Alex Lo
SCMP Columnist
My Take
by Alex Lo
My Take
by Alex Lo

Killing of daughter of Putin’s ally fuels tasteless editorial frenzy

  • Nationalists such as Aleksandr Dugin, nicknamed ‘Putin’s brain’, and apologists of American hegemony are like two peas in a pod, only that they are on opposing sides

The daughter of Aleksandr Dugin, often described as Vladimir “Putin’s brain”, died in a car bombing at the weekend believed to have been aimed at her father. Since then, his political influence has been analysed in an editorial orgy among respectable Western publications. The claim, sometimes implicit, often explicit, is that the arch-nationalist philosopher’s ideas were behind the Russian leader’s invasion of Ukraine and his hostile view of the West in general. The guy has Putin’s ear, or so they say.

It’s good that so many Western editorialists could read Putin’s mind! Of course, knowing what we do about post-Soviet history, I think it’s fair to say Putin’s actions and thinking are pretty understandable – but not justifiable, of course – even if Dugin had never lived. Putin was a KGB officer. Would he need to listen to Dugin or read his books to think the West is hostile to Mother Russia and that Ukraine is part of the motherland?

Here’s an op-ed from The New York Times. The first sentence runs: “President Vladimir Putin’s bloody assault on Ukraine … still seems inexplicable.” The implication is that unless you have read and known about Dugin, you wouldn’t understand the invasion. Really?

“Eurasianism was injected directly into the bloodstream of Russian power in a variant developed by the self-styled philosopher Aleksandr Dugin,” the author wrote.

“In Mr Dugin’s adjustment of Eurasianism to present conditions, Russia had a new opponent – no longer just Europe, but the whole of the ‘Atlantic’ world led by the United States.”

The rising Eurasian primacy of China

The US a “new” opponent of Russia? Maybe Russians have only recently heard of Nato!

The op-ed continues: “And his Eurasianism was not anti-imperial but the opposite: Russia had always been an empire, Russian people were ‘imperial people’, and after the crippling 1990s sell-out to the ‘eternal enemy’, Russia could revive in the next phase of global combat and become a ‘world empire’. On the civilisational front, Mr Dugin highlighted the long-term connection between Eastern Orthodoxy and the Russian empire. Orthodoxy’s combat against Western Christianity and Western decadence could be harnessed to the geopolitical war to come.”

In short, the guy taught Putin to merge “Eurasian geopolitics, Russian Orthodoxy and traditional values [as] these goals shaped Russia’s self-image under Mr Putin’s leadership”.

Writing in a similar vein, a Financial Times op-ed argues: “The Russian leader’s decision to invade Ukraine brought to fruition ideas that Dugin has been pushing since the early 1990s. In his 1997 book, Foundations of Geopolitics, which was assigned reading at the Russian military’s general staff academy, Dugin argued that ‘Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning’.”

Actually, the author goes even further. Dugin doesn’t just influence the Kremlin; he influences Beijing as well!

“In his lecture series at Fudan [University], Dugin argued that Russia and China must jointly build a ‘multipolar world order’, ending US dominance,” he wrote. “At a meeting in April the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers embraced this idea, with Sergey Lavrov assuring Wang Yi that the two nations would ‘together … move towards a multipolar, just, democratic world order’.”

Oh dear, it was a good thing Dugin delivered those lectures in China, otherwise Beijing would never have come up with such ideas as allying with Russia and promoting “a multipolar world” against US dominance. Frankly, it’s hard to see how those ideas are anything but obvious, at least from Russian and Chinese viewpoints.

Despite all the editorial hype, it strikes me that Dugin’s ideas are fairly typical of nationalistic thinking which can be found in any number of countries that fancy for themselves historical greatness or “a manifest destiny”. You can easily find them among “respected” talking heads with PhDs in China, India and Japan, too. And in America.

In fact, the US is full of nationalistic “intellectuals” and politicians who promote US greatness. And in the US, only other people can be rabid nationalists. America’s apologists and ideologues are rationalists, at most patriots. US hegemony doesn’t just benefit itself, but it’s good for the whole world.

United States is responsible for Ukraine war

Here are some randomly googled headlines: “Why the United States Remains an Indispensable Nation: Today’s global challenges cannot be resolved without Washington’s leadership”.

“The World Doesn’t Need a More Restrained America”.

“America’s Long Road to Global Power: Michael Mandelbaum has written a masterful interpretation of the twists and turns of US foreign policy”.

There is a whole school of thought called neoconservatism, which argues the US must never hesitate to use military power around the world to get things done. Its adherents were behind the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the “war on terror”. Are they so different from Dugin’s geopolitical nationalism? Both are actually like two peas in a pod, only that they are on opposing sides.

I don’t find Dugin’s ideas particularly interesting or exceptional. I do find denigrating a man who just watched his daughter being blown to pieces exceptionally distasteful.