Mapping Global Populism – Panel XIII: Resurgence of Expansionist Tsarism: Populist Autocracy in Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin observed amidst soldiers during the military parade in Belgrade, Serbia on October 16, 2014. Photo by Dimitrije Ostojic.

Date/Time: Thursday, May 30, 2024 — 10:00-12:00 (CET)


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Dr. Maxine David (Lecturer in European Studies at Leiden University and Foreign Policy Analyst Specializing in Russian and EU Foreign Policy).


“Why Putin Is Not a Populist, But Worse,” by Dr. Luke March (Professor, Personal Chair of Post-Soviet and Comparative Politics at the University of Edinburg).

“Katechontintic Sovereignty of Z-Populism in Putin’s Russia,” by Dr. Alexandra Yatsyk (Researcher at IRHIS-CNRS at the University of Lille and a lecturer at Sciences Po, France).

“‘Traditional Values’: Gendered and (New)Imperial Dimensions in Russia,” by Dr. Yulia Gradskova (Associate Professor, Researcher at Södertörn University, Sweden).

“The Economic Costs of Autocracy in Putin’s Russia,” by Dr. Dóra Győrffy (Professor of Economy at Institute of Economics, Corvinus University of Budapest).


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Brief Bios and Abstracts

Dr. Maxine David is a Lecturer in European Studies at Leiden University. She is a Foreign Policy analyst specializing in Russian and EU foreign policy. She has co-edited and contributed to several special issues and edited collections on EU-Russia relations. Maxine also researches and has published on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Besides the foreign policies of these actors, Dr. David is interested in a range of foreign policy issues, including the role of values, international intervention, regionalism, and social media. Dr. David sits on the International Advisory Board of The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, serves as the Leiden Coordinator for the Europaeum 2-year Masters in European Politics and Society program, and is a member of EUREN.

Why Putin Is Not a Populist, But Worse

Dr. Luke March is Professor of Post-Soviet and Comparative Politics at the University of Edinburgh. His research interests include the politics of the European (radical) Left, Russian domestic and foreign politics, nationalism, populism, radicalism and extremism in Europe and the former Soviet Union. His books include The Communist Party in Post-Soviet Russia (2002), Radical Left Parties in Europe (2011) and Europe’s Radical Left. From Marginality to the Mainstream? (edited with Daniel Keith, 2016). His latest publication (edited, with Fabien Escalona and Daniel Keith) is The Palgrave Handbook of Radical Left Parties in Europe (2023). 

Abstract: Russian President Vladimir Putin often presents an inscrutable, Sphinx-like image. A controversial label often applied is populism – but for all who see him as a quintessential populist, as many people vehemently disagree. Looking more closely at his ‘populism’ reveals much about his politics. Putin is no populist, but rather a statist and (imperialist) nationalist, who uses ideologies (including populism) selectively. The implications of this are more troubling than if he were simply a populist.

Katechontintic Sovereignty of Z-Populism in Putin’s Russia

Dr. Alexandra Yatsyk is a researcher at IRHIS-CNRS at the University of Lille, and a lecturer at Sciences Po, France. Her expertise covers post-Soviet nation-building, populism, illiberalism, mega-events and biopolitics. She is the author of numerous articles and books, including  co-authored the Critical biopolitics of the Post-Soviet: from Population to Nation (Lexington, 2019), Lotman’s Cultural Semiotics and the Political (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017), the co-edited Mega-Events in Post-Soviet Eurasia: Shifting Borderlines of Inclusion and Exclusion (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), New and Old Vocabularies of International Relations After the Ukraine Crisis (Routledge, 2016), and Boris Nemtsov and Russian Politics: Power and Resistance (Ibidem Verlag & Columbia University, 2018).

Abstract: In February 2024, two years after Russian full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, a number of US media alarmed – with references to the US Intelligence Service – about Russia’s possible plans on installation of a nuclear weapon in space. According to the media, in doing so, the Kremlin is pursuing to destroy the US satellites, which lend assistance to Ukrainian forces. The news seriously disquieted the US officials, who considered Kremlin’s development a violation of the 1967 Outer Space. The Treaty prohibits orbiting any nuclear weapon and its contravention will entail the catastrophic consequences for the world. Russia’s President Putin commented the news is erroneous, saying that his country neither has the nuclear weapon in space no has any plans to deploy it.

This case is an example of the nuclear debate on Russia’s sovereignty and security, that goes back to the Cold War era, and which Putin rearticulated in his speech at the Münich Security Conference in February 2007. In Putin’s words, a nuclear weapon and Orthodoxy are two shields of Russian security at home and abroad. During the following decades, the image of Russia as a world power and a hotbed of the Orthodox values, ready to defend its political and spiritual sovereignty with arm and faith, had been extensively proliferated by the state, Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and popular culture.

This paper reveals the Putinist populist narratives on Russian messianic imperialism of “two security shields” that have been circulating in works of Russian Z-singers since Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine. I raise the question on what do the Russian Z-patriots sing on Russia’s security to the millions of Russian civilians and Putin’s combatants? What messages on external and internal threats do they send to the Russian population through their songs? How do they aestheticize and normalize the war in Ukraine? I approach the issues in terms of political theology within the IR debate on the katechontic sovereignty.

‘Traditional values’: Gendered and (New)Imperial Dimensions in Russia

Dr. Yulia Gradskova is Associate Professor in History and researcher at the Department of Gender Studies; she also works as Research Coordinator at the Center for Baltic and East European Studies, Södertörn University (Sweden). Her research interests include Soviet and post-Soviet social and gender history, decolonial perspective on Soviet politics of emancipation of "woman of the East," maternalism and transnational history. Currently she is PI in the project "Maternity in the time of ‘traditional values’ and femonationalism" (supported by the Östersjöstiftelsen). Her last book is The Women’s International Democratic Federation, the Global South and the Cold War. Defending the Rights of Women of the ‘Whole World’? (Routledge 2021). Gradskova is the author of Soviet Politics of Emancipation of Ethnic Minority Women. Natsionalka (Springer, 2018) and co-editor of several books, including Gendering Postsocialism. Old Legacies and New Hierarchies (Routledge 2018, with Ildiko Asztalos Morell).

Abstract: While Putin’s government presents "traditional values" as a genuine value system based on social cohesion that can "save" Russia and guarantee social harmony and peace, in my presentation I will show these ideas as affecting individual rights and freedoms of several categories of citizens of the Russian Federation and used for gathering popular support for the new imperialist Russian war on Ukraine. The adopted already in 2013 law on so called "propaganda of LGBT for minors" was amended recently and from January 2024 everything that can be associated with the LGBTQ+ can lead to accusation in extremism. Using declarations about "demographic crises" in Russia Putin’s government is making efforts to further restrict abortion while gender research is practically banned from universities While sometimes the "traditional values" are presented as a set of ideas propagated first of all by the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), in practice, "traditional values" are supported and distributed by several different actors, only some of who were closely associated with the ROC. The narrowing distance between these actors happened with the open support of the state, with the aim of controlling the reproductive capacities of women’s bodies and social reproduction for strengthening Russia’s geopolitical position in the world. In my presentation I will show how the state-created and state-supported women’s organizations in Russia are also used for distributing conservative ideas and contributing to the new (imperial) patriotism and support of the militarism.

The Economic Costs of Autocracy in Putin’s Russia

Dóra Győrffy is Professor at the Institute of Economics at Corvinus University of Budapest. She holds a BA in Government from Harvard University (Class of 2001), an MA (2003) and PhD (2006) in International Relations and European Studies from the Central European University and a Doctor of Science degree in Economics (2015) from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. She is Chair of the Economics Committee of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (2021-). Her research focuses on issues of international political economy with a particular focus on the post-communist member states. She is the author of four monographs including Institutional Trust and Economic Policy (CEU Press, 2012) as well as Trust and Crisis Management in the European Union (Palgrave, 2018). She has published over 70 scholarly articles and book chapters in English and Hungarian most recently ”The Middle-Income Trap in Central and Eastern Europe in the 2010s: Institutions and divergent growth models” in Comparative European Politics (2022) and ”Neo-Backwardness and Prospects for Long-term Growth: The effects of Western sanctions on Russia and the changing embeddedness of Ukraine in the world economy” in Madlovics, B. and Magyar, B. eds.: Russia’s Imperial Endeavor and Its Geopolitcal Consequences, CEU Press (2023). 

Abstract: The presentation examines the long-term economic consequences of Western sanctions on Russia, portraying a bleak outlook for the country’s economic future. The sanctions have led to a significant decline in access to Western capital, loss of intellectual inputs, and the exit of multinational corporations and skilled individuals. This has fundamentally altered Russia’s economic trajectory, making it asymmetrically dependent on China and hindering its prospects for economic prosperity. The chapter underscores the lasting impact of the sanctions on Russia’s economic fundamentals and its trajectory towards becoming a neo-backward country.

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