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22|03|10 The War in Ukraine - Putin’s Ideology | Current Affairs Lecture by political philosopher Evert van der Zweerde

The War in Ukraine - Putin’s Ideology | Current Affairs Lecture by political philosopher Evert van der Zweerde The War in Ukraine - Putin’s Ideology | Current Affairs Lecture by political philosopher Evert van der Zweerde |Thursday 10 March 2022 | 12.30 - 13.15 hrs | Collegezalencomplex Radboud Universiteit, CC1 |Radboud Reflects, VOX and Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies

Video  | Podcast Nieuw W!j - Wat maakt Poetins ideologie zo aantrekkelijk? | Radboud Recharge - 'Poetin heeft zich vergist in Oekraïne’

Announcement - What drives Putin? Russia has invaded Ukraine, causing destruction, civilian casualties and a refugee crisis. The Western world is shocked, but Putin doesn't seem to have any plans of stopping. What is the ideology behind his actions and what is it based on? Come and listen to political philosopher Evert van der Zweerde, who reflects on Putin's motivations. See full annnouncemtn below.

Review/Verslag - The war in Ukraine: Putin’s Ideology

Nederlands verslag via Nieuw W!j

At this first current affairs lecture of a four-part series on the war in Ukraine of Radboud Reflects and VOX political philosopher Evert van der Zweerde of Radboud University dove into Putin’s ideology. With the images of the devastation Putin’s decisions have caused, the lecture hall was filled with participants wondering about the ideas that drive him. Program manager and ethicist Tjidde Tempels welcomed the audience and gave the floor to Evert van der Zweerde.

Evert van der Zweerde foto-Ted van Aanholt

Part of the background of the war

Evert van der Zweerde opened his lecture by stating that his focus will be Putin and his ideology, not the conflict itself with all its complicated ins and outs: “while this lecture is clearly triggered by the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine, it is not about this war, but about part of its background. What I will try to do is understand what is going on, at the level of concepts and ideas, and share my thoughts on that.”


Firstly, what do we mean when we talk about ideology, Putin’s or otherwise? Ideology is “idea-talk”, connected to practices and asymmetrical power relations within a society. It is an indispensable part of the reproduction of hegemony in any given society, that helps decide which powerful ideas take hold among people. When ideology is oppositional, it is primarily motivating and inspiring. Yet once an ideology becomes victorious, it becomes primarily legitimizing and justificatory. In a sense, it becomes a soothing “opium of the people”.

If we want to understand what is going on, Evert Van der Zweerde continued, our question should not be ‘what does Putin want?’ Instead, we should ask ourselves ‘what gives his idea-talk appeal and plausibility in the first place?’. Where does the idea come from that Ukraine actually is part of Russia? To address these questions, Evert van der Zweerde took us on a brief historical excursion.


If you look back at the origin of Russia and Ukraine, you encounter a region that is very fluid. Borders shifted many times over the centuries, political leaders divided, reunited and give away parts of their territories frequently. There has therefore not been a continuous and clearly defined Russian empire or Ukrainian nation throughout history. Moreover, historically, Kiev and the region surrounding it emerged much earlier as a political power than a Russian power with Moscow at its core. A shift toward Moscow took place later. All this of course doesn’t justify invasion, but it sets the stage of many claims Putin makes.

Great multiethnic Russia

Secondly, there is the idea of a Russian Idea: a great multiethnic Russia which includes Belarus and Ukraine, has Orthodox Christianity as its main religion and would stand against the onslaughts of the decadent and hedonistic West. This idea can be traced all the way back to Dostoevsky, and resonates with substantial parts of the Russian population. We should note that type of idea-talk is not unique to Russia: the United States has also been very successful in convincing people that they are part of a great idea - or in their case, a great American dream.

Additionally, while many Russians reject what is happening now in Ukraine, many Russians would subscribe to the idea that Ukraine is more Russian than European. This includes a large part of the population of the Crimea, who are overwhelmingly ethnic Russians. Many Russians also recognize the picture that Putin paints of a Western world that has continuously been humiliated and disrespected by Europe, which is not at all nonsensical.

Nostalgia toward Soviet times

Lastly, Evert van der Zweerde briefly sketched where Vladimir Putin comes from, addressing his career in the USSR, his time as a KGB officer and his presidency which was initially successful and later heavily contested. This background, along with Putin’s nostalgia toward Soviet times, gives his actions something desperate and fatal. “We should always remember that for Putin, the greatest catastrophy of the 20th century was the collapse of the USSR. For him this is a fact of life, simply true beyond dispute. Whatever we may think of it.”

Three guidelines

Evert van der Zweerde concluded with three guidelines we can use in understanding the ideological side of this conflict:

  • We should try to replace, temporarily, moral outcry and cheap condemnation by sober analysis.
  • We should take ideas, especially those that strike you as absurd, seriously, without taking them literally. Try to understand why to others than yourself they may have a distinct plausibility.
  • We should continue to make the crucial distinction between the Russians and the current administration, and maintain, and where necessary and possible, reestablish, personal contacts and professional exchange.

Evert van der Zweerde was rewarded with a warm applause, and the floor was opened for questions.

By Pam Tönissen

Wil je op de hoogte blijven van onze activiteiten? Schrijf je dan in voor de nieuwsbrief.




Putin's ideology | Current affairs lecture with political philosopher Evert van der Zweerde

Nederlands volgt Engels.

What drives Putin? Russia has invaded Ukraine, causing destruction, civilian casualties and a refugee crisis. The Western world is shocked, but Putin doesn't seem to have any plans of stopping. What is the ideology behind his actions and what is it based on? Come and listen to political philosopher Evert van der Zweerde, who reflects on Putin's motivations.

Putin's story

The Wednesday before the Russian invasion began, many went to bed believing that things would cool down at the Ukrainian border. The next morning, it was war. The threat had been around for years, but suddenly Putin seems to have let go of all restraint. Why is he suddenly willing to take such huge risks? In lengthy speeches, he explains why, in his view, Ukraine is not a legitimate country and why the population must be protected from a violent 'Nazi government'.


However bizarre Putin's narrative may sound to our ears, according to philosopher Evert van der Zweerde it is not mere nonsense. Putin's claims may often be heavily exaggerated and taken out of context, but they do have a basis in reality. Evert van der Zweerde gives us an insight into Putin's ideology, and discusses the way Putin uses it to justify his actions. What is plausible about Putin's ideas and what is not? And where do his ideas come from?

Come, listen and ask your questions during your lunch break.

About the speaker

Zweerde, Evert van derEvert van de Zweerde is a political philosopher at Radboud University. His research focuses on the themes of ideology, civil society and democracy. He is also the founder of the Democratic Laboratory.

The war in Urkraine is complex and needs reflection from different angles. That is why Radboud Reflects and  VOX organize Current Affairs Lectures during lunch break the Thursdays to come. Save the dates: 17, 24 and 31 March.


Wat drijft Poetin? Rusland is Oekraïne binnengevallen, met verwoestingen, burgerslachtoffers en een vluchtelingencrisis als gevolg. De Westerse wereld is geschokt, maar Poetin lijkt niet van plan om te stoppen. Wat is de ideologie achter zijn acties en waar is die op gebaseerd? Kom luisteren naar politiekfilosoof Evert van der Zweerde die tekst en uitleg geeft bij de drijfveren van Poetin.

Het verhaal van Poetin

De woensdag vóór de Russische invasie begon, gingen velen nog naar bed in de overtuiging dat het aan de Oekraïense grens zo’n vaart niet zou lopen. De volgende ochtend was het oorlog. De dreiging bestond al jaren, maar ineens lijkt Poetin alle terughoudendheid te hebben laten varen. Waarom is hij plotseling bereid om enorme risico’s te nemen? In lange toespraken zet hij uiteen waarom Oekraïne in zijn optiek geen legitiem land is en waarom de bevolking moet worden beschermd tegen een gewelddadige ‘nazi-regering’.


Hoe bizar het narratief van Poetin in onze oren ook moge klinken, volgens filosoof Evert van der Zweerde is het niet enkel onzin. Poetins claims mogen dan vaak zwaar aangedikt en uit hun verband gerukt zijn, ze zijn wel ergens op gebaseerd. Evert van der Zweerde geeft ons een inkijkje in Poetins ideologie, en bespreekt de manier waarop Poetin die inzet om zijn handelen te rechtvaardigen. Wat is er plausibel aan Poetins ideeën en wat niet? En waar komen zijn ideeën vandaan?

Kom, luister en stel je vragen tijdens je lunchpauze.

Over de spreker

Zweerde, Evert van derEvert van de Zweerde is politiek filosoof aan de Radboud Universiteit. In zijn onderzoek staan de thema’s ideologie, civil society en democratie centraal. Daarnaast is hij de oprichter van het Democratisch Laboratorium.

Vanwege colleges voor en na dit Actualiteitencolle Er is geen livestream van dit Actualiteitencollege. Een podcast zal beschikbaar komen en waarschijnlijk ook een video-opname.

De oorlog in Oekraïne vraagt om duiding en verdieping. Daarom organiseert Radboud Reflects samen met VOX de komende donderdagen Actualiteitencolleges tijdens de lunchpauze. Reserveer alvast 17, 24 en 31 maart in je agenda.

Wil je op de hoogte blijven van de activiteiten van Radboud Reflects? Schrijf je dan in voor de tweewekelijkse nieuwsbrief.Wil je verder denken over ethische vragen die spelen in jouw organisatie? Bekijk Radboud Reflects Professional – Ethische verdieping voor organisaties.