The Methodology of the “Russian World” as the Technological Foundation for Ukrainophobia

Andrew Wilson


[This article is part of our research initiative “Russia’s Project ‘Anti-Ukraine’”]





Explaining Russia’s genocidal war against Ukraine is not easy. There are some intellectual roots of Putinism, but it is more accurate to describe the amalgam of narrative, propaganda and spurious casus belli as the collected product of a particular method. The central idea in this amalgam, the notion of the “Russian World”, was created by two types of Russians: so-called methodologists, or humanitarian technologists, and political technologists. Neither were doing anything as simple as identifying and appealing to a pre-existing community of Russians abroad – which was the official aim of the Russian World Foundation established by Putin in 2007. The methodologists were seeking to organise and programme a mega-community to compete not with the West, but with zapadnizm,1 the presumed ideology of the West. The political technologists sought to use their methods to create this “Russian World”. In both cases, the “Russian World” was to be imposed on countries like Ukraine, regardless of what the citizens of Ukraine actually thought.


Shchedrovitsky and His Disciples


The methodologists came first, more than half a century ago. Intellectual life in the USSR after the death of Stalin was never a simple dichotomy between the “regime” and liberal “dissent”.2 The system decayed; but ideological orthodoxy decayed too. Boundaries were blurred: many “other thinkers” were in fact inside the system, and corrupted by it. Other thinking (inakomyslie) was also often layered in official jargon, or styob (supposedly mocking the regime by exaggerated ideological conformity), and vranyo (the culture of knowingly telling cynical lies). Many intellectuals were nationalists; the informal “Russian Party” enjoyed official protection. Unlike in Ukraine, where any dissidents with any hint of nationalism were severely repressed.3


Many were alienated by official ideology; but many others sought to perfect or adopt it. One such element was the “methodologists”, followers of the philosopher Georgiy Shchedrovitsky (1929-1994), the founder of first the Moscow Logic Circle in 1952, and then the Moscow Methodological Circle (in Russian MMK) in 1958.4 Shchedrovitsky seems to have been influenced in part by the American sociologist James Burnham (1905-1987) and his theory of “managerialism”. In The Managerial Revolution (1941),5 Burnham argued for a form of the convergence thesis – according to which capitalism and communism were becoming more alike – in his case because private ownership of the means of production in capitalism and the teleology of socialism were ceding importance to the growing de facto domination of the managerial class. In The Machiavellians (1943),6 Burnham’s argument was more openly elitist: the managerial class should claim its rights as the new dominant class; although it should disguise its hegemony with some of the window-dressing of democracy.


From the Soviet point of view, their society was already managerial, in the sense of the ubiquity of “direction” (upravlenie). Shchedrovitsky’s methodologists sought to direct it better. This was a dream they shared with economic planners, with the security services, and with Soviet computer planning.7 Cumbersome Soviet socialism could not compete with the millions of decentralised decisions coordinated by the invisible hand of the market economy. The dream was that socialism + scientific method, or socialism + computers, could. Shchedrovitsky proposed a new technology of thinking to this end, to build a socialist technocracy via a radically managerial approach. He saw both communism and capitalism as increasingly post-industrial; they were now shaped by whoever controlled the rules and frameworks of communication.8 Any intellectual activity could be socially engineered by an elite: “a group of specially trained and organised intellectuals could develop and carry out, in line with developed algorithms, any large-scale transformation of the social environment”.9 But Shchedrovitsky was anti-subjective as well as profoundly elitist. The elite had a superficial Nietzschean freedom, but it was the system that mattered – his students were to be absorbed by the system they created. Shchedrovitsky’s MMK organised seminars that they called Organisational-Activity Games (in Russian ODI), technical exercises in planning that were also a means of taking over the planning process. These games were supposed to be “mega-machines of thinking”; but there was no freedom of thought outside the method. In this sense, results were preordained. The ODI were also induction sessions into what many compared to a cult.10 The sessions were used to recruit the most voluble and controllable but also controlling individuals. The planners were just as programmable as planning.11 Shchedrovitsky explained the logic of his process: “Civil society is divided into groups of professionals, each of which speaks and must speak its own special language, shielding itself from amateurs and chatterboxes with a palisade… of special terms. This is the law of life in a normal civilised society, and there is no need to strive to ensure that everyone understands everything. Experts who move things forward should understand, no more”.12


The methodologists also called themselves “humanitarian technologists”. Technically, what they proposed was not technocracy. The emphasis was on control through the person: “humanitarian technologies do not govern people—but govern the rules and framework of their communication and relationships”.13 But in practice this meant manipulation by the elite. Shchedrovitsky’s son Petr once said: “in general, people for the most part are stupid by nature, even the best people”.14 Georgiy Shchedrovitsky went much further with his version of the convergence thesis in 1989, saying: “I don’t see the difference between totalitarianism and non-totalitarianism. […] The totalitarian organisation is the only future organisation of any human society. It’s just that Germany and the USSR were a little, ‘just one neck’ ahead. But it awaits everyone, including proud Britain. There will be no other way, dear colleagues, this is the need for the development of human society, damn it!”.15


The methodologists made some impact in the Gorbachev era, but they were a much better fit with the disciplinarian Soviet leader Yuriy Andropov and his policy of perfecting through acceleration (uskorenie). The Gorbachev years grew anarchic. So did the early 1990s. The methodologists’ moment came with the elections of 1993 and 1996. For the first elections, the victory of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s ultranationalist, misleadingly named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia proved to many Russian elites that voters could not be trusted and had to be guided and corrected. For the second elections, the comeback victory of Boris Yeltsin from near political death proved that political manipulation worked. For Soviet bureaucrats, there was a return to upravlenie plus patronalism. This was the meaning of Viktor Chernomyrdin’s famous phrase, “we wanted for the best, but got the same as always”.16


The Political Technologists


Political technology (politicheskaya tekhnologiya) is a Russian term meaning the manipulation of politics, sometimes by technology as such, but more broadly by engineering the political system. Its practitioners call themselves many things: political technologists or polittekhnologi, humanitarian technologists, piarshchiki, or strategists. The Russian definition is too broad, based on the assumption that all politics is manipulation. But they all meet my definition of “supply-side engineering of the political system for partisan interests”.17 Political technology had two main convergent streams: one was in politics; the other was in intelligence and counterintelligence. The latter came first, due to the long shadow of the KGB when Gorbachev launched democratisation in the late 1980s. It was always unlikely that the USSR would establish a consolidated democracy in one leap – a level playing field where there had previously been no field of play. But the KGB had little experience of real domestic public politics, as the USSR had not had any since the 1920s. Domestic reflex methods included the control of individuals, in particular, through kompromat, and the running of agents and agents provocateurs. But there was also learning from methods that the KGB had used abroad during the Cold War: infiltration, running front or proxy organisations, cultivating agents of influence, and divide-and-rule of opposition movements. There was also something of a revival of the tradition of police parties from the late Tsarist era: when the imperial Department for Protecting the Public Security and Order, or Okhrana, had helped set up “Zubatov parties” and trade unions, named after their handler Sergey Zubatov (1864-1917), head of the Moscow Security Department. Under Gorbachev, the Communist Party Central Committee and KGB wanted a “controlled opposition”, though there is debate over how fully Zhirinovsky’ Liberal Democratic Party met that definition.18


Political technologists began to appear in the 1990s. The demand for their services was first to gain an edge in the rough competition of then nascent Russian democracy. But the first post-Soviet elections in 1993 and 1996 fed the idea that politics could and should be manipulated. Political technologists started by manipulating individual elements. Gleb Pavlovsky and others helped set up the Congress of Russian Communities (KRO) in 1995, an experiment in political cross-dressing and a controlled “Kremlin opposition”. The next step was to turn individual projects into pivots or levers, that could transform politics. The KRO begat Akeksandr Lebed, an artificial “third force” candidate, who was covertly backed by Yeltsin’s financiers to help Yeltsin win the 1996 election by taking votes away from more dangerous opponents and acting as a “relay runner” to transfer votes to Yeltsin in the second round. The third step was virtual political geometry, to control and shape all elements in the political system, and their orientation. By the mid-2000s, politics was confined to controlled Kremlin parties; political technology’s residual function was to control the boundaries of public politics.19


Political technologists and methodologists shared the assumption that politics was programmable. According to one political technologist, Sergey Markov, politics was just a “competition for the rights to programme public opinion”.20 Yeltsin’s re-election in 1996 was programmed, albeit in precarious circumstances. So eventually was the initially problematic “Operation Successor” that finally settled on Vladimir Putin in 1999. The next election cycle in 2003-2004 cemented full control.


How was it done? Money helped, via the Russian traditions of chernaya kassa (“black finance”) and the obshchak – making everyone minority shareholders in the “common purse”. Once oil prices exploded in 2003, there was plenty of money flowing through the Kremlin. The corresponding stick to carrot was kompromat – controlling all key players via compromising materials. Mass media was controlled by oligarchs in the 1990s; and then key TV channels and press were quickly taken over by the state (where necessary with a different set of friendly oligarchs) in Putin’s first term. Politicians competed for the right to be heard. The characteristic political technology method was to build a virtual chorus in support of any position: artificial parties, media voices, think-tanks, foundations, GONGOs (government-organised non-governmental organisations) all chimed the same line. Moreover, that line was only sketched in from the top. There was entrepreneurial competition upwards to supply the Kremlin with the ideas and stratagems that it wanted. Putin’s Kremlin, at least before 2022, was not an ideological regime. It was a regime that used ideology, which was contracted out to political technologists and their equivalents in other spheres. Marlène Laruelle calls this “a state-promoted cherry-picking approach”.21 According to Andrey Pertsev, Kremlin officials “meet and consult with the ideologues”,22 but are not ideologues themselves.


“Russian World”


Once Putin was in power, political technology and methodology began to move into other areas. The concept of the “Russian World” was first launched in 1999 by two humanitarian technologists: Yefim Ostrovsky and Georgiy Shchedrovitsky’s son Petr (born 1958). According to Ostrovsky’s opening statement in 1996:


The Country that first recognises the importance of virtual weapons will be the first that tips the balance in that sphere. It will be restored later – but this is the field in which Russia can win the decisive battle of the Cold War.


It is through the virtual space that a retaliatory Kind Strike against the West can be conducted. It is here that the great State has a chance for revenge. Revenge in the Cold War.23


Russia, in other words, should use political technology methods to create a virtual reality to counteract the reality in which the USSR, in Ostrovsky’s opinion, had “lost” the real Cold War. In a key article launching the concept of the “Russian World” in 2000, Petr Shchedrovitsky argued:


the socio-cultural institutions and management technologies that exist today require a radical reconstruction. […]


Planning and organisational design are being replaced by logistics, staging and strategic management of complex processes. […]


The departing subjects of world development – nation states and TNCs [Transnational Corporations] are being replaced by new ones, including world diasporas […] and anthropostructures (cohesive groups and associations using network forms of organisation). […]


Either a new developmental model will be found, which will become the basis for the formation of a new people, or the territory of the Russian Federation, not having acquired a stable political and state form, will turn into an object of activity of world actors of power, or, in the worst case, into a dump of human waste. […]


The production of signs and sign systems [the instrumentalisation of Russian language and culture] that control mass behaviour […] is becoming the leading sector of the innovation economy. […]


[Russia needs] ‘a new institutional architecture of public-state interaction. […]


In the modern world, the boundary between the “external” and the “internal” is becoming more and more blurred. […] In contrast to the Serbian scenario of the forceful solution of territorial, confessional and ethno-linguistic problems, [Russia needs a] politico-cultural strategy and humanitarian-technological approach to their diplomatic solution, [to creating the “Russian World”].24


The “Russian World” was to be built by “humanitarian technology”, by manipulating signs and symbols to attract target audiences. “Russians” abroad were to be programmed to be Russians. Some have argued that the concept of the “Russian World” changed when it was taken over by the Kremlin;25 but it was always a political technology project. Sergey Markov, again, spelled out what these “management technologies” should be:


We should use political technology internationally in Georgia and Ukraine. I don’t think of these countries as independent. […]


We should repeat what the United States is doing there [sic]. […]


We should set up think-tanks, round tables, conferences, supporting media, exchanges, all these normal things. To help new leaders to appear, and to have roots for them in society. […]


I am a big supporter of the [idea of colour revolutions]. But the Orange Revolution is not what Americans should make in Ukraine, but what we should make!26


Significantly, Markov was one of many political technologists who had crossed over from working with US political consultants or democracy promoters in the 1990s, in his case with the National Democratic Institute. He thought that his and their methods were the same. They were not. Markov was a political technologist: the “roots” he talked about creating were fake. The “Russian World” was to be created by political technology. Markov’s “think-tanks” and “conferences” were to be created with Russian money, by Russian political technologists working abroad, by oligarchic sponsors and by Russian intelligence abroad. The Russian World Foundation itself, as set up in 2007, was an amalgam of all these, not so much a GONGO as a foundation with official state support, but also a front for Russian special services.


This was the modus operandi before 2022. In states that were still independent, Russia created networks of pro-Russian parties and politicians, GONGOs, alternative media, an online presence, and strategies for the “secondary infection” of Russian narratives into mainstream media. In occupied areas of Crimea and the Donbas, the strategy was that Russian TV would be the leading force to turn Ukrainians into Russians, followed by the education system. With some success in Crimea at least, where the number identifying as Ukrainian fell from 24% in the 2001 Ukrainian census (576,600) to 16% in the 2014 occupation census and 8.2% in 2021;27 this was also, of course, due to fear and out-migration. Again, in 2022 the first move was to use Russian TV to create a “digital ghetto”28 to target Ukrainians deemed convertible in newly occupied areas, accompanied by a virtual chorus of GONGOs and educational “missions”.29 For others, there was genocide.


Zinoviev World


The technologists behind the idea of the “Russian World” were also being fed ideas. One of the most influential thinkers in their circles was Aleksandr Zinoviev (1922-2006). A writer and philosopher with close ties to the MMK founded by Shchedrovitsky, his anti-Stalinism and satirical novels Yawning Heights (1976)30 and Radiant Future (1978)31 led to his exile in the latter year. Despite the satirical picture of Soviet society in his “sociological” novels, the key theme in Zinoviev’s work, according to Mikhail Suslov, was “an organic symbiosis between Russia and the communist system”.32 Hence his oft-quoted phrase: “They [the democrats of the 1990s] aimed at communism but hit Russia”.33 Zinoviev criticised Stalinist excesses and Gorbachev’s “Katastroika”, a neologism combining the words “Perestroika” and “catastrophe”, for being un-Russian. Hence the fact that he did not return to Russia until 1999.


Much attention in the West has been paid to the likes of Aleksandr Dugin (born 1962), and, according to Timothy Snyder, Ivan Ilyin (1883-1954),34 as key sources of Putinist “ideology”. They have all no doubt contributed to the bricolage. But Zinoviev is a better fit for the linchpin idea of “Fortress Russia” + “Russian World” built by the political/humanitarian technologists. Mikhail Suslov’s article in 2022 speculated whether Zinoviev was “the new official philosopher of Russia”.35 He argued that “Zinoviev’s social theory, consistent anti-Westernism and theory of war” resonated “profoundly with the ideology of Putinism”.36 Like the methodologists and Carl Schmitt (see below), Zinoviev saw the world as divided into big civilisations (“hyper-societies” or “supra-societies”, sverkhobshchestva) united around cultural symbols curated by humanitarian technologists. His widow Olga Zinovieva openly called for Russia “to define itself and its neighbours, particularly Ukraine, through propaganda”,37 or as she called it, “information war”.38


Like an anthill, Zinoviev’s big civilisations were “human hills” (cheloveyniki), organic self-governing life forms. The West was one. Russia was another. And each was alien to the other. The collectives competed, but mainly on the basis of scale. The actual humans were only there to make up the numbers. Just as political technologists thought that voters could not be trusted and Shchedrovitsky was anti-subjective, there was a direct link between elitism and the dehumanisation of ordinary people.


This was all the more so because of the need to compete with a West that sought dominion over all other civilisations. Putin’s decree to celebrate the centenary of Zinoviev’s birth in 2022 was signed in November 2021,39 on the eve of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. At the Valdai Club, in October 2022, Putin quoted Zinoviev, saying that “already more than twenty years ago, he argued that, for Western civilisation to survive at the level it had reached, ‘the entire planet [was] necessary as an environment for existence, all the resources of humankind [were] necessary’”.40 Western capitalism and consumerism extract so many resources, they cannot be universalised. Nor can its values, which are also in decay towards “post-democracy”.41 Zinoviev theorised a Third World War between Russia and the West. Its “cold” phase was the Cold War. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 did not dial down the conflict, but the opposite. A “warm” war followed, as the West sought to exploit Russia’s post-Soviet weakness, its “path of shameful capitulation” and “the mindless borrowing of western models”.42 A “hot” war would be phase three, once Russia fought back.


A typical political technology network has been built to promote Zinoviev’s ideas. There is, a Zinoviev Club, Zinoviev Foundation, Zinoviev Biographical Institute, and Zinoviev Academy. Zinoviev Club founders include TV propagandists like Dmitriy Kiselyov, head of RT Margarita Simonyan, and Vladimir Lepekhin, political technology propagandist and director of the Eurasian Economic Union Institute. Putin’s 2021 decree organised jubilee events and created scholarships in Zinoviev’s name. There were even plans for a “Zinoteka” multimedia centre at Moscow State University. Though in the constant competition for ideological influence, some of the plans to promote Zinoviev’s ideas in Russia were claimed to have been “sabotaged”.43


Carl Schmitt


Russia needed to add the “Russian World” to create a space big enough to oppose zapadnizm. The need for a bigger cheloveynik (human hill) also came from the thinking of another figure hugely influential in Putin’s Russia, the Nazi philosopher and geopolitician Carl Schmitt (1888-1985), who is also popular in China and among certain US Republican circles.44 Schmitt’s views also strengthened Russian elite disdain for Ukrainian sovereignty and for Ukrainians as individuals. Schmitt saw the world as naturally divided into different Großräume (Great Spaces), the equivalent of Russian “big civilisations”: Russia plus the “Russian World”. This is sometimes defined as the whole post-Soviet space; sometimes as the east Slavic core of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus; sometimes the Orthodox world; sometimes the Russian Orthodox world; sometimes the world of Russian-speakers; sometimes the “Russian-thinking” world. The imprecision is part of the definition; Russia likes to make sliding claims on all its neighbours.


Each civilisation has a hegemon. Hegemons are equal to one another – Russia should talk to the United States, not to Ukraine. Each civilisation, or Großraum, is consolidated by a great “Political Idea”, devised by and emanating from the hegemon. The hegemons therefore understand the unique nature of their own civilisation; outside powers do not. This is Nomos, a system of spatial order defined by the division and distribution of land, or nemein – division of space. Outsider powers are raumfremde Mächte, or “powers alien to the space”. Hegemons have full sovereignty; other states have only legal, external sovereignty. The latter therefore cannot choose their friend or enemy, or their alliances. Hegemons are superior to the other limited-sovereignty states in their civilisational space. Lower status powers like Ukraine must defer to the Nomos. The job of the hegemon is to police the Großraum. Both internally, to prevent the limitrophe states being pulled in different directions and destabilising the “civilisation”, and to make correct decisions on their behalf; and externally, to keep out the alien powers whose interventions would destabilise the civilisational space. Ukraine, again, was the anti-Russia, the tool of the West.


Timofey Sergeytsev


Russia’s long-standing anti-Ukrainian narratives have taken on an extra edge as part of the “Russian World” narrative. Ukraine is depicted as a tool of zapadnizm, of the raumfremde Mächte. In a now common definitional rewriting, Ukraine is also “Nazi”, because to Russian methodologists and political technologists, the Nazis were defined not by ideology or genocide, but by their invasion of the USSR in 1941. The Nazis were the ultimate “outsider power” to the USSR, just as their somehow successors are to Russia. “Nazi” is redefined as an enemy of Russia. There is no inversion of Schmitt’s logic – Germany should stick to being the Central European hegemon that Schmitt originally wanted it to be.45


And Ukrainians are supposedly doubly Nazi. Their national identity makes them the most vehement anti-Russians and zealous Europeanisers. They are forced to chase a chimerical Europe as an artificial means of separating themselves from Russia. The Ukrainian state is allegedly an artificial project designed to export zapadnizm to Russia. Inverting logic, it is claimed that it is Russia that has been colonised: by zapadnizm, by Ukraine, and by a fifth column inside the Russian ruling class who have succumbed to Western influence. According to publicist Aleksandr Savel’ev, “the denazification of Ukraine begins with the decolonisation of Russia”.46


The final link in the chain of ideological influences is Timofey Sergeytsev, who notoriously claimed in April 2022:


Denazification is necessary when a considerable number of the population (very likely most of it) has been subjected to the Nazi regime and engaged into its agenda. That is, when the “good people — bad government” hypothesis does not apply. […]


Those Nazis who took up arms must be destroyed on the battlefield, as many of them as possible. […]


A total lustration must be conducted. All organisations involved in Nazi actions must be eliminated and prohibited […] Besides the highest ranks, a significant number of common people are also guilty of being passive Nazis and Nazi accomplices. […]


The further denazification of this bulk of the population will take the form of re-education through ideological repressions (suppression) of Nazi paradigms and a harsh censorship not only in the political sphere but also in the spheres of culture and education. […]


Denazification will inevitably also be a de-Ukrainisation – a rejection of the large-scale artificial inflation of the ethnic component of self-identification of the population of the territories of historical Malorossiya and Novorossiya, begun by the Soviet authorities.47


Significantly, Sergeytsev was all of the sub-types listed above: he was a political technologist, a methodologist, and a member of Zinoviev circles. He was also the author of numerous Zinoviev-style attacks on zapadnizm.48 The controversy produced by his 2022 article led to Petr Shchedrovitsky claiming that Sergeytsev “used this baggage [from the methodologists and their seminars] in his consulting and political technology practice”, but was not a proper methodologist. “Maybe his mother dropped him as a child”.49 However, the analysis above has hopefully made the interconnections clear. The “Russian World” needs to depict Ukrainians as tools of foreign powers. Sergeytsev’s genocidal language in 2022 did not come out of nowhere. His 2016 contribution to the Zinoviev Club, “The Ukrainian Project as a Model of Managed Degradation for the whole of Europe”, was entirely typical. In it, he argued that Ukrainians “blindly believe in a European-style renovation of their country and are afraid of missing the last train to Europe”.50 But, he continued:


there is no real European project/process other than the managed and consistent loss of sovereignty and degradation of European states, which are being transformed into second- or third-rate look-alikes of the United States (for it to be able to govern and command them more easily). […]


The identity model used to involve Ukrainians into managed degradation – I want to be Ukrainian (not Russian) in order to really be European, in order to really be a second- or third-rate American – is also being applied to Germans, the French, Swedes, and others.51


Sergeytsev’s language in 2022 might have looked like an extremist aberration; but that was also how the system worked – testing and stretching the limits. In fact, Sergeytsev’s notorious writings came after previous stretching of what was ideologically permissible. For example, Aleksandr Zhuchkovsky of Konstantin Krylov’s neo-fascist National-Democratic Party (Putin has also read Krylov52), claimed in 2016 that Ukrainians were “a nation completely alien and hostile to the Russians”. “We are fighting not against people but against enemies”, “not against people but against Ukrainians”.53


Kirienko’s World


Another link in the chain is Sergey Kirienko, former Russian Prime Minister (in 1998, just before Putin), and First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration since 2016. Kirienko was once known as a liberal, but more importantly he is also a methodologist. He is not really an ideologue, just a recruiter. But he has brought many like-minded methodologists and political technologists with him, many recruited from Surkov’s old school, to form a domestic “political bloc” of 200 working in the Presidential Administration.54 From 2016, Kirienko began taking charge of propaganda and of policy towards the Donbas in occupied Ukraine. After February 2022 he won an expanded role in charge of the Russification of occupied regions.55 His methods were copied from domestic politics: recruiting elite collaborators, running sham referenda, exporting Russia’s fake party system, creating a pro-Russian information chorus to produce propaganda including the characteristic Big Lie, in this case a monument to “Grandmother Anna” in Mariupol (a confused grandmother who waved a Soviet flag at Ukrainian soldiers not knowing who they were), and the spread of such methods to education.56 Many of Kirienko’s methods were sabotaged by Ukrainian advances, while in areas of long-term occupation, they would make reintegration after Ukrainian victory all the more difficult.


Kirienko is the final link between the political technologists, methodologists, and other ideological entrepreneurs competing to sell their ideas to the Kremlin. A task was defined by the Kremlin, the ideological justification for the destruction of Ukraine, and the narrative fell into place. Many elements had been gestating for some time – much of Russia’s anti-Ukraine propaganda has been in overdrive since 2014. Many elements only coalesced in 2022, such as the term “collective West”.57 Many elements were tried and then deemphasised, like “desatanisation” and the symbol “Z”. Yet another member of Kirienko’s circle, Andrey Polosin, was put in charge of formulating something closer to a Putinist “ideology” in 2023, a university course dubbed “The Fundamentals of Russian Statehood”. Significantly, the task was given not to a real ideologue, but to someone with a political technologist’s background (“a political operator and occasional scholar”58), who used to work for the Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation and as deputy provost of the Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA, Russia’s elite training school).




The methodologists are only one part of the formula that created the propaganda that helped create the war against Ukraine. Allies of the Shchedrovitskys, father and son, claimed that their ideas were not implemented in their original format. Methodologists are not uniquely Russian: they can also be found in Ukraine and Belarus, where the method has been applied differently.


But this was to miss the point. In Russia, the methodologists, as also ultimately the political technologists, were all servants of the system, which instrumentalised their ideas about instrumentalising others. The methodologists come from a long Russian tradition of elite disdain for the masses. Actual or would-be “Russians” are just tools in their geopolitical projects. The “Russian” in the “Russian World” is both extremely narrow and treated as a Hegelian absolute. The “Russian World” is not a confederation. It is defined by the plans of the centre, not by realities in the periphery. Ukrainian identity is negated. It has no reality in itself. Genocide begins with the dehumanisation of the target population, and there is nothing more human to deny than subjectivity and choice. Ukraine is also instrumentalised by being depicted as an instrument of the West. If Ukrainians mistakenly chose to be Ukrainians, then the real threat to which Russia must respond is the machinations of zapadnizm. The reality that national identity is always and everywhere a matter of collective cultural choice is simply ignored.




  1. A neologism deriving from the Russian word “zapad” (the West).
  2. Alexei Yurchak, Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).
  3. Compare two new studies: Radomyr Mokryk, Bunt proty imperiyi: ukrayins’ki shistdesiatnyky (Kyiv: A-ba-ba-ha-la-ma-ha, 2023), and Simone Attilio Bellezza, The Shore of Expectations: A Cultural Study of the Shistdesiatnyky (Alberta: University of Alberta Press, 2019).
  4. Vadim M. Rozin, “The Moscow Methodological Circle: Its Main Ideas and Evolution”, Social Epistemology, Vol. 31, No. 1 (2017), pp. 78-92.
  5. James Burnham, The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World (New York: John Day, 1941).
  6. James Burnham, The Machiavellians, Defenders of Freedom (New York: John Day, 1943).
  7. Benjamin Peters, How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2017).
  8. Petr Shchedrovitsky, “Russkiy mir i Transnatsional’noe russkoe”, Russkiy zhurnal, 2 March (2000),, note 21.
  9. Ilya Kukulin, “The Sorcerers’ Apprentices: Can Georgy Shchedrovitsky be responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?”, Russia.Post, 26 June (2022),
  10. See the discussion in Sergey Popov, “Organizatsionno-deiatel’nostnye igry: myshlenie v ‘zone riska’”, Kentavr, No. 3 (1994), pp. 2-31; also available here:
  11. Andrey Pertsev, “Stantsuem val’s bol’shoi voiny”, Meduza, 9 June (2022),; Ilya Venyavkin, “Chelovek, kotory pridumal deukrainizirovat’ Ukrainu”, Kholod, 10 June (2022),
  12. Andrei Pertsev, “Kremlevskiy mechtatel’: kto formiroval mirovozzrenie Kirienko”,, 26 October (2016),
  13. Ibid.
  14. Interview of Petr Shchedrovitskiy with Mikhail Zygar: “Byt’ loyalistom uzhe nedostatochno. Nado khodit’ v pionerskom galstuke i salyutovat’”, Meduza, 22 June (2022),
  15. Quoted in Pertsev, “Stantsuem val’s bol’shoi voiny”.
  16. Ekaterina Dobrynina, “Ispolnilos’ 20 let fraze ‘Khoteli kak luchshe, poluchilos’ kak vsegda’”, Rossiyskaya gazeta, 11 August (2013),
  17. See Andrew Wilson, Political Technology: The Globalisation of Political Manipulation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2024).
  18. “‘Zhirinovskii – eto i est’ politicheskaia istoriia Rossii noveishego vremeni’. Yubilei fenomena: Vladimiru Vol’fovichu – 75”, Moskovskiy komsomolets, 24 April (2021),
  19. On these and other similar developments, see Andrew Wilson, Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005).
  20. Author’s interview with Sergey Markov, 16 December 2007.
  21. Marlène Laruelle, “What Is the Ideology of a Mobilized Russia?”, Russia.Post, 4 October (2022),
  22. Andrey Pertsev, “‘Hawkish Times Need Hawkish People’. How the Death of Daria Dugina Helped Her Father, Alexander Dugin, Rise from Ultraconservative Fringe Philosopher to Key Kremlin Ideologue”, Meduza, 3 November (2022),
  23. Efim Ostrovskiy, “Revansh v kholodnoi voine”, Tsentr gumanitarnykh tekhnologiy, 15 August (2006), See also Andrey Pertsev, “A Chance for Revenge’. The Rise and Fall of ‘Methodology’, the School of Thought that Produced the Idea of the ‘Russian World’’, Meduza, 20 June (2022),
  24. Shchedrovitsky, “Russkiy mir i Transnatsional’noe russkoe”, emphases in original.
  25. Mikhail Nemtsev, “Rethinking the ‘Russian World’”, Riddle, 8 April (2019),
  26. Author’s interview with Sergey Markov, 16 December 2007.
  27. For official 2001 Ukrainian census data, see “All-Ukrainian Population Census 2001”, State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, For claimed changes under occupation, see “Itogi perepisi: ukraintsev v Krymu stalo men’she”, Moskovskiy komsomolets v Krymu, 18 February (2023),
  28. Isobel Koshiw, “Russia Accused of Trying to Use TV to Create Ukraine ‘Digital Ghetto’”, The Guardian, 17 February (2023),
  29. See, for example, TheCrimea Scenario”: How the Russian Federation Is Destroying the Ukrainian Identity of Children in the Occupied Territories (Kyiv: Almenda, 2023),‘Crimea-scenario-how-the-Russian-Federation-is-destroying-the-Ukrainian-identity-of-children-in-the-occupied-territories.pdf.
  30. Originally published in Russian: Aleksandr Zinoviev, Ziyayushchie vysoty (Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1976); the English translation was published the same year: Aleksandr Zinoviev, The Yawning Heights (London: Bodley Head, 1976).
  31. Aleksandr Zinoviev, Svetloe budushchee (Lausanne: L’Age d’homme, 1978); English translation: Aleksandr Zinoviev, The Radiant Future (London: Bodley Head, 1981).
  32. Mikhail Suslov, “Is Alexander Zinoviev the New Official Philosopher of Russia?”, Russia.Post, 9 November (2022),
  33. Ibid.
  34. Timothy Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America (London: Bodley Head, 2018).
  35. Suslov, ‘Is Alexander Zinoviev”.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Susan Peter Smith, “Ukraine as Whiteboard: The Genocidal Implications of Russian Ideas of Territory”, The New Fascism Syllabus, 26 April (2022),
  38. Ol’ga Zinov’eva, “Chto zhe eto takoe – ‘informatsionnaya voina?’”, RIA Novosti, 20 November (2014),
  39. “Ukaz Prezidenta Rossiskoy Federatsii ‘O podgotovke i provodenii meropriiatiy, posvyashchennykh 100-letiyu so dnya rozhdenniya A.A. Zinov’eva’”, Prezident Rossii, 1 October (2021),
  40. “Vladimir Putin prinyal uchastie v XIX Ezhegodnom zasedanii Mezhdunarodnogo diskussionnogo kluba ‘Valdai’. Stenogramma plenarnoy sessii”, Valdai Club, 27 October (2022),
  41. Aleksandr Zinov’ev, Zapad. Fenomen zapadnizma (Moscow: Tsentropoligraf, 1995).
  42. Ibid., p. 34.
  43. See the claims at “Kak fondy prezidentskikh grantov sabotiruyut ukaz Prezidenta RF o 100-letii Aleksandra Zinov’eva: khronika beschest’ya’,, 21 August (2022),
  44. Oleg Kil’dyushov, “Shmitt kak teoretik rossiyskikh nulevykh”, Russkiy zhurnal, 31 August (2010),
  45. Carl Schmitt, Völkerrechtliche Großraumordnung, mit Interventionsverbot für raumfremde Mächte. Ein Beitrag zum Reichsbegriff im Völkerrecht (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1941),
  46. Aleksandr Savel’ev, “Denatsifikatsiya Ukrainy nachinaetsya s dekolonizatsii Rossii”, Regnum, 31 March (2022),; as quoted in Vera Tolz, Stephen Hutchings, “Truth with a Z: Disinformation, War in Ukraine, and Russia’s Contradictory Discourse of Imperial Identity”, Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 39, No. 5 (2023), pp. 347-365.
  47. Timofey Sergeytsev, “Chto Rossiya dolzhna sdelat’ s Ukrainoy”, RIA Novosti, 3 April (2022), See the English translation here: Timofey Sergeytsev, “What Should Russia Do with Ukraine?”, StopFake, 6 April (2022),
  48. Dmitry Kulikov, Timofey Sergeytsev, Iskander Valitov, Sudba imperii. Russkiy vzglyad na evropeyskuyu tsivilizatsiyu (Moscow: Eksmo, 2016); Dmitry Kulikov, Timofey Sergeytsev, Mirovoy krizis. Vostok i zapad v novom veke (Moscow: Eksmo, 2017); Timofey Sergeytsev, Dmitry Kulikov, Petr Mostovoy, Ideologiya russkoy gosudarstvennosti. Kontinent Rossiya (St. Petersburg: Piter, 2020).
  49. Interview of Petr Shchedrovitskiy with Mikhail Zygar.
  50. Timofey Sergeytsev, “The Ukrainian Project as a Model of Managed Degradation for the Whole of Europe”, Zinoviev Club, 2 February (2016),
  51. Ibid.
  52. Ilya Zhegulev, “Kak Putin voznenavidel Ukrainu”, Verstka, 25 April (2023),
  53. Anton Shekhovtsov, “The Shocking Inspiration for Putin’s Atrocities in Ukraine”, Haaretz, 13 April (2022),, quoting Aleksandr Zhuchkovsky, “Eshche raz k voprosu ob ukraintsakh i ukrainstve”, VK, 13 November (2016),
  54. Andrey Pertsev, “The Viceroy: How Sergey Kiriyenko Became Putin’s Point Man in the Donbas and Plans to Shape Russia’s ‘Post-War Image”, Meduza, 10 June (2022),
  55. Andrey Pertsev, “Kiriyenko’s War”, Riddle, 10 January (2023),; Kristina Berdynskykh, “Who Inspired Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine?”, New Voice, 8 August (2022),; Pertsev, “The Viceroy”.
  56. Sofia Bettiza, Svyatoslav Khomenko, “Babushka Z: The Woman Who Became a Russian Propaganda Icon”, BBC, 15 June (2022),
  57. Artem Efimov, “Kollektivny Zapad”, Signal (2022),
  58. Andrey Pertsev, “An ‘Experienced Strategist’. The Man behind Russia’s New Ideological Course for University Students”, Meduza, 9 June (2023),

Related links

Andrew Wilson’s book Political Technology: The Globalisation of Political Manipulation (2023)



Andrew Wilson’s book Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World (2005/2018)


Andrew Wilson’s book The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation (2000/2022)