The Malaysia Airlines MH17 atrocity and its aftermath raise vital questions about the motivations and ideological commitments of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his regime. One extreme interpretation is that the Kremlin is controlled by a satanic death cult committed to Armageddon. A less alarming appraisal is that Russian aggression reflects the resurrection of the imperialism previously associated with the Soviet Union, Tsarist Russia, and the Nazis. This is driven by a powerful cadre of Russian ultra-nationalists advocating a vast Eurasian Heartland, incorporating Ukraine and dominating the world.
At the centre of this vital strategic issue is the political religion of Neo-Eurasianism and its high priest, Aleksandr Dugin, whose spiritualised neo-fascist imperialism is based on an all-encompassing rage against liberalism, globalisation, modernity and the West in general. A professor of sociology at Moscow State University, prolific author, prominent media commentator and political activist, Dugin exercises a “quasi-monopoly” over nationalist thought in Russia, according to Marlène Laruelle in Russian Eurasianism: An Ideology of Empire (2008). He operates on “the assumption that Russian society and Russia’s political establishment are in search of a new ideology” of imperialism, which it is his mission to provide. As he makes clear in The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia (1997):
Eurasia and our space, the heartland Russia, remain the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution … The new Eurasian empire will be constructed on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, strategic control [over] the USA, and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us. This common civilizational impulse will be the basis of a political and strategic union.
Within this grandiose geopolitical scheme Ukraine plays an essential role and Dugin is an outspoken advocate of the Russian insurgents operating there who seek to bind the country close to Russia. Along with other ultranationalists he champions their cause, “raising money, recruiting volunteers, and using their considerable influence within Russia’s security establishment to provide more direct support”, according to Fred Weir in the Christian Science Monitor. Dugin has even criticised Putin for timidity in his support for the insurgency. Dugin expressed no regrets for the MH17 atrocity, instead complaining on his Facebook page that it would make the insurgents’ task more difficult. His demand in June that Ukrainians must be “killed, killed, killed”, only increased his notoriety in Russia, as did his promotion of the horrific allegation, featured on Russia’s Channel One in July, that Ukrainians “took a child, three years old, a little boy … wearing little briefs and a T-shirt and … nailed him, like Jesus, to the bulletin board”.
Dugin is “Putin’s Brain”, according to Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn in a recent Foreign Affairs article, while Robert Zubrin concludes in National Review Online:
Dugin is the mad philosopher who is redesigning the brains of much of the Russian government and public, filling their minds with a new hate-ridden totalitarian ideology whose consequences can only be catastrophic in the extreme, not only for Russia, but for the entire human race.
According to Zubrin, “Eurasianism is a satanic cult”. Zubrin relies for this extreme assessment on a recent study by James Heiser, “The American Empire Should Be Destroyed” (the title is a quote from Dugin) (2012), which emphasises the religious and apocalyptic dimensions of Dugin’s version of Neo-Eurasianism: “Dugin’s intended goal, his telos, is the End of the World and … that end is dependent … on the implementation of his ideology”. And as Dugin himself has declared in his recent book, The Fourth Political Theory (2012), this objective demands a form of spiritualised mass militancy:
The end times and the eschatological meaning of politics will not realize themselves on their own … The end will never come if we wait for it … If the Fourth Political Practice is not able to realize the end of times, then it would be invalid. The End of Days should come, but it will not come by itself. This is a task, it is not a certainty. It is an active metaphysics. It is a practice.
Like previous forms of apocalypticism, Dugin’s view is dualistic, depicting the world as a battleground within which the forces of good and evil, light and darkness, spirit and matter, contend for the fate of the planet. In Dugin’s version of apocalypticism, it is the “Atlanticist New World Order” based on liberalism, modernity, and materialism, that represents the forces of evil, while the peoples of Eurasia with their stronger spirituality constitute (or will soon constitute) the “New Eurasian Order” and form the vanguard for the forces for good.
Dugin’s national death wish is emphasised by Stephen Shenfield in Russian Fascism (2001), who cites Dugin’s insistence in The End of the World (1997) that:
The meaning of Russia is that through the Russian people will be realized the last thought of God, the thought of the End of the World … Death is the way to immortality. Love will begin when the world ends. We must long for it, like true Christians … We are uprooting the accursed Tree of Knowledge. With it will perish the Universe.
Shenfield also observes that, when a critic pointed out that Dugin’s “real dream is of death, first of all the death of Russia”, Dugin responded that this betrays the critic’s failure “to appreciate the positive significance of death”. As James Heiser concludes about Dugin:
it is hard to know how to react to someone who claims to want to bring about the end of the world … It is a claim which evokes a snicker—until one realizes that the man who thinks that the “meaning of Russia” is “the End of the World” is the man whose geopolitical doctrine is being implemented by the ruler of Russia.
In another assessment, Ingo Mannteufel, in Deutsche Welle, outlines the broader ideological context of Dugin’s work: “Eurasianism was developed in 1920 by Russian emigrants who combined in their ideology elements of anti-liberalism, nationalism and anti-Semitism … Until a few years ago they were marginal views, held by political crackpots and conspiracy theorists”, but in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union they found their way into mainstream political discourse and now, “in Putin’s remarks and policies since 2011/2012, echoes of Eurasianism have become increasingly apparent”. This aligns Russia with the far-Right in Europe where the “increasingly strong right-wing populist movements with their anti-liberal, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-American views correspond exactly to the Eurasian ideology being propagated in Russia”. Unsurprisingly, “Putin speaks … positively about right-wing populist politicians and parties like Marine Le Pen’s National Front”, and consequently “Eurasianism and its individual ideological components will … shape the European political debate over the coming decades”. “Eurasianism is not a Russian rejection of Europe, as is often erroneously thought. It’s the concept of another Europe—namely, an anti-liberal and anti-American one.”
Fear that the “Atlantic Alliance” will continue to remake the world to suit its own interests now consumes the Russian defence establishment, according to Theodore Karasik and Heinrich Matthee in “Russia’s Emerging Defence and Security Doctrine” (Eurasia Review, June 11, 2014). “Russian military strategists see a new world order emerging where an alternative and anti-thesis to the West is necessary.” Recent speeches given by the Russian Defence Minister and the Military Chief of Staff reveal that “the Russian security elites appear to be formulating a new Russian security and foreign policy doctrine”, based on “the necessity for the Russian/Eurasian civilization to counteract aggression from the Atlantic civilization led by the US”, which “intends to disassemble Russian statehood and gain global hegemony”. In response, the Kremlin has adopted a “holy mission”—to preserve Russian culture and combat the moral decay promoted by their Atlanticist enemies. Much of the battle must be fought at the ideological level, and to combat liberalism, Russia must promote an alternative post-liberal, statist form of conservatism, “which defends tradition, conservative values, and true liberty” within a new Eurasian civilisation.
Commentators have struggled to find a term to accurately describe this ideological position. As Aaron Rhodes points out in the Washington Times, “it has been called, among other things, ‘19th-century Russian imperialism,’ ‘neo-czarism,’ ‘nationalism,’ ‘national socialism,’ ‘neo-totalitarianism,’ ‘neo-Sovietism,’ ‘fascism’ and ‘neo-fascism’”. The simplest approach is to recognise that it has elements of all these positions but to accept the name it gives itself, Neo-Eurasianism, and then explore in detail what Dugin means by it.
Dugin, born in 1962, comes from a prominent military family with strong connections with the security and intelligence services. He claims to possess several doctorates and is Director of the Centre for Conservative Studies and was Head of the Department of Sociology of International Relations at Moscow State University. He also serves as an adviser to the Speaker of the Russian State Duma, who is a leading member of the ruling United Russia Party. Previously, Dugin had a tumultuous life, operating since the 1980s as an autodidactic intellectual pursuing various religious, occult, ideological and political projects involving Pamyat, an Orthodox Christian nationalist group, the National Bolshevik Party, the National Bolshevik Front, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Eurasia Party, the International Eurasian Movement, the Eurasian Youth Union, and Arctogaia, most of which have attracted the support and involvement of Russian politicians and military leaders. Dugin also works as a journalist and has emerged over the past decade as a popular and influential political commentator, appearing on prime-time political talk shows and publishing articles in the mainstream media. He also has a prominent internet presence, both in his own right and via front organisations, and is a prolific author.
Dugin’s most important book is The Foundations of Geopolitics. Written in 1997 in conjunction with leading military figures, it is used as a textbook in the General Staff Academy and other educational institutions, and is very influential amongst the Russian political, military, security, defence and foreign policy elites. Taking its departure from Dugin’s unyielding rejection of liberal, democratic, and capitalist “Atlanticism” it depicts Russia as “the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution” in a battle for global domination. Eschewing a reliance on traditional military forces, it is remarkable for the extent to which it describes the new forms of warfare that have become increasingly prominent since the 9/11 attacks and the War on Terror. Conventional types of combat are to play a relatively minor role in favour of a co-ordinated program of disinformation, demoralisation, destabilisation, subversion and insurgency, with elite Russian special forces, sponsored militias and other covert services (such as cyberwarfare) in the vanguard. It describes in detail how Russia should use its oil, gas and other natural resources to intimidate other countries, with the ultimate goal being the “Finlandisation” of Europe. Within this system of dependency Germany would be allowed to exercise hegemony over Central and Eastern Europe and encouraged to form a “Franco-German bloc” as a bulwark against America. Great Britain would be driven out of any alliance with Europe and isolated, while most other countries would be either absorbed into the new Eurasian empire or given subordinate “special status” alongside it.
Dugin sees Ukraine as a special case and its annexation as essential. In his view, its independence “represents an enormous danger for all of Eurasia and, without resolving the Ukrainian problem, it is in general senseless to speak about continental politics”. Consequently, he welcomed Putin’s claim in March that the Ukrainian state no longer existed and was therefore not protected by treaties or law. This allegedly legitimised any military action that the Russian parliament authorised Putin to carry out. Dugin reacted violently in July to Putin’s tactical retreat from open support for the Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine. “We support Putin because he is strong,” he told the Washington Times. “But many people feel cheated by his refusal to use military force. Russian patriots are close to turning away from Putin … he risks losing the support of the masses.” The subsequent shooting down of MH17 by the insurgents abruptly raised the stakes by impacting tragically on the citizens of other nations and finally attracting the attention of the world to the sinister ideology and strategy that Putin and Dugin were pursuing.
Further afield, the book insists that a “continental Russian-Islamic alliance [must lie] at the foundation of anti-Atlanticist strategy”, and is to be based on the shared “traditional character of Russian and Islamic civilizations”. Central to this alliance is Iran, and the creation of a “Moscow–Tehran Axis” is essential. China is to be encouraged to expand eastwards and southwards, dominating Indo-China and Oceania, including Australia. As far as America is concerned, Russia must not hesitate to use all forms of subversion to create social disharmony and instability. This would involve the provocation of “Afro-American racists” and the encouragement of “all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements—extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes [and supporting] isolationist tendencies in American politics”.
As part of this strategy of ideological subversion Dugin published The Fourth Political Theory (2012), accompanied by its website, “4pt”. A synthesis of anti-liberal political ideologies, including elements of communism and fascism, augmented with ideas from radical environmentalism and Integral Traditionalism, Dugin’s theory is designed to have the widest possible appeal. He condemns the cosmopolitan Atlanticism of Western Europe and America as a homogenising force that annihilates the diversity of traditional cultures, only to replace them with the spiritual and cultural vacuity of liberalism, materialism, capitalism, secularism and consumerism. As his views reported by Heiser make clear, Dugin believes these are literally the forces of the anti-Christ, and to combat them he calls for the mobilisation of the peoples of Eurasia led by Russia, and including the former Soviet republics, Germany, Central and Eastern Europe, Turkey and Iran, thus forging a “natural” alliance with Islam while also ensuring Russian access to warm-water ports.
According to Dugin, “liberalism is an absolute evil [and] only a global crusade against the US, the West, [and] globalization [is] an adequate response”. “The American empire should be destroyed” because it is the “Kingdom of the Anti-Christ”, and to accomplish this Russia needs to embrace a “genuine, true, radically revolutionary and consistent, fascist fascism”, as proposed in The Fourth Political Theory. As Zubrin observes, aside from its anti-industrial and anti-technology declarations adopted to appeal to environmentalists, and its traditionalist veneer of spirituality, most of the book “is straight out of Nazism, ranging from legal theories justifying unlimited state power and the elimination of individual rights, to the need for populations ‘rooted’ in the soil, to weird Gnostic ideas about the secret origin of the Aryan race in the North Pole”.
Aside from 4pt, Dugin also promotes his views on other websites, including Arctogaia (which features a summary of Foundations), Open Revolt, and New Resistance. The latter presents itself as:
a loose network of American and Canadian fourth political theorists, national revolutionaries, Eurasianists, National Bolsheviks, left-nationalists, right-wing anti-capitalists and non-dogmatic left-wing radicals who advocate a wide-ranging and multi-leveled resistance to neo-liberal economic policies, Anglo-US imperialism and Zionist influence in the media and government.
This ideological “rainbow coalition” epitomises the radicalised mass constituency that Dugin believes exists to implement his political program.
In developing this complex ideological and political program, Dugin has followed a strange intellectual trajectory, as he makes clear in “The Long Path”, an interview published on the Open Revolt website in May 2014. There he identifies the principal influences on his syncretic Weltanschauung, which will now be reviewed, starting with the esoteric form of spiritual philosophy called Traditionalism, which forms the intellectual foundation of Dugin’s thought:
In my early youth I was deeply inspired by the Traditionalism of René Guénon and Julius Evola. That was my definitive choice of camp—on the side of sacred Tradition against the modern (and post-modern) world. This choice and all consequences are still there in the present. I firmly stand for spiritual and religious values against actual decadent materialist and perverted culture.
“Traditionalism [is] the philosophic focus of all my later developments,” he declared emphatically, and he explored the field and its relevance to the Russian situation in works like The Ways of the Absolute (1989), Templars of the Proletariat (1997) and The Philosophy of Traditionalism (2002).
Traditionalism (also known as Perennialism) refers to the anti-modernist worldview of a loose community of esotericists who believe that the world’s major religious traditions share a transcendent unity and are all founded on the one primordial Truth. They believe also that these traditions have all diverged from this primal metaphysical revelation over the millennia, and that its full nature has become lost or occluded, so that the exoteric dogmas, doctrines and teachings of any tradition now offer only a pale shadow of the original revelation upon which it was based. This has led to the progressive decline of civilisation from a sacralised, hierarchical order to the vapid materialistic consumer society that surrounds us, along with various other pathologies that Traditionalists insist infect the contemporary world, which they see as irredeemably decadent. However, the opportunity still exists for determined scholars and initiates like themselves to penetrate beyond the corrupted superficial exoteric shell to the pristine esoteric core of the tradition to which they adhere, which in practice has usually been Sufism, Hindu Vedanta, or certain forms of Christianity, and to then perhaps serve as a spiritual elite able to guide society back towards the Truth. The major Traditionalists include Guénon, Evola, Frithjof Schuon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings, Marco Pallis and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. (A leading expert on Traditionalism is an Australian, Harry Oldmeadow.)
Like the various forms of religious fundamentalism, Traditionalism is a twentieth-century phenomenon that is best seen as an extreme reaction to the desacralising effects of liberalism and modernity, as Dugin makes clear in the interview: “Liberalism [is] the main enemy and the final incarnation of the spirit of Modernity that was always considered by me as the absolute evil (in the sense of Guénon and Evola)”. As he says elsewhere:
I share the vision of René Guénon and Julius Evola, who considered modernity and its ideological basis (individualism, liberal democracy, capitalism, consumerism, and so on) to be the cause of the future catastrophe of humanity, and the global domination of the Western lifestyle as the reason for the degradation of the Earth.
Dugin’s hatred of the West was accentuated in the early 1990s after its victory in the Cold War and the collapse of communism. This caused him to shift “from more classical right Traditionalism”, which directed its rage against the Soviet state, to what he calls left Traditionalism or National Bolshevism, which directs its rage against the West and the modern world, embracing “a total refusal of liberalism identified as the ideology that … has proved to be more consistently modern and identical with the very nature, [the] very essence of Modernity”.
Therefore, despite his homage to Guénon, Dugin is clearly aligned with the radical, neo-fascist form of Traditionalism associated with Julius Evola. As Mark Sedgwick makes clear in his study of the movement, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (2004), Traditionalism branched into two streams after its initial development under Guénon: contemplative and activist. The majority were apolitical and followed Guénon and other leading Traditionalists like Schuon into Sufism and other forms of mysticism, seeking individual spiritual transformation. However, a minority were highly politicised and followed the lead of Evola (who saw himself as a type of Nietzschean spiritual warrior) and sought the revolutionary transformation of the modern world. Evola’s many books employ a highly esoteric discourse derived from paganism, mythology, magic, alchemy, the occult, yoga and fascism, but by the 1970s he had gained a significant following amongst revolutionary neo-fascists and terrorists of the far Right, especially in France and Italy, where followers of Evola perpetrated terrorist outrages and assassinations, and drove the state into crisis. He was described by a leading far Right extremist at the time as “our Marcuse, only better”, as Thomas Sheehan recalled in “Italy: Terror on the Right” (New York Review of Books, January 22, 1981): “In no other contemporary thinker … is the rejection of history and the modern world so absolute and so virulent … to read Evola is to take a trip through a weird and fascinating jungle of ancient mythologies, pseudo-ethnology, and transcendental mysticism”, but he is taken deadly seriously by his followers.
Evola’s main work, Revolt Against the Modern World (1934), provides an unyielding critique of the present global dispensation, presenting it as the Kali Yuga, an age of strife, corruption and discord, and the final stage of the history of the world, according to Hinduism. The work circulated underground for decades in mimeograph and samizdat versions and Dugin became familiar with it after he was initiated as a teenager into a Moscow secret society deeply involved in occultism, mysticism, paganism and fascism. Inevitably, the group attracted the attention of the KGB, and a search of Dugin’s apartment revealed forbidden literature, leading to his arrest and expulsion from the Moscow Aviation Institute, where he was studying. It is an indicator of the resurgence of the far Right in Europe and Russia and the growing influence of Evola that Revolt Against the Modern World has now been translated into English, German, Russian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Turkish, Hungarian, Serbian and Greek and is now freely available in those countries, along with many of Evola’s other numerous works.
A second influence cited by Dugin is the European New Right (ENR or Nouvelle Droite), which is a synthesis of the inter-war “conservative revolutionary” thought of Oswald Spengler, Otto Strasser, Ernst Jünger and Martin Heidegger, the post-war neo-fascism of Francis Parker Yockey, elements of the New Left, and recent neo-fascists, including Jean-François Thiriart, who moved from the extreme Left to the extreme Right, serving in the Waffen SS but later advising the Black Panthers and Fatah, before ending up a National Bolshevik and ally of Dugin. Key organisations with close links to Dugin (and Putin) include the National Front in France, the British National Party, German National Democratic Party, Freedom Party of Austria, Golden Dawn in Greece, Platform for Catalonia in Spain, and Jobbik in Hungary. These organisations generally insist they transcend the Left-Right distinction and are engaged in a form of metapolitics, with a focus on national identity and culture, and the battle to preserve traditional European civilisation, as they see it. They often rage against ZOG (“Zionist Occupation Government”) and were active in the recent anti-Semitic riots in Paris. They are quite different from the New Right in Anglophone countries, which they see as the bastions of liberalism.
Alain de Benoist is the most prominent leader of the Nouvelle Droite and also director of GRECE (“Research and Study Group for European Civilization”), the key New Right think-tank. According to Dugin, Benoist “has personally become my friend and influenced me directly”, in works like The Conservative Revolution (1994), and Goals and Tasks of Our Revolution (1995). As Michael O’Meara points out in New Culture, New Right Anti-Liberalism in Postmodern Europe (2013), there are several distinct ideological currents within Nouvelle Droite that resonate with Dugin’s project. These include the Traditionalism associated with Guénon and Evola; a nationalist, communitarian, Völkisch, anti-Semitic form of identity politics; and an intellectually developed neo-paganism which is militantly antagonistic to the Judeo-Christian heritage. There is even a form of right-wing postmodernism, which argues for radical cultural pluralism on the basis that the progressivist liberalism meant to bind Europe together has failed. In place of multiculturalism, the Nouvelle Droite advocates ethno-pluralism and ethno-regionalism, which purportedly seek to preserve traditional cultures by maintaining rigid social, ethnic and geographic demarcations between them.
This alignment represents “the Kremlin’s marriage of convenience with the European far Right”, according to Anton Shekhovtsov in Open Democracy in April 2014. He argues that Russia is using the extreme Right to discredit and undermine European political institutions: “Since Russia is unable to win over the West by fair-and-square competition, i.e. by advancing economy, technology, culture, human capital, etc., it can only become the superpower by weakening other actors”. “Consolidated democracy and good governance” in the West are therefore primary targets.
A third influence on Dugin is geopolitics. In his interview he recalls “discovering the classical works of Mackinder, Weltpolitik, Spickman and Haushoffer”, and he notes their similarity to the work of the original Eurasianists who constituted a major political movement amongst the Russian émigré community in the 1920s. Like the earlier Slavophiles, they argued that the civilisation of Russia has its own unique origins, institutions, traditions, religion and character, and must be kept distinct from that of Europe. They entertained the belief that the Bolshevik Revolution had been a necessary reaction to the excessively rapid modernisation of Russia and that the nation would eventually return to its traditional roots, reject materialist communism and atheism and evolve into an Orthodox Christian state. The movement was destroyed by a Soviet counterintelligence operation but, in Dugin’s view, it tried “to create an original ideology combining tradition, conservatism, [and] Slavophile concepts with some contemporary notions in the field of geopolitics”. These insights became “the starting point of Neo-Eurasianism, developed by me from the middle 80’s when the main features of a new world vision [became] clear to me”, and remain central to his vision of a Eurasian heartland based on Russia.
This grand strategic conception has several sources. It was derived from Geopolitik, a purportedly scientific form of political geography applied on a global scale. It appeared just before the Great War and became extremely influential in the Third Reich. Its key theorists include Karl Haushofer, who elaborated the five principles identified by Rudolph Kjellén as essential to any understanding of world history and politics: the primacy of the organic Völkisch state; the need for Lebensraum or living room for the Volk; the demand for autarky, or economic self-sufficiency; a pan-regional vision that divided the world up into two or three autonomous and mutually hostile zones; and the significance of the historical enmity between empires based on land power and those based on sea power. This latter principle was reinforced by the immensely influential theories of Alfred Thayer Mahan, who developed his concept of the centrality of “sea power” in The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 (1890).
The famous “Heartland Theory” was articulated by Halford J. Mackinder in “The Geographical Pivot of History” (1904), and he later developed it into an influential theory of the evolution of civilisation across the globe. According to this, the “World Island”, comprising the contiguous continental zones of Europe, Asia and Africa, was the determinative entity in human history. At its core was the Eurasian Heartland, ruled principally at the time by Russia and later the Soviet Union, and possessing a vast share of the world’s natural resources. Beyond this were the “Offshore Islands”, including the United Kingdom and Japan, and further away still were the “Outlying Islands”, including North America, South America and Oceania, whose entry into world history has been comparatively recent and whose societies are derivative of the civilisations of the World Island. In a later book, Democratic Ideals and Reality (1919), Mackinder sought to influence the Paris Peace Conference by emphasising the central role that Germany would play within the Heartland, insisting that:
Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World.
At the time, it appears only the Nazis and the original Eurasianists were paying attention to these insights, until Dugin and his followers resurrected the idea of the world-dominating Eurasian Heartland as a key component of their ideological rationale for the next stage in the centuries-long history of Russian imperialism.
That Dugin’s ideological mélange could gain political traction might seem barely credible. However, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany are grim examples of how such things can occur under the right circumstances, and much of what Dugin is proposing is a reformulation of ideology and strategy from the fascist era. Indeed, Alfred Rosenberg played a role as primary ideologue in the Nazi regime analogous to that presently played by Dugin in Russia. Rosenberg’s tome The Myth of the Twentieth Century (1930) also raged against “liberal imperialism” and promoted similar geopolitical ideas including the establishment of a vast Eurasian Heartland to be dominated, in his version, by Germany.
Ultimately, the key to Dugin’s influence is that he has achieved a synthesis of concepts derived from various sources to construct a comprehensive system of ultra-nationalism at a critical time in Russian history. The prominence of Neo-Eurasianism reflects the failure of Russia to seize the opportunities that opened up with the disintegration of the Soviet Union nearly a quarter of a century ago. There had been a hope that some form of liberal democratic regime would emerge, but that didn’t eventuate and the collapse of the Soviet Union left Russia without a national identity or a sense of destiny, just a growing conviction that the once superpower colossus had been cheated by the West and betrayed by history. As Putin lamented in 2005: the collapse of the Soviet empire was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”, and it was his destiny to reverse this disaster.
This prompted a resurgence of statist imperialism, as Marcel Van Herpen makes clear in Putin’s Wars: The Rise of Russia’s New Imperialism (2014): “in Russia empire building and despotism have always tended to go hand in hand”, and after a period of “empire fatigue” in post-Soviet Russia, the ascension of Putin marked the resumption of this historic tendency. Putin was “convinced that … he needed to rule for at least twenty years [and] put a system in place that guaranteed” the restoration of the empire, essentially terminating the democratic experiment and transforming the ruling “United Russia” party “from a centrist party into a revanchist and ultra-nationalist party”.
Putin and the ruling elite returned to the view that Russia was “a unique civilization [that] could not be made to fit comfortably into European or Asian boxes and had to live by its own uniquely Russian rules and morals”, as Barbashin and Thoburn recall. Allied with the Russian Orthodox Church and other conservative and nationalist forces, Putin declared war on various icons of Western liberalism and popular culture that had begun to gain a following in Russia, signalling the shift with high-profile and domestically well-received attacks, targeting homosexuals, the feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot, and the Greenpeace activists who occupied the Prirazlomnaya oil rig, amongst other repressive measures. As a consequence, Putin’s approval rating amongst the Russian people has exceeded 80 per cent.
In this context, Dugin’s Neo-Eurasianism serves as e legitimating ultra-nationalist ideology of the new regime. It may be that Western sanctions will force Putin to dissociate himself from its more extreme demands, especially as pressure builds after the MH17 atrocity. Alternatively, he may find himself trapped by the radical forces he cultivated during his ascent to power, harden his defiance of the West, and pursue Dugin’s vision of a hegemonic Russian heartland along the path to catastrophe taken by Neo-Eurasianism’s close cousin, Nazism, with inconceivable consequences for the world.
Mervyn F. Bendle is a regular contributor. Portions of this article originally appeared in The Australian.