The current role of the military in Russia’s political processes differs greatly from the archetypes represented by the theory of civil-military relations, when the functions of the armed forces depend on the political, social and cultural context, as well as on historical origins. In particular, in the Russian Federation, the tripartite relationship between politics, the military and the society indicates that the military perform the function of forming a “majority” to support the current government.
The Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), a private, non-partisan think tank specializing in foreign affairs and security, writes about this in a study on the survival of authoritarian regimes, Changing Nature of the Civil-Military Relations in Russia.
Authoritarian regimes justify maintaining power and suppressing dissidents by manipulating ideologies and different principles of governance, on the one hand, and promising to achieve goals such as economic growth and security, on the other.
Russia is Leviathan, waging war in all directions after the occupation of Crimea. Russia has become a Leviathan fighting the war for the space, the war for symbols, the war for memory, and the war for the current political regime all at once. In other words, Russia is not fighting only the “war for the space” that is being waged by the actual use of force in Ukraine and elsewhere to stop the loss of its sphere of influence. It is also engaged in the “war for symbols” to defend Russia’s status as a nuclear power and its sovereignty as an aggregation of its own values and norms; the “war for memory” to promote national unity based on the historical perception of victory and liberation in the Great Patriotic War and oppose “revisions” to this historical perception; and the “war for the body” to maintain the current regime through national unity via patriotic education, suppression of protests by dissidents, and regulation of the Internet.
The pilots of the Leviathan are the political leadership led by President Putin, and the Russian armed forces and other armed groups play an important role in the relevant wars. Ratings of approval for the Russian military among Russians remain consistently high. Widespread military support in the society is due not only to the fact that the periodic use of force since 2014 has increased Russia’s presence in the international arena, but also to the symbolic function of national identity that the military has fulfilled. In other words, by continuing to wage a “war for the space”, a “war for memory” and a “war for symbols” at the same time, a majority was formed with the involvement of the military and the civil society, which strengthened and supported the regime’s logic.
Russia’s relations with the West have become irreparably strained because Russia has created favorable conditions for itself by military means to resolve political problems without a full search for diplomatic solutions. Even dissidents in Russia, while challenging the legitimacy of the current regime by exposing electoral irregularities and corruption, did not oppose such a foreign policy.