Nationalist blogger Roman Antonovsky’s airtime has increased since fierce fighting broke out in February, thanks in large part to Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine.

Before taking the stage at a patriotic concert in Moscow, a 42-year-old marketing specialist with glistening eyes and a handlebar moustache reminiscent of imperial Russia said, “Patriotism is the newest fad in Russia.”

He addressed the sympathetic crowd by saying, “I like your faces. They haven’t been disfigured by liberalism!” before reading nationalist poetry.

Nationalists are now taking the lead in what President Vladimir Putin has dubbed Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, having previously been marginalized as a threat to the Kremlin.

Their staunch support for the cause has even given them the confidence to criticize government figures openly who they hold accountable for mistakes made on the battlefield.

Nationalists have attacked generals, demanded a general mobilization, and even called for the use of nuclear weapons after setbacks like those in Ukraine’s Kherson and Kharkiv regions in the country’s south and northeast, respectively.

In August, after Daria Dugina, the daughter of far-right political figure Alexander Dugin, died in a car bomb that was attributed to Ukraine, their growing influence was on display at her funeral.

At the memorial service in Moscow, hundreds attended, and condolences poured in, including from Putin.

Previously restricted to social media, nationalist bloggers, journalists, and intellectuals now frequently appear on Russian state television.

According to sociologist Lev Gudkov, the head of the nonpartisan polling organization Levada Centre, “the Kremlin needs the nationalists to support the special military operation.”

According to Levada Centre research, 78% of Russians think their country is a “great country surrounded by enemies,” according to Gudkov.

And a popular message among Russia’s new patriots is the country’s increasing sense of isolation.

Antonovsky defends “the great Russian Empire” as “the last bastion of traditional values” in blog posts and on the radio.

He criticizes what he sees as the liberal West and demands that “Russophobes” be exterminated in Russia as well as the nationalization of the media.

He claims that “Western Russophobia has united us.”

Valery Romanov, a student, says some young people are drawn to Russian history and nationalist voices partly to better understand “what is happening now”.

The 19-year-old said, “Nationalism is not necessarily extremism. It is the pinnacle of patriotism.

At the Black Hundred publishing house, which was named after a monarchist and ultra-nationalist movement that flourished in Russia in the early 20th century, he also oversees logistics.

He revealed to AFP that two of his friends quit their studies for a year to fight in Ukraine.

Romanov, however, is making a contribution by gathering supplies to send to the front, including food, medicine, and clothing.

A small political organization called “Society.Future,” founded by researcher Daniil Makhnitsky, 27, who identifies as a “national-democrat,” is also raising money for Russian troops.

He stated that their upcoming truck will carry 2,300 first aid kits.

Sanctions, he said, “were supposed to force us to overthrow Putin, but they had the opposite effect: Russian patriotism is booming.”

The rising nationalist tide that currently supports the Kremlin, according to sociologist Gudkov, may have negative effects.

Because of the country’s weak civil society, “this imperial chauvinism could be very dangerous and become a dominant political force,” he claims.

Makhnitsky states that he has “no illusions” about the Kremlin’s willingness to accept the movement.

He claims, “It’s a marriage of convenience.” “Once a peace agreement is signed, it’s over