Norms and Values
From the Demonization of the Enemy to the Demonization of Society: Collective Responsibility and Modern Warfare

It is obvious that the current divide between Russia and the West is much wider, deeper and more resilient than it has ever been in the past – whether during the Cold War era or at any point in history before February 24, 2022. If earlier, its foundation determined the geopolitical confrontation and the ever-increasing value gap, now all this has been transformed into concrete actions. A direct military-political challenge to the West from Russia and the hard line of the West, openly and brazenly aimed at the military defeat of Russia, are backed up by almost total sanctions pressure, as well as a pronounced strategy to demonise the enemy. Remembering the old Marxist terms, one can ascertain that there has been a transition from quantitative changes to qualitative ones.

This value gap, amid a direct military-political confrontation, has quite naturally found its expression in information and media politics. Here we can talk about the final design of the so-called information bubbles with a unidirectional flow of information and a lack of the views and motives of the other side. This evolution of the information space, which began to take place in the global media in relation to the confrontation between Russia and the West in the previous period, has now reached its logical result in the conditions of a military conflict. The demonization of Russia has become a fait accompli.

We note that there is nothing fundamentally new in this approach, in itself, or unknown in theory. The task of demonizing the enemy in a military conflict is objectively important; it serves the key political goals of rallying the society in the face of hostilities and supporting the activities of the state in the conflict. There are many examples of this kind in the history of war and conflict. Moreover, they certainly predate the 20th century, with its specific features: total world wars and an all-pervasive media. In Russian military history, one can come across assertions that the first example of this kind of demonization of Russia during a war was the campaign in British newspapers during the Crimean War in 1853-1856.

  Incidentally, that Crimean War in the middle of the XIX century in the context of large-scale industrialisation in Europe at that time, the development of new energy sources and the social modernisation associated with them, became a true milestone in the development of new forms of state influence on society in media politics during war. It was this war that left the first mass examples of fixing the symbolic victorious results of the war in the public mind.

To this day, in many cities in England, France and Northern Italy, one can find streets and squares named after Sevastopol, Balaklava, Alma and other battlefields of that war. From the metropolises, this campaign of victorious renaming was transferred to their colonies around the world (including Malakoff Street, named in honour of Malakhov Kurgan in Victoria in the Seychelles). Single examples of this kind could be found before, such as the Pont d'Austerlitz in Paris, named so by Napoleon in honour of his victory. But it was the Crimean War that first demonstrated the high-priority of the mobilisation of the public consciousness as a key factor in the "modernised" war, which we then observe in relation to very many, if not almost all military conflicts. And the most important element of this socio-psychological mobilisation was the demonization of the enemy.

Therefore, we repeat, there is nothing new in the media strategy of demonizing the enemy. But its distinctly new feature now, in our opinion, has become the total nature of demonization that we can observe in relation to Russia in global media and social networks, which is thereby fixed in public consciousness and public behaviour. The essence of this totality is that it is directed not only at the Russian state and Vladimir Putin personally, but at the entire Russian society as a whole.
This demonization of Russians, one and all, is becoming a significant feature of the information and psychological warfare that we observe in relation to the current conflict. It is also clearly combined with the postulation of the guilt of the entire Russian society and every Russian in what is happening.

At the same time, given the high degree of personalisation in the coverage of the conflict and its focus in the West on the figure of Vladimir Putin, as we wrote about earlier  , this personalisation and the total demonization of society converge. As a result, the theme “you are all guilty for Putin” has becomes a key to shaping the public perception of the conflict in Western countries. And thus, collective responsibility ceases to be taboo and becomes practically inevitable; it is openly declared and implemented in practical steps.

Norms and Values
World Order: The Limits to Revisionism
Oleg Barabanov
The current developments are an important practical test for the limits of political revisionism. The Russian case will undoubtedly become a visual aid for other revisionist powers. The further prospects of political revisionism in the “post-February” world order will depend on what conclusions they come to, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Oleg Barabanov.

This approach reduces to an extremely simplified and unambiguous formulation of an extremely complex question, namely, to what extent society as a whole and each citizen is specifically responsible for the actions of the state. This theme has already been reflected in historiography and political thought. In our opinion, all these aspects and formulations are quite close to the complex topic of the guilt of each and every one, which was raised by Hannah Arendt in relation to the “banality of evil”. Let us not forget, however, that Hannah Arendt herself, in the ensuing heated discussion following the publication of her famous book, gave a negative answer to this question.

The same theme of the guilt of all and, accordingly, the punishment of all, being postulated as a basic setting, is also embodied in the sanctions policy of European countries and the United States in relation to Russia. The topic of the effectiveness of sanctions in achieving political goals (from the openly stated goal of regime change to the implicitly implied goal of regime change) has been discussed repeatedly. Looking at almost all examples of sanctions pressure, both historical and modern ones, we can conclude that in almost all of them, societies under sanctions suffered much more than regimes. The logic of such an approach is by no means denied, and sometimes one can come across very transparent and frank statements that it is precisely societies that should suffer under sanctions in the first place, so that rejection of the regime grows and strengthens, and so that they eventually overthrow this regime. Here again we see collective responsibility and collective punishment.

But the history of sanctions does not provide us with examples of sanctions alone leading to regime change from within. That is, the sanctions policy is ineffective here. Virtually all regime changes in the countries that opposed  the West were the result not of sanctions, but of an external military invasion (Iraq and Libya are the most striking examples, and Yugoslavia is an example of regime change being the ultimate result of military defeat, not sanctions). There are plenty of examples of how sanctions do not prevent regimes from surviving and functioning (Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, etc.). Thus, collective sanctions responsibility does not lead to the achievement of the goals of sanctions, but only causes suffering to societies. But at the same time, this approach to sanctions is repeated from time to time. We see this approach now with respect to Russia. The specifics of the Russian case and its novelty lie precisely in the fact that collective sanctions punishment for the first time in modern history is combined with postulated collective guilt and total demonization of society.

As a result, within the framework of the strategy of demonizing the enemy during wartime, we now see a fundamentally new approach aimed at demonizing the entirety of Russian society and reinforcing the attitude towards its collective guilt in the mass public consciousness of the West and, more broadly, in the world as a whole. Where this will lead, only time will tell.

Modern Diplomacy
Why We Are Missing the Cold War
Andrey Sushentsov
When the acute phase of the Ukrainian crisis will pass, the parties will return to negotiations, and Russian-American consultations will again be the centre of decision-making on the future of European security. At the same time, it is obvious that the Americans’ interest now is to make the Ukrainian crisis last as long as possible, so that Russia comes out of it weaker: this will create a different negotiating reality, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.