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October 23, 2017

Russia’s Nationalists: Putin’s Critical Children

Henry Jackson Society

[1] When Igor Strelkov, the former military commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic, returned to Moscow from Donbass in late summer 2014, he steadfastly maintained the symbol of statist loyalty typical of security officers in today’s Russia: a portrait of Putin above his desk. Yet within a year, his colleagues say, something snapped in him, and the portrait was gone.

Today, the former FSB officer is heading up an opposition movement.

Russia is seeing a potential challenge emerging to Putinism, but it is coming from the unlikeliest of places: instead of pro-Western liberals, it is the nationalists, ones whom the Kremlin tried, but failed, to court, who are offering an alternative political vision.

To a large extent, this is Vladimir Putin’s own fault. He has created a toxic and dangerous dichotomy in emerging Russian politics, one that has been thrown into sharp relief by the renewed drive for the creation of a nationalist opposition movement. Any wellsprings of genuine liberalism as understood in the West have been systematically poisoned or dammed by the Kremlin. Meanwhile, the dominant domestic model of economically liberal politics is championed by kleptocrats who are invested in better relations with the West but, for all their talk of rule of law at home, want to retain their freedom to steal.

[1] This paper was written for the Russian Service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. It can be accessed at, Galeotti, M., and Artunyan, A. ‘Kovarnye detki Kremlya,’, 29 October 2016, available at:

To read the full translation click here.