Riabov & Riabova in their publication apply the category of gender in order to explain and better understand modern Russian politics. It is, however, very hard, what such attempts provide. On the one hand this sounds like an explanation of modern, sometimes seen and referred to as aggressive politics of Kremlin, while on the other hand it may seem to be an attempt not to apply scientific approach to the political picture, but, rather, to use simplified terms for better understanding much more complex processes which take place in Russian foreign policy.
The explanation which Riabov and Riabov are suggesting is simplified to the level of interpersonal relations between very average people. What the authors make a point of is that for Russian electoral masses masculinity has become an important concept, an important component of the policy which is likely to bring success and recognition to the state on the international arena. Russian society is built, the author claims, on the basis of patriarchy, and thus males are expected to be dominating, are expected to earn their own and their families’ livings, are supposed to defend and to be in charge of the decision making process. However, the soviet times have, so to speak, humiliated Russian men, have brought them into a position, in which they were not in charge of their lives any longer, nor they were in charge of the lives and well-being of their families. This, along with a series of defeats, which Russia saw both on international and domestic arenas, have created a social demand for a strong, very masculine man, as a nation’s leader, and for strong, straight-forward international policy, the policy which would demonstrate brutal power and lack of flexibility.
According to this theory, President Putin has become such a strong leader, the leader who also turned into a symbol of the lost Russian strength and masculinity. All liberal movements are thus seen by Russian society as a way of feminization, which is non-typical and undesirable for, as remarked above, traditionally masculine Russian society. However, the things stated about a Russian man have got little connection with reality. During Soviet times people in Russia had very little freedom, and men were not much in charge of their lives. This is true. But was it much different during the pre-Soviet times? Certainly, there were Élites, and their representatives could afford making decisions regarding their rights, but an average Russian citizen has hardly ever enjoyed much freedom during the times of tsarism. This is by far not an attempt to justify the Soviet oppression of individuals. However, this needs to be kept in mind. Moreover, frankly speaking in the European countries simple people did not historically enjoy too much freedom either. Wasn’t it the reason for many of them to seek their fait in the United States? Then what makes Russia so particularly special? What causes this particular call for masculinity?
Speaking of Western Europe, one must also admit that it is by no means another Israel or another Korea, and masculinity and the patriarchal traditions are strong there too. Thus, the entire base of the logical developments, suggested by Riabov and Riabova appear to be somewhat uncertain and vague.
Another important question is whether President Putin is responding to the social demand for masculinization, or, on the contrary, is, so to speak, contributing into development of such a demand. It is hard to read in president Putin’s soul, but there are various speculations on the subject of Putin’s personal need of masculinization. Being a small man, he does not entirely coincide with the ideal image of a strong and brutal military man, as recognized in Russian society (which is true for many other traditions as well). There are some gossip-based evidences, stating that in his youth president was exposed to humiliations because of his pretty short body, and is now working on this gestalt, trying to prove his masculinity, strength and power to everybody around and, first of all, to his own self. This is where the rude and brutal rhetoric of Russian authorities towards western leaders derives from. This is, however, another version which attempts to explain complex subjects in a language and through the concepts, clearly understood by the majority of people, an attempt to put complex terms in plain, simplified vocabulary. In other words, gender may play an important role in forming Russian foreign policy. But it rather seems that it is a card, which Russian political technologists effectively played, a value, which they popularized first and then effectively appealed to. Gender needed to be actualized within the context of Russian foreign and domestic policy, and this was done. Such an actualization took place with a plan to further on appeal to masculinity, as one of the main values of Russia, as a base of patriarchic values, which are told to be central for Russian world view.
In other words, it is somewhat naïve to say, that president Putin’s soul, or anybody else’s private soul can tell the world much about the entire foreign policy of Russian Federation. It is a very complex issue, and, though gender may play an important role and may be recognized as an influential factor, still, it is important to clearly realize, that explaining everything in terms of gender is nothing more, than drawing a schematic, simplified diagram of a very complicated and multidimensional process.