Who would have imagined that the news of the pandemic – which is not over – would be replaced by the news of a new war in Europe? If we are to go by the shock expressed by so many in the media at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a full invasion of Ukraine, the answer is not much.
In truth, there was little reason to be surprised. Just as many scientists and institutions had been warning that a new influenza pandemic was imminent years before COVID-19, many political scientists and journalists, from John Mearsheimer to Pepe Escobar, have long warned that if NATO continues to expand towards Russia’s borders, a deadly confrontation in Ukraine could be on the cards.
Had the world taken these warnings seriously, the horrific consequences of both events could perhaps have been limited. But more than a month after the conflict, it feels counterproductive to talk about what might have been or to discuss the origins or motivations behind the war. However, it is vital to understand why ended here because understanding this could be the key to solving it. So who could help us understand?
Before we start naming names, we must understand that Putin’s long-term motivations for invading Ukraine are much more important for our purposes than the acts and events that eventually led him to order this “special military operation.” While NATO’s continued efforts to encircle Russia, despite many warnings from the Kremlin, seem to be the immediate trigger that led Putin to invade, there were also deeper philosophical and ideological motivations behind this invasion, motivations that only certain Russian thinkers can help us understand. Of course, after seeing the devastation that the invasion has wrought on the Ukrainian people, none of these motivations can justify Putin’s actions, but they can help us understand the many dimensions of the global geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West, and help us get ahead. with recipes for its resolution.
Vladislav Surkov, or “Putin’s Rasputin,” as Soviet-born British journalist Peter Pomerantsev once called him in an article for the London Review of Books, is the thinker most often cited as the ideological mastermind behind Putin’s politics and, hence, from the invasion of Ukraine. A longtime adviser to the Kremlin, Surkov was the main ideologue behind the Russian “sovereign democracy” doctrine that has been guiding the Kremlin since at least 2006. An authoritarian brand of soft liberalism that gives much control over the economy to the state. , Surkov’s sovereign democracy is presented as an alternative to decadent western liberalism. A staunch supporter of the “no Ukraine” narrative, Surkov is more of a political consensus organizer than a philosopher, but he is certainly someone who played a major role in developing the ideological and philosophical framework that paved the way for the Putin’s invasion. .
Yet in the eyes of many of Putin’s critics, it is Ivan Ilyin’s ideas, not Surkov’s, that guide the Kremlin’s geopolitical ambitions and pave the way for the invasion. The philosopher, who died in exile in Switzerland in 1954, was the main ideologue of the Russian anti-communist White Movement whose devotees emigrated from Russia after the Bolshevik revolution. Ilyin opposed Bolshevism and advocated a form of Christian authoritarianism similar to that of the Francisco Franco regime in Spain. Echoing the renowned Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ilyin believed that Russia had a duty to preserve its traditional autocracy and resist Western liberalism.
Over the years, Putin showed his admiration for Ilyin in various ways. In 2004, he facilitated the philosopher’s posthumous repatriation by ordering his remains transferred from Switzerland to the Donskoy Monastery in Moscow. In 2014, he recommended that his regional governors read Ilyin’s book, Our Side, along with Vladimir Solovyov’s Justification of the Good and Nicholas Berdyaev’s Philosophy of Inequality. What united these three authors, who had very different visions of the future of Russia, was their adherence to the “Russian Idea”, a set of concepts that express the historical uniqueness, special vocation and global purpose of the Russian people and , by extension, of the Russian state. And this is not a coincidence: if you read the speeches that Putin gave over the years that included quotes from Ilyin, you will see that the Russian president’s interest in the philosopher was always tied to the “Russian idea”.
While it is clear that both Surkov and Ilyin influenced Putin in different ways over the years, neither thinker can be credited for building the ideological foundation for the Kremlin’s current geopolitical stance and ambitions on their own. only.
So is there a figure who in his thinking marries Putin’s authoritarian ideological vision with a philosophy that puts Russia center stage in history, and can be seen as the architect of a worldview that required the invasion of Ukraine to materialize?
There certainly is, and his name is Alexandr Dugin.
Dugin, who was born in Moscow in 1962, is not only a philosopher, political analyst and strategist, but also one of the main organizers of the ultra-nationalist National Bolshevik Front and the Eurasia Party. These polities combine neopaganism, Slavic nativism, and Eastern Orthodox traditions under Dugin’s “Fourth Political Theory,” which integrates elements of liberal democracy, Marxism, and fascism into a new ideology designed to counter liberalism and its negation. individualist of mysticism and traditions. . “We are all”, he once wrote, “against liberal postmodernity”.
Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory, and the book of the same name he published in 2009, has inspired many in the contemporary European populist far right, from Marine Le Pen in France to Matteo Salvini in Italy, and undoubtedly inspired Putin. However, Dugin’s work that most inspired the Russian president and perhaps guided his decision to invade Ukraine was his earlier book, Foundations of Geopolitics.
Shortly after its publication in 1997, the book, which describes how Russia could assert itself on the international stage after the collapse of the Soviet Union, became required reading at Russian military universities.
In the book, Dugin argues that to return to its former might, Russia must ensure that “Atlanticism” (liberalism, free markets, and democracy representing North America and Western Europe) loses its influence over “Eurasia.” , the territories that were once ruled by the Soviet Union, which must uphold hierarchy, tradition, and a strict legal structure.
What is perhaps most intriguing is how Dugin suggests that Russia should expel Atlanticism from Eurasia and regain its global influence. He argues that to achieve this goal, Russia must “destabilize domestic political processes in the United States,” encourage Britain to leave the European Union, and begin the annexation of Ukraine.
If Dugin’s theories literally inspired Putin to interfere, if he did interfere, in the united states presidential election and the brexit referendum in 2016, or encouraged him to invade Ukraine in February, it is impossible to determine. However, it is hard to deny that the actions of the Russian state in recent years have been in line with Dugin’s philosophy, ideology and geopolitical vision to build a Great Russia.
It is amazing how similar Dugin’s, and perhaps Putin’s, vision of a world spatially divided between different cultures is to that portrayed by Samuel Huntington in Clash of Civilizations (1996). The difference is that the American social scientist bet on the Islamic civilization becoming the main challenger to the West. Dugin, however, bets on a new world order in which Russia is the one that counteracts Western civilization as the main Eurasian power.
While NATO expansion certainly played a role in causing Moscow to embark on an all-out invasion of Ukraine, it was probably the aforementioned philosophers who set the Kremlin on a path that runs counter to the predictions Francis Fukuyama made in The end of history (1992). ).
We will see in the coming months what will come out of the dangerous vision of the Putin philosophers. However, a peaceful solution to the conflict between the West and Russia becomes more elusive with each passing day, as the conflict in Ukraine further radicalizes both sides. In fact, there is little indication that either side is willing to enter into negotiations in good faith.
It seems like only yesterday that Thomas Friedman of the New York Times celebrated the wonders of globalism in his book The World is Flat.
Today, however, the bitter judgment made by Canadian historian Quinn Slobodian in his 2018 book, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, rings truer than anything else: “The legitimacy crises that have plagued the WTO since its inception suggest that ordoglobalism as a distinct strain of neoliberalism may have overstepped the mark. If the goal was to refine the rules to avoid disruptive demands for social justice or redistribution, then victory is not in sight.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.