The Road to Unfreedom | Timothy Snyder

Summary of: The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America
By: Timothy Snyder


Embark on a deep dive into the political transformation of Russia under Vladimir Putin and the subsequent implications for America and Europe. ‘The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America’ by Timothy Snyder examines how Putin resurrected the ideas of Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin to establish a right-wing dictatorship in Russia. This introduction to the politics of ‘eternity’ and the role of propaganda outlines the impact of Putin’s ideological approach beyond Russia’s borders, with events like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump serving as crucial examples. Traverse the changing geopolitical landscape with Snyder as your guide and unravel the underlying forces driving Russia’s actions.

Putin’s Fascist Inspiration

Ivan Ilyin, a Christian fascist who was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1922, had his ideas revived by Vladimir Putin in his political program. Ilyin’s vision of a right-wing dictatorship in Russia was centered around a redeeming, savior-like leader who promised to defend the nation from external threats, violence, and propaganda. Putin’s implementation of Ilyin’s ideas has proven successful.

Putin’s Utilization of Ilyin’s Philosophy

In response to the 1999 terrorist attacks in Russia, Putin utilized Ilyin’s concept of uniting Russians against a common enemy. This began his implementation of the politics of eternity, which aimed to maintain political power indefinitely. With the help of propaganda master Vladislav Surkov, Putin exploited manufactured crises and cemented his grip on the Russian state. The West became a new enemy and was represented as a threat to Russian sovereignty. Putin’s policy changes included allowing FSB officers to shoot people without consequence and making libel against the government illegal. By implementing Ilyin’s dream, Putin has secured his position of power in Russia.

Russia’s Covert War Against the European Union

After refusing to join the European Union, Russia shifted its foreign policy goals toward the creation of “Eurasia,” a political union that would rival the EU. To achieve this, Russia adopted covert measures to destroy its European enemy from within. Russian government hackers employed cyberattacks to spread propaganda and fear among the general public. The consequences included the success of Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the French election and the pro-Brexit sentiment in the UK. Russia’s anti-EU foreign policy proved successful as UK voters decided to leave the European Union by a slim margin.

Putin’s Half-Victory

In 2013, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was set to enter an association agreement with the EU, which would have undermined Russia’s Eurasian ambitions. But after talking with Putin, Yanukovych did not sign the agreement, causing protests across Ukraine. The protests shifted from the signing of the agreement to fighting for Ukrainian dignity in the face of oppression, leading to Russian intelligence agents suppressing the protests and Yanukovych instituting dictatorial laws identical to those passed in Russia. When two protesters were shot dead, Ukrainians demanded Yanukovych’s resignation. Russia then tried to destroy the foundations of the Ukrainian state through disinformation and eventually invaded and occupied Crimea. Though Ukraine was able to sign the Association Agreement months later, it was a divided, war-torn nation, and further integration with the EU was complicated. Putin had scored a half-victory.

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