Alexander Dugin | The guru of Neo-Eurasianism

The Russian political philosopher believes in an expansionary civilisational state

Published - August 28, 2022 12:34 am IST



Late evening on August 20, 29-year-old Darya Dugina was driving back to Moscow after attending an arts festival when a blast ripped through her SUV, killing her instantly. A bomb had been planted on the underside of the vehicle, and detonated remotely. Dugina’s death made global headlines as many believed that the intended target was her father Alexander Dugin, an ideologue and political philosopher often described by Western commentators as ‘Putin’s Rasputin’.

Mr. Dugin, 60, is known foremost for propagating the concepts of ‘Novorossiya’ or ‘New Russia’ and ‘Russky Mir’ or ‘Russian world’. Together, these two ideas underpin an ultra-nationalist ideology that envisions Russia as a civilisational state at the heart of a Eurasian power bloc that would stretch from Vladivostok to Western Europe. He outlined his vision in Foundations of Geopolitics (1997), which was lapped up by disillusioned Russians struggling to find their bearings in the chaotic post-Communist years.

Mr. Dugin’s geopolitics is inspired by the conservative German political scientist Carl Schmitt, who shared a close but ambivalent relationship with the Nazi party (he was interrogated but not charged at the Nuremberg trials). Drawing on Schmitt’s Land and Sea: A World-Historical Meditation (1942), Mr. Dugin argues that the world’s primary geopolitical conflict is between the forces of the Sea and those of the Land — that is, between the island/Atlantic powers represented today by the U.S./U.K. and the continental ones, represented by the Eurasian landmass stretching from coastal France all the way to Japan.

In this schema — Mr. Dugin believes American foreign policy is premised on it — the Sea Forces’ ascendancy would necessitate preventing the integration of the Eurasian landmass into a continent-sized geopolitical power.

Civilisational conflict

This entails ensuring that its biggest powers (Germany and Russia) and the entire region of eastern and central Europe that used to be part of Russia’s sphere of influence can never be integrated. NATO’s raison d’etre, Mr. Dugin believes, is precisely to prevent such integration. For him, this conflict is not merely geopolitical but also civilisational, opening the door to ultranationalism. In his other influential book, The Fourth Political Theory (2009), Mr. Dugin draws on the three dominant political theories of the 20th century — liberalism, fascism and communism — to amalgamate a “fourth” political theory that would have the best elements of the three but none of their shortcomings.

His new theory is based on what he calls the “ethnos”. Standing in opposition to liberal individualism, democracy and ‘progressivism’, this ethnos is defined by a shared culture and a set of ‘eternal’ values rooted in the Russian Orthodox Church. Not surprisingly, Mr. Dugin’s political theory turns out to be another version of ethno-nationalism, one that he calls ‘Neo-Eurasianism’.

A question that comes up in any discussion of Mr. Dugin is: how influential is he in the Kremlin? Some analysts cite Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the invasion of Ukraine this year — both of which Mr. Dugin had been advocating for a long time — to suggest Mr. Putin has bought into Mr. Dugin’s thinking. They also point to the resurgence of ‘Eurasian integration’ as a key strategic objective of Mr. Putin’s foreign policy.

Indeed, Mr. Dugin has been a vocal advocate of expunging Ukrainian sovereignty. Mr. Putin, in his speech announcing the ‘special military operation’ seemed to express much the same sentiment. But for other analysts, the convergence between Mr. Dugin’s ideology and Mr. Putin’s actions suggest not that the latter is following the former’s ideas but rather that Mr. Putin finds Mr. Dugin’s ideas politically useful to justify whatever he wants to do to further his own agenda.

It is true, nonetheless, that Mr. Dugin is one of the biggest cheerleaders of the Ukraine war. Russian investigators have claimed that Dugina’s assassin was a Ukrainian woman who has escaped to Estonia. As for Mr. Dugin, he has no doubt his daughter is a “martyr”. Both the radical ethno-nationalist and grieving father turned up at the funeral, and they seemed to speak in one voice as he proclaimed, standing next to her portrait, that Dugina “died for the people, died for Russia.”

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