Also present in Mr Putin’s thinking is an even more extreme anti-liberal ideology: that of Lev Gumilev, who thought that nations draw their collective drive, or passionarnost (an invented word), from cosmic rays. In this bizarre understanding of the world, the West’s will to exist is almost exhausted, whereas Russia still has the energy and vocation to form a mighty Slavic-Turkic state, spanning Eurasia.
What these ways of thinking have in common, Mr Snyder argues, is a quasi-mystical belief in the destiny of nations and rulers, which sets aside the need to observe laws or procedures, or grapple with physical realities. The spiritual imperative transcends everything, rendering politics, and the pursuit of truth in the ordinary sense, superfluous or even dangerous.
Mr Snyder also traces the Kremlin’s efforts to undermine the European Union by fostering Eurosceptic parties on the extreme right and left, as well as its drive to weaken America’s body politic. He believes that the election of Donald Trump, and the discrediting of Hillary Clinton, were with good reason seen in Moscow as a sweet success, achieved above all with the manipulation of electronic messages. In his view, this mood of triumph was felt not so much because of the policies that Mr Trump would follow, but because his cavalier attitude to the rules of the political game was subverting the American system. As Mr Snyder sees it, Russia finds flawed democracies easier to live with than healthy ones.