On December 29, 2016, former President Obama placed sanctions on Russian intelligence services and expelled 35 suspected Russian intelligence agents from the United States. These actions were taken in response to Russian involvement in our presidential campaign, which has increased domestic attention to US-Russia relations. However, these incidents of Russian hacking are not isolated episodes — rather, they are simply the latest move in a massive global power play by Russia. In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and plunged Ukraine into civil war. In 2016, Russia helped the Syrian military re-capture East Aleppo, an inflection point in that nation’s civil war that all but assures the survival of Putin’s ally, Syrian president Bashaar al-Assad. Furthermore, Russia has been building ties to Turkey and Iran, while supporting European populist-nationalist parties. Every one of these actions signifies an emboldened Russia, intent on reclaiming its status as one of the world’s preeminent powers.
Each additional act of Russian aggression makes war between the United States and Russia ever more likely. Specifically, should Russia attack a NATO ally, likely one of the Baltic states, such an action would almost certainly result in an invocation of Article V, which could plunge us and our European allies into war with Russia. In order to avoid such a conflict, we must understand Russia’s ideological motivations, and hence, realize that Putin’s Russia is not motivated by reasonable short-term objectives, but instead by Eurasianism, a sinister fascist ideology with dangerous long-term ambitions.
Under Eurasianism, Russia seeks integration with its neighbors along cultural lines, which would in effect expand Russia’s borders to include the regions of Eastern Europe and Central Asia that comprised the former Soviet Union. Furthermore, the result of such an expansion would be a massive Eurasian super-state. The brainchild of Aleksandr Dugin, former head of the department of sociology at Moscow University and confidant to Vladimir Putin, Eurasianism provides the ideological basis for Putin’s foreign policy. Unknown to most, Dugin is one of Russia’s most powerful men, sometimes referred to as “Putin’s brain.” Dugin likely became a potent political force due to his role in the nationalist think tank, the Izborskij Club, which was founded in 2012. He and his followers hold powerful positions at the highest levels of Russia’s government: Dugin is an advisor to the State Duma Chairman, and Dugin’s protégé, Ivan Demidov, is on the Ideology Directorate of Putin’s United Russia Party.
By asserting Russian dominion over neighboring states, Dugin believes that Russia can fulfill its proper destiny of becoming a civilization, rather than remaining merely a country. Moreover, there is evidence Putin himself has sought to pursue this objective. In May 2014, Putin signed treaties with the governments of Kazakhstan and Belarus, creating the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). While this union does benefit other member states by removing obstacles to labor migration and trade, the effective integration of member states’ economies into Russia’s increases their dependence on Russia, precisely as Dugin intends. Hence, Putin’s creation of the EEU is very much in line with the Eurasianist vision of integration.
Along with advocating the absorption of Eastern Europe and Central Asia into Russia, Dugin, in The Fourth Political Theory, promotes a political ideology that combines what he views as the best elements of Nazism, Communism, Ecologism (opposition to modernity), and Traditionalism, describing this ideology as a “genuine, true, radically revolutionary, and consistent fascist fascism.” For Dugin, Traditionalism is a priority, as he emphasizes the preservation of traditional Russian culture, and encourages the other nations of the world to remain true to their traditions and senses of national identity. Consequently, Dugin sees Western promotion of liberal democracy, individual liberty, and globalism as an effort to destroy traditionalist societies. In Dugin’s eyes, the West, which he calls “Atlantis,” unlike Russia, has abandoned God and is working for the “Antichrist.” Furthermore, grounded in the fundamentally irrational premise that the West, with the United States at the helm, is purely evil, Dugin envisions Russia at the head of an alliance of traditionalist societies in Eurasia, serving as a counterweight to the West.
Eurasianism has indeed been advanced by recent Russian actions. As far back as the 1990s, Dugin eyed Ukraine as a target for integration into Russia. In Foundations of Geopolitics, published in 1997, Dugin described Ukraine as “an unnatural state.” Throughout the 2000s, Eurasianists, through organizations such as the Eurasian Youth Union, fomented pro-Russian sentiment among ethnic Russians in Ukraine, ultimately laying the groundwork for the 2014 civil war. Additionally, in The Fourth Political Theory, published in 2009, Dugin wrote that a “direct military clash” with Ukraine over Crimea and Eastern Ukraine was a real possibility. When Ukraine’s pro-Russian government collapsed in 2014, Russia swiftly marched its troops into Crimea and fighting erupted in Eastern Ukraine. By helping to build the foundation for Putin’s invasion of Crimea and Ukraine’s destabilization, Eurasianists scored a major victory for the Eurasian project.
While we, as the leader of the free world, have an interest in promoting freedom and economic liberalism in Ukraine, Russia’s interests in Ukraine are far deeper than ours, given Ukraine’s proximity to Russia and the extensive historical ties between the two countries. Furthermore, since Russian actions in Ukraine did not seriously compromise American interests or security, as Ukraine is neither a NATO ally nor particularly strategically important, our interest in Ukraine is not significant enough that we should risk direct conflict with Russia to defend it. Although Russian actions constituted a flagrant violation of international law, we cannot afford to be the world’s policeman by getting involved in conflicts where our interests and security are not substantially challenged.
Although our interests were not significantly compromised by Russian military involvement in Ukraine, recent Russian diplomatic ventures constitute more serious threats. Dugin advocates a strong alliance with Iran, and Putin facilitates Iran’s dangerous nuclear ambitions with uranium shipments from Russia. Recently, Russia has built ties to Turkey’s nationalist and Islamist government. Russia seeks to pull Turkey away from NATO and forge an alliance with its traditionalist government, in keeping with the goal of uniting traditionalist nations in Eurasia. Dugin is clearly instrumental in Russia’s outreach to Turkey, as, in November 2016, he met with members of the Turkish ruling party and suggested withdrawal from NATO. By aligning with Iran and by attempting to peel Turkey away from NATO, Russia undermines our security and strategic interests.
In addition to its activities in Ukraine, Iran, and Turkey, Russia is becoming an increasingly powerful political force in Western Europe and the United States. The influx of migrants from war-torn countries has understandably created angst among Europeans, and consequently, support for Eurosceptic populist-nationalist parties has surged. However, there is a clear trail of financial support from the Kremlin to many of these parties, which is deeply concerning. By bolstering these anti-EU populists, Russia sees an opportunity to weaken Western military and economic unity, which Dugin certainly views as hindering his plans for an integrated Eurasian state.
While Russia sees a strategic opening to weaken the West, Eurasianists also feel an ideological kinship with European populists, as their opposition to the EU, which Dugin views as a bastion of globalism, along with their rejection of multiculturalism, fits comfortably in Dugin’s traditionalist worldview. In the United States, the white nationalist alt-right also has links to Russia. Alt-right leader Richard Spencer is married to Nina Kouprianova, a Russian who is an English translator of Dugin’s works. Ultimately, Dugin seeks to export identitarianism, be it cultural, racial, religious or national, beyond Russia’s borders and into Europe and North America. It is not surprising that the alt-right, which promotes the establishment of a whites-only ethno-state, is emboldened by Dugin’s identitarian message. Furthermore, Russia’s apparent invigoration of the alt-right presents a serious problem here in the United States. As ethnic tribalism, which the alt-right embodies, becomes more prevalent in our country, it will tear at the fragile unity that makes the idea of America possible.
During our 2016 campaign, Russia hacked Democrat Party emails, and ensured that they were released in a supposed effort to benefit Donald Trump. Many Russians, including Dugin, undeniably saw opportunity in Trump’s triumph. After the election, on his English language podcast, “Dugin’s Guideline,” Dugin asserted that Trump’s victory “puts a decisive end” to the “unipolar world” of American “hegemony,” paving the way for a new “multipolar” world. He then concluded that Trump’s win is “an important victory for Russia and for Putin personally.”
Dugin likely exaggerates the election’s impact on the world order. Nevertheless, Dugin, perhaps encouraged by Trump’s arguably dismissive attitude toward NATO, expects a radically different relationship with the United States during a Trump administration. Dugin makes it clear in his podcast that in a “multipolar” world, the United States will not counter Russian military ambitions. Furthermore, in Dugin’s ideal world of “multipolarity,” we are no longer the mightiest military power and our status as leader of the free world crumbles. As Mitt Romney rightly asserted in 2012, “if America does not lead, others will,” and “the world will grow darker for our friends and for us.” In Dugin’s “multipolar” world, where Russia becomes a power comparable to or even stronger than the United States, millions of people who fall under Russian dominion are deprived of liberty, Iran is free to spread terror, our European alliances crumble, and forces at home tempting us to abandon the principles of our republic grow stronger.
Understanding the Eurasianist vision that inspires Russia’s leaders will enable us to adopt a rational approach to dealing with an adversary whose goals stem from an irrational and dangerous ideology. However, despite Russia’s ideological ambitions, the United States and Russia face a common threat in radical Islamic terrorism. The jihadists of the Islamic State have declared war on the entirety of the non-Muslim world. If we allied with Stalin to defeat Hitler, we can ally with Putin to defeat the evil that is radical Islamic terrorism. Despite Russia’s apparent lack of interest in hitting Islamic State targets in Syria, it is undeniable that the Islamic State threatens both the United States and Russia, and hence, we must at least attempt to collaborate with the Russians to destroy the Islamic State. Conflict with Russia is not inevitable and Russia arguably does not view conflict with us as a goal. In December 2016, Vladimir Putin asserted that Russia is “not seeking conflict with anyone,” and that Russia is eager to collaborate with the United States to battle terrorism. While we would certainly be naive to take Putin at his word, the mutual threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism is a potential opportunity for cooperative engagement with Russia.
However, we must never allow Russia to threaten our standing at the top of the global pecking order. Since Eurasianism calls for the eventual takeover over of Russia’s neighbors, it is a serious threat to our NATO allies in Eastern Europe, particularly the Baltic states. Our geopolitical strength comes large in part from our allies. American power is amplified by our ability to leverage strong enduring alliances, through which burdens are shared, to counter threats from sources far beyond our own borders. Should our NATO alliance crumble, our status as the world’s preeminent military power will diminish. Hence, we must make it absolutely clear that an attack on any NATO ally will be thwarted by a swift military response. In a post-NATO “multipolar” world, where American power and leverage is significantly reduced, the Eurasianists that drive Russian foreign policy, fueled by their fascistic hatred for liberty, would threaten and undermine American interests and global stability for years to come.