The two signal apocalyptic moments of the 1990s (panic over “cults” and the anxiety over financial machinations that could destroy the economy) are outliers in the developing conspiratorial discourse of post-Soviet Russia, in that they were perceived as primarily internal phenomena. The fringe political writings of the 1990s, however, pointed in the direction of conspiracy’s greatest potential for growth, a potential that would be fulfilled in the following decade: the apocalyptic threat by enemies from without.
Conspiracy and apocalypse meet at a point that might uncharitably and unscientifically be considered national paranoia: the conviction that most of the world wants to destroy Russia, exacerbated by the nagging sense of the country’s vulnerability. But even if we momentarily accept the “paranoid” label, we must immediately add the qualifier “justifiably.” In the twentieth century alone, the Western Allies sent a military expedition to intervene in the Russian Civil War (1918), the Soviet Union was invaded by the Nazis,whose defeat was followed by the formation of a coalition of powerful countries dedicated to, at the very least, containing the “Soviet threat.” The same century also saw the collapse of statehood on two separate occasions (1917 and 1991). Hence the popular appeal of Putin’s rhetoric of state sovereignty: failed statehood is not just conceivable, it is part of the lived experience of the majority of the adult population.
The very plausibility of the idea that Russia is under siege means that the existential threat to Russia is an available and frequent trope in the Russia narrative. The trope’s ubiquity is a function not just of the acceleration of historical time experienced in perestroika and its aftermath, but also the ways in which novelty, anxiety, and uncertainly constantly upped the ante.
Conspiracy adds a particular valence to catastrophe, in that calamities are part of plan—rather than simple a sequence of unrelated events, disasters are emplotted. Conspiracies to destroy Russia harness the teleology and of apocalypse to the structure of narrative; the result is a hybrid genre whose rules and tropes become legible and even predictable, once the constituent component of the drama are identified.
In the case of “plots against Russia,” the generic conventions at work are those associated with melodrama.
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