In the absence of any ideology – any core belief to tie together the Russian state and nation – the easiest way to fill the vacuum has been by turning to the Russian Orthodox Church, a deeply corrupt, reactionary and Kremlin-loving institution that has enjoyed a spike in support following the (atheist) Soviet Union’s collapse. Thus the arrest of Pussy Riot, the anti-Putin punk whose members were sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” Thus the law passed by the Duma just hours after the anti-gay law was passed, making “insulting religious believers” an offense punishable by up to three years in jail.
The second easiest thing has been to demonize the “Other,” creating an internal enemy for everyone to fear. Jews are out – Putin, who values loyalty above all, has had an affinity for Jews since childhood, when he was reportedly saved from being beaten up by street kids by a Jewish neighbor. Migrants are out – Russia needs millions of them in order to carry out the mass infrastructure projects that the country needs to keep its economy afloat; and the nationalist card is simply too dangerous to play with anyway. Who’s left? Gays.
Demonizing gays allows Putin to tell the “heartland”: I will protect you and your ‘traditional’ families, you are the real Russia. It also grows suspicion of the liberal opposition, presented as fundamentally “unRussian” as they stand up increasingly for gay rights amid Putin’s growing crackdown. And finally, it allows Russia to do what it does best these days: present itself as Not The West.