Putin’s Game for the Western Right


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During his annual conference with foreign experts in international affairs, Vladimir Putin denounced the cancellation of culture and gay pride parades. He’s trying to unite the global right.

Also: We’re keeping tabs on San Francisco’s story about a brutal attack on President Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul. The suspect, currently in police custody, was apparently looking for the speaker, who was not at home. Paul Pelosi was seriously injured. For more, read my colleague David Graham’s story on assault, “January 6 never ended.”

And here are three more new stories from Atlantic.

cultural warrior

For nearly two decades, Russian President Vladimir Putin has hosted an annual event called the Valdai Discussion Club, named after the scenic lake in Russia near where the first meeting took place in 2004. It’s kind of Eastern Davos for influential foreigners – the Valdai website notes that this year included “111 experts, politicians, diplomats and economists from 41 countries” – who come for a few days of high-level talks with Russia’s political elite.

The star of the show, however, is still Putin, who gives a speech and then sits down for questions. You go to such an event knowing that the regime will have its say, but even under a repressive government there is value in such things, as my friend Dan Drezner wrote when he attended in 2016. (I attended conferences with Soviet colleagues from the former USSR in the 1980s, and yes, they were worth it; I managed to learn things and exchange some ideas.)

This year, Putin has adapted his message appeal to right-wing forces in the United States and Europe. The Russian president has been pursuing his own version of “Uniting the Right” for some time now, but in Valdai he hasn’t even bothered to pretend to speak to diplomats and public intellectuals. Instead, he incited Westerners to argue with each other over the culture wars instead of opposing his criminal war in Ukraine.

It’s not hard to spot the raw meat in his speech. “If Western elites believe they can get their peoples and societies to adopt what I consider to be weird and fashionable ideas, like dozens of genres or gay pride parades, so be it. be so. Let them do whatever they want,” he fumed. “But they certainly have no right to tell others to follow in their footsteps.” Putin has been tackle gays and trans people in the talk for a while, but echoing his homophobic complaints in a place like Valdai is an indication that Putin is targeting Western televisions, not an audience of international affairs experts.

There was, of course, the usual Soviet-era hangover in Putin’s discussions with the public, including how the “so-called West” seeks global superiority over the rest of the world. (Adding “supposedly” is a way of indicating that he is really mainly talking about the decadent United States and its friends.) But Putin has returned to the themes he no doubt hopes to see appear in the media. westerners, notably “cancel culture” – which isn’t exactly a source of anxiety in wartime Russia these days, but is of great interest to western right-wingers:

And what happens now? At one point the Nazis got to the point of burning books, and now the western “guardians of liberalism and progress” have come to the point of banning Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky. The so-called “cancellation culture” and in fact – as we have repeatedly said – the true cancellation culture eradicates all that is alive and creative and stifles free thought in all areas, whether whether economics, politics or culture.

The mention of Dostoyevsky could be a reference to an Italian university which canceled and reinstated a course on the Russian author. And it is true that while Putin’s forces are carrying out massacres in Ukraine, some American orchestras have become nervous about playing the “1812 Overture”, which is a celebration of a Russian military victory. (The Boston Pops play it every summer at Tanglewood and on the Esplanade; This yearthey decided to add the Ukrainian national anthem just before.) This is not about “cancelling” Russian culture, and Putin knows this, but the accusation is excellent material for Putin’s Useful Idiots outside of Russia.

(As an aside, Putin quoted Dostoevsky’s book demons to make his point, but in a wonderfully telling moment, he added, “They were great thinkers and, frankly, I’m grateful to my aides for finding these quotes.” Culture is important, but who has the time to Lily Those books?)

And, of course, Putin displayed his classic chutzpah, the insulting audacity the Russians would call naglost. “I am convinced that true democracy in a multipolar world,” Putin said, “is above all the ability of any nation – I emphasize – any society or any civilization to follow its own path and to organize its own socio-political system”. The Soviets used to say that too, but it’s especially infuriating to hear it as Russian forces continue their quest to wipe out an entire nation.

There was much more, but for Americans the most important point is that among the many ways Putin intends to continue this disastrous war in Ukraine, he is pinning at least some of his hopes on undermining the unit in the United States and Europe. It’s not a bad bet; Republicans look set to take over the House in November, and putative Speaker Kevin McCarthy has already had to backtrack on a gaffe in which he admitted that support for Ukraine may wane (which I think is likely) once the GOP takes control.

Putin would much rather we argue about gay rights than how many more artillery systems to send to Ukraine. His comments to Valdai may sound like hyperventilation, Soviet-era chatter, or even silliness, but he knows what he’s doing. It’s up to us to make sure his culture-war-propaganda scheme doesn’t work.


Today’s News
  1. The police announced that they intention to charge the man who attacked Nancy Pelosi’s husband this morning with attempted homicide and other crimes.
  2. This year’s flu season in the United States is earlier and more severe than it has been in 13 years.
  3. Several of Twitter’s top executives and board members, including the chief executive, chief financial officer and general counsel, were fired shortly after Elon Musk closed his deal to buy the company.


Evening reading
(Alex Webb/Magnum)

Adult Halloween is stupid, embarrassing and very important

By Faith Hill

When I was a child, pleasure was felt really fun. Reading a book was completely immersive; chasing the dog in the yard was transcendent; running a fake restaurant with rocks like potatoes was the honor of a lifetime. The absolute peak, however, was Halloween. I can still remember rolling down the sidewalk in the crisp October air, elated to be awake late, drunk on the manic power that comes from knocking on strangers’ doors and demanding candy.

It’s not that as an adult I don’t do anything that can be called fun; it’s just that the fun isn’t quite the same as before. Dinner with friends is attractive. My little neighborhood stroll is pleasant. Standing at a party and shouting to music to catch up on acquaintances is… good. I just don’t feel the deep, whimsical joy that a rock potato used to bring.

Read the article completely.

More Atlantic

cultural break
Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker as the three witch sisters of "Hocus Pocus 2."
Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker as the three witch sisters of Hocus Pocus 2. (Disney+)

Lily. Woman convenience storeby Sayaka Murata, uses an element of Japanese life to demonstrate the difficulty of fitting into the ordered categories of society.

Or try another choice from our list of short novels you can rip in a weekend.

Look. Need to spice up your Halloween watch list? Try one of these 25 Horror Movies, Ranked By Fear.

If you proudly consider yourself anti-horror, turn to one of these 10 “scary” movies– we promise you can handle them.

And there is always Hocus Pocuswhose magic you should never question.

Listen. Two things are exciting Rihanna’s New Ballad from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack: the sound of his voice, and the ambition of the piece.

Play our daily crosswords.


October is nearly over, but before it’s over, let me suggest it’s the perfect month to revisit (or check out) an album from 1994: the self-titled debut album by a band called October. Project. The band broke up shortly after their follow-up album and tour, but October project was a masterpiece. Beautifully structured songs, heartbreaking lyrics and lead vocals Mary Fahl combine to create the kind of album you’ve never heard before and will never hear again. (The Boston Globe once said that Fahl had “a voice for the gods” that “can transport listeners to other realms”, and the Christian Science Monitor referred to its singing as “ethereal”.)

But Fahl’s voice was only part of the magic that included the vocals of Marina Belica, the compositions of Emil Adler and the poetry of lyricist Julie Flanders. It’s not enough to say that the songs are about love; they are, but there is also bravery, longing, sadness, longing and anger in them. (The song “Eyes of Mercy” was written for the children of war-torn Bosnia: “Hush, close your eyes… The noise in the street will soon die away,” Fahl and Belica sing, promising to “stay here. eyes open to watch over you”.) The album is hard to explain, so give it a listen while it’s still October.

– To M

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.


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