Putin’s Geopolitical Brain

Who is Alexander Dugin?

23rd August 2022
David Martin Jones

The killing of Darya Dugina, daughter of Russian nationalist ideologue Alexander Dugin, has raised questions about her father – seemingly the intended target of the attack. Just who is Alexander Dugin and what is his influence on Putin, asks David Martin Jones.

Darya Dugina was a journalist and vocal supporter of the war in Ukraine, yet it seems certain that the car bomb that led to her death earlier this week was not intended for her, but for her father: Alexander Dugin. His attempted assassination has drawn attention to the role his thinking plays in Putin’s Russia. But who is Dugin? And what exactly is the political philosophy animating Russia’s bid to regain lost territories?

Alexander Dugin emerged in the 1990s as Russia’s most influential exponent and interpreter of the Nazi legal expert and geopolitical strategist Carl Schmitt. In a number of books, Dugin adapted Schmitt’s fascist worldview to the current dilemmas of Eastern Europe. In the process he has given intellectual and strategic depth to Putin’s thinking on rectifying the trauma that the dismemberment of the Soviet Union caused between 1990-1996.

A philosopher and mystic, Dugin’s writings advocate the unification of all Russian speaking peoples within a single, enlarged, political space, by force if necessary. He considers the revival of a Eurasian heartland to offer the concrete basis for building a new Russian Tsardom. To achieve this Russia must, according to Dugin, ‘defeat the maritime world exemplified by the United States’.

Dugin’s most widely known work The Fourth Political Theory (2009) offers a ‘conservative revolutionary’ ideology for a post-liberal age. His theory, he argues, transcends the failed dogmas of communism, liberalism, and, somewhat less certainly, fascism. Dugin offers instead an ethnically based, post-modern, Neo-Eurasian, alternative.

Politically understood, Neo-Eurasianism may be characterised as the latest non-liberal response to the inevitable conflict, that Schmitt first identified, between ‘tellurocracies’ (land powers) and ‘thalassocracies’ (sea powers) for the ‘nomos’ or control of the earth. In Dugin’s version, Russia replaces Germany as the Reich (Empire) and Eurasia is its Grossraum or the pivotal power within an enlarged territorial space. Russia’s historic mission is both to promulgate the ‘political idea’ necessary to unify its Grossraum and decide upon its external relations with other Grossraum like the United States, China and Europe.

The Great Space

Dugin considers these great territorial spaces on the world continent, or world island, that stretches from Amsterdam to Shanghai, as a unification between themselves as geographical units and ‘the narodni’ (the people). This new order will be ‘built on historical kinship’ and ‘common fate’. Indeed, for Dugin, the political ideal of the Great Space reflects the homogeneity of its narod. Thus Neo-Eurasianism promotes a positive attitude toward the native population. By contrast, liberalism is considered to be ‘entirely incompatible’ with nativism and ethnocentrism. Ironically, this view finds affinity with identitarian movements across Europe and particularly with the Nouvelle Droit (New Right) thinking of Alain de Benoist in France.

Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory revives a German nationalist rhetoric of ‘Blut und Boden’ in a Eurasian guise. It maintains that the maritime order that emerged with the British and US empires in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is inherently unstable, lacking the geographical fixity necessary for a healthy civilization’s ‘ethnic sphere’. Geographical determinism means that civilizations rooted in the structural fixity of land ‘generate conservatism’, whereas those founded on the sea generate only instability, hostility and are ‘constantly subject to change’.

Eurasianism, as opposed to the ‘westernism’ that led to the political dismemberment of the Soviet Union reflects Dugin in The Last War of the World Island (2015), ‘the constants of Russian history’. Consequently, he welcomed the fact that after 2011, Putin spoke of the necessity for a Eurasian union founded on pan Slavic identity. Putin, in other words, came to embrace Dugin’s Eurasian ideal, of ‘a new supranational organization built on civilizational commonality’.

In international terms, a revived Eurasia would form a pole in a multipolar world order that would contest the unipolar, liberal, rules based order that America and its allies try to impose. This liberal order, Dugin argues, seeks to transform itself via international law into a universal world government. This managerial process ‘depoliticises’ nation states and erodes their sovereign authority.

By contrast, multipolar Eurasianism would offer a ‘model of the world based on the paradigm of unique civilizations and Great Spaces.’ Consequently, if Putin secures Russia’s sovereignty and instantiates a successful policy for building a multipolar world and re-asserting Russia’s strategic role in the global context Dugin could, ‘state that Russia has not yet passed the point of no return’. He concludes his account of the last war of the world island with the observation that the geopolitical cycle Putin began after 1999 remains unfinished. The historical fate of the government and ‘the civilization of … the Heartland Russia-Eurasia remains open’.

A mystical imperative

The mystical imperative informing this vision of Eurasianism reflects the important role the concept of the katechon plays in Dugin’s, and, by extension, Putin’s geopolitical thought and the decision to invade Ukraine. In his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, St Paul wrote that a katechon would be necessary to ‘restrain’ the ‘lawless one’, namely the Antichrist, during the last days prior to Christ’s Second Coming. The pluralistic ideal of multiple Grossraum, therefore, was not only geopolitical, but also apocalyptic. Multipolarity, Dugin believes, following Carl Schmitt who first elaborated the notion, is necessary to restrain the more destructive features of liberal universalism through the mutual recognition of friends and enemies against the Antichrist of world unity.

Dugin’s 1997 article, ‘Katechon and Revolution’ introduced Schmitt’s notion to a Russian audience. It was well received. Indeed, it revived a long-standing tradition of invoking the katechon in the Russian Orthodox Church. Imperial Russian Orthodox faith had long assumed the concept of Moscow as a Third Rome. The divinely ordained imperial mandate had passed from Byzantium to the Russian Caesar or Tsar after the fall of Constantinople in the fifteenth century.

Dugin’s Neo-Eurasian dream thus revives Russia’s divine purpose in world history. It combines the historic spatial understanding of Russia as Grossraum with the ‘political idea’ of Russian Orthodoxy. Moscow’s Neo-Eurasian think-tank is aptly named ‘Katehon’, and subtitled ‘Geopolitics and Tradition’. Its mission is to ‘defend the principle of a multipolar world’ and distinct ‘civilizational spheres’, and frequently features articles by Dugin himself. Dugin concludes his Last War with a quote from Curzio Malaparte: ‘nothing is lost until all is lost’. There remains, he wrote, the capacity to create this great continental Eurasian future for Russia ‘with our own hands’.

Putin’s conversion to Neo-Eurasianism allowed him to depict Russia in the world-historical role of katechon opposing the American Empire. Yet as with the Third Reich in 1942, the Russian attempt to establish its civilizational great space has foundered disastrously in the borderland of Central Europe that is Ukraine. At some point, western diplomacy will have to decide how best to confront a nuclear armed power informed by a messianic determination to fight the world island’s last war. Attempts on the life of the Russian messiah will not, unfortunately, interdict the spread of such ideas.

David Martin Jones is Visiting Professor in War Studies at King’s College, London. His latest book is The Strategy of Maoism in the West, co-authored with M.L.R. Smith and published by Edward Elgar.