On the eve of his murderous invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a long and rambling discourse denying the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians, a speech many Western analysts found strange and untethered. Strange, yes. Untethered, no. The analysis came directly from the works of a fascist prophet of maximal Russian empire named Aleksandr Dugin.
Dugin’s intellectual influence over the Russian leader is well known to close students of the post-Soviet period, among whom Dugin, 60, is sometimes referred to as “Putin’s brain.” His work is also familiar to Europe’s “new right,” of which Dugin has been a leading figure for nearly three decades, and to America’s “alt-right.” Indeed, the Russian-born former wife of the white nationalist leader Richard Spencer, Nina Kouprianova, has translated some of Dugin’s work into English.
But as the world watches with horror and disgust the indiscriminate bombing of Ukraine, a broader understanding is needed of Dugin’s deadly ideas. Russia has been running his playbook for the past 20 years, and it has brought us here, to the brink of another world war.
A product of late-period Soviet decline, Dugin belongs to the long, dismal line of political theorists who invent a strong and glorious past — infused with mysticism and obedient to authority — to explain a failed present. The future lies in reclaiming this past from the liberal, commercial, cosmopolitan present (often represented by the Jewish people). Such thinkers had a heyday a century ago, in the European wreckage of World War I: Julius Evola, the mad monk of Italian fascism; Charles Maurras, the reactionary French nationalist; Charles Coughlin, the American radio ranter; and even the author of a German book called “Mein Kampf.”
Dugin tells essentially the same story from a Russian point of view. Before modernity ruined everything, a spiritually motivated Russian people promised to unite Europe and Asia into one great empire, appropriately ruled by ethnic Russians. Alas, a competing sea-based empire of corrupt, money-grubbing individualists, led by the United States and Britain, thwarted Russia’s destiny and brought “Eurasia” — his term for the future Russian empire — low.
In his magnum opus, “The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia,” published in 1997, Dugin mapped out the game plan in detail. Russian agents should foment racial, religious and sectional divisions within the United States while promoting the United States’ isolationist factions. (Sound familiar?) In Great Britain, the psy-ops effort should focus on exacerbating historic rifts with Continental Europe and separatist movements in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Western Europe, meanwhile, should be drawn in Russia’s direction by the lure of natural resources: oil, gas and food. NATO would collapse from within.
Putin has followed that counsel to the letter, and he must have felt things were going well when he saw window-smashing rioters in the corridors of the U.S. Congress, Britain’s Brexit from the European Union and Germany’s growing dependence on Russian natural gas. With the undermining of the West going so well, Putin has turned to the pages of Dugin’s text in which he declared: “Ukraine as an independent state with certain territorial ambitions represents an enormous danger for all of Eurasia,” and “without resolving the Ukrainian problem, it is in general senseless to speak about continental politics.”
So what comes next, should Putin manage to “resolve” Russia’s “problem” in Ukraine? Dugin envisions a gradual dividing of Europe into zones of German and Russian influence, with Russia very much in charge thanks to its eventual stranglehold over Germany’s resource needs. As Great Britain crumbles and Russia picks up the pieces, the empire of Eurasia will ultimately stretch, in Dugin’s words, “from Dublin to Vladivostok.”
Putin’s double-dealing encroachments into the Middle East are influenced by Dugin’s idea of a Moscow-Tehran axis. (Israel’s government should wake up, smell the samovar and stop playing footsie with Russia.) His seduction of the nationalist government in New Delhi is a reflection of Dugin’s insistence that the Eurasian empire must extend to the Indian Ocean.
As important as it is for Western decision-makers to take Dugin’s mystical megalomania seriously, it’s just as urgent for China’s Xi Jinping. Xi and Putin announced a partnership last month to cut the United States down to size. But according to Dugin, China, too, must fall. Russia’s ambitions in Asia will require “the territorial disintegration, splintering and the political and administrative partition of the [Chinese] state,” Dugin writes. Russia’s natural partner in the Far East, according to Dugin, is Japan.
In a sense, Dugin’s 600-page doorstop can be boiled down to one idea: The wrong alliance won World War II. If only Hitler had not invaded Russia, Britain could have been broken. The United States would have remained at home, isolationist and divided, and Japan would have ruled the former China as Russia’s junior partner.
Fascism from Ireland to the Pacific. Delusional? I sure hope so. But delusions become important when embraced by tyrants.
Washington Post Opinion/David Von Drehle: The man known as ‘Putin’s brain’ envisions the splitting of Europe — and the fall of China