Russia Will Face an Existential Crisis

Nadin Brzezinski
8 min readSep 14, 2022
Alexei Navalny 2017: By Evgeny Feldman — This photo was taken with Canon EOS-1D X, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Over the last six months, people have asked why there are no demonstrations against the war. Surely some people are against the war, right? There are, but this is far more about an ancient dynamic in the Russian psyche. This is the Tzar-Boyar dynamic, where Russians are lazy and need a strong man to lead them. It goes straight to the foundation legends of Russia, known as the Chronicles.

In The Return of Holy Russia: Apocalyptic History, Mystical Awakening, and the Struggle for the Soul of the World, this is described this way. It’s the most compact explanation of this I have seen, by the way:

That an account of an unruly people reaching out to a strong leader to bring stability to them — a word that has not been absent in recent discussions about politics in post-Soviet Russia — was upheld as the very foundation of rule in Russia, would not have been a handicap for future autocratic rulers who wanted to get their message across. That post-Soviet Russian historians of a liberal persuasion, wary of the propaganda value of this foundation myth for politicians who find themselves on the opposite side, should seek to undermine it is understandable. They argue that not only is the invitation to come and rule a chaotic collection of feuding tribes a concoction, but the idea that the Russian people are so feckless and lazy that they need a strong man to make anything out of them, is only a means of subjugating these people. Telling your subjects they are children is a good way to make them accept that they need supervision.

This may be so, and no doubt much political mileage has been gotten from this idea, for good or ill. But it is still a matter of historical fact that throughout Russian history — with a few exceptions, such as Novgorod itself, as we shall see — autocracy, or rule by a strong leader, has been the dominant style and character of Russian political life. Enormous efforts have been made to change this, and attempts to Westernize (i.e., make more liberal) Russian political life have had varying success, most of them hitting a very solid wall of resistance. Indeed, how far Western influences have “taken” in Russia, and what it meant when they have, are questions that inform the overarching question of Russian identity.

Nadin Brzezinski

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game. You can find me at CounterSocial, Mastodon and rarely FB