Crisis in the Ukraine

Alexander Dugin: The Crazy Ideologue of the New Russian Empire

Ideologue Alexander Dugin’s notion of “Eurasia” is at the heart of Russia’s new drive to expand its territory and influence.

Andrey Smirnov/AFP/Getty

Oleg Bahtiyarov was arrested while sitting on a park bench in the center of Kiev on March 31. Ukraine’s state security service says that, working in the guise of a civil society activist, he had trained a group of about 200 people to seize parliament and another government building.

According to Ukraine state security, Bahtiyarov is part of a large wave of Russian spies and operatives who have been flooding into the country before crucial presidential elections on May 25. Bahtiyarov’s people supposedly were promised $500 each. He was going to supply the equipment his group needed—wooden bats, Molotov cocktails and telescoping ladders—for use in storming the buildings.

The mastermind also arranged, with some Russian TV channels, to film the incident, which would then be blamed on Ukrainian radicals. The Kremlin is always looking to prove the government in Kiev is controlled by extremists or in the midst of chaos or both and therefore has no right to organize elections. This violent operation would have fed right into its propaganda machine. If Russian President Vladimir Putin’s prophecies don’t fulfill themselves, it seems, his people will fix it so they do.

To get a better understanding of precisely what is going on, one should take a good look at Bahtiyarov and the organization to which he belongs, the Eurasia Youth Union of Russia (EYUR).

The organization was founded by an ideologue named Alexander Dugin in 2005 as the youth wing of the International Eurasia Movement, and Dugin has since become the most notorious character in Russia’s so-called “conservative revolution.” The term sounds like an oxymoron, but it reflects the strong desire of Moscow authorities to turn back the clock. Since Putin said that the breakup of the USSR was the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century (notice: not World War II or anything like that!) the idea of restoring a Russian imperium has taken hold as a cornerstone for Russian foreign policy.

As a result, Dugin, one of the ardent supporters and creators of that ideology, is beginning to attract international attention. Just this month he was profiled in the American journal Foreign Affairs. As the authors Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn point out, “Eurasianist” dogma dates back to the 1920s, when exiles presented it as an alternative to both Bolshevism and the decadent West. “Given Russia’s vastness, they believed, its leaders must think imperially, consuming and assimilating dangerous populations on every border,” write Barbashin and Thoburn. “Meanwhile, they regarded any form of democracy, open economy, local governance, or secular freedom as highly dangerous and unacceptable.”

It gets better. The original Eurasianists “considered Peter the Great—who tried to Europeanize Russia in the eighteenth century—an enemy and a traitor. Instead, they looked with favor on Tatar-Mongol rule, between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, when Genghis Khan’s empire had taught Russians crucial lessons about building a strong, centralized state and pyramid-like system of submission and control.”

Dugin’s catechism, adapted from these ideas for his Eurasia Youth Union of Russia, runs more or less like this: “Frankly, the modern world is rubbish.” And by “modern world,” a phrase to be uttered with a sneer, Dugin means first and foremost the United States of America and liberal ideology, which “represents processes of degradation and degeneration.” The reasonable alternative to this state is the “dictatorship of the new elite,” which has as its model not only the USSR, but Tsar Ivan IV, known as “The Terrible,” and the Grand Duchy of Moscow in the 16th century. Ivan established oprichnina, the policies that put the terror in “Terrible,” with secret police, mass repression and public executions.

Of course this absurd historical regression is just theatrical cover for EYUR's real intentions, which were purely reactive. In 2004, the Kremlin was very concerned about the Ukrainian Orange Revolution, which Putin and his allies considered a threat to their almost absolute power. Moscow strategists are convinced that all the peaceful popular uprisings of recent times were inspired by the United States to establish pro-American, counter-Russian regimes. The Kremlin is sure that the most dangerous part of society is made up of young people, so they must be fully controlled by the government to keep them from spreading real revolutionary ideas. The problem is to get an attractive wrapping for such abysmal conservative ideas.

Dugin founded EYUR in 2005, he said, so its members would be “human shields in the face of the Orange bulldozer.” At the same time, he developed two different arguments for his ideology, one for ordinary people, the other for intellectuals.

The first group gets a large helping of patriotic propaganda and a sense of involvement in some important geopolitical processes. Youth from poor families carry black flags and armbands with golden arrows that symbolize the broadening of Eurasian space, the Star of Genghis Khan in the dark heaven of Eurasia, the Star of Absolute Expansion. The Crimea annexation was a step in this direction, in Dugin's opinion. Not surprisingly, some of this motley symbolism harks back to Nazi iconography. Dugin has expressed his admiration for the practices of the SS.

The second group, made up of intellectuals, is delighted with Dugin's position in their world. He is a professor at Moscow Lomonosov State University, director of the Center of Conservative Studies in the sociology department and holds a chair of sociology in international relations. An Openspace poll on the web with more than 40,000 respondents gave Dugin 36th place among the most influential Russian intellectuals. He is the founder of a portal, “Arctogeya,” which publishes articles on modern philosophy and literature, and actively promotes Dugin’s books, too.

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A recent Skype video call posted on YouTube showed Dugin giving instructions to separatists of South and Eastern Ukraine, and personally advising Yekateryna Gubareva, whose husband Pavel Gubarev was arrested by the Ukrainian security service after he declared himself a local governor.

Dugin assured Gubareva that Moscow fully supports separatists. He suggested that all local politicians who agreed to take part in the next presidential elections should be considered traitors. Then Dugin recommended supporting fugitive Ukrainian ex-president Victor Yanukovych, who is now in Russia. “You mustn't search for some common language with Kiev, but act radically,” Dugin said. Given the violence that already exists in Donetsk and Kharkiv, Dugin's advice is virtually a call to civil war. The Eurasia Union leader assured Gubareva that Moscow will support its friends in all kinds of civil conflicts in Ukraine. “The Kremlin is resolutely determined to struggle for the independence of South and Eastern Ukraine,” he said.

Bhatiyarov, the faithful apostle, has the perfect CV for a Dugin operative. As the Russian extremist Eduard Limonov wrote, he is “a good guy, a psychiatrist, a commando, a vet of the Transdniestria war and a participant of in the city hall seizure.” Transdniestria, you may recall, is a separatist enclave in Moldova. Russia backed its secession in 1992 in a conflict that resulted in more than 1000 casualties, and the Russian army is still there, threatening not only Moldova, but Ukraine.

It seems that the Kremlin has bought into Dugin's Eurasia doctrine and is trying to implement it, which is a sad state of affairs, and dangerous. Russia may not be as powerful as Putin would like to dream, but it is far too powerful to be guided by the vision of a madman like Dugin.