20 years under Putin: a timeline

Early this year Vladimir Putin claimed that the search for Russia’s national idea is finally over: he named patriotism as the only possible concept that can unite the country. The Institute of Modern Russia has been studying Russian patriotism for the last three years, and our research shows that the authorities have been trying to “monopolize” patriotism and use it to manipulate public opinion for a long time now. Today, we are presenting the overall results of our project Faces of Russian Patriotism.


The idea of the so-called "immortal regiment" march depicted above belongs to Igor Dmitriyev who first organized it in his hometown of Tomsk in 2012. The idea is for the relatives of the World War II veterans who passed away to march for them (carrying their photographs) on a Victory Day, which is celebrated on May 9 in Russia. The idea proved so popular that in 2013, immortal regiments marched through 120 towns. Its success drew attention of the authorities who wanted to capitalize in for their own benefit. By 2015, the idea was completely hijacked by the Kremlin in its pursuit of politicizing the national patriotic sentiment. Photo: Yuri Smityuk / TASS


Faces of Russian Patriotism is a project consisting of several parts: a research paper, a video, a photographic study, and a series of articles on various manifestations of Russian patriotism in contemporary and historical contexts.

A quarter of a century ago, renowned political scientist and economist Francis Fukuyama argued in his influential essay “The End of History?” (1989) that the world was witnessing “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” However, the euphoria surrounding democracy’s gains and supposedly auspicious future was short-lived. By the mid-1990s, Russia’s progress toward democracy stalled, as elites and the public became increasingly skeptical about the West’s liberal values.

After Vladimir Putin came to power, the Kremlin sought an alternative ideology, a value system that could unify society and secure his grip on power as part of an emerging authoritarianism. Years later, in its antithesis to Western liberalism, the Kremlin advanced the idea of patriotism—a concept that it had long cherished as an “ideological posture shared by all parties” and an ideal that could unite the Russian people.

In essence, patriotism was called upon as a solution that would fill the ideological vacuum resulting from the fall of the Soviet Union, restore and promote national pride, and “save” Russia from Western ideology. But by the late 2000s, Russia’s simmering nationalism boiled up and the lines between patriotism and xenophobia in the country appeared increasingly blurred. With the development of the Ukraine crisis, the concept of patriotism acquired additional significance and new meanings, but at the same time, antimigrant sentiments became less acute. 

As the West responded to Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis, the Kremlin invoked the idea of Russia as a “besieged fortress” to weld a nation around a conservative government that supports “traditional values.” Intolerance and xenophobia are still grave problems in Russia, but now these sentiments are channeled toward other social groups (i.e. Russian political opposition, Ukrainian activists, Western policymakers, et al.).

As the Kremlin went about “monopolizing” patriotism, the Institute of Modern Russia embarked on a study whose goal was to understand how the concept of patriotism is perceived by the Russian people. We conducted research based on theoretical and empirical data—the latter drawn from surveys administered by the Levada Center, a leading Russian polling organization. At the request of IMR, the Levada Center included questions on patriotism in three monthly omnibus surveys, which were conducted within the period of February 2014 to March 2015.



Five things you need to know about Russian patriotism today:  

  1. The Kremlin has “monopolized” the concept of Russian patriotism and uses it interchangeably with terms like “state” and “society.”
  2. The Kremlin’s propaganda efforts brought to the foreground the following beliefs about Russia: its status as a great power; its exceptionalism; and the necessity of rejecting liberal democracy for being “hostile” to and in contradiction to Russian patriotism.
  3. Until the beginning of the Ukraine crisis in 2014, the surge of official patriotism was accompanied by a rise in intolerance and xenophobia. Today, nationalist sentiment persists but targets other social groups (i.e. Russian political opposition).
  4. Over the last few years, patriotism in Russia has increasingly been associated with defending the country from criticism or accusation, and with military preparedness. The public has been induced into a state of “patriotic mobilization.” 
  5. However, according to the polls, despite patriotic initiatives imposed by the Kremlin, the majority of Russians believe that patriotism is a deep and intimate feeling that cannot be commanded or directed from above.

Below you can watch an animated film that explains key ideas and conclusions of the research.


This video has been produced by the Institute of Modern Russia. Original idea: Boris Bruk.


In 2013, IMR conducted a cultural study of the concept of patriotism. To examine how Russians understand patriotism, we commissioned an art project by New York photographer Misha Friedman, who traveled throughout Russia and beyond, photographing and interviewing more than a hundred people from all walks of life—from pensioners and paratroopers to students and businessmen. All of the collected material, including photographs, interview transcripts, and audio excerpts, were featured on the interactive website patriotism.imrussia.org launched in July 2014.


This artistic project provides an intimate look at the concept of patriotism in contemporary Russia. Participants described patriotism as anything from heroism and self-sacrifice to voting and acts of kindness. Many believed that being patriotic did not necessarily mean loving one’s government. As one man put it, “governments change, the motherland does not.” 


Also on this topic