OFF CENTRE: Will the Russian bear roar again?

Charles Clover traces the growing influence of the right theories of Alexander Dugin

Financial Times, December 2, 2000

It's the little things that betray Alexander Dugin as a formidable mastermind of global empire.

Maybe it's the pointy beard.

Maybe it's the habit of trilling his r's a little too heavily.

Maybe it's that mellifluous "very clever, Mr Bond" tone in his voice.

Maybe it's the maps he has lying around his Moscow office, showing the Eurasian land-mass cluttered with an assortment of arrows, wedges, cross-hatching, clamps, pincers and circles.

And maybe it's because he can't resist divulging his master plan: "In principle, Eurasia and our space, the heartland, remain the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution."

Only a few years ago, Dugin was considered a crackpot. He still is. But today he is a "very well-read and prolific crackpot with a lot of influence", according to Dmitri Trenin, defence analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, the mainstream think-tank.

Indeed, after a decade of cross-pollination between rightwing intellectuals and Russia's military and political elite, Dugin's pet philo-sophy, an obscure theory called geopolitics, has advanced to the outskirts of mainstream thought in defence and foreign policy circles in Russia.

Geopolitics prophesies an eternal world conflict between land and sea, and hence, Dugin believes, the US and Russia.

His 1997 book, The Basics of Geopolitics, advocated a rebirth of the Soviet Union ("or the Russian Empire, or third Rome, or whatever you want to call it," he says), and cementing a continental bloc of anti-American Eurasian states that would oust US influence from the Eurasian land-mass.

According to his book: "The new Eurasian empire will be constructed on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, strategic control of the USA, and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us. This common civilisational impulse will be the basis of a political and strategic union."

And lately, Dugin has a spring in his step as events seem to back up his ideas.

Russia's president Vladimir Putin, for example, has a travel itinerary that looks like some of the maps in Dugin's book.

One trip was to visit Moscow's one-time cold war ally India, where he endorsed India's nuclear programme. India has been subject to US sanctions after it tested five nuclear weapons in 1998.

Putin recently said Russia was ready for "a new phase" in relations with another former cold war ally, Syria. Russia and China have lately been trying to outdo each other in calling for a Sino-Soviet partnership with echoes of the old cold war bloc.

Over the summer, Putin pursued overtures with North Korea, Libya and Iraq, a sort of who's who of international pariahs.

Maybe "empire" is too strong a word, Dugin admits, but nevertheless, he says: "Already, our recommendations are being implemented at very high levels. I think as time goes by you will see that more and more of our analysis is being used."

While the Kremlin insists its decisions are based on "pragmatism" rather than obscure geopolitical theories, it concedes that its foreign policy has undergone a momentous shift: a newly published set of foreign policy guidelines put out by the Russian ministry of foreign affairs decries a "strengthening tendency towards the formation of a unipolar world under financial and military domination by the United States", and calls for a "multipolar world order". It describes Russia's most important strength as its "geopolitical position as the largest Eurasian state".

Dugin is quick to take part of the credit for these new guidelines, and at first glance it might seem presumptuous. But when one examines the man and his associates, the objections fade.

Take General-Lieutenant Nikolai Klokotov (ret), who held the chair of strategy at Russia's Military Academy of the General Staff from 1988 to 1996. He is listed as a consultant for The Basics of Geopolitics.

Dugin has also been appointed a key adviser to Gennady Seleznyov, speaker of the state Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament.

And while geopolitical theory was banned during Soviet times for its links to Nazism, Russia's communist party has practically adopted the ideas for its own. Gennady Zyuganov, communist party chairman, has published a primer on geopolitics called Geography of Victory.

Russia's main military diplomat, General Leonid Ivashov, the head of the international department at Russia's Ministry of Defence, and the mastermind of Russia's takeover of the Pristina airport in Kosovo last year, is one of the converts.

"The science of geopolitics has flourished in the post-communist period, and this is a natural, healthy, objective response to circumstances," he says.

Ivashov's book on the subject, Russia and the World in the new Millennium, borrows heavily from Dugin's work. He writes: "The experience of geopolitical confrontation between Russia and the west is not limited to the seven decades of the Soviet Union, but has a centuries-long tradition.

"Russia cannot exist outside of its essence as an empire, by its geographical situation, historical path and fate of the state."

Says Ivashov: "The first democratic government of Russia looked at the US as something like a donor, or as a strategic partner. This is a huge misconception. Look at the actions behind the facade of public statements. Read (Henry) Kissinger, read (Zbigniew) Brzezinski, you come to the conclusion that, yes in some ways we are partners, but really we are geopolitical rivals."

Dugin, by his own account, became interested in geopolitical theories in the 1980s, after graduating from the Moscow Aviation Institute. At the time, geopolitical works were banned in the Soviet Union because of the theory's links to Nazism, so Dugin was considered a dissident. He read voraciously and taught himself several languages.

In 1991, he joined the staff of the extremist newspaper Dyen, published by Aleksander Prokhanov, known at the time as the "nightingale of the general staff" for his close ties with Russia's top generals.

Soon after the failed military putsch in August 1991, Dugin left Dyen and created his own magazine, Elementy, devoted to the philosophy of Europe's new right. On its editorial board, were Alain de Benoist and Robert Steukers, both noted new right intellectuals.

In 1992, a Moscow summit organised by Dugin and held at the headquarters of Russia's military general staff brought together Russia's generals and representatives of the new right movement, including de Benoist and Steukers.

The subject of discussion was the formation of an anti-US "continental bloc" of Russia, Germany and France.

Dugin was "obviously very close to the military men", said de Benoist, interviewed recently about the conference. He said he declined further invitations after that conference, conceding, "we were very far apart conceptually".

But the idea of a continental bloc - a Russian strategic alliance with European and Asian states - has since then attracted a number of Russian intellectuals, strategists and politicians.

Starting in the mid-1990s, Boris Yeltsin, Russia's then president, began promoting the idea of a Moscow-Berlin-Paris "axis".

And senior Moscow foreign policy figures, beginning with former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, have devoted themselves to the celebration of Count Aleksander Gorchakov, Russia's legendary 19th century foreign minister who, following Russia's disastrous defeat in the Crimean war, brought Russia back to greatness through an alliance with a newly united Germany.

The parallel with today has not been lost, as Putin travelled to Berlin in June and described such a united Germany as "Russia's leading partner in Europe and the world".

The overtures to Germany and more recently France echo the desire of many in the Russian establishment to use a Franco-German-Russian partnership to drive a wedge between the US and Europe, a project Germany and France show little desire to assist - so far.

But that doesn't stop Dugin speculating about a "Eurasian axis" of Russia, Germany, Iran and Japan.

"Of course, this will take some time," he concedes, and proposes to start first with a much more manageable Eurasian axis of Russia, India and China (according to his book it is well nigh impossible to have China and Japan in the same Eurasian axis - you have to choose one or the other).

But, he says: "I am convinced that with Putin as president, the processes of consolidating our geopolitical space is accelerating, and it is already seen in Europe and Asia. Everything depends on whether it works. That is the 21st century gamble."