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Departures Podcast with Gulnaz Sharafutdinova, author of ‘The Red Mirror: Putin’s Leadership and Russia’s Insecure Identity’

Vladimir Putin never seems to go away. No matter what economic or political crisis, invasions of neighboring nations, or crushing oppression of basic civil liberties, he somehow manages to sustain enough of a perception of popular support and legitimacy to keep on going. Why?

That’s the question studied in the terrific new book “The Red Mirror: Putin’s Leadership and Russia’s Insecure Identity” by Gulnaz Sharafutdinova. Taking a social identity theory approach to the puzzle of Putin’s popularity, Sharafutdinova argues that he was able to successfully mobilize a collective identity, that “he secured Russia’s insecure identity.”

The Kremlin captured upon the idea of the juxtaposition between the Putin era of Russia and the chaotic 1990s, Sharafutdinova argues, and was able to build a coherent community of support around that idea, in addition to their revival of many pillars of social identity used in the past by the Soviet Union.

In her discussion with Robert Amsterdam, the author discusses the idea that this idea of “homo sovieticus” has actually been globalized, that we can find collective identity groups created by political leaders (Trump, for example), where a sense of shared victimhood is expressed and a desire to resist against an enemy is articulated through their political support of a candidate. When we understand how popular support for Putin’s regime is sustained and upheld despite obvious setbacks and costs, we can become much smarter about which policies are going to be more successful in dealing with Russia and managing some of the biggest problems that come from its conduct in the international space.