Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova (Photo by Mikhail JaparidzeTASS via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Russia’s policy of Westernophobia

Weekly pressers from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs have turned into festivals of hostility towards the countries caught in the Kremlin’s crosshairs — why?

The Kremlin has been pushing a narrative of Westernophobia since the start of this year. “Deploying the Allied forces in Europe is provocative to Russia and poses a threat to Russians”; “The West violates the principles of democracy, stifles free speech and imposes anti-Russian censorship”; “The UK wages aggressive information war on the Kremlin”; “The U.S. plunges into chaos, violates the freedom of speech” — are just a few of the claims that represent this stance. Believe it or not, these are actual claims made by the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova. While pushing its wide-ranging anti-Western agenda, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs attacks a number of countries.

The Kremlin want the Russian public to feel threatened by an imaginary enemy

In democracies the task of diplomats is to maintain good relations with foreign partners as well as to pursue their homeland’s interests in dealings with other countries. In Russia, it is a different story. Zakharova’s weekly pressers are festivals of aversion, hostility or even hatred towards the countries caught in the Kremlin’s crosshairs. The world is evil, the West is depraved and corrupt, it poses a threat to Russia — such are the main messages spread by Zakharova. Her press conferences are a part of a well-designed foreign policy pursued by Moscow for years. The elites of the Kremlin want the Russian public to feel threatened by an imaginary foreign enemy; it helps to consolidate society around the country’s political leadership. It is therefore granted that the harder the situation (of the Kremlin elites), the more blatant and shameless these lies will get. In the current setting, the latter assumption may be exactly the case.

Every day the internal situation in Russia is becoming more troublesome for the country’s political elites. The Kremlin is learning its lesson from the upheaval in Belarus. Although the rise of mass protest movements in Russia seems to be rather unlikely in the near term, the situation in Belarus is surely perceived by the Russian establishment as something these people may one day be faced with. Russian society is growing more tired and more frustrated, which means a trigger for widespread protests may just arise.

Covid-19 has exposed the real face of the Russian public administration, which is rife with corruption

The economic model pursued by the Russian authorities is coming under growing criticism for its ineffectiveness. Russian society is still left far behind the West and, on top of that, the going gets tougher and tougher. It is increasingly difficult for the Kremlin to make the public believe in stories about opportunities and prosperity, all the more that the new generation — a generation of young people who know about the world and who want to have favourable conditions for their development — is starting to have a say. They are fully aware that the Kremlin’s offer is about having a life of luxury for the preppy kids of Russian top officials, while others must struggle to make ends meet. Of course, Russia still remains a relatively wealthy country — rich enough to pose a threat to NATO countries. However, not much is left for the Russian people. Hence, it will eventually begin to ask out loud about its living conditions and interests.

The lack of efficiency of the Russian authorities in other areas will provide additional fuel for the growing social discontent. It is clearly visible on the example of Russia’s struggle to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. The coronavirus crisis has exposed the real face of the Russian public administration, which is rife with corruption and other pathological behaviours. The current events in Russia may have serious political and social consequences in the next couple of years.

In view of the looming problems of the political elites in Russia, it is very likely that Zakharova will grow more aggressive and more eager to criticise the whole world. The hatred expressed by Russian top officials is crucial for one more reason — it helps them obscure the truth about Russia’s own aggression, the war waged on Ukraine, and information warfare efforts taken against NATO. Pushing an aggressive anti-Western agenda is there to make Russian society — subjected to manipulation and fed with fear — demand from their leadership that it responds to “hostile provocations of the West”. That is how Russian propaganda rolls, while taking a toll on its own citizens. Yet, the Kremlin could not care less about it.

Stanisław Żaryn is the spokesperson of the Minister-Special Services Coordinator and head of the National Security Department in the Chancellery of Poland’s Prime Minister.

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