Kremlin policies, both foreign and domestic, is best understood if read through the concept of “incel” – involuntary celibacy. Kremlin is tormented by the same toxic mix of self-hatred, self-pity and narcissism, similar to the sentiment found in the incel subculture. The Russian writer Andrei Arkhangelsky describes in an essay how a culture of resentment has been established in the Kremlin media. “Nobody loves us!” Kremlin cultivates this resentment and has made it a key element in policy making. We find it in foreign policy, in domestic policy, in gender policy and even in the murky subcultures of the social media in Russia.
The Russian emperor Alexander III – the great role-model for the modern rulers of the Kremlin – is famous for a quote, claiming Russia will have only two allies: its army and its navy. In 2017, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin unveiled a monument to Alexander III in occupied Crimea with those words on the fundament. In virtually any official Kremlin statement, concerning foreign policy, a recurrent line is that the world community never shows due gratitude towards Russia for repeatedly saving Europe and the West from destruction; from the Mongols, from Napoleon, from Hitler… Russia is entitled to this gratitude, just as the incels consider women to be entitled to supply them with sexual favours.
The Kremlin hungers for acknowledgment and defends furiously the carefully crafted narrative of Russia’s history as the country that defeated Nazism. The image of the Victor must be immaculate. In November 2021, the Russian Ministry of Justice declared a German book from 1959, Marta Hillers’ A Woman in Berlin extremist. The book is the diary of a German woman in Soviet occupied Berlin in 1945 and describes systematic rapes and sexual abuse from the forces of occupying forces. Such events are thoroughly documented, but contradict the Kremlin image of the victory. Any attempt to approach World War Two with a strict factual handling of the processes, leading to the war, the actual course of the war and its consequences are met by all the Kremlin channels with bitter resentment about the West’s lack of gratitude.
Recognition by the West is the coveted dream of the Kremlin, just as the Incels dream of sex with “Stacys”. And just as the Incels simultaneously detest and desire the unattainable girls of their dreams; the Kremlin formally attempts to shape a narrative about a decaying, collapsing West. Vladimir Putin repeatedly uses the term “developed nations” – развитые страны – whenever describing the perils of the over-civilised world or “wokeness” and collapsing moral standards. The term is used ironically, but at the same time, the Kremlin leadership is fully aware of Russia’s lagging behind the West’s economic and technological prowess.
The solution is to declare a Russian moral advantage. Putin suggests that the wealth and power of Western countries are worthless. The West has descended into crass materialism and individualism, while Russia represents spiritual superiority, respect for traditions and real European values. The Incel subculture uses the term “Stacy” to describe women who are attractive and sexy, but more important promiscuous and deceitful, and without real interest in decent men. The Kremlin equivalent is “Anglo-Saxons” – a mythic entity, surpassing national borders and governments, occasionally “flirting” with the Kremlin, offering sweet deals, but eventually never living up to any promises.
The Russian author Platon Besedin describes in a fiercely misogynistic article Russia’s ambiguity towards the West:
The Russian girls, crowding around the foreigners, have erased all concepts of modesty, decorum and morals from their minds. We have brought up a generation of whores, ready to spread their legs as soon as a foreign language is heard. Add some dollars to the attraction and – wow! We have brought them up and idealised them. Frédéric Beigbeder was actually very soft in this regard in his novel Au secours pardon. How did we come to this?
This is obviously a part of the matrix, according to which Russian women are brought up. A matrix of total devotion to the West. It has existed since the early 80s; lately it has been subject of minor changes under the massive propaganda campaign on the greatness of Russia. Our country suffers from this schizophrenia: the West is bad and immoral, but we must copy it. A strange combination of submissiveness and hate.
Vladimir Putin frequently underscores adherence to tradition as a core element of Russian values. In Putinism, “tradition” is an attempt to create a secular, non-confessional term, uniting the dominating religions in Russia. The country is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community, making it impossible for the Kremlin to lean too heavily on the Orthodox Church as a national ideology. Putin has frequently identified “unique” features, uniting Russians of all creeds and ethnicities:
Despite the multitude of ideologies, there are values that unite us all; that should unite us all disregarding our political sympathies. And what are they? Above all: the sovereignty of Russia, our country’s national interests and its territorial integrity. And it is the preservation of our people, the demographic development, the family with many children.
There certainly is cause for concern when it comes to the demographic situation in Russia. The country has had very low birth rates since the 60s. The situation deteriorated from the 80s, only to stabilise in the early 2000s. The current pandemic has again accelerated the population decline. In the Kremlin world-view, homosexuality is one of the root causes of the low birth rates. Russia has introduced legislation to forbid “homosexual propaganda among minors” as a measure to cope with the ongoing demographic disaster:
According to the President, those, behind the legislation, understand that same-sex marriages do not produce children, while Russia currently is experiencing a rough patch from a demographic point of view. The authorities want families to be complete in order to have as many children as possible.
Thus, securing reproduction is a priority for the Russian state. This is also reflected in other fields of Russia legislation. Russian law identifies 456 professions, not open for female workers:
Article 253 of the labour law identifies limits to women’s right to professions, dangerous for women’s lives, health and child-bearing functions.
It is likely that men too are exposed to health hazards in the work place that might affect their reproductive capacities, but no corresponding legislation exists. From the Kremlin legal perspective, women are identified as child-bearers; controlling women’s wombs is a national project. It can be mentioned that the debate around abortion is also focusing on Russia’s demographic challenges. Nationalist website Tsargrad.ru, owned and managed with Kremlin-affiliated oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, is devoting intensive attention to the abortion issue:
Around 46.5 million abortions have been performed in Russia since 1992. Of those, only a minute fraction have been made for medical reasons. In 2018, for instance, slightly over 2.5 percent of the total numbers were medically motivated. The overwhelming majority of women get rid of their children on their own free will. And one can assume, most of those women represent the Russian ethnicity. If all those children were alive, there would have been over 190 million Russians today, instead of 146 million.
Abortions are in this perspective not primarily a moral or ethical challenge, but a threat to the survival of Russia. Women are jeopardising the nation, dooming Russia for extinction for comfort and career.
The Kremlin’s perspective on women has in this regard strong similarities to the Incel subculture. Men identify certain desirable functions with women. The Incels consider themselves entitled to sex with Stacys; the Kremlin impose a sense of duty to produce children on Russian women. Both Incels and the Kremlin agree that women’s liberation and choice are a threat to societal harmony and order.
Despite the efforts from the Russian authorities, Russia’s women have not succumbed to the desires of the Russian government. Women continue to be disobedient towards the aggressive propaganda for the Kremlin version of family values. The Russian artist and feminist Darya Serenko writes:
Neither feminism nor the concept of child-Free influences on my decision whether to have or not to have children, but the feeling of insecurity and lack of stability in my country. My patriotism is not shaped by what you try to force on me, but on what I see and what I want to change and improve, looking at your actions. The LGBT community does not influence on how I understand the idea of family, but my impressions of what love is, and how it affects people, and what people are prepared to do to defend their loved ones. And this is stronger, brighter and better than your jaded images of family and family values. The propaganda does not reach me; it bounces of me like a ball against a wall.
The famous Russian song Stenka Razin describes an episode during a Cossack uprising in the 17th century, led by the protagonist. During a raid into Persia, the Cossacks kidnap a Persian princess. The beautiful princess is, of course, the prize of the leader.
On the first is Stenka Razin
With his princess by his side.
Drunk, he holds a marriage revel,
Clasping close his fair young bride.
From behind there comes a murmur:
He has left his sword to woo:
On short night and Stenka Razin
Has become a woman too.
The Cossack leader is losing the confidence of his comrades. Spending the night with a woman destroys a man’s manliness. Cooties can have that effect, even on fully grown-up Cossacks. Stenka Razin drowns the girl and redeems himself in the eyes of his comrades.
The image of a woman at the side of a Russian leader has been impossible for most of the last 100 years. Lenin’s wife was an influential and powerful leader herself, but Stalin was a widower since 1932 when his second wife committed suicide. Khrushchev’s and Brezhnev’s wives were both more or less invisible housewives. Raisa Gorbacheva was the first First Lady of Russia who assumed a visible and vocal position. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s current leader, divorced in 2013 and has remained unmarried since then. Rumours and speculations have circulated about the President’s dating status, secret love children etc. Publicly, Mr. Putin is conspicuously avoiding to be seen with women. The Russian President’s press service supply pictures from brief vacations, and always in the company of men, preferably in Siberia, hunting, fishing or hiking with Russia’s Minister of Defence, Sergei Shoigu. Just as Stenka Razin in the song, Vladimir Putin wants to avoid to produce an image of cuddly softness in the company of women.
This is again a point where the Kremlin policies coincide with the Incel subculture. Both reach out to men. Women are a strange force, spoiling the ambitions of the Kremlin and other self-loathing men. In colloquial Russian, women givesex to men. Sex is understood as a commodity controlled by women. Feminism and modernity have allowed women to unilaterally refuse decent men sex, instead exploiting the commodity for their own profit. This has created a situation where women control men.
In 2016, a group was founded in the Russian Facebook-clone vk.com, expressing discontent with the official politics in Russia, allegedly “too soft” on women and gay men. The group, Muzhskoe Gosudarstvo, MG, or Male State, took upon itself to educate morals to Russian women.
The core idea of MG was that the Russian state did not fulfil its duties in the battle against the decay of the moral standards in Russia. MG identifies its tasks as the following:
Propaganda for a total patriarchy with elements of dictatorship;
The extermination of the cult of the vagina on the territories of Russia and the CIS countries;
The rehabilitation of slipper heroes and those, enslaved by women;
Fighting for women’s morals;
Fighting against women’s treacherous love;
Fighting against women’s betrayal
The group collected and published videos with women, acting in a way that did not comply with the standards of MG. In an interview with a Russian daily, the founder, Vladislav Pozdnyakov, defended the group’s right to publicly shame Russian women:
They should be grateful. They would not react to “the carrot”, but “the stick” will definitely put them on the right track. Next time they will know how to behave, at least in public. If someone notes his wife in this kind of context, I am only happy. A fallen woman does not have anything to do at the side of a man who loves her.
The group could function for several years without any kind of impediment from the Russian authorities. The MG arranged combat training classes for members, occasionally combining the training sessions with attacks on migrant workers. In the summer of 2021, the group ran a violent campaign against a chain of sushi restaurants that marketed itself with a photography of a Russian woman, sharing sushi with a Black man. The restaurant chain quickly withdrew the ad and apologised.
MG was declared “extremist” by a Russian court in October 2021 and its channel with 160,000 followers on the Russian social media platform Telegram blocked. However, the channel was quickly cloned and continues to function with a new name and around 70,000 followers. This can be compared to the r/incel subreddit forum with, before the Reddit website introduced stricter rules for posting, around 40,000. Pozdnyakov’s movement has established several parallel forum and channels, all still available and fully functioning. Pozdnayakov himself has left Russia and is currently residing in Turkey-occupied Northern Cyprus.
MGs terminology is perhaps not entirely consistent with the rhetorics of the Kremlin, but most of it mirrors the Kremlin policies. The Kremlin has established a norm for love and family; any deviations from this state-defined standard is an abbhoration, and the society must act against it. The MG merely conflicts with the Kremlin on the pace of the process. The formal reason for the court’s decision to block the channels of MG is the call for violence. Apart from numerous incidents of attacks on women, LGBT-people and migrants, Russia has had its share of school shootings, where the perpetrator have expressed resentment, similar to the one cultivated by MG and the Kremlin. In Kerch in occupied Crimea, 18-year old Vladislav Roslyakov, killed 20 and injured around 70 in October 2018 before taking his own life. In Kazan in central Russia, 19-year old Ilnaz Galyayev killed nine in May 2021. In both cases, self-loathing, combined with delusions of grandeur, have been brought forward as explanations for the actions.
Kremlin-affiliated media have attempted to explain the motivation of both shooters with “Western Influence”, and called for an intensified campaign for patriotic education of the young generation, glorifying a fantasy about a nuclear family with many children. A propaganda image, very distant from the realities of actual Russian families and their lives. An idealised image, similar to the coveted Stacys of the Incel community, and just as in approachable.
The Kremlin is entitled to international respect and influence; men are entitled to setting the norms for women’s choices. The Kremlin has developed a Putincel worldview of entitlement and has shaped an army of angry men to enforce it.