Ultra-royalist pro-Putin stance a worrying sign

Ultra-royalist pro-Putin stance a worrying sign

It is shocking enough to see hundreds of far-right ultra-royalists come out in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

What is even more appalling is the logic, or lack thereof, that these people are using to justify their admiration of Mr Putin and by extension their turning a blind eye to the plight of Ukrainians, many of whom have been forced to fight against tanks with bare hands.

After Russia launched its military invasion of Ukraine, some prominent ultra-royalists here stirred up a controversy with their social media posts extending moral support for Mr Putin's leadership, decisiveness and display of patriotism in "protecting his territory''.

That Ukraine is a sovereign country did not seem to cross their minds.

To them, it seems that as Russia said Ukraine's attempt to return to membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) was a threat to its security and it has the power to crush the neighbouring country, the war is justifiable.

Another reason why some of the ultra-royalists took the side the of President Putin appears to be their unsubstantiated belief that the Russian leader has displayed extraordinary respect to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great.

Several referred to claims that Mr Putin was so impressed with the late king's sufficiency economy philosophy that he used it as a model for Russia's agricultural reform and economic development.

These claims were made by some talk show hosts with no sources or references. However, they keep circulating on social media especially among royalist conservative groups, alongside a doctored image of Putin carrying a portrait of the late King.

Many pro-Putin royalists concluded that they would not hesitate to follow his example in order to crush threats against the country and monarchy.

It is baffling how the ultra-royalists can display unequivocal support for the invasion of a country in which hundreds, civilians and children included, have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.

And they are doing this while referring to His Majesty the late King Bhumibol who is remembered as a benevolent monarch, who always vouched for compassion, empathy and compromise throughout his long reign.

How ironic.

Puzzling as it is, the fascination with Mr Putin may be rooted in the ultra-royalists' penchant for authoritarianism, a characteristic which also made many ardent supporters of the military regime.

"The Thai leadership should learn from Putin's argument that Russia's safety and security are non-negotiable," one user commented on a widely shared social media post in support of the Russian president.

It is astonishing how hundreds of Thai royalists have been happy to sing the praises of the Russian president, how they seem to have become so lost in what they see as Mr Putin's prowess, that they seem to have forgotten Russian history.

In theory, royalists are not supposed to approve of communism, are they?

Our own history during the 1970s showed how fear of communism led to systematic hate campaigns against left-leaning activists and students -- "it is not a sin to kill communists" went one deadly maxim -- which culminated in the massacre on Oct 6, 1976 at Thammasat University.

Considering how pro-democracy activists have been treated by the ruling conservatives so far, with several still imprisoned for demanding an end to the "military" government and reform of the monarchy, it would seem the royalist fear of left-wing elements if not outright communism remains.

But why have Russia and President Putin become exempt from that fear?

Another reason for "Putin fever" among ultra-royalists could be their hatred of the liberalism stoked by the "leader of the free world" -- the United States of America.

Since Russia and Mr Putin dare to stand against the US, and other pro-democracy powers, perhaps they identify with Moscow in the sense that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", however bizarre it may sound.

Aside from questions of ideology and intellectual consistency, it is still brazen, for lack of a better word, for the ultra-royalists to display their admiration for Mr Putin and endorsement of the Russian invasion so openly and unapologetically.

A war is an atrocity. It is not a political game. It is not rhetoric. It is not clickbait. And nor should it be carelessly and cluelessly used in social media posts to glorify dictatorial power or stir up extremism.

As intellectually incoherent as it may be, this ultra-royalist pro-Putin sentiment is a worrying development, maybe even for the ruling elites they are associated with as much as anyone else.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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