Over six months, The Post examined the changes sweeping Russia as Putin has used his war in Ukraine to cement his grip on power.

By Washington Post staff

May 6, 2024


Vladimir Putin is positioning Russia as America’s most dangerous and aggressive enemy, and transforming his country in ways that stand to make it a bitter adversary of the West for decades to come.

Over more than six months, The Washington Post examined the profound changes sweeping Russia as Putin has used his war in Ukraine to cement his authoritarian grip on power.

The Russian leader is militarizing his society and infusing it with patriotic fervor, reshaping the education system, condemning scientists as traitors, promoting a new Orthodox religiosity and retrograde roles for women, and conditioning a new generation of youth to view the West as a mortal enemy in a fight for Russia’s very survival.

For this series — “Russia, Remastered” — our journalists reported extensively in Russia, especially Moscow and St. Petersburg, and central and western parts of the country. They also met with or spoke to Russians living in exile around the world, including officials, analysts, experts and civilians.

Our reporting also relied on government documents, including presidential decrees, transcripts of Putin’s speeches and remarks at public events, national and local Russian news reports and television broadcasts, social media posts, blogs and Telegram channels.

Some people interviewed for this series in Russia have since been imprisoned or have fled.

Here’s what our reporting revealed:

The new Russia is positioning itself as a superpower nemesis of the United States.

Russia’s leader-for-life is working to restore his country’s global power of the Soviet era — not as a Communist bulwark but as a champion of Orthodox Christian values and an opponent of liberal freedoms in permanent conflict with the West, in a world redivided by big powers into spheres of influence where authoritarianism is an accepted alternative to democracy. Flouting global norms and thumbing his nose at international institutions, Putin is forging military partnerships with other totalitarian regimes that also view the United States as a threat, including China, Iran and North Korea.

The new Russia claims to defend Orthodox values against Western cultural influences.

In November 2022, Putin signed a decree defining Orthodox values, puritanical morality and the rejection of LGBTQ+ identity as crucial to Russia’s national security. Putin has outlined a messianic mission to save the world from what he calls a decadent, permissive West, an approach he hopes will resonate in socially conservative nations in the Global South. The highly politicized judicial system and media heavily controlled by the Kremlin are being used to crack down on nightclubs and parties, and new patriotic mandates are being imposed on artists, filmmakers and cultural institutions.

The new Russia is militarizing society and indoctrinating a new generation of patriots.

Harnessing the war in Ukraine, Putin has engineered a deeply militarized society, rewarding war veterans and their children with places in higher education; introducing military training in schools; and elevating those involved in the war into leadership roles. Telegram channels tell women how to be good soldiers’ wives (by not complaining or crying); schoolchildren make drone fins, trench candles and custom socks for soldiers with amputated limbs. The education system has been imbued with patriotic fervor. Liberal humanities programs are shut down in favor of programs that promote nationalist ideology, and partnerships with Western schools have been canceled.

The new Russia is glorifying Stalin and rewriting history to whitewash Soviet crimes

Some people who had close contact with Putin in his early years as president described his fervent mission to rebuild Russia as a superpower and his admiration not only for imperial czars but also for the Soviet dictator and wartime leader Joseph Stalin, who engineered the Great Terror, the purges of the mid-to-late 1930s, sent millions to the gulag system of prisons and forced labor camps, and had about 800,000 people executed for political reasons. At least 95 of the 110 Stalin monuments in Russia were erected during Putin’s time as leader.

The new Russia is crushing all dissent and restricting personal freedoms.

Putin has squashed the political opposition in Russia making protests illegal, criminalizing criticism of the war, and designating liberal nongovernmental organizations and independent media, journalists, writers, lawyers and activists as foreign agents, undesirable organizations, extremists or terrorists. Hundreds of political activists have been jailed. Tens of thousands of Russians have fled in a historic exodus, with some worried they would be cut off from the world by sanctions, some afraid of being conscripted and sent to the front, and others fearing they would be persecuted for opposing Putin or the war.

About this series:

Reporting by Robyn Dixon, Francesca Ebel, Mary Ilyushina and Natalia Abbakumova. Photography by Nanna Heitmann and Ksenia Ivanova. Graphics reporting by Júlia Ledur.

Lead editors: David M. Herszenhorn and Wendy Galietta. Additional editing by Vanessa Larson and Martha Murdock. Design and development by Yutao Chen and Anna Lefkowitz. Design editing by Christine Ashack. Photo editing by Olivier Laurent. Video editing by Jon Gerberg. Graphics editing by Samuel Granados.

Additional support from Matt Clough, Kenneth Dickerman, Jordan Melendrez and Joe Snell.

About our reporters:

Robyn Dixon, The Post’s Moscow bureau chief since November 2019, is on her third stint covering Russia, having had previous assignments with the Los Angeles Times and the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age dating back to 1993. She speaks Russian, French and English.

Francesca Ebel, a Russia correspondent for The Post since November 2022, previously covered Russia and Ukraine as a multimedia journalist for the Associated Press and was an AP correspondent based in Tunis. She has a bachelor’s degree in medieval and modern languages from Cambridge University, where she studied Russian, Ukrainian and French.

Mary Ilyushina, a Post reporter covering Russia since 2021, previously worked for CNN’s Moscow bureau as a field producer. She speaks Russian, English, Ukrainian and Arabic and is a graduate of Moscow State University.

Natalia Abbakumova has been a researcher and translator in The Post’s Moscow bureau since 2001, collaborating during that time with 10 bureau chiefs. Previously, she worked briefly for The Economist. She holds a degree in foreign languages (English and German) from Moscow Linguistic University.