Professor Neil Robinson: Evolution of Putinism as ‘Collective Putin’ Reshapes Russian Politics

Professor Neil Robinson expresses his concerns regarding a potential escalation in the crackdown on dissent, heightened control measures, intensified efforts to label domestic opponents as foreign agents or traitors, and increased indoctrination through the education and media systems following Vladimir Putin’s resounding victory in the recent election. Additionally, he underscores the notion that Putin does not operate alone at the apex of power but rather is bolstered by a circle of allies. Robinson argues, “While this has always been true, there’s now an effort to transform this ‘collective Putin’ into more than just a hegemonic identity that Russians are expected to adhere to; it’s becoming a true collective, an unquestionable identity. Thus, the expansion of these dynamics may lead us to reconsider Putinism as something distinct from official populism.”

Interview by Selcuk Gultasli

In a landscape characterized by shifting power dynamics and heightened political tensions, Professor Neil Robinson, a distinguished scholar of Comparative Politics at the University of Limerick, offers profound insights into the evolving nature of Putinism and its ramifications for Russian politics. In an exclusive interview with the European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS), Professor Robinson delves into the intricate layers of Vladimir Putin’s regime, shedding light on the mechanisms through which power is consolidated and dissent suppressed.

Professor Robinson’s analysis underscores a fundamental shift in the dynamics of Putinism, emphasizing the emergence of what he terms as the ‘collective Putin.’ Contrary to conventional perceptions of Putin as a solitary figure at the helm, Professor Robinson elucidates how Putin operates within a circle of allies, transforming this collective into an unquestionable identity for the Russian populace. He warns against overlooking this transformation, asserting that it signifies a departure from traditional notions of official populism, warranting a re-evaluation of Putinism as a distinct political phenomenon.

Moreover, Professor Robinson highlights his concerns regarding an escalation in the crackdown on dissent, heightened control measures, intensified efforts to label domestic opponents as foreign agents or traitors, and increased indoctrination through the education and media systems in the aftermath of Vladimir Putin’s decisive victory in the recent election.

Drawing from his extensive research, Professor Robinson elucidates the evolution of populist rhetoric in Russia, contextualizing it within broader political frames such as constitutional order and legality. He delves into the strategic deployment of these discourses to stabilize regime hybridity, putting forward how they interact to shape the political landscape. Robinson’s nuanced analysis dispels simplistic characterizations of Putinism, emphasizing its complex ideological layers rather than a cohesive doctrine. He cautions against dismissing Putinism as devoid of ideology, highlighting its profound impact on political discourse and policy formulation.

Professor Robinson provides critical insights into the intersection of official populism with cultural themes, probing its implications for addressing the material needs of diverse social groups within Russia. He explains how the cultural-centric approach adopted by the regime has ramifications for economic development and social cohesion, underscoring the inherent tensions between the cultural narrative of official populism and the economic realities faced by the populace.

Furthermore, Professor Robinson examines the strategies employed by Putin to consolidate power domestically and advance Russia’s interests on the global stage. He analyzes the utilization of events such as terror attacks and elections as opportunities to bolster the regime’s position, both domestically and internationally. Professor Robinson’s comprehensive analysis offers invaluable insights into the complexities of contemporary Russian politics, providing a nuanced understanding of Putinism and its implications for the trajectory of the Russian state.

Here is the transcription of the interview with Professor Neil Robinson with some edits.

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