"Sorry? I didn't get that!" - exclaimed the journalist Matvei Ganopolsky on the radio station "Ekho Moskvy" (Echo of Moscow). It was the evening of 8 August 2008 and Ganopol'sky was interviewing the leader of the International Eurasian Movement Aleksandr Dugin, who had just told him that Georgia's actions in South Ossetia that day were "genocide." Ganopol'sky could not believe that anyone would use such a loaded word to describe the events in Georgia. Just a day later, on 9 August, in spite of Ganopol'sky's outrage, the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also described Tbilisi's action as "genocide." On 10 August, Putin's chosen successor, President Dmitri Medvedev, who had earlier commented on the conflict using less dramatic terminology, followed suit, claiming that the events of the last three days in South Ossetia were to be classified as "genocide."
It is doubtful that Putin or Medvedev were directly inspired by Alexander Dugin to use the "g-word" in describing the August events in Georgia, but the similarity of their hyperbole is indicative of the direction Russia has taken over the past few years. Dugin has become a prolific political commentator and, some say, influential pundit in Putin's new Russia. A well-known theorist of fascism in the 1990s, Dugin presents himself today as a "radical centrist" and ardent supporter of Russia's authoritarian domestic and anti-Western foreign policies. Both his impassioned articles in defence of Putin and his especially rabid anti-Americanism are, apparently, popular in the Kremlin and in Moscow's "White House" (the seat of the federal government). No other explanation is possible for Dugin's frequent appearances on popular evening shows on Russia's government-controlled TV channels, or his numerous articles in the many Moscow newspapers and websites ramming the latest Kremlin line down the throats of the Russian people.
Dugin's rise over the last few years has been irresistible. This is in spite of the fact that, in the 1990s, this self-styled "neo-Eurasian" joyously welcomed the imminent birth of "fascist fascism" in Russia and praised the organiser of the Holocaust, Reinhard Heydrich, for being a "convinced Eurasian." Back then Dugin frankly described his ideology as "conservative revolutionary," asserting that the core idea of fascism is the "conservative revolution." Throughout the nineties the "neo-Eurasian" made a whole number of similar statements, including various more or less qualified apologies for the Third Reich.
In recent years, to be sure, Dugin's rhetoric has changed - if not in tone, then in style. He now, oddly, often poses as an outspoken "anti-fascist," and does not hesitate to label his opponents both in- and outside Russia "fascists" or "Nazi." Paradoxically, he does this while still admitting that his ideas are close to those of the Strasser brothers in Germany between the wars. Dugin presents these two German nationalists as "anti-Hitlerites". He forgets, however, to mention that Otto and Gregor Strasser did indeed oppose Hitler, but were at the same time part and parcel of Germany's emerging fascist movement. The Strasser brothers played quite a significant role in transforming the NSDAP into a popular party in the late 1920s, but then Hitler expelled them from the Nazi party. They were two influential leaders who had become politically and ideologically inconvenient rivals.
The rise of Dugin does not, however, mean that Russia is becoming fascist. Well-known Russian public figures can often not hide their aversion to the growing right-wing sentiment. A good recent example is Sergei Dorenko, the ORT TV channel presenter of the nineties (controlled by the fugitive oligarch Boris Berezovsky), who played a significant part in helping Vladimir Putin to win the presidency in 2000. Like his master Berezovsky, Dorenko too fell out of favour with the Kremlin and was only permitted to promote his controversial critical views on the opposition radio station Echo of Moscow. During the recent Georgian war Dorenko supported the Kremlin and as a reward was appointed Head of the Russian News Service, which provides news services to the immensely popular "Russkoye Radio". One of his first decisions there was to ban Alexander Dugin from the airwaves.
Yet with every passing year the new century sees closer rapprochement between the rhetoric of Russia's extreme right and those at the very top, not least Putin himself. The strange repetition of Dugin's interpretation of Tbilisi's actions as "genocide" by Putin and Medvedev is merely one of many such signs. Moreover, many more or less influential actors in Putin's "vertical of power" are, in one way or another, linked to Dugin. Viktor Cherkesov, for instance, one of Putin's close former KGB buddies, is said to have been acquainted with, and sympathetic (as well as, perhaps, helpful) to, Dugin since the 1990s. The same goes for Mikhail Leont'ev, one of Russia's most well known TV commentators and, according to some information, Putin's favourite journalist. In 2001 Leont'ev took part in the foundation of Dugin's Eurasian movement; subsequently, he was, for some time, a member of that organisation's Political Council. In February this year, Ivan Demidov, a popular TV presenter, was promoted to Head of the Ideology Directorate in Putin's United Russia party. This happened in spite of the fact that only a few months earlier Demidov had professed to be a pupil of Dugin and announced that he would use his talents as PR manager to disseminate Dugin's ideas.
The Russian extreme right, including some of its crypto-fascist sections, is becoming an ever more influential part of Moscow mainstream public discourse. Its influence can be felt in Russia's mass media, academia, civil society, arts, and politics. Against this background the growing estrangement between Russia and the West is hardly surprising. Should Dugin and co. continue to exert their influence on the Russian elite and population, the currently emerging second Cold War between Moscow and the West will be with us for many years to come.
Dr Andreas Umland is editor of the book series "Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society" (www.ibidem-verlag.de/spps.html) and administrator of the web site "Russian Nationalism" (groups.yahoo.com/group/russian_nationalism/).
Get our weekly email