Skip to comments.The expansionist behind Putin
Posted on 05/21/2014 2:37:13 PM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
When Vladimir Putin addressed the Russian parliament in March following his annexation of Crimea Part 1 of a slowing-rolling conquest of Ukraine, as one historian put it he drew on traditionalist notions of Greater Russia, Slavic destiny and even ethnic mysticism to justify his aggressions.
But behind the self-serving rhetoric were an unspoken geopolitical theory and unacknowledged ideas of a Russian intellectual by the name of Aleksandr Gelyevich Dugin.
Since the early 1990s, Dugin, the son of a KGB officer, has been promoting the concept of Eurasianism, an ideology under which Russia would dominate Western and Eastern Europe as well as Central Asia and re-establish itself as a global power capable of challenging the geopolitical dominance and liberal ethos of the West.
According to some scholars, Putins Duma speech reflects the influence of Dugins Eurasianism and the idea of some Greater Russia configuration capable of challenging, in Dugins words, North Atlantic interests.
Westerners used to the post-Cold War image of an enfeebled and recumbent Russia might regard this notion as fantasy, but that ignores how intellectuals like Dugin have become, as political scientists Anton Sheknovtov and Andreas Umland put it, a notable and seemingly influential figure within Russias mainstream.
Indeed, through his numerous publications and TV appearances, the 52-year-old academic has become part and parcel of the daily political and intellectual life of contemporary Russia, they say in a 2009 paper. As the head of the sociology of international relations department at Moscow State University, Dugin has the attention of powerful men, including Sergei Naryshkin, the Speaker in the Duma and a member of the ruling United Russia Party that loudly supported the annexation of Crimea.
For those who see a resurgent Russia as a compensatory fantasy for nationalists nostalgic for the Soviet Union, it is worth asking who would have imagined, 15 years ago, that a ragged band of Islamists would strike American cities or fight the U.S. and its allies to a draw in Afghanistan.
In this light, writes political scientist Alexandros Petersen in his 2011 book, The World Island: Eurasian Politics and the Fate of the West, is it not inconceivable that we are now witnessing the erosion of the West as the unquestioned bearer of geopolitical order, economic power and military supremacy?
The Wests hegemonic status, particularly that of the United States, may soon be an historical memory, he remarks.
This is certainly Dugins hope. The big question is whether Putin shares it.
There is no question that over the course of Putins three terms as president Russia has become more assertive. Floating on energy wealth, and intent on overcoming the humiliations of Russias post-Cold War implosion, Putin has sent armed bombers to patrol the Arctic skies. Last year, Russia signed a new military cooperation agreement with Vietnam, enhancing its naval presence at the port of Cam Ranh Bay. In 2008, Russian troops seized two provinces of Georgia a model, perhaps, for the Crimean venture.
Of course, the Crimean gambit nudges the geostrategic dangers up a notch or three. And things could get even more dicey in Ukraine. Some observers think Putin is attempting to create conditions where he could use some ostensible threat to ethnic Russians there to grab the eastern half of the country.
The reconquest of Crimea has caused a clear change of tone in Moscow, with celebration of old-fashioned Russian nationalism coming into fashion, says historian John Schindler, noting how Putins March speech was laden with incantations to a Great Russian agenda.
Its clear that Moscow intends to conquer something like half of something like half of Ukraine, through quasi-covert means if possible, by overt invasion if necessary.
But does this traditionalist language reveal Putin as the harbinger of a Eurasian empire? Putin, commentators point out, likes to draw on certain 19th and 20th century intellectual sources to promote his vision of a resurgent Russia.
These include the religious thinker Nikolai Berdyaev, philosopher Valdimir Solovyov and political theorist Ivan Ilyin. All three, in one fashion or another, envisioned Russia possessing a unique world-historical destiny. (In 2005, Putin reportedly paid out his own pocket to have Ilyins body returned to Russia from Switzerland where the philosopher, known for his traditionalist ethnic religiosity, died in 1953.)
Yet, important as these thinkers may be to Putin personally, it is Dugin who, say Sheknovtov and Umland, has claimed a significant hold on the imagination of Russias political and military elite.
So it seems. In the lead up to the Crimean annexation, Dugin was a staple on Russian television, promoting Putins policies as part of a struggle for reunification of Slavic peoples. He referred to the reunion with the Crimea (as) a victory for us, and characterized the annexation as the birth of a new political reality. He predicted a Russian Spring that would see Europe and Russia come together so Europeans could break loose of American hegemony.
Such rhetoric encapsulates the concept of Eurasianism Dugin envisioned in his major work, Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geo-political Future of Russia. The 1997 book has been highly influential among Russias power elites.
There has probably not been another book published in Russia during the post-communist period which has exerted (such) an influence on Russian military, police, and statist foreign policy elites, says scholar John Dunlop, who describes the book as a neo-fascist treatise.
The impact of this intended Eurasianist textbook on key elements among Russian elites testifies to the worrisome rise of fascist ideas and sentiments during the late Yeltsin and the Putin periods.
A statement Dugin made in 1997 sums up this ideology succinctly: In principle, Eurasia and our space, the heartland Russia, remain the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution,: he said. The new Eurasian empire will be constructed on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, strategic control of the U.S. and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us.
Dugins Eurasianism postulates an axis of power involving three Russian dominated geo-political arrangements Moscow-Berlin, Moscow-Tokyo, and Moscow-Tehran whose common enemy would be the Atlantic West, particularly the U.S. and Britain.
According to Dugin, Russia and Germany would between them divide Central and Eastern Europe into spheres of influence, with the Germans dominating Central and Eastern Europe while Russia controlled Finland, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, along with Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, as well the north part of the Balkans from Serbia to Bulgaria.
Naturally, Russia would be the superior part in this de facto update on the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that saw the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany effectively carve up Eastern Europe before the Second World War. Moreover, the arrangement would only be temporary since, as Dugin says, the maximum task (for Russias future) is the Finlandization of all of Europe.In the Far East, Russia needs to stymie any expansionist inclinations of China the most dangerous geopolitical neighbour of Russia to the south, in Dugins view. He worries China might undertake a desperate thrust into the north into Kazakhstan and Eastern Siberia.
He recommends that Russia promote the dismemberment of China by encouraging separatist sentiment in Tibet and Xinjiang. (China is currently having a lot of problems with its Muslim population in the province of Xinjiang.)
Dugins concept reflects the Heartland Theory, a theory put forward by British geostrategist Halford Mackinder in the early 20th century. In a 1904 essay, The Geographical Pivot of History, Mackinder argued the worlds land mass could be divided into three zones a world-island that included Europe, Asia and Africa, the offshore islands or rimlands such as Britain and Japan, and the outlying islands that included North and South America as well as Australia.
The Heartland that vast region stretching west to east from the Volga River in western Russia to the Yangtze River in China, and, running north to south, from the Arctic Ocean to the Himalayas formed the core of the world-island.Whoever controls the Heartland, with its huge population and plentiful resources, can dominate the world.
Dugin, no surprise, is a fan of Mackinders. In Mackinder one can find the clearly formulated and minutely described ideology of accomplished and absolutized Atlanticism, whose doctrine stands at the base of Anglo-Saxon geopolitical strategy in the 20th century, he wrote in a 1992 essay. Mackinders ideas opened the way to the explicit ideological formulation of the opposition to Atlanticism in the pure Eurasian doctrine.
Is the annexation of Crimea part of a Eurasian game plan? None of us is privy to Putins bedside reading, but there are indications that the Russian president has, at the very least, absorbed some of the precepts of Eurasianism. Several commentators have noted how much Putin has changed since first coming to power in 1999.
Putin has always been a patriot, but as Mark Galleotti observes in a recent edition of Foreign Policy, he was in his early years in power more a pragmatist than an ideologue. He was willing to cooperate with the West. He was among the first leaders to offer support to the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
By the mid-2000s, however, things had changed. In 2007, in an address to the Munich Security Conference, Putin warned NATO that Russia wouldnt tolerate Western encroachment on regions that it considered part of its sphere of influence. A year later delivered on his warning by sending Russian troops to seize two provinces in Georgia, effectively scuttling any notion of bringing the country into Western fold as a NATO member.
Five years later, in 2013, in a speech at an international conference of Russian experts, Putin all but laid out an imperial manifesto when he spoke of a Greater Russia in a direct reference to Russias interests in Ukraine. We will never forget that Russias present-day statehood has its roots in Kiev. It was the cradle of the future, greater Russian nation
The speech was another warning against the efforts of Western politicians to lure Ukraine into the European fold. And when, with the Wests encouragement, Ukraines Russia-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych was chased from office and a pro-Western government installed in Kiev, Putin had all the justification he wanted to annex Crimea. Thus, says Galleotti, Yanukovychs ouster provided the catalyst for a decisive expression of a new imperialism.
Clearly, Putins neo-imperialism is rooted a particular conception of the Russian identity. And this imagined ethnicity finds its ideological expression in Eurasianism. As Paul Pryce argued in a recent edition of the Romanian Journal of European Affairs, neo-Eurasianism had become so well-entrenched as the political consensus in Moscow that leaders within United Russia felt comfortable to acknowledge that some of their policy positions were inspired by the writings of Alexander Dugin. Indeed, Putins re-election in 2102 to a third term as president represents the institutionalization of an increasingly coherent neo-Eurasianism as the dominant political ideology of the Russian Federation.
The geopolitical implication of this ideology as in applies to the annexation is obvious: Russias reunification with Crimea is part a long-term program to restore the greater Russian nation, to reverse the diaspora that resulted from the fragmentation of the Soviet Union.
This kind of ethnic mysticism is difficult for Westerners to understand. Complacently confident of the universality of Western liberal values, they regard such thinking as the product of a benighted age. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for instance, referred to the Russian leader as a throwback to the era of 19th century imperialism following the Crimean annexation. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared Putin to be on the wrong side of history. But arguably it is Harper and Kerry whose comprehension of history is out of whack. They, like other Western leaders, continue to assume the end of the Cold War ensure the coming-to-be of a new world order that would eventually see liberal democracy and western values encircle the globe.
Thats not how Dugin sees the world-historical future. Neither, it seems, does Putin. The success of the Crimean campaign, coupled with the headless-chicken response of Western politicians to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, will likely strengthen the grip of Eurasianism on the minds of Russias leadership. (No doubt, China, that other rising imperial power, is also watching the Wests befuddlement with great interest, and not a little revengeful glee.)
A new era of empire is upon us, and westerners had better awaken from their dogmatic slumbers to confront this new geopolitical reality with more realism than rhetoric if they want a liberal empire to prevail.
What does the US stand for?
Russia sees the void out there. But in fact, it may very well be China that thwarts their aims, rather than the West.
The values and principles that made America great are what Putin is against, and they are what will stop him. First America will defeat Obama and then we will defeat Putin.
I think defeating Putin is the easy part. The hard part will be returning this country to what it once was, and getting rid of the poison that has taken over this country, that I am not so optimistic about.
The legend of Russia as the Third Rome comes to mind—to return Europe to Christ and the Church—The Russian Orthodox Church that is.
Obama isn't standing in the way of defeating Putin, Europe is.
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