I spent the morning planning to write a version of this post when I saw a quote from Russia’s head of foreign intelligence that made me think there was perhaps more here than I’d even suspected. Sergei Naryshkin said today: “The masks are off. The West isn’t simply trying to close off Russia behind a new iron curtain. This is about an attempt to ruin our government — to ‘cancel’ it, as they now say in ‘tolerant’ liberal-fascist circles.”
Now, on its face this is more than a bit much. Russia is in the process of trying to erase another country from the map, in effect if not through formal annexation. That seems like the more relevant meaning of ‘canceling’ in this context. This is also a reminder of the confluence of discourses between the American revanchist right (Trumpism and its earlier monikers, essentially) and Russian state revisionism. One thing we are constantly and rightly reminded of in these moments is that people in other countries, Russia in this case, understand the world very differently than we do. And yet here they are using language that is in fact quite familiar. It doesn’t seem alien at all. There’s a rhetorical symbiosis between the two worlds. Some of this was driven by the 2015–16 Russian interference campaign. But at a deeper level that symbiosis was the foundation on which that interference campaign became possible. Just as the democratic civic world has some elements of a transnational common political language, the authoritarian, revisionist international does too.