Doomsday and urban decay: In Russia, the end of the world is now 

William Echols

Norilsk: National Geographic

Norilsk: National Geographic

Sometimes it all comes into focus. Beneath the unending static of distraction, the esoteric musings, the multifarious political analysts attempting to dissect motivations, worldview and strategies, a far more simple image takes form upon standing back from the fray. Some are very rich, some are very poor, some want things to stay that way, and thus seemingly indefatigable human ingenuity and creativity is put towards creating multilayered worlds of symbolic meaning to obfuscate far more bare bones truths.

In excavating the strange world of Russian politics and every manifestation of social trauma, in digging through the origami propaganda messages where mouths seemingly crease into smirks and sneers at the same time — double-exposures in prime time — a very simple narrative can take hold.

For Putin to live like this:


People in Syktyvkar have to live like this:

And then, with or without irony, officials build a monument to the Ruble in the heart of the city; a neo-byzantine stele to their own profligacy.


But it doesn’t stop there. In order for Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu to allegedly live like this:

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People in Kazan live like this:



For Putin’s press secretary to spend 350,000-euro per week on a yacht like this:


Your grandmother might have to live like this:

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And for officials to spend $200 million per kilometer on a road in Sochi that ends up looking like this:

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The road between Russia and Belarus will produce a contrast like this:

In writing Russia’s Strange Prophets of Doom, the at times oppressive realities of urban decay were informative both personally and anecdotally. The unrelenting blight and pollution, the seemingly endless stretches of steppe dotted with human settlements replete with post-soviet ruin porn, these are the realities that drive even nominal patriots to dreams of Mediterranean shores.

It is easy to see that the end of the world isn’t a fantasy, it’s right outside your front door. There is also a quiet desperation which bubbles beneath the stoicism; your mental armor to block out the filth, the bleakness, the desperation. People wrap themselves in blankets of distraction, navigating every iteration of eyesore with eyes locked on feet, pushing past sooty-snow and filth to find warmth and cleanliness locked away in the rows up rows of glowing tower block lights. Then there is the crime, at times bordering on anarchy, the instability from the lack of rule of law; the television glow singing yet another hymn from the church of murder.

No, fifth columnists, Atlanticists, and every variation of conspiratorial cabal fighting to keep Russia on its knees can only provide so much subterfuge. Americans didn’t steal the money for your roads, your schools, your nursing homes. Brussels isn’t the reason crowdfunding campaigns are needed to buy grandmothers firewood in the most resource rich nation on earth.

Obama isn’t the reason why some have a license to kill, to steal, to do everything that ill-gotten wealth can buy. It was you Russia, it was always you.

And until you can learn to heal yourself, to face your challenges head on, beyond the self-satisfying fake empire and false pride, beyond the resentment, beyond the need to be right, beyond the need to wonder if “in other places it was more terrible”, beyond the infinite feedback loop of the “whataboutist” question-word clause, there will be forces who would rather burn it all than somehow, someway get on with life. And, in turn, there will be lives in which it truly seems better to just burn it all.


Popular revolutions and Putin’s state supremacy shell game

Putin believes in the responsibility to protect states, not people

William Echols


Euromaidan coups, off-color revolutions and Syrian sorties; the worldview of Vladimir Putin posits that to avoid chaos, state supremacy must supplant even the best-intentioned popular will. But has the Syrian quagmire proven that revolution, democratic or otherwise, is a recipe for disaster?

From the shores of North Africa to the Tian Shan mountains of Central Asia, revolution has swept across the Middle East and former Soviet space with increasingly fraught results.

For Putin, the two-headed dragon of Western interventionism and popular protest have breathed fire across the world, leaving death and destruction in its wake…

Read the entire article at The Intersection Project: Russia/Europe/World

Russia’s Strange Prophets of Doom

William Echols


Following Moscow’s increasingly confrontational stance against the West, a number of people within Russia seem more at ease with the end of times than the far more prosaic problems to be found beyond their pod’ezds.

“Orthodoxy or Death!” A revanchist Russia risen from its knees. Fears of the Anglo-Saxon Atlanticist order. Aleksandr Dugin’s nazi-occultisist Eurasianists — “fascist-fascism” for a-bomb fetishists; woo-woo mystics dead set on civilizational crusade against the United States.

Then comes a fictitious civil war against a fictitious fascist government in Kyiv. Next, the Third Rome’s battle to save Europe “for the forth time” from enslavement or barbarism in its Syrian intervention (though perhaps no one can save “Gayropa from itself…or Satan). Rumblings of a third world war. Nuclear war. Armageddon…

Read the entire article at Russia! Magazine 

Syrian War Is Next Great Russian Reality TV Show

William Echols 

'Great weather for airstrikes!' No, seriously, this actually happened.

‘Great weather for airstrikes!’ No, seriously, this actually happened.

While Moscow has managed to shift the publics attention away from it’s clandestine war in Ukraine to its latest military adventure in Syria, is the Russian public throwing their support behind a military operation, or a televised spectacle?

From the vertiginous heights of Ostankino, it was decided that Russia’s first war outside of the Soviet Union since its invasion of Afghanistan would be a gala event. Among a population reeling from the loss of empire, nothing says we are back like a foreign military campaign. But just like the collapse of the Soviet Union itself, Afghanistan had come to represent a time of trauma many have struggled to leave behind.

Read the entire article at Russia! Magazine 

Could Cultural Repressions Spark Next Russian Silver Age?

William Echols


In a Russia increasingly hemmed in with swearing bans, neo-Soviet censors and more, will a new generation of artists rise amidst a growing sense of cultural repression?

The Leviathan comes after Zvyagintsev. Orthodox activists smashing “blasphemous art.” “Cossacks crushing Mephisto on the streets of St. Petersburg. Cinematic expression treated as a Nazi plot.

With an inchoate sense of traditional values, which is oft defined more by what it’s opposed to than what it supports, Russia’s beleaguered art scene is under fire from forces that are certainly destructive, but not creative…

Read the full article at Russia! Magazine.