- Published on Thursday, 19 November 2015 09:09
- Category: Articles and Commentary
- Written by Andreas Umland
In late 2011, Vladimir Putin presented his idea for the creation of a “Eurasian Union,” in the north-eastern part of the Euro-Asiatic continent. By that time, he had already been officially nominated, but was not yet re-elected to his third term as President of Russia. That the project had already garnered attention in both Russia and abroad, even before it materialised, was justified as it was not mere electoral propaganda. The creation of the Eurasian Union is an expression of the Russian leadership’s desire to be perceived as representatives of not just a large Euro-Asian nation state, but of a geopolitical bloc or even of a distinct civilisation of its own.
One of Putin’s specific aims, within his original plan, was to use the Eurasian Union to bring Ukraine again under Moscow’s control. In June 2012, Putin, already president by then, complained about Kyiv’s limited interest in his new integration scheme: “It is a shame that our brothers in Ukraine are at the moment left out of the project.”
While that part of his plan failed, Putin’s overall project has now started to be realised, with the official creation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) consisting of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia, on January 1st 2015. This new political-economic bloc matches not only the ambitions of the Russian ruling United Russia Party, but also appeals to aspirations of many people beyond it. In particular, it satisfies the ambitions of the “patriotic” and often anti-Western political and intellectual elites of the Russian Federation.
The name of the new union, “Eurasian,” originates from the lexicon of Russian 20th century thought, and appears as being related to post-Soviet “neo-Eurasianism.” The latter is a curious intellectual phenomenon of the last three decades, spun by the prolific political writer Aleksandr Dugin (b. 1962). An occultist, pseudo-sociologist and leader of the so-called International Eurasian Movement, Dugin has a certain following in the post-Soviet space. In connection with his many mass media comments on the so-called “Ukraine Crisis,” Dugin has recently also become widely known in the West – sometimes in the role of an alleged advisor to the Russian government or even as “Putin’s brain.” Is Dugin’s version of “neo-Eurasianism” thus now being implemented within Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union?
Before comparing Putin’s and Dugin’s doctrines, it needs to be mentioned that both ideologies are similar in differing from the intellectual constructs of the 1920-30s Russian émigré intellectuals that laid down the foundations of Russia’s specific concept of Eurasianism. Many Russian elite members, including Moscow’s current political leadership, refer affirmatively and frequently to the classical Eurasianists. Although some traits of today’s versions of Eurasianism are reminiscent of classical Eurasianism, neither Dugin nor Putin are using much of the substance of the body of thought from the initial originators of Russian Eurasianism. In addition, one needs to keep in mind that both new interpretations of Eurasianism by Putin and Dugin have only little in common with the bizarre socio-biological theories of the late Soviet dissident historian, ethnologist and geographer Lev N. Gumilev. While Gumilev’s ideas about biology’s role in human history are also considered “Eurasian” by some, neither Dugin’s nor Putin’s Eurasian plans are ethno-biological. The Eurasianisms of Putin and Dugin thus share a split from both classical Eurasianism and Gumilev’s world view. Yet, apart from this, their two neo-Eurasian projects display more differences than commonalities.
Putin and other newly minted post-Soviet neo-Eurasianists began their careers in various state institutions of the late USSR: the apparatuses of the Communist Party, Komsomol and KGB, as well as to a lesser degree in Soviet research institutes, universities and cultural organisations. Mostly, they are enamored with the idea of restoring at least parts of the Czarist and/or Soviet Empires. Ideally, this would entail a resurrection of the power and territories of the Russian state (as they see it), i.e. the Soviet Union of circa 1989. While officially supranational, the project of the Eurasian Union is in fact Russocentric and entails a creeping encroachment of the current Russian Federation on all, or at least, most lands of Moscow’s former empire.
This old-new entity, i.e. a highly integrated and Moscow-dominated Eurasian Union, would be a more or less consistent perpetuation of the Old Russia. It should reconstitute the historical and territorial continuity between the Russian Federation, USSR, the Czarist Empire, and some Russian historians and philosophers would claim, the Grand Duchy of Moscow and Kyivan Rus’. Since this project implies that Moscow should exercise significant and permanent influence, if not direct control over territories beyond the current state borders of Russia, Putin & Co. can be defined as imperialists. And this general trait they have in common with Dugin and his disciples who also promote the idea of Russia’s “Great Space.”
However, Dugin unlike Putin advocates the creation of a completely new empire rather than the restoration of the old one. “Eurasia” as envisioned by Dugin would not restore Czarist Russia or continue the Soviet Union. Despite posing as a self-described “conservative,” Dugin does not propagate the conservation or restoration of a previous order. To the contrary, his program envisions a full-fledged new Russian revolution in both internal and external affairs that implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, entails a profound negation of both Russia’s past and present.
The approach harboured by Dugin and his disciples is similar to the goals of classical fascists of the inter-war period. His goal is not so much a national rebirth merely implying a return to an earlier state of affairs, as Putin longs for. Rather, Dugin envisages a deeply transformed Russian nation born anew via creation of a completely novel Russo-Eurasian empire and civilisation. To be sure, Dugin’s new “super-ethnos” (a term from Gumilev), cleansed of all “Western” influences, would be based on presumably archaic Russian-Eurasian values. Yet, his new Eurasian civilisation would ultimately engender an ultramodern – if radically anti-Western – project capable of linking Eurasia’s glorious future with the “best” episodes of its past. To make this dream come true, Dugin’s disciples aim to reorganise not only Russia, but the entire Euro-Asian continent, and eventually the whole world.
The current ruling traditional Russian elites, which are represented by Putin, are not democrats either. The most extreme among these politicians and intellectuals are also in various ways radical imperial nationalists. However, since they are oriented towards the past rather than towards the future, they should not be called revolutionary ultra-nationalists – that is fascists. Dugin, meanwhile is both a highly driven revolutionary and an unapologetic, if not ethnocentric, ultranationalist. To be sure, the Moscow professor is not a primitive Russocentrist or a biological racist. However, as a proponent of a particularly extreme form of Russian “civilisational” nationalism or even Eurasian “supra-nationalism,” he can still be classified as a fascist. Not only do some of his first published texts from the early 1990s contain overtly racist passages. More importantly, despite an ostensibly equal inclusion of all Eurasian ethnic groups, the leading role in the new Russian-Eurasian integral empire is reserved for the Russians.
His present non-biological approach to delineating nations and civilisations makes Dugin a Russian representative of the contemporary pan-European crypto-racist movement of “differentialism.” New right “differentialists” juxtapose not various pheno- or genotypes against each other, as done by biological racists. Rather, differentialist crypto-racism perceives national cultures as fundamentally and unchangeably different from and opposed to one another. According to this overtly non-biological, but still inherently racist theory, deep cultural differences not only pose insurmountable barriers between peoples. They also propel humanity into a state of eternal war between civilisations, sometimes “cold” and covert, sometimes “hot” and real.
In the 1990s, Dugin openly proclaimed his affinity with European fascism of the inter-war and war periods. In the first edition of his main text The Conservative Revolution (1994), he described the Third Reich as the embodiment of his favored Third Way and regretted the fact that “Germany’s defeat in the Second World War dealt a crushing blow to the Third Way doctrine itself.” Dugin did not directly call himself a fascist, but identified fascist ideology with the “conservative revolution” that he advocated. He stated, for example, that “within the National-Socialist regime, there was an intellectual oasis where the doctrine of the Conservative Revolution developed freely… we mean the Waffen-SS: not in its military or political form, but rather in the intellectual sphere.” Dugin went so far as to list among “ardent Eurasians” – that is, predecessors of the movement he himself created – not only Molotov and Ribbentrop, but also SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Tristan Heydrich, one of the architects of the Holocaust.
Relying primarily on doctrines of West European inter- and post-war intellectual right-wing extremism, including the German “conservative revolution” of the Weimar era, Dugin aspires to bring about a specifically Russian fascist revolution and create a new “Eurasian” fascism in the post-Soviet space. In this process, he envisages himself not as a public political functionary, but rather as a behind-the-scenes mastermind who need not necessarily run the state himself. Dugin wants to be instead a grey cardinal who defines the thinking of the elite – not a politician, but a meta-politician. Ideally, Dugin the theoretician, would generate ideas that government members, civic activists, political leaders, state bureaucrats, influential journalists etc., would consciously or subconsciously, realise in public politics and civil society. This strategy is based on the well-known theory of the inter-war Italian neo-Marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci. Deliberating on the communists’ strategy to acquire power, Gramsci suggested that, for a socio-political revolution to be successful, its needs to be preceded by the revolutionaries’ cultural hegemony in society. Of primary importance, in obtaining this dominance, is that the revolutionaries determine and define the key concepts shared by the political and intellectual elites of the country slated for revolutionary transformation.
Like other contemporary European fascist intellectuals of the so-called “New Right,” Dugin aspires to rule thought rather than the state. In particular, he wants to shape the thinking of Russia’s political and intellectual elites. Only the success of this venture could bring about a deep transformation of Russia into a completely new Eurasia, which would make a peculiar post-Soviet Russian imperial fascist state possible. Dugin and his disciples have had more success than their Western colleagues in post-1968 Europe, in re-defining major terms and axioms of public discourse, and influencing the vocabulary, ideas and plans of Russia’s elite. Yet, Moscow’s right-wing Gramscians (meaning Gramsci’s fascist “disciples” in the tactical and not ideological sense) have yet to reach full cultural hegemony in Russian society.
To further his goals, Dugin heavily uses the positively connoted terms “Eurasianism” and “conservatism.” He purposefully twists their meanings to conceal his true inspirations and aspirations, which are far from the original Russian Eurasian and conservative traditions. Dugin’s doctrine is closer to anti-liberal (including proto-fascist) European intellectualism of the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century. Of special importance to him are pre-war German anti-democratic thinkers, directly or indirectly tied to the rise of Nazism. Dugin sought inspiration in the writings of, among others, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, Oswald Spengler, Ernst Jünger, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Karl Haushofer, Herman Wirth, as well as Otto and Gregor Strasser.
Other important sources of Dugin’s doctrine are the phantasmagorical scenarios penned by Italian Dadaist Julio Evola, the historical and religious theories of the founder of the French “integral traditionalism” René Guénon, some bold interpretations of international conflicts that became popular in late 19th and early 20th century Anglo-Saxon political studies under the label “geopolitics,” and the elaborate “newspeak” of the “New Right” of post-war Europe, spear-headed by the infamous French philosopher Alain de Benoist.
The doctrines of these (and some other) mainly Western anti-egalitarian thinkers formed the worldview of young Dugin in the 1980s and 1990s. In the late USSR and early post-Soviet Russia, few Russians were familiar with the writings of Evola, Guénon, Haushofer or other such authors. Hence Dugin, who had gained access to their writings and actively employed their concepts, came to be viewed in nationalist circles as an original thinker. Having drawn the attention of the anti-democratic milieu with concepts of mostly non-Russian origin, Dugin later started to more actively use the terms “Eurasianism” and “Eurasia” in the Russian sense of the words. To transcend the limits of Moscow’s neo-fascist subculture, Dugin had to “Russify” his doctrine largely founded on adapted imports from the very West, so detested by the Russian nationalist mainstream.
Despite differences in the genesis and key points of Putin’s and Dugin’s doctrines, these days the new-old President and the major fascist thinker of Russia have come to be unofficial allies, of a kind. In the short and middle term, the trajectories of their preferred policies lie parallel in as far as the first step towards a Duginian new empire is a renewal of the old empire that Putin aspires to. On the one hand, their final goals differ, as do the mindsets of the conservator and the fascist. On the other hand, Dugin and his organisations are part and parcel of Putin’s neo-authoritarian political system. Despite numerous overtly pro-fascist speeches, Dugin has reached a high position in Moscow, which lets him play a certain role in Russian public affairs, political discourse, higher education and civil society. Apparently, a number of people in Russia’s government view Dugin’s activities with interest, if not sympathy.
Dugin’s numerous appearances on central TV channels and his temporarily prominent position in Russian academia have apparently a certain value for the Russian government. Putin’s Eurasian Union project may, by itself, be seen as too drastic a return towards the already discredited Russian imperialist mode of foreign relations. The ongoing implementation of Moscow’s reassertion of control over its former empire has started to destabilise the whole post-Soviet space. However, when viewed against the background of the far more aggressive and extravagant plans of Dugin and his kind, Putin’s neo-Soviet dreams look like sensible suggestions.
Putin’s project of a highly integrated, Moscow-dominated and internationally significant Eurasian Union goes beyond both Russia’s means and the other post-Soviet countries’ wishes. This might be recognised even by many patriotic Russians. Yet, Putin next to Dugin looks like a moderate centrist rather than a neo-Soviet imperialist. In order to present the retrograde Putin as a merely moderate new gatherer of lands, Moscow needs to contrast him with obscurantists of Dugin’s kind, and other quasi-intellectual equivalents of Vladimir Zhirinovsky who, however, eschew the buffoonery of the so-called Liberal Democratic Party of Russia’s leader. Perhaps, the startling political rise and growing media presence of the Russian SS-admirer Aleksandr Dugin can be explained by such attempts, of Moscow’s political technologists, to manipulate Russia’s political spectrum and discourse.
 I use here the term “Eurasian Union” rather than “Eurasian Economic Union,” as Putin’s organisation has eventually been termed. Putin himself first only spoke of “Eurasian Union” and may have accepted the modification of the title only after an intervention by Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev. In as far as the Eurasian Union seems, in Putin’s and his followers’ understanding, a geopolitical project rather than trade bloc, the term “Eurasian Union” captures better the main idea behind the plan.
 Although Moscow-based, Dugin obtained his higher education diploma, Candidate of Science, and Doctor of Science degrees at little-known South Russian colleges (e.g., the External Degree Program of the Novocherkassk State Academy of Melioration). Also, his articles are seldom published in respected peer-reviewed journals. Nevertheless, in 2008, Dugin became Director of the Center for Conservative Studies at the Sociology Faculty, and somewhat later an official professor at that faculty as well as acting holder of the Chair of the Sociology of International Relations, at Russia’s most prestigious higher school, the Moscow State University named after M. Lomonossov.
 I use “fascism” here as a generic concept as developed in the comparative study of contemporary right-wing extremism by, among others, such scholars as Alexander Galkin (Moscow), Walter Laqueur (Washington), Stanley Payne (Madison), Wolfgang Wippermann (Berlin) and Roger Griffin (Oxford).
 Heydrich served as deputy Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia (where he was eventually killed by the Czech resistance in 1942), and chief of the Reich Main Security Office preceding Ernst Kaltenbrunner – a figure widely known in the former USSR from the popular Soviet history spy sitcom “17 Moments of Spring.”
 Some of these authors are also popular among Ukrainian radical nationalists like the former Member of the Ukrainian parliament and L’viv activist of the party All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” political party, Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn.
 The term was coined by the Swede Rudolf Kjellén. “Geopolitics” was established as a sub-discipline of International Relations through the writings of the US-American Alfred Thayer Mahan, Brit Halford Mackinder and others.
* This article is a partial indirect critique of Anton Barbashin & Hannah Thoburn, “Putin's Brain: Alexander Dugin and the Philosophy Behind Putin's Invasion of Crimea,” Foreign Affairs, April 2014, as well as of a number of similarly alarmist comments of the last year. My argument follows and complements that of Anton Shekhovtsov in: "Putin’s Brain?", New Eastern Europe, September 2014. For numerous in-depth Russian-language explorations of classical Eurasianism, Gumilev, Dugin and related topics (including my own papers on “neo-Eurasianism”), see the nine special issues “Anti-Western Ideological Trends in Post-Soviet Russia and Their Origins” in the 2009-2013 issues (vols. 6-10) of the Bavaria-based web-journal Forum noveishei vostochnoevropeiskoi istorii i kul’tury (Forum for Contemporary East European History and Culture). These papers contain also relevant further primary and secondary literature reference. Research for this article was supported by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, New York, and the University of Oslo/NUPI project “Nation-building and nationalism in today’s Russia” (NEORUSS) supported by the Research Council of Norway.
Andreas Umland, PhD, is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, and General Editor of the book series “Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society” published by ibidem Press, Stuttgart and Hannover.