State Pedagogical University also finds the reaction of the West strange:

“The leadership of Russia “only” engaged in actions such as the annexation of Crimea, providing assistance to the Donbass region in its fight against Ukrainian Nazism, and limiting the criminal intervention of the United States in Syria. However, these actions were deemed sufficient for the “Russophobia” propaganda campaign to go into full swing.”
Alexei Ilyin's book
Alexei Ilyin's book

The book was written back in 2021, but the author foresaw the problem.

It is noteworthy that scholars provide different answers to a common question. The Ural philosophers published a paper titled “Modern Russophobia: Mental Origins” in the journal “Education and Law”. The title indicates that the subject matter concerns mentality. According to the authors, “colonial thinking is a significant source of Russophobia in the collective consciousness of the West”. Sergei Lavrov's interview with the Arabic edition of Russia Today supports this assertion. The second pillar of Russophobia, aside from colonialism, is xenophobia. In this case, the Pope and the Crusades, rather than the Romans, were responsible. The authors argue that Europeans became the ultimate Russophobes when they “started to get wind of Russia's greatness and vast natural resources.” All of these ideas became deeply ingrained in the mentality and are considered “archetypes of collective unconscious.” The authors regretfully state that it is impossible to completely overcome Russophobia since it is so deeply rooted:

“But it is possible to control it, to exclude its socially dangerous manifestations through the introduction of economic countersanctions against unfriendly European countries.”

Professor Alexei Ilyin comes to a different conclusion in his work “Russophobia of the West: Essence and Reasons” (“Izvestiya vyshykh uchebnykh zavedenii. Sociology. Economics. Politics”, VAK list).

“We do not understand Russophobia as an ideological position resulting from an irrational fear of Russia. That is, the clinical factor is irrelevant here. Russophobia is a means of cynical and rational geopolitical ambitions,” the scholar says.

Where the Ural scholars invoke the Slavophile Aksakov, the civilization theorist Danilevsky, and Hegel, Ilyin quotes Barthes, Deleuze, and Baudrillard.

“The repeated and exaggerated Russophobic narrative creates a spiral of amplification that surpasses reality itself,” he says. This leads to a straightforward conclusion: The question to ask is not “to what end are they treating us this way?” but rather “why are they treating us this way?” The answer is that they are scared, which is why they invest significant resources in fostering anti-Russian sentiment.

There is no consensus among Russian scientists regarding Russophobia, but it is a topic of extensive academic debate. Since the mid-2000s, hundreds of scholarly articles have been published on this subject. Students also produce term papers, theses, and dissertations on Russophobia in various Western countries. These academic works frequently reference classic writers such as Tyutchev (who coined the term “Russophobia”), Pushkin's “Defamers of Russia,” and Prilepin.

While countless scientific debates on the nature of Russophobia take place, some scholars focus on specific issues related to the subject. For instance, Professor Marina Ryabova from Kemerovo State University recently published an study titled “Russophobia as a communicative strategy” in the VAK journal “Philological Sciences. Questions of Theory and Practice”. This work explores the topic from a unique perspective.

“The English concept of RUSSOPHOBIA encompasses a range of cognitive attributes. These include demonization, denial of Russian culture, its leading figures, and the country as a whole. Russophobia also associates with the ideology of fascism, barbarism as a unique mentality, and virulent anti-Russian sentiments often based on false beliefs. Additionally, Hollywood film propaganda, vandalism, attacks on Russian individuals and institutions, and attempts to overthrow the legitimate Russian government, even prosecuting the president as a war criminal are some of the features of Russophobia.”

“Democratic” Russia vs. “Ukrainian Nazis”

Russian scholars find the attitude of Ukrainians to be equally enigmatic. Vladimir Kiknadze, a doctor of history, raises the question of why the new Ukrainian government has abandoned historically established norms of life and become intolerant of the will and religion of residents in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In his article “Ukrainian nationalism: from origins to denazification during the special military operation of the Russian army” published in the “Science. Society. Defense” VAK journal, he also questions the glorification of fascists Bandera, Shukhevich, and their followers by the Ukrainian authorities.

The historian's conclusion is obvious:

“Under the slogans of self-determination and independence, the Ukrainian radical nationalists and Ukrainian Nazis throughout the entire history of their movement have pursued the goal of selling their native Ukraine to foreign colonizers in order to become a privileged collaborators' caste of overseers over their fellow countrymen.”

The comprehensive reference list comprises a range of sources, such as Ukrainian pamphlets from the 1990s and early 2000s, an interview with Bastrykin, TASS articles, Maria Zakharova's Facebook posts, and even a post on Pikabu.

The comprehensive reference list includes an interview with Bastrykin, TASS articles, Maria Zakharova's Facebook posts, and even a post on Pikabu

The comprehensive reference list includes an interview with Bastrykin, TASS articles, Maria Zakharova's Facebook posts, and even a post on Pikabu

But the end is nigh, the historian is convinced, because “the AFU's ability to resist is derived from their apprehension of retaliation from the neo-Nazis, who have infiltrated all military units… In 2022, Russia aims to liberate Ukraine from nationalism and eliminate neo-Nazism by sacrificing the lives of its loyal soldiers, capturing and destroying neo-Nazis, and exposing their crimes and malicious intentions. This will pave the way for the ultimate eradication of Nazism.”

Russian scholars find Ukraine to be an equally compelling subject of study as Russophobia. Since the mid-2000s, academic research has focused on the so-called “Maidan technologies,” and scientific journals have published articles on “Ukrainian neo-Nazism” and the “deconstruction of the Russian world.” The majority of these studies have arrived at conclusions similar to those of Kiknadze, namely that the most effective solution is a use of force.

The article “Special Military Operation in Ukraine in the Context of the Theory of Just War” published in the VAK journal “Socio-Humanitarian Knowledge” takes an interesting perspective. Written by Dmitry Nekrasov, an adjunct at the Prince Alexander Nevsky Military University (an adjunct is the same as a graduate student, only in military universities), the article argues that the Russian attack on Ukraine is “justified.”

The young scientist explains that the crucial aspect here is not just the presence of a “just cause,” but rather several. Nekrasov argues that the Russian attack on Ukraine is justified due to NATO expansion and Ukraine's refusal to recognize the annexation of Crimea. He also cites “the blocking of the water canal, the activities of Ukrainian provocateurs on the peninsula, and the complete blockade of Crimea by the Ukrainian authorities along the land border.”

Finally, according to the adjunct, an important criterion for a “just war” is the ability to end it successfully. “The plan proposed by the General Staff for a special military operation in Ukraine has been carefully thought out, it has been and continues to be implemented, which will ultimately lead to the attainment of all the goals. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated this,” the young scholar explains.

“The strategic use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, even in combat, to counter radicalization in the world order is defensive in nature, and not offensive, even if it is carried out beyond national borders,” Philip Trunov of the RAS Institute of General History cites the same idea in the pages of the VAK journal “Socio-Humanitarian Knowledge”.

The title of the article is “Practical Criteria for Democracy” - and for good reason, since the author justifies the democratic nature of military invasion:

“The special military operation by the Russian Federation can be regarded as a necessary and incremental use of force, with the ultimate objective of reducing tensions in the context of the new Cold War. The stated objectives of denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine demonstrate the democratic nature of Russia and its foreign policy, which is confirmed in practice.”

“The People's Narrative of Suffering.” How scholars analyze Z-papers

The title “Networked Solidarity as a Response to Collective Trauma (The Case of Russia's Special Military Operation in Ukraine)” may seem misleading at first. One might think that Natalia Zimova and Yegor Fomin of the Lomonosov Moscow State University's Graduate School of Modern Social Sciences would be discussing the traumatic experience of the current war. But they are not:

“The shared traumatic experience of the Great Patriotic War is what brings the Russian society together when it comes to SMO. This event revives the collective memory of suffering inflicted by the invading fascists and the spread of Nazi beliefs. Drawing a parallel, the carriers of the present-day Ukrainian ideology are viewed as the modern-day Nazis that need to be de-Nazified.”

But their focus is not on trauma but rather on promoting solidarity. They primarily employ an examination of VKontakte posts from the initial two months of the conflict as their primary method.

They gather information from sources such as “Donbass is the Heart of Russia!”, “THE TEAM FOR V.V. PUTIN AND RUSSIA!”, “Polite People | Peacekeepers | Special Operation Z,” and similar ones.

The authors delve into the abundant source material to examine the characteristics of public solidarity, with the primary focus on “heightened faith in social establishments, the country's top leadership, and the national leader.” According to the article, Russians have developed an admiration for their superiors by drawing from the archetypes of family and its traditions.

Within this social structure, Putin assumes the position of a “protective father figure,” serving as an advocate for the people. He is complemented by Prime Minister Mishustin, who plays the role of a prudent family manager responsible for managing, allocating, and distributing the household budget.

The following is an expression of solidarity from public social media posts that support the war effort:

“People, Russia!!! We must unite and become one family!!! We must support our dear soldiers and our President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin as never before!!! Stop criticizing our government! This is not the time to voice your grievances!”

The second element of cohesion is “the formation of a unified symbolic sign system. These, of course, are the letters Z, V, O, which “express aspiration, strength, energy.”

Moreover, the war has “uncovered novel attributes of the civil society,” as per the findings of Vladimir Ilyin, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, distinguished scholar of the Russian Federation, and research director of the Academy's Vologda Scientific Center. He has extensively explored this topic in a comprehensive article published in the VAK journal “Economic and Social Changes: Facts, Trends, Forecast.”

The article features a distinct sociological approach, incorporating numerous quotes from Dugin, and makes reference to Mihalkov's Besogon TV, specifically the episode titled “The Snow Will Come Down, and We'll See Who Shit Where.” According to public opinion surveys conducted between February and October 2022, the proportion of Vologda locals holding a positive view of the president increased from 48% to 59%. The researcher opines that the state-controlled media play a crucial role in this regard.

Vladimir Ilyin on the Rossiya 24 - Vologda TV channel: 2016
Vladimir Ilyin on the Rossiya 24 - Vologda TV channel: 2016

Through their active involvement, “novel characteristics of civil society have emerged in the Russian Federation.” This development is not just confined to good intentions or theoretical discussions, but rather is reflected in the practical actions and accomplishments of regular citizens, non-profit organizations, corporations, and government entities. According to Defense Minister S. Shoigu, “a considerable number of volunteers are visiting military recruitment offices.”

The primary outcome is the support that the United Russia party received in the recent elections, which is a testament to the impact of civil society.

In an article published in the VAK Russian Journal of Economics and Law, Sergey Inshakov, a distinguished Lawyer of the Russian Federation and Professor at the Moscow State Linguistic University, recognized the potential for anti-corruption measures within the conflict with Ukraine.

According to the distinguished legal expert, the situation is straightforward. Corruption was at its lowest during the Stalin era, and although it increased afterward, it remained relatively low until Gorbachev's regime. It was only after Putin assumed power that corruption began to decline. However, Putin's attempts to elevate Russia's anti-corruption potential to an optimal level were hampered, “and there is substantial reason to believe that this was among the factors that compelled Putin to initiate the war as a means of combating corruption.”

It's true, though, that because of the corrupt officials the war is not going as well as Putin would like it to:

“Over time, the similarities between the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) and the first Chechen campaign (1994-1996) have become increasingly apparent. Several examples highlight this connection, such as the pilfering of military equipment and provisions in the Manchurian army, which came to symbolize the corrupt disregard for military accomplishments.”

Following the aforementioned summarization, the author presents an optimistic outlook, stating that “the crux of the new reality is that Russia is confronted with a clear choice: either the political elite will be cleansed of corrupt and foreign-leaning figures from above, or it will occur through grassroots movements from below.”

Inexperienced soulless egomaniacs. How scholars condescendingly study dissenters

The Center for Social Security and Risk Studies at the Institute of Social and Political Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences conducted its own research on the topic of social consolidation, which can be found in the VAK journal “Science. Culture. Society.”

Unlike the previous study, they did not analyze VKontakte blogs, but instead polled 206 experts from 25 regions of Russia. The experts expressed support for economic mobilization, including the transition to a planned economy, and for purging the managerial elite of those “who are not publicly supportive of the military operation.” However, the authors of the paper noted that the results of the other part of the survey were not as positive. In this section, the experts were asked to share their thoughts on how different social groups felt about the ongoing events.

The initial inquiry aimed to determine the level of backing for the policy of confronting the West. As expected, officials, state-owned company executives, and media personnel ranked highest in terms of support. Conversely, the most disenchanted were found to be scientists, educators, and IT professionals. According to the Institute of Social and Political Studies, bloggers pose the greatest threat. “This environment has the potential to influence the collective mindset and instil in society skepticism towards Russia's current direction.”

The situation is even more concerning when it comes to support for the war effort. Bureaucrats, state capitalists, and propagandists are wholeheartedly in favor, whereas academics and bloggers have once again demonstrated a lack of enthusiasm for the fight. However, it is the entrepreneurs who fared the worst in this regard:

“The fact that experts have given low ratings to the level of support for the objectives of the special military operation among those working in small and medium businesses is worrying.”

Less than half of those surveyed noted the high confidence of Russians in victory. Furthermore, there is no universal condemnation from Russians towards those who publicly oppose the war. In fact, 30.5% of experts are confident that such views have high support in society.

Russian scientists are keenly interested in those who dissent from the official line. “Scientists still have to determine the causes, specifics and, above all, consequences of the very ambiguous reaction of young Russians to the processes initiated by the SMO,” says Alexander Kazakov, a professor of political science at Saratov University. He chose to concentrate on a particular issue - the role of media coverage in the war, which he addressed in his paper for another publication on the VAK list, “Saratov University Newsletter.”

Russian scientists are keenly interested in those who dissent from the official line

The scholar cites various public opinion polls that indicate less support for the war among young people than among the elderly, and a greater desire for immediate peace talks with Ukraine. The researcher sees two groups of reasons, the first being fundamental and not easily eliminated.

Firstly, the wrong cultural and educational policy after the collapse of the USSR is to blame. The dominance of Western values, ideological vacuum, and ultimately, “material values have become more significant than spiritual ones. The importance of many things began to be measured not by the public good, but by their cost.” And now, young people are unable to appreciate the public good of a war with their neighbors.

Spoilt youth proved incapable of appreciating the public good of a war with their neighbors

Another main reason is that young people ignore TV and newspapers. They lack “rich life experience” and turn to the Internet instead. There they “fall prey to various manipulations by political forces that oppose our country.”

Still, some things can be improved on other fronts. The war needs to be reported more quickly and accurately, and in a way that appeals to young people. The Ministry of Defense reports should be “narrated (or at least commented on) by someone who is popular and respected among the youth”.

Anatoly Merenkov, a professor at the Boris Yeltsin Ural Federal University, sees the cause of dissatisfaction with the war not in the Internet and education, but in selfishness. His article in the “Vestnik of the Udmurt University” has the same title: “The Culture of Selfishness in the Special Military Operation.”

Putin's words about American egocentrism and Zakhar Prilepin's lament that Russian artists did not support the war are taken as a starting point:

“They silently betray those who are fighting and dying to preserve the independence and freedom of our country. Practice shows that it is extremely difficult to change the consciousness and behavior of such people. It requires a constant struggle with oneself, but the selfishness, both natural and acquired in the course of life, does not allow us to do this”.

Mikhail Kleimenov, the head of the Department of Criminal Law and Criminology of the F.M. Dostoevsky Omsk State University, conducted his own online survey of 286 respondents in Omsk and St. Petersburg in March 2022. Based on the results, he wrote an article “Euromaidan: Criminological and Legal Analysis” for the “Vestnik of Omsk University” from the VAK list.

More than a quarter of respondents agreed with the thesis that “Ukraine is an independent and self-sufficient nation, closer to the West in its roots and mentality than to Russia,” despite the fact that the poll was conducted against a backdrop of war and military censorship.

According to Professor Kleimenov, this means that “in Russia, there exists a significant group of citizens who think in terms of mythological concepts.”

Half of the respondents did not condemn individuals who left the country when the war began, indicating a “moral decay and lack of conscience that is referred to in the Orthodox tradition as “the inner eye” - the divine voice within the human soul.” Additionally, 37.5% of respondents “failed to acknowledge or deliberately ignored the false nature of Western propaganda.”

To counter this, the suggested approach is two-fold: firstly, through patriotic propaganda and secondly, through criminal prosecution:

“Legal action against collaborators is imperative in the current situation. The measures that can be taken are varied and it is up to law enforcement agencies to curb the criminal activities of those individuals in the public sphere.”

Bring back the death penalty, keep an eye on the relatives of those who left. What scholars propose to suppress dissent

The methods for prosecuting those who oppose the war is a distinct field of study being explored by Alexander Vatoropin and Igor Teplyakov from the Ural Institute of Management, a branch of the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. They are conducting research on this matter under the grant titled “Cognitive Internet Technologies as a Factor of Extremist Youth Behavior: Mechanisms of Control and Prevention,” which was given to them by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research. Their article titled “Youth Extremism in Russia in the Context of the Special Military Operation” has been published in the “Education and Law” journal.

The scholars were lucky – as they were working on the grant, the subject of their scientific interest was gradually becoming broader:

“It is important to note that following the start of the SMO, several legal acts were introduced, allowing for a broad interpretation of the term “extremism” in the current circumstances. As a result, any public expression of opposition to the special operation can now be deemed as an act of extremism and subject to punishment. Going forward, this broad interpretation of extremism will serve as a basis for further actions.”

The scholars warn that there are numerous forms of “extremist activity” that can be observed.

“For example, subtle actions should not be overlooked, such as filing false complaints against owners of establishments displaying the SMO symbols (Z, V, O, etc.). These complaints may include allegations of unsanitary conditions, violations of fire safety regulations, and so on. In addition, false denunciations against supporters of the special operations are also a concern, as they could lead to unfair punishment and subsequently turn people against the current regime.”

Who is then a “typical representative of youth political extremism in modern Russia”? Alexandra Garmazhapova, head of Free Buryatia:

“This organization, in addition to its main (separatist) activities, has openly opposed the SMO on its website and called on Buryats not to participate in it.”

Youth extremism is being generated from outside. Mostly, by the special services of NATO countries and the SBU:

“Social networks popular among Russian youth are used as channels, as well as media outlets labeled as foreign agents. Obviously, all this should be taking into consideration when countering youth extremism in our country in the conditions of the SMO.”

But it's not just NATO secret services and media outlets dubbed as foreign agents who pose a threat. One can gain an understanding of this by reading the paper titled “Non-Systemic Opposition - a Modern Threat to Public Security” written by Leonid Grishchenko, a professor at the Academy of Management of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

“There is undeniable evidence today that Western intelligence services were relying on the potential of the non-systemic opposition when planning military action in Donbass, which was scheduled to begin in March 2022.”
“Currently, the West uses any miscalculations and minor flaws in the special military operation in Donbass to fuel Russophobia and create various propaganda clichés, which are then adopted by the non-systemic opposition in the country.”

To address this issue, the author suggests “implementing surveillance and comprehensive information gathering on the leaders and active members of the non-systemic opposition, including their relatives, friends, former school and work colleagues, and other associates.” The goal is to create a bank of consolidated data on all opposition figures, both in Russia and abroad.

It is necessary to create a bank of consolidated data on all opposition figures, both in Russia and abroad

Another approach involves “identifying individuals among the protesters who are willing to engage in a dialogue with government representatives. It is important to avoid viewing the entire opposition movement as a homogeneous entity acting in concert with hostile foreign forces.”

In an article published in the VAK “Vestnik of the Financial University,” Yana Vasilyeva, who is the head of the department of criminal law disciplines of the Irkutsk Law Institute - branch of the University of the Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation, suggests abandoning any formalities with regard to enemies and reintroducing the death penalty. The article delves into the history of capital punishment and the current laws that restrict its implementation.

Yana Vasilyeva
Yana Vasilyeva

Vasilyeva argues that “given the ongoing special military operation and the corresponding rise in crime, the current legislation limiting the use of the death penalty is inadequate and needs to be revised.” She believes that those who defend Ukraine should be considered as emerging criminals that need to be eliminated.

“Crimes committed by adherents of neo-Nazi groups in the Ukrainian right-wing radical movement, such as daily attacks against Russian citizens and acts that threaten peace and security (such as the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia NPP), are particularly serious. The only way to restore social justice and eliminate such crimes is to impose the death penalty as punishment.”

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