Conspiracy Discourse in post-Soviet Russia: Political Strategies of Capture of the Public Sphere (1991-2014)

  • Ilya Yablokov

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the impact of conspiracy theories on the processes of nation-building and political developments in post-Soviet Russia. The main focus of the work is on the construction and utilization of the anti-Western conspiracy discourse by Russia's political and intellectual elites in the public sphere with the aim of fostering social and national cohesion in the country. The thesis adopts the conceptual and methodological approach which has been developed by Mark Fenster. Fenster defines conspiracy theories as a populist theory of power, which possesses an important communicative function by helping to unite the audience as 'the people' against the imagined secretive "Other". This understanding of conspiracy theories allows us to interpret the conspiratorial discourse as a means of expressing concerns about the inequities of a social system and of creating political identities by challenging the existing political order.Through the analysis of several case studies, the thesis offers a broad reassessment of the role, which conspiracy theories have been playing in the context of post-Soviet politics. The thesis starts with the study of the role of public intellectuals in the articulation of the anti-Western conspiracy discourse and analyzes the strategies of its dissemination in the public space through the media and book publishing. It is further demonstrated how these activities supply Russia's political leadership with concepts, which are utilized to discursively polarize society between "the majority of the Russian people" and the "conspiring minority" of various civic actors with alleged links to the West. It is argued that in the past fourteen years this discursive divide has become a pivotal tool of the regime's nation-building strategies and its attempts to suppress the opposition. The thesis reveals a particular importance of such strategies during electoral campaigns.The analysis of anti-Western conspiracy discourse demonstrates that nowadays the notion of conspiracy linked to the actions of the West has emerged as a crucial functional element of the regime's ideological underpinnings. Such a discourse exploits people's nostalgic sentiments about their country's past greatness, justifies the introduction of restrictive laws and serves as a substitute for practical actions in achieving community cohesion. The thesis shows that anti-Western conspiracy theories have been actively produced by public intellectuals since the 1990s, many of whom have become loyal to the Kremlin in the 2000s. Since Putin's first accession to power, a combined effort of these intellectuals and politicians has facilitated the shifting of conspiracy notions from the margins to the centre of the official political discourse, turning them into a major instrument of survival of the political elites.
Date of Award31 Dec 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorVera Tolz-Zilitinkevic (Supervisor) & Peter Knight (Supervisor)


  • Nation-building
  • Russian politics
  • Conspiracy theory
  • Russian media

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