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Securitizing spiritual-moral values in Russia

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To cite this article: Jardar stb (2017) Securitizing spiritual-moral values in Russia, Post-Soviet
Affairs, 33:3, 200-216, DOI: 10.1080/1060586X.2016.1251023

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Published online: 07 Nov 2016.

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Post-Soviet Affairs, 2017
VOL. 33, NO. 3, 200216

Securitizing spiritual-moral values in Russia

Jardar stb
NEPORUS Project, Faculty of Humanities, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway


This article examines how spiritual-moral values (SMV) became securitized, Received 26 April 2016
or defined as a matter of national security in Russia. I analyze speech acts to Accepted 8 October 2016
show how moves to securitize SMV spread from the political fringe to the
center of power, and from individual sectors to the strategic level. This moral Russian politics;
turn in Russian politics is not merely a superficial attempt of the elite to securitization;
distract the masses and rally the conservative electorate. The securitization of modernization; moral
SMV has wider implications: It is, in the most direct way, the regimes way of values; national identity;
preventing a color revolution. By introducing a state of siege to the sphere authoritarianism
of fundamental moral values, this securitization aids the construction of a
national identity that is incompatible with basic human rights. An existential
threat is constructed in order to justify extraordinary measures and establish
a new social contract in which modernization is sacrificed at the altar of

Since 1993, the Kremlin developed means of conduct that bypassed normality, falsifying it to more easily reach
their targets The rejection of normality started as a technology, but eventually became part of everyday life,
and later it grew into contempt for the norm

Gleb Pavlovsky (2015, 136)

In April 2013, at a meeting of the Academic Council of the Russian Security Council, its secretary, Nikolai
Patrushev, requested the members to pay particular attention to how to improve national security
in the spiritual/moral sphere. This surprised commentators and the members of the Council alike
(Bekbulatova, Ivanov, and Safronov 2013). But only two and a half years later, spiritual-moral values
were embedded in the new Russian National Security Strategy (Strategiya natsionalnoi bezopasnosti)
that was finally adopted on 31 December 2015. One-and-a-half pages (out of 23) are devoted to the
sphere of (national) culture. Here, the preservation of traditional values is identified as the most impor-
tant strategic goal. The term spiritual occurs 15 times throughout the document, and the spiritual
sphere is highlighted as one of the sectors (along with the economic, political, and military) where
the Russian Federation should develop its potential to expand its role in the polycentric world in the
making (7).
National security in the culture sphere is strengthened by: safeguarding the cultural sovereignty of the Russian
Federation by way of exercising measures to protect Russian society from expansion of foreign ideas and values and
destructive informational-psychological influence, exercising control over the information sphere and preventing
the production of extremist content, propaganda of violence and racial, religious and inter-ethnic intolerance; the
creation of a system of spiritual-moral and patriotic education of the citizens, inculcating the principles of spiritual-
moral development in the education system, youth policy and national policy (NSS 2015)

CONTACT Jardar stb

2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
Post-Soviet Affairs 201

In the previous edition of the National Security Strategy, there was no mention whatsoever of spiritual-
moral values, and merely one reference to spiritual values (NSS 2009, 83). Similarly, the 2000 edition
mentioned only the need to safeguard and strengthen the moral values of society (Kontseptsiya 2000).
In this article, I trace how the specific notion of spiritual-moral values (SMV) became a matter of
national security in Russia. Attempts to securitize SMV did not start with the whims of the Security
Councils secretary in 2013, but in the early post-Soviet period. From the very beginning, reference to
these values was used as a way of justifying political measures. Increasingly, and especially since 2012,
such statements have been made by central political actors in order to justify not only political measures,
but extraordinary ones as well. While SMV were earlier regarded as important in certain spheres, they are
now often framed as the very basis on which national security rests. I discuss the political implications
of this securitization: how SMV have become a focal point in the domestic crackdown on the liberal
opposition, and in the standoff between Russia and the West in international affairs.
For source material, I draw on articles (print and online versions) in newspapers published in Moscow
in the period 19922016, as well as strategic documents and speeches by prominent officials. Newspaper
articles have been accessed primarily through the Russian press database Integrum, selected because
of their explicit mention of spiritual-moral values (dukhovno-nravstvennye tsennosti).
In todays hegemonic discourse, SMV are treated as something self-evident, eternal, absolute, and
unchangeable but also something that is under attack and must be protected. Here, I will resist the
temptation to offer an authoritative definition of SMV, as that might lead to a static understanding of
it, and will instead focus on the use of the concept. However, I will note some of its constant features.
First and foremost, it must be said about the content of the SMV concept that its denotation is actually
less important than its connotations. SMV is an emotionally charged term that conveys a deep sense of
ressentiment. It has strong anti-Western connotations, standing in opposition to a particular, constructed
image of the West. In the Russian debate, it is rare to find any mention of Western spiritual-moral
values or European spiritual-moral values: the liberal, secular West is seen as godless, decadent, and
immoral. SMV has emerged as a term with a specifically Russian content, and from this anti-Western
axiom, everything else follows. SMV are constructed as traditional whether explicitly, by tacking
on the adjective or similar identifiers; or implicitly, by drawing on certain Slavophile topoi such as the
specifically Russian soul, (traditional) morality, and collectivism. All these imply the prevalence of the
spiritual over the material, for instance, as incentives for certain human behaviors. A further implica-
tion is that traditional religious practices cannot be overruled by secular principles including those
enshrined in international human rights legislation, or even the Russian Constitution.
In the following, I describe the background of the discursive shift in Russia starting in early 2012 and
how researchers have interpreted this. Arguing that the common legitimacy frame fails to capture
the importance of this shift, I offer an alternative approach: securitization. I then present how SMV
emerged as an anti-liberal discourse in the 1990s and how the concept was revived and tentatively
securitized in more mainstream demographic discourse in the early 2000s. The main part of the analysis
is divided into five interrelated spheres where SMV have been subject to politicization and securitization
moves: extremism, inter-ethnic relations, foreign policy, information warfare, and preventive measures
(against a Russian color revolution). This division is made for the sake of analytical clarity and in order
to demonstrate the broadness of the SMV field of operations. Finally, I reassemble the various parts,
and show how SMV have come to occupy a central position in the Russian regimes shaping of national
identity and the establishment of a new social contract.

Context: security instead of modernization

After the predictably fraudulent State Duma elections in December 2011, a wave of mass protests
erupted, shocking the incumbent regime. Tens of thousands of predominantly urban, liberal, well-
educated people took to the streets, initially demanding fair elections but soon also calling for (then
Prime Minister) Putin to resign. For those in power, this bore the hallmarks of an attempted Western-
instigated color revolution intended to topple the Putinite regime. Although Putin was safely re-elected
202 J. stb

as president and the mass protests petered out, he faced a difficult task. His approval ratings were at a
historic low. Russians had grown accustomed to steadily improving living standards but, with relatively
poor economic prospects, this would conflict with the costly military reform, a rent-hungry elite, and
pending infrastructure projects.
The subsequent crackdown on oppositional forces and civil society, with legal initiatives and admin-
istrative measures, started soon after Putins election. Following the logic of the regimes understanding
of the protests as the result of Western secret services conspiring with Russian liberals, this tightening of
the screws merged with strongly anti-Western, anti-liberal, traditionalist rhetoric and symbolic politics.
Thereby the Kremlin redefined its loyal constituency, secured its relationship with the Church (which
recently had been in dialogue with the opposition), and marginalized and stigmatized the opposition.
These strategies were developed partly in connection with the Pussy Riot affair in 2012 (Smyth and
Soboleva 2014) and the 2013 anti-homopropaganda laws (Wilkinson 2014). This shift has been called
a morality turn (Laruelle 2014), a civilizational turn (Tsygankov 2016), a turn toward sovereign moral-
ity (Sharafutdinova 2014), and a promotion of the new national ideological consensus based on the
moralistic approach (Stepanova 2015, 120). Viewing it as the regimes response to social and political
challenges, these studies generally analyze the phenomenon within the framework of legitimation.
For instance, Sharafutdinova (2014, 615) regards it as a strategy selected by the Kremlin to restore the
regimes legitimacy that ha[d] been shaken by the protests of 20112012.
However, this approach fails to appreciate the full significance of the change. Analyzing it from
another angle, I argue that the regimes strategy is more wide ranging and forward looking, aimed at
preventing the spread of values linked to modernization and at establishing a new social contract. The
driving force behind the 20112012 protests were relatively well off urban dwellers who, during the
Putin era, had gradually become oriented toward, in Ronald Ingleharts terms,1 values of self-expression,
not survival (Dmitriev 2015). Increasingly taking existential security for granted (thanks to high and
continuous growth), they were angered by the prospects of stagnation, further corruption, and lack of
social mobility (Zubarevich 2012, 143). Rather than higher salaries and pensions, what the protesters
demanded were political freedoms, transparency, and pluralism (Volkov 2012). Surveys showing that
up to 44% of the population (December 2011) supported the protests (Levada Center 2012) indicated
that a significant and growing sector might no longer be bought off with stability and rising living
standards alone. Migration patterns and economic developments, with more and more people moving
to the big cities to fill white-collar jobs, pointed in the same direction (Zubarevich 2012, 143). Unwilling
to initiate meaningful reforms, the regime responded by identifying threats (Trudolyubov 2016) to what
were presented as Russias traditional values. According to the regimes narrative, the very foundations
of the Russian way of life were in danger, and extraordinary measures (in breach of fundamental rights)
were called for. By spreading fear and anxiety, the regime sought to establish a new social contract: in
exchange for tolerating repression and relative economic hardship, the people were offered security.
Following the central tenet of the Copenhagen school of security studies, whether or not a threat is
real is less relevant. Different societies may respond to the same objective security circumstances in
different ways; and non-existent threats may be securitized, whereas apparent threats may not (Buzan,
de Wilde, and Wver 1998, 57). Securitization can be seen as a more extreme version of politicization:
[s]ecurity is the move that takes politics beyond the established rules of the game and frames the
issue either as a special kind of politics or as above politics. A securitizing move is when a political
actor makes a statement presenting an issue as an existential threat elevating the issue beyond the
realm of the political, in order to justify extraordinary measures (Buzan, de Wilde, and Wver 1998, 25).
Securitization is achieved when the general audience, whether by consent or coercion, accepts this
representation (Buzan, de Wilde, and Wver 1998, 25). In making an issue a matter of the very survival
of the state, state representatives invoke the right to use force, mobilize, or take special powers. In a
way, for political leaders, uttering the word security is a declaration of emergency: they are thereby
reserving for themselves the right to use all available means to stop an undesired development (Buzan,
de Wilde, and Wver 1998, 21).
Post-Soviet Affairs 203

The emergence of SMV

In the early post-Soviet years, it was mainly the Communists who made sporadic references to SMV as
being the opposite of what they saw as the decay and disintegration of the times, for which the dem-
ocrats and oligarchs were to blame. In Gennadii Zyuganovs 1996 election campaign, SMV were men-
tioned in several programmatic articles. For instance, Zyuganov called for a halt to the moral genocide
of the Russian people. In his characteristic brand of nationalism and communism, SMV were presented
as the opposite of capitalism, self-interest, Western low culture, and Western sectarianism whose
propaganda would lead not only to spiritual and moral decay, but also to the physical demise of Russia
(Zyuganov 1996). In this early instance of a securitizing move, Zyuganov explicitly presented what he
saw as the materialist decay and Western missionaries encroachment on traditional SMV as existential
threats to Russia. Not only would Russia cease to be Russia: the Russian nation would be annihilated. At
the time, not many joined Zyuganovs crusade. True, the Communist newspaper Sovetskaya Rossiya, the
teachers newspaper Uchitelskaya gazeta, and Krasnaya zvezda, the official organ of the Armed Forces,
issued repeated warnings of moral decay, but generally not formulated in such apocalyptic terms.
In late 2002, the Inter-Religious Council, which consists of the leaders and representatives of
the four traditional religions in Russia, decided to create an open committee of Duma deputies
(Obshchestvenno-deputatskaya komissiya) for the support of traditional Russian spiritual-moral values
(CSTRSMV). Among the aims was, according to then Head of the Russian Orthodox Churchs Department
for External Relations, Metropolitan Kirill, that Russian legislation should reflect the high moral princi-
ples that are intrinsic to the spiritual traditions of our people. As a politicizing move, Chief Mufti of the
Russian Federation, Talgat Tadzhuddin, expressed hopes that the committee would become important
in the struggle against extremism and religious intolerance (V Gosdume 2002). Not long after, in March
2003, the committee was officially established as a forum for dialogue and cooperation between the
corresponding association (obedinenie) of Duma deputies and the Inter-Religious Council (Korobov
2003). Also represented on the committee was the leadership of the Union of Orthodox Citizens, the
main coalition of Orthodox nationalists (Sova 2003).
One member of the association, Communist Deputy Viktor Zorkaltsev, explicitly sought to politicize
the issue of SMV, declaring that [t]he goal of the committee is to unite the efforts of society, religious
organizations and the state to safeguard Russias spiritual security (Korobov 2003). That was but one
of several similar statements from Zorkaltsev that year. The concept of spiritual security had emerged
as a weapon in the hands of the anti-cult movement in the mid-1990s. The liberalization of religious
life from the late perestroika period had led to the influx of foreign missionaries and cults (totalitarian
sects, as they were frighteningly called), which anti-cult activists saw as a threat to national security
(Fedor 2013, 164165). Zorkaltsev was one of those who actively expanded the discourse of spiritual
security to include not only religion, but other civic rights and liberties as well. Hence, according to
Julie Fedor (2013, 172), [t]he new paradigm of security broadened out into a generalized anti-
oppositional discourse.

In April 2003, a month after it was founded, the committee acted as one of the organizers of a confer-
ence on demography. Although the Center for Demographic Research was featured as co-organizer,
and some (unnamed) demographics experts attended, the main speeches were delivered by politi-
cians and representatives of the Patriarchy. This venue was exploited to securitize SMV, with speakers
blaming Russias demographic crisis on the erosion of these values. Demographic statistics were cited
not by specialists, but by Metropolitan Kirill. Noting the falling birthrates in the West, he argued that
demographic sustainability depends on the value system of the population. Modern people do not
want to sacrifice the comfort of their lives and bear children but many demographic problems would
be solved, the future Patriarch argued, if people would return to traditional spiritual and moral values
(Pravoslavnye 2003). Rank-and-file Duma deputies, experts and clerics expressed more radical views,
204 J. stb

with one speaker decrying the amputation of the Soviet soul and transplantation of a capitalist
soul (Na Rossii 2003).
Such spiritual explanations of the demographic crisis were subsequently developed further and
sharpened. Similar events were arranged in several regions. In October 2004, the Patriarchy arranged a
seminar on the spiritual-moral foundations of Russias demographic development, with several prom-
inent participants. Patriarch Aleksii chaired the seminar, which was attended by the Minister of Health,
State Duma deputies, governors and administrative officials, as well as scholars and representatives
of the business community and the cultural sector. President Putin sent his regional representative
(V Moskve 2004). In his salutory address, Putin stated that the topic of the seminar was of great signif-
icance to Russias future and for the reinforcement of her national security (Putin 2004). In his opening
speech, the Patriarch emphasized the gravity of the crisis. Elevating the issue to a matter of national
survival, he declared: today we are faced with a choice: it is to be or not to be for our Fatherland. The
main cause of the situation, the Patriarch went on to explain, was the nations spiritual problems, that
people forget the high moral values, and, above all, the loss of veneration for Gods holy gift of life. The
solution, according to the Patriarch, would be to strengthen the role of the traditional family resting
on a spiritual-moral foundation (Aleksii 2004).
At the Diocesan Assembly in 2005, the Patriarch explicitly elevated to a matter of national security the
protection of the traditional family, the loss of which he characterized as a threat to the very existence
of Russia. Among the remedies he proposed was the teaching of Orthodox SMV family ethics in schools
(Konovalov 2005). This line of argument the Patriarch has reiterated several times. Not surprisingly, the
demography card has also been played in arguing against gay rights. Thus, when activists applied for
permission to arrange a gay parade in Moscow, the Patriarch wrote an open letter to the mayor, referring
not only to what he saw as the sinful nature of such an event, but also its detrimental influence on the
countrys demography (Aleksii 2006).

For over a decade now, SMV have been framed as a weapon against extremism. In December 2004,
the National Civic Committee for Cooperation with Law Enforcement Agencies, the Legislature, and
the Judicial Branch (Natsionalnyi Grazhdanskii Komitet po Vzaimodeistviyu s Pravookhranitelnymi,
Zakonodatelnymi, i Sudebnymi Organami) held a broad meeting with several organizations, law enforce-
ment and government agencies, as well as all branches of government (Vremya 2004). The topic dis-
cussed was national security in the wider sense. In his opening speech, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev
characterized combatting terrorism as the most important task facing [Russian] society. This was not
surprising, as that fall had been marred by the massive hostage-taking at a primary school in Beslan,
where 334 hostages died. However, Nurgalievs focus was not on technical or legal issues, as might have
been expected from a man in his position, but on the soft aspects of security, namely psychology and
ideology: the battle against the criminals domination over the minds of young people. The minister
argued that terrorism is not so much a military threat as an ideological and social one. Therefore,
fighting this evil solely with force would be futile, he reasoned, emphasizing the need for psychological,
ideological, and economic struggle. Nurgaliev called for preventive measures against the spread of
criminal ideology and against the spread of narcotics, alcohol, and prostitution among young people,
which he saw as a filling teenagers emotional [dushevnyi] vacuum. In this fight, he called for assistance
from civil society, and from religious organizations in particular.
Here, there is a special role for the development of cooperation with religious organizations that are the traditional
guardians of spiritual-moral values. We have high hopes for the Russian Orthodox Church, other confessions, reli-
gious and civic organizations to facilitate the spiritual-moral education of citizens. (Sozdat 2004)
A line of argument similar to that of Nurgaliev has been pursued by the Muslim community in Russia.
On the occasion of the feast of Eid-al-Fitr in 2011, Albir Krganov first deputy president of Russias
Muslim Central Spiritual Directorate and Mufti of Moscow and central Russia, as well as member of
Post-Soviet Affairs 205

the Civic Chamber stated that the lack of official mosques (at the time, Moscow had only 4 mosques
and 11 prayer-rooms) represented a potential security threat. Referring to Mayor Sobyanins statement
that extremist literature had been found among informal Muslim communities, Krganov urged the
authorities to cooperate with his organization and support its program for the construction of new,
official mosques:
[o]fficial mosques, historically the proponents of traditional values and inter-ethnic stability, are at present clearly
in shortage. Because under their cupolas, a great explanatory work takes place among the population and among
youth, particularly when it comes to the inculcation of basic humanistic and spiritual-moral values. In addition, in
our view, it is high time that the capital, which has accredited ambassadors from the entire Islamic world, should
open a big cultural-enlightening center. First, it would strengthen Russias authority in the Islamic world and its
cooperation with it, second with highly qualified academic orientalists there it would solve the problem of
recruiting to the Muslim clergy in our country. (Krganov 2011)
To prevent the rise of extremism, Krganov argued, one should work actively to spread true spiritual-
moral values, which he saw as the foundation of patriotism and feelings of civic responsibility (Kazimirko-
Kirillova 2011). This attempted securitization of SMV entails a certain commodification. These values
are a resource that the state-sanctioned Muslim community can offer to enhance national security. The
Mufti was in fact using them as a commodity that could be exchanged for greater financial and other
support for his organization: by producing SMV, the organization actually increases security, and for
this, the state should support it (more), financially and otherwise.

Inter-ethnic relations
Not only are SMV seen as a weapon against extremism in the narrow sense. They are also framed as
what unites all the different nationalities of the Russian state as an inter-ethnic glue of sorts. President
Putin has routinely referred to this idea when speaking to non-ethnic Russian audiences. Addressing
Russian Muslims on the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr celebrations in 2006, he said that Russias Muslims
had always been tolerant and peaceful, and that he was convinced that they would continue to help
preserve the imperishable spiritual-moral values of Islam [and] make firm contributions to the devel-
opment of interconfessional dialogue, to strengthen harmony and cooperation between people (Putin
pozdravil 2006). And addressing Russias Jewish community on their New Years celebration the year
after, he expressed himself in the same terms (Putin 2007).
While such statements from Putins second presidential period can hardly be regarded as securitizing
moves, they have arguably contributed to preparing the ground for explicit securitization attempts
on the part of other actors. Thus, at a 2009 discussion forum dedicated to cultural development and
national security, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Patriarchys Department for ChurchSociety
Cooperation, argued that to rally against a common enemy would be unsustainable (neprochno).
Instead, he proposed to distinguish the spiritual-moral values that unite all peoples of Russia, regardless
of their confession or the lack thereof: service of the Fatherland, self-sacrifice, the ecology of family and
society, and so on. These values should be inculcated in the mind through culture and by choosing
the nations heroes. Only in this way we can preserve Russia, Chaplin concluded (Motorina 2009).
From 2012, Putin began to refer more explicitly to SMV as a unifying force for all Russian ethnic and
religious groups. As a presidential candidate in early 2012, he published a series of seven program-
matic articles focusing on various spheres. In the second article (Putin 2012a), which was dedicated to
the national question, Putin declared that he would strengthen the civilizational state (gosudarstvo-
tsivilizatsiya), to fulfill the task of integrating organically different ethnic groups and confessions. In
this, he called for the active participation of Russias four traditional religions, which, despite their
differences, have the same foundations: basic, common ethical, moral, spiritual values: charity, mutual
aid, truth, justice, respect for elders, ideals of family and work. These landmark values are impossible to
replace with anything else, and we must strengthen them (Putin 2012a).
Later that year, as elected President, Putin held a speech on Russia Day (June 12), marking the anni-
versary of Russias declaration of sovereignty in 1990. Here, he declared that feelings of responsibility for
206 J. stb

past and future generations unite us around common spiritual and moral values and serve as a source
of creative inspiration for millions of our fellow citizens (Putin 2012b). In his 2013 Christmas address,
not long after the anti-migrant riots in Moscows Biryulevo district, Putin reiterated and strengthened
this argument of uniting around traditional spiritual-moral values that play a special role in Russias
history and serve as the base [opora] of our society (in Kotova 2013).
Also here, Putin is not explicitly trying to securitize SMV, although their importance is obvious. His
words once again helped pave the way for subsequent securitization moves by other actors. At the
2014 international Muslim forum in Moscow, Vsevolod Chaplin framed the Muslims as allies against
materialist, human-centered, and godless forces. Grand Mufti Ravil Gainutdin followed up, praising the
Customs Union and Eurasian integration as not only a political project, but also a spiritual project, a
project for the protection of traditional values of our religions, which he saw as threatened by ultra-
liberalism. Victory of this ultraliberalism would, according to Gainutdin, lead to a world populated by
agamic beings, half-humans, half-robots keeping their consciousness on portable storage devices and
existing only in virtual space. According to Gainutdin, Russias Muslims constitute the core of Russian
conservatism, enabling it to resist Western pressure (Gashkov 2014). With such a statement, the cleric
was clearly seeking to capitalize on the current anti-Western trend. Similarly to Krganov, who framed
institutionalized, traditional Islam as a guardian against extremism, Gainutdin, by securitizing SMV,
was offering such values as a commodity. It is not difficult to interpret Gainutdin as saying that without
these values, of which Russias Muslim community is the main guarantor, Russia as such would cease
to exist, and the world would sink into nightmarish chaos.
By late 2015, this line of argument materialized in legal form, as an amendment to the anti-
extremism law (Federalnyi zakon 2015). The bill, exempting the Bible, the Koran, the Jewish Tanakh, and
the Buddhist Kangyur (the main scriptures of Russias four traditional religions) from the possibility of
being declared extremist, was introduced by Putin himself, as a response to a provincial courts ruling
that a brochure consisting of passages from the Koran and commentaries was extremist (Ozerova
2015). Irina Yarovaya, head of the influential Duma Committee for Security and Counteraction Against
Corruption, stated:
The fundamental basis of security is our unique experience of trust-based multiconfessional and multiethnic unity
[edinenie] and cooperation. Russia shows an example to the whole world when it comes to the defense of spiritual-
moral values that have a universal humanitarian meaning and protect us from extremism and aggression. (Yarovaya
Yarovayas words carry weight, as she is seen as representing the interests of the security services and
has been the initiator of several draconian pieces of legislation (Shulman and Zhuravleva 2016). Her
statement is a clear instance of a securitization move, of SMV functioning as the rhetorical antidote
to extremism and violence. The underlying logic of the statement is that, without these values, the
inter-ethnic balance and also the very existence of Russia would be in danger. The bill was passed
within a month.

Foreign policy
Up to 2012, SMV had been securitized in an internal context only. But in that year, they were launched as
a pivot of Russian foreign policy. On the highly symbolic Victory Day, 9 May, two days after Putins inaugu-
ration, the feature article on the front page of the influential military newspaper Voenno-promyshlennyi
kurer was an analysis of the future of the Eurasian Union by Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, long-
time senior official in the Ministry of Defense, former head of the Ministry of Defense Directorate for
International Military Cooperation, Moscow State Institute of International Relations professor, and
commentator (Ivashov 2012). With the end of the Cold War, he argued, the United States had started a
new geopolitical war aimed at destroying the international system of nation-states and establishing
a new world order. To achieve this, he noted, there are various possible means: financial (disruption of
economies), democratic (regime change), and military (special operations and other action to destroy
the country). However, the most important weapon is informational-psychological warfare to deform
Post-Soviet Affairs 207

the populations consciousness and national-cultural identity. In Ivashovs narrative, Western values
are simply means for controlling, partitioning, and annihilating Russia. Criticizing the current orien-
tation toward the West as disastrous, he argued that the only answer would be to preserve Russian-
Eurasian values. Russia should start a process of rebirth and development based on the resurrection
of traditional spiritual-moral values; it should build a strong national state, and enhance technological
development. At the same time, on the basis of the existing Eurasian Economic Union, Russia should
work for a union of continental civilizations and countries with other economic, spiritual-moral, and
security models than those of the West (Ivashov 2012).
Similarly, in a 2013 academic article, Vladimir Yakunin, then director of Russian Railways but also
Head of the Department of State Politics at Moscow State University, and at that time considered one
of Putins closest confidantes, decried what he regarded as Russias rejection of its own historical and
civilizational identity in the last two decades. As a result of this, he argued, regardless of its nuclear
potential, Russias sovereign geopolitical role could be markedly weakened. In order to avoid becom-
ing a satellite of Europe or China, and to strengthen the countrys position in the world, Russia should
follow Putins initiative for changing course. The solution would be a return to the historical roots, and
to revive Russias potential for being a state able to unite smaller or greater ethnic and confessional
groups on the basis of spiritual-moral values. In this, Russia presents a potential model of a new world
(Yakunin 2013, 30).
In the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ivashov wrote an article presenting the
events of the Ukrainian crisis as the execution of a meticulously developed US plan to wrest Ukraine
from the Russian sphere of influence using Nazi ideology. The argument was basically consonant with
the official narrative, but Ivashov ended his article with a fairly radical vision for Russias role in the world.
Predicting that several of Americas European satellites would soon try to break free and orient them-
selves toward Russia, Ivashov urged Moscow to prepare for a protracted battle over a new world order:
We must work actively to gather under our banners the Orthodox-Slavic world, the peoples of Eurasia, we must
strengthen the community of all Russian [rossiiskie] peoples on a foundation of the common goal of development
and common spiritual-moral values and improve the security system. Remember Slobodan Milosevics final words:
Russians [russkie]! I am now appealing to all Russians on the Balkans inhabitants of Ukraine and Belarus are also
considered Russians. Look at us and remember they will do the same to you if you lose your unity and show weakness.
The West is a mad dog that will bite your throat. Brothers, remember Yugoslavias fate! Do not let them do the same to
you! (Ivashov 2014, 10; italics in original)
Ivashov expresses his views in a very direct and sharp tone, and his characterization of the West as
a mad dog is unheard-of in official discourse. However, his total dismissal of European values of
liberal democracy and human rights, and his insistence on the need for Russia to build international
relations on alternative values (SMV), enjoy support among important security actors. For instance, in
an interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta in October 2014, Nikolai Patrushev made a statement in which he
characterized European values as a myth, not values as such but instruments in the great geopolit-
ical game (Egorov 2014). Similarly, in early 2016, Federal Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko framed
Western values as false values, and as an offensive weapon. Russian spiritual-moral values are also
weaponized but they are framed as defensive. However, this does not imply that the reach of SMV
should stop at Russias current borders. Matvienko argued for launching a counter-attack in information
space, at home and abroad:
It is important, first and foremost, to forestall our opponents in setting the agenda in the information and spiritual
sphere, and not just follow the path shown by foreigners. In the world, there is a demand for traditional values,
and Russia, thanks to her culture, art, and enlightening and educational work, is one of few countries able to meet
this demand. (Matvienko 2016b)
This view is enshrined in the recent draft Doctrine on Information Security, where the spreading over
the entire world of the spiritual and moral values of the Russian people is defined as a national interest
(8, my emphasis).
208 J. stb

Information warfare
In the beginning of the Putin era, neither control over the media nor Russian information warfare in
theory or practice had a clear spiritual-moral dimension. To be sure, in the public debate, there were
references to the harmful influence of the media. In 2003, the aforementioned CSTRSMV worked to
increase the number of patriotic films shown at Russian cinemas and television, and to limit access
to foreign films in order to give rebirth to SMV (Karakhan 2003). The Patriarchates Secretary for
ChurchSociety Relations, Archpriest Mikhail Dudko, stated in 2005 that having a TV channel that based
its programs on high spiritual-moral values was a question of survival for Russia (Dymkovets 2005).
But in March 2012, Sergei Ryabkov, deputy foreign minister, and Evgenii Minibaev, a history professor
at the Academy of Military Sciences, wrote an article on information security, published in Voenno-
promyshlennyi kurer (Ryabkov and Minibaev 2012). Here, they criticized what they saw as the excessively
ideologized approach and exaggerated attention toward human rights on the part of the USA and its
allies. Further, they warned against what they considered an incessant information campaign waged
by the West against Russia:
In Russias information space, there is a real war for the human soul. Information technology, used by Russian media
as well, manipulations on the Internet by Western secret services have become a real weapon of mass destruction,
the object of which is every human being with his views of the world and his place in it, his ideals of good and
evil, honor and duty, and justice. With the help of TV and the Internet, the entire mentality and way of life is being
programmed and changed; more and more people, youth above all, are zombified and are losing their ability to
protect their national interest. Therefore, we need swift state involvement and an immediate halt to all kinds of
destructive activities in the spiritual sphere, before our society passes the point of no return. In our opinion, it is
necessary to create a state organ to coordinate activities in this sphere. For this, we need political will, real state and
civic mechanisms to protect national, spiritual, moral values and the formation of a worldview that will strengthen
the Russian nation. (Ryabkov and Minibaev 2012)
In September 2012, Putin visited a military education facility in Krasnodar, where he made strong state-
ments concerning information security. While calling ideological censorship intolerable and warning
against Soviet-style stupid propaganda, Putin argued that Russian values must be protected from
ruthless attacks. Russias future depended on the moral upbringing of the younger generation. A nave
relationship to foreign propaganda would ultimately lead to war and to the loss of sovereignty:
As our own historical experience also shows, cultural self-consciousness, spiritual, moral values and the codes of
values this is a sphere of hard competition, sometimes open information operations [protivoborstvo], I do not want
to name it aggression, but operations it is precisely that, you know, precisely a well-directed propaganda attack.
This is no phobia, I am not making anything up here, this is the way it really is. This is at the very least one of the
forms that the rivalry takes. Attempts to exercise influence on entire populations and efforts to subordinate them
to ones will, to impose ones values system and understandings on them that is sheer reality, just like the battle
for mineral resources, where many countries are involved, including our own. And we know that the distortion of
the national, historical, moral mind has led entire states into disaster, weakened them, made them collapse in the
end, and has led to the loss of sovereignty and fratricidal wars. (Putin 2012c)
This was widely quoted in the press. Shortly thereafter, Putin personally initiated the establishment
of a new entity within the Presidential Administration, the Directorate for Public Projects, intended to
improve the states patriotic education. The aim was to strengthen the spiritual-moral foundation of
Russian society and to develop and realize important societal projects in this sphere (Nagornykh
2012). One well-informed source of the newspaper Kommersant explained that the new directorate
would conduct sociological studies and even study American patriotism in order to find out how to
proceed (Nagornykh 2012).
At a security seminar in 2015, Colonel General Ivashov reiterated his views on international politics.
In addition, he situated information warfare at the very heart of what he saw as the ongoing geopo-
litical battle between Russia and the USA. In geopolitical operations, he stated, military means are of
secondary importance: informational-psychological action is paramount. The most important object
to be overthrown was the states system of spiritual-moral values (quoted in Bartosh 2015). In order to
withstand the Wests onslaught, Ivashov argued for deepened cooperation with anti-Western states
Post-Soviet Affairs 209

in forums like a further developed Eurasian Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the
BRICS countries (Bartosh 2015).
In January 2016, Mikhail Mikryukov, member of the Academy of Military Sciences, wrote an arti-
cle on information warfare in Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie. He started out by claiming that the
Russian campaign against the Islamic State (IS) has triggered a storm of anti-Russian informa-
tionpsychological hysteria in Western countries, buttressed at home by the fifth column (Mikryukov
2016). The adversaries thereby work to weaken the Russian state and its international prestige:
Recent decades in the life of our country have been characterized by the medias unbelievable amoral pressure on a
society that is practically deprived of any means of control in this sphere. Some media have implanted democracy
in the form of legal nihilism and permissiveness, cultivation of violence and moral maladjustment, propaganda
of the most unbridled customs and unnatural way of life nudism, homosexuality, feminism, transsexuality. The
destructive influence of these media consists of their formation of false beliefs about the meaning of human life.
Therefore, for our own security, our country needs to work out a critical relationship to the information that is being
disseminated by the media. The disappearance of a national-cultural identity, the rejection of the Russian peoples
spiritual-moral values, is the road to the disappearance of the nation as such. (Mikryukov 2016)
These statements may appear extreme or marginal. However, they are generally supported by central
actors in the security structures. For instance, in April 2015, summing up the threats facing Russia, Nikolai
Patrushev, still Secretary of the Russian Security Council, stated that the West was waging a vigorous
information war against Russia (Rossiyu 2015). This view is also enshrined in the 2016 draft Doctrine
on Information Security (Doktrina 2016), which states that the preservation of cultural, historical and
spiritual-moral values of the multinational people of the Russian Federation represent national interests
(8) that are under attack: the secret services of some states, along with various civic organizations, are
exercising informational and psychological pressure in order to destabilize the internal political and
social situation and undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states. These structures
are exercising informational pressure on the countrys population, primarily on young people, in order
to erode cultural and spiritual values and undermine the moral and historical foundations and patriotic
traditions of its multinational people (12).

Preventive measures
To understand the importance of the perceived information campaign against Russia, we should see it in
connection with the Russian elites fears of a color revolution and how the role of extremist ideology
is viewed in this respect. There is little doubt that the Russian states struggle against what it defines
as extremism has intensified in recent years. The already notorious 2002 extremism law was amended
in 2012. For instance, to display the logos and materials of organizations deemed to be extremist
could result in 15days of administrative arrest (Pitts and Ovsyannikova 2015). From early 2014, the
Prosecutor General could issue direct orders to Roskomnadzor (the Federal Service for Supervision
of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media) to block websites spreading calls for
extremist activities, mass demonstrations, or illegal assemblies (Kananovich 2015, 371). Misuse of these
and other legal provisions concerning extremism to curb oppositional or independent activity is well
documented. As a consequence of the wave of protests following the fraudulent Duma elections, this
tendency increased. Not only the radical opposition was targeted, but also relatively moderate citizens,
some of whom had no connection to political activism. The events in Ukraine from late 2013 have given
this process even greater momentum (Kravchenko 2015).
This has arguably increased the significance of SMV as a counteragent against a very loosely defined
extremism. Not distinguishing clearly between ideological currents, representatives of the regime are
prone to see all oppositional activity as extremism and as the potential beginning of a color revolu-
tion in Russia. We recall Ivashovs 2014 statement on Nazi ideology as the weapon used by the West in
the geopolitical battle over Ukraine, a view not far from the narrative of the Ukraine crisis presented
in state-controlled media. In November 2014, when the Security Council of the Russian Federation
debated the new Strategy to Counter Extremism (Strategiya 2014), Putin declared that extremism
210 J. stb

very often was used as a tool of geopolitics. Color revolutions and foreign interventions have led
to disaster, he went on to say, and declared that we are obliged to do everything possible to prevent
something similar from ever happening in Russia (Putin 2014). Not long after, speaking to the assembly
of the Interior Ministry, Putin warned that color technologies were already being used against Russia,
aimed at attacking the constitutional foundations of the state, and, ultimately, the countrys sover-
eignty. Preventive measures were urgently needed, he declared (Putin 2015). Hence, in the hegemonic
discourse, extremism is not seen as emanating from problems within the country, but as coming from
outside Russia state sovereignty is threatened by foreign actors seeking to destabilize the country
and start a color revolution.
In part, a result of the linkage between extremism and color revolution, the official Strategy to
Counter Extremism emphasizes the danger of extremist ideology taking root in young minds. SMV are
presented as a means to prevent this:
to introduce state support of a system to educate youth on the basis of Russian cultures traditional spiritual, moral
and patriotic values; to include employees of the culture sector in studies of the foundations of spiritual-moral
culture of the peoples of the Russian Federation. (Strategiya 2014; 27)
To Putin, this is a way of strengthening the citizens immune defenses against the spread of extremist,
radical ideas. Stressing the magnitude of the threat, he has called for politicians and bureaucrats on all
levels, the education sector as well as civil society, to stand united in this effort (Putin 2014).
The Strategy summed up developments that had started long ago, but the centrality of SMV was
more recent. I have already mentioned the April 2013 meeting of the Academic Council of the Russian
Security Council. At a meeting in the Presidents Council for Culture and Arts in October 2013, Presidential
Advisor Vladimir Tolstoi described culture as a very important factor of national security, characteriz-
ing foreign products as often destructive for the mentality of the nation (Zasedanie 2013). Another
member of the Council, the infamously conservative journalist Elena Yampolskaya, stated that Russia
should establish a national center of spiritual defense (Zasedanie 2013). Speaking to the press after
the meeting, Council member Archimandrite Tikhon (rumored to be Putins personal spiritual adviser)
stated that there was nothing new about the problem of maintaining the continuity of culture and
traditional spiritual-moral values, but that it was important to recognize the illness and take the right
measures to correct the situation (Kulture 2013).
These corrective measures were soon underway. In November 2014, it was announced that the
federal budget for the coming year would allocate approximately 2 billion rubles for establishing
spiritual-enlightening centers. The funds would be channeled through the program Strengthening
the Unity of the Russian [rossiiskii] Nation. The previous year, the purpose of the program had been
to support measures to secure peaceful coexistence between different national groups in Russia. The
spiritual component was added in 2014. For instance, the newly founded organization Belevskii
Blagovest for the preservation and development of spiritual-moral values received 15 million rubles
to establish its center (Bocharova, Rustamova, and Golunov. 2014).
Even more indicative was another development. In mid-2012, Vladislav Surkov, then deputy prime
minister responsible for modernization, had started a project for establishing a network of cultural
centers that were to teach young people about modern art and technology, intended to serve as the
basis of innovation. However, in early 2015, this project was stopped, the staff was fired, and the premises
were to be used to propagate traditional spiritual-moral values (Innovatsionnye 2015). The leader of
the working group, highly conservative film director Nikolai Burlyaev, stated that Surkovs project had
been a mistake right from the beginning. Burlyaev also condemned its vision of generating change
and political reforms:
State officials yielded to some rather strange people who wanted to create some sort of innovative culture. In my
opinion, no such thing exists in nature. We analyzed the first edition of the plan, where there was talk about the
creation of a new, passionate Russian, an agent of change, who should conduct political reform. It is exactly from
such things that Maidan begins (Innovatsionnye 2015)
In this case, fears of a color revolution led to the sacrifice of modernization on the altar of spiritual-
moral values.
Post-Soviet Affairs 211

In March 2015, Nikolai Patrushev expressed satisfaction with ongoing efforts to strengthen SMV,
to which he attributed a major role in preventing a color revolution in Russia. Declaring that foreign
attempts to exert influence on Russia had not ceased, he stated: Russia is dedicated to the important
effort of giving young people a patriotic education, developing civil society institutions and unifying
the nation on the basis of spiritual-moral and historical values adding that he could assist Russias
partners with consultations on these issues (Patrushev: Rossiya 2015; Sergeev 2015).
The most extreme steps were taken in Chechnya, where President Ramzan Kadyrov in February
2016 ordered a spiritual-moral questionnaire procedure for all males aged 1435.2 This meant that all
young men were to fill out a form3 with their personal data, nationality, names of persons responsible
for them, as well as their clan membership and certain specifics of their Islamic allegiance. The new
procedure was explicitly presented as a means to fight extremism by preventing harmful ideas from
taking root in young minds (Kadyrov obyazal 2016). In practice, it means strict social control of young
men, in the sense that the boss, teacher, imam, and close relatives of each young Chechen are required
to guarantee his allegiance to spiritual-moral values.
In Russia proper, powerful voices have called for SMV to be included in the countrys legal system. In
August 2016, Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko published an article in the Parliaments
newspaper (Matvienko 2016a), in which she argued that in order to be stable and effective, lawmaking
should always have as its basis the legal formulation of historically matured political, economic, social,
cultural and spiritual-moral values of this country, this nation, and not alien values that are forced
upon Russia from the outside. To this end, she proposed that experts be hired to review whether new
laws are in accordance with this principle.

Russian national identity in a state of siege

On 29 January 2016, the IV Parliamentary Christmas Convention concluded with a plenary session.
This annual event, gathering more than 5000 participants, is led by the Patriarch and is intended as
a forum for dialogue between Church and society, where issues of education, culture, social services,
and spiritual-moral enlightenment are discussed (O chteniyakh 2016). The assembly was held at the
Federation Council, with Valentina Matvienko and Patriarch Kirill as keynote speakers. The former gave a
highly polemical speech. In contrast to the Patriarch, who focused more on the balance between inno-
vation and tradition and on certain specific moral and social issues, Matvienko launched a frontal attack
against the West and Western values. In many Western countries, she claimed, the traditional under-
standing of good and evil was being changed in refined and cynical ways. In her account, extremism
and terrorism constitute the flip-side of this relativism, which she framed as an open war for peoples
minds, ideas, and values. To counteract this threat, Matvienko called for the joint efforts of the state, soci-
ety, the Orthodox Church, other traditional confessions, and even every single strong Russian family:
Because one of the lessons of our millennial history is that our country survived, grew strong, created a unique
civilization, became a great power to an enormous extent because, through all the suffering, the Russians [russkie],
the other ethnic groups of Russia, the Russian state stayed true to our moral, spiritual foundations . [Foundations]
like a strong state, independence, patriotism, freedom, justice; like equality and cooperation between peoples
and religious confession; like collectivism, mutual help, strong families . Precisely, these traditional, or more
correctly, fundamental, values define our national, Russian [rossiiskii] identity. It is precisely these values that unite
and consolidate the society, the nation. (Matvienko 2016b)
Matvienkos statements on SMV come close to a synthesis of the views analyzed in this article. Her
speech brings little new, if anything. However, it offers a summary of mainstream views on the sub-
ject within the political elite. Formally, the Speaker of the Federation Council is third in rank, exceeded
only by the Russian President and the Prime Minister. In practice, the upper house of the parliament is
a rubber-stamping institution with no independent position. Hence, the line of reasoning should be
regarded as reflecting the consensus of the Russian regime.
In this light, as an example of the mainstream Russian worldview, what is most striking is the highly
confrontational vocabulary and the outright war-talk employed. According to Matvienko, safeguarding
212 J. stb

SMV is the most important way of withstanding the shrewd, cynical, and immoral enemy, ready at any
time to attack Russia. It is within the framework of this logic that Russian national identity is defined: in
a state of psychological siege, where the good Russians are attacked by evil Westerners. By claiming
that the West is making deliberate efforts to change the notions of good and evil, the Speaker of the
Federation Council is invoking a Manichean, even apocalyptic, dimension.

Having emerged as an anti-liberal argument primarily used by Communists in the 1990s and later in
debates on the demographic crisis and terror prevention, the concept of spiritual-moral values has
traveled to the very center of Russian public security debate. Resistance to using this concept in the
security debate has been limited to marginal media and liberal commentators.4 Since the beginning,
SMV have been linked to existential threats and have thus been used to spread fear. Beginning with the
social/political unrest in late 2011, the concept was used with unprecedented intensity. The strategic
significance of SMV increased even further in the context of the standoff between Russia and the West
following the Euromaidan uprising, the Russian annexation of Crimea, and the war in the Donbas.
Formerly restricted to marginal figures, the claim that SMV are under attack is now enshrined in the
National Security Strategy and has been declared by Russias president and the head of the Security
Council. Russian national identity, even the Russian state, is alleged to be existentially threatened.
According to this narrative, a weakening of SMV will inevitably trigger a color revolution. Liberals
advocating human rights and democracy are essentially excluded from the Russian nation or even
branded as national traitors who may be persecuted, also extrajudicially. In the struggle for control
over the peoples moral compass, the regime is not only allowed, but as Putin himself has stated
obliged to do everything possible. This comes dangerously close to an informal declaration of a state
of exception.
The securitization of SMV has already led to redistribution of resources, legislative changes, and (in
Chechnya) the establishment of a strict and formalized social control mechanism. These instances are
visible manifestations of the message coming from the top political leadership to the rest of the elite
and to the citizenry: everything and everyone opposed to SMV is a security threat and will be dealt
with accordingly, but those supporting them will be rewarded. Such signals are instrumental to how
the regime stays in power: it does not need total terror or mass repression, only pinpointed, preventive
repressions and manipulation of public opinion (Lev Gudkov, in Kuzmenko 2016). The expedience of
following these signals has led legislators to enter a race for initiating repressive, traditionalist legis-
lation, hence the characterization of the sixth Duma as a mad printer.
The repeated insistence that the West and Russian fifth columnists are waging a continuous infor-
mation war, as well as numerous repressive legal initiatives and practices intended to prevent a color
revolution (which is linked to the erosion of SMV) show that the use of SMV goes far beyond the
framework of symbolic politics and legitimacy. This is not (only) a regime seeking to appear attractive
to the conservative electorate or hardliners within the elite by speaking their language and appealing
to their values. Statements by key officials and formulations in strategic documents show that this is a
regime seeking to create and bolster the perception that the Russian state is existentially threatened.
Playing on and exacerbating historically and culturally ingrained fears, memories of the denigration in
the 1990s, and the painful recognition of Russias failure to live up to Western standards facilitate the
inculcation of this narrative. Combined with other elements of Russian state propaganda, this contrib-
utes to confusion and fear, arguably making a slide from values of survival to values of self-expression
less likely. This strategy is most effective when backed up by dramatic political events and victories
spun into the narrative of liberals and extremists attacking SMV. Putins approval rating was still low in
late 2013, but it skyrocketed after the Crimean annexation (Levada Center 2016), undertaken on the
pretext of alleged extremist attacks on Russians. Later came the intervention in Syria, also framed as
an anti-extremist operation. However, the effect of such events inevitably wanes over time, and if new
ones do not appear, they must be created.
Post-Soviet Affairs 213

Increasingly, the Russian regime has relied on keeping the population in survival mode. This limits
political flexibility and conflicts with previously declared objectives of modernization, economic diver-
sification, and innovation. In the eyes of its defenders, spiritual-moral values have become a bridge
between external and internal policy the glue that holds the regimes increasingly repressive, author-
itarian, economically stagnant, and essentially demodernizing policies together. SMV have become
essential to the regimes survival which, according to the regime, is essential to the survival of Russia.

For a comprehensive study of the processes of transition from values of survival to values of self-expression, see,
for example Inglehart (1997) and Inglehart and Baker (2000).
It was originally presented as a passport procedure, but the word passport soon disappeared (Milashina 2016),
probably because the existence of alternative passports within the Russian Federation would be too controversial.
Copy available in Milashina (2016).
See, for instance, Inozemtsev (2016).

I am grateful to Geir Flikke for comments. Any remaining errors are mine alone.

Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

This work was supported by the Norwegian Research Council under [grant number 228205].

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