A time traveler from the 1930s would have no difficulty identifying the Putin regime as fascist.
Fascists calling other people “fascists” is fascism taken to its illogical extreme as a cult of unreason. It is a final point where hate speech inverts reality and propaganda is pure insistence. It is the apogee of will over thought. Calling others fascists while being a fascist is the essential Putinist practice. Jason Stanley, an American philosopher, calls it “undermining propaganda.” I have called it “schizofascism.” The Ukrainians have the most elegant formulation. They call it “ruscism.”
Still, something important is missing: paramilitary violence. The Blackshirts, or squadristi. The Brownshirts, or the SA. The Iron Guard‘s death squads. The Arrow Cross. Low-level, grassroots thuggery.
In 2014-15, gangs like that were probably active in the original Donetsk and Lugansk “People’s Republics,” but it seems that the Russians have neutralized most of the crazies there. The Kremlin is afraid of unauthorized grassroots activity of any kind. But without a degree of enthusiastic self-organization from below, no fascism can have the dark vibrancy typical of the 1930s.
This said, Russia may still experience full-fledged fascism when Putin’s grip on the Kremlin weakens, his lieutenants start fighting for power, and returning soldiers – dissatisfied with the war’s outcome and their peacetime situation – gather into paramilitary units. With their support, a classic fascist dictator might eventually emerge.