Who’s the fascist? Putin’s ideologists court Europe’s far right

DUGIN-150x150Today’s Russia lacks the sort of coherent ideology provided by Soviet Communism, but if there is a conceptual thread running through Putin’s rhetoric and actions, it is that of Eurasianism, says analyst Jamie Kirchik…..

….characterized recently in Foreign Affairs by Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn as “authoritarian in essence, traditional, anti-American, and anti-European; it values religion and public submission. And more significant to today’s headlines, it is expansionist.” The man at the forefront of this movement is Alexander Dugin, a “conservative revolutionary” in the fascist mold who frequently appears on Russian state television egging on Putin’s neo-imperialist agenda. In 2005, Putin oversaw the creation of the Nashi youth movement, essentially a personality cult, which, in its idolization of the leader, nationalistic rhetoric, and confrontational approach toward critics bears, as some have noted, more than a passing resemblance to the Hitler Youth.

If Ukraine’s fledgling democracy survives the Russian threat, its extremist problem will likely be contained. Not so in Russia, where the rot of far-right nationalism currently starts at the top, Russia-watcher Cathy Young notes:

Writing in Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s surviving dissident media outlets, journalist Alexander Lipsky has pointed out that smearing opponents as “fascist” was a standard Soviet propaganda ploy. Its revival is particularly ironic today, when some Russians using this slur may fit it far better than their targets do. Take Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who recently lamented on Twitter that Ukrainians, his Soviet-era compatriots, had turned to “Nazis all around.” Rogozin first entered politics as a leader of the nationalist bloc Rodina (Motherland), which got booted from local Moscow elections in 2005 over an ad—featuring Rogozin himself—that used blatantly racist caricatures of Azerbaijani migrants. In 2011, he was the subject of a glowing tribute on the American “white identity” site Occidental Observer.

A far more sinister figure is Alexander Dugin [above left], founder of the “Eurasian movement,” which defines its mission as opposing “liberal hegemony” and modernity. In the 1990s, Dugin, a college dropout active in marginal ultranationalist groups, wrote essays openly advocating fascism as a “third way” alternative to communism and capitalism. Dugin argued that real fascism had never been properly tried (an argument usually made on behalf of communism) and would eventually emerge in Russia; while disavowing the racist “excesses” of Nazism, he also praised the SS as an “intellectual oasis” in the Third Reich and fantasized about the rise of “a race of Nordic warrior priests.”

Last year, Gabor Vona, leader of Hungary’s fascist Jobbik party, met with Dugin as well as leaders of the Russian Duma and spoke at Moscow State University, analyst Kirchik writes for The Tablet: .

There he said that Hungary should leave the European Union and join Putin’s proposed “Eurasian Union” instead. “The role of Russia today is to offset the Americanization of Europe,” Vona declared. It is “clear that Russian leaders consider Jobbik as a partner,” the party boasted on its website. Jobbik applauded the sham Crimean referendum that led to the region’s annexation as “exemplary,” which is hardly surprising given that it too has revisionist aspirations for Europe’s borders. Jobbik speaks openly of regaining the territories Hungary lost after World War I and in which a significant number of ethnic Hungarians still reside, and Putin’s rationale for seizing Crimea is precisely the sort of reasoning that Jobbik uses in its own, ill-fated quest to restore “Greater Hungary.” When I reported on Jobbik for Tablet two years ago, several Hungarians shared their suspicion that the Kremlin is secretly funding the party.

All this would make Dugin merely an odious crank if, by the mid-2000s, he had not emerged as a leading “intellectual” in Russia’s Putin-era political establishment, with ties to top politicians and members of the official media, Young writes for The Weekly Standard:

Dropping the word “fascist,” he began to style himself a “traditionalist”; he also procured a Ph.D. and became the head of the Center for Conservative Studies at Moscow State University. In 2009, his International Eurasian Movement counted among its board members Alexander Torshin, Duma vice speaker and a leading figure in the ruling United Russia party, and Nikolai Yefimov, editor in chief of the army newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star). Dugin was cited as an intellectual guru by Ivan Demidov, who headed United Russia’s ideology section in 2008, and currently serves as an adviser to the chairman of the State Duma, Sergei Naryshkin.


Corruption ‘has laid waste to ‘Russian economy’


Once growth is gone, territorial expansion is an authoritarian regime’s tool of choice, says Sergei Guriev, a former rector of the New Economic School in Moscow, and a visiting professor at Sciences Po in Paris.

Russia’s corruption can no longer be considered to have the salubrious effect of keeping the elite in check, he writes for The Financial Times:

On the contrary, it has spawned an aggressive foreign policy to which western leaders are now struggling to respond. Russian corruption has indeed become a threat to global security.

The country’s government has always been reluctant to investigate corruption on its own territory. Russian anti-corruption activists fight an uphill battle. Other governments can and should help to locate and freeze corrupt officials’ foreign assets. That will undermine support for Mr Putin within Russia’s ruling class – and support for the elite among the general public. Both will certainly contribute to the arrival of a new, democratic – and thus peaceful – Russia.


West’s weak response in Crimea empowers Russia

IvanKrastevWhile European and American leaders recognize that the world order is undergoing a dramatic change, they cannot quite grasp it, says a prominent analyst.

“They remain overwhelmed by Putin’s transformation from CEO of Russia, Inc., into an ideology-fueled national leader who will stop at nothing to restore his country’s influence,” according to Ivan Krastev, Chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, and Permanent Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna:

International politics may be founded on treaties, but it functions on the basis of rational expectations. If those expectations turn out to be wrong, the prevailing international order collapses. That is precisely what has happened in the course of the Ukrainian crisis….Just a few months ago, most Western politicians were convinced that in an interdependent world revisionism is too costly and that despite Putin’s determination to defend Russia’s interests in the post-Soviet space, he would not resort to military force to do so. It is now clear that they were sorely mistaken.

Russia envisions Ukraine becoming something akin to Bosnia – a radically federalized country comprising political units that each adhere to their own economic, cultural, and geopolitical preferences, Krastev writes for Project Syndicate:

This creates a dilemma for Europe. While radical federalization could allow Ukraine to remain intact through the current crisis, it would most likely doom the country to disintegration and failure in the longer term. As Yugoslavia’s experience demonstrated, radical decentralization works in theory but does not always work in practice. The West will be confronted with the uneasy task of rejecting in the post-Soviet space solutions that it promoted two decades ago in the former Yugoslavia.

Confronted with Russia’s revisionism, the West resembles the proverbial drunkard searching for his lost keys under a streetlight, because that is where the light is. With their assumptions invalidated, Western leaders are struggling to craft an effective response, argues Krastev, a council member of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum:

The EU is oscillating between rhetorical extremism and policy minimalism. Though some have recommended an ill-advised expansion by NATO in the post-Soviet space, most are limiting themselves to support for symbolic sanctions, such as visa bans that affect a dozen or so Russian officials. But this could ratchet up pressure on non-sanctioned Russian elites to prove their loyalty to Putin, possibly even triggering a purge of the more pro-Western elements in Russia’s political class.

Indeed, no one actually believes that the visa bans will make a difference. They were imposed because doing so was the only action upon which Western governments could agree. 


Krastev’s latest book is In Mistrust We Trust: Can Democracy Survive When We Don’t Trust Our Leaders? read more

Russia as a challenger of the West


Back to the future

Back to the future

Russia’s increasingly uncompromising and confrontational policies towards the West are a manifestation of a consciously anti-Western approach which has its roots in the regime’s weakness, isolation, and insecurity, analyst Jonas Grätz writes for the Center for Security Studies. Despite its frailty, however, the present regime in Moscow, along with its thumb-in-the-eye policies, is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Democratic prospects are diminished by the trauma experienced during the country’s post-Communist transition, Grätz suggests:

In Russia’s collective memory the 1990s became synonymous with instability. Not least because of Putinism’s control over TV, this period is now being remembered solely as a period of chaos and the “deepest downfall” of the country. Analysis of the ills of Soviet power has taken a back seat. To foster the idea that Russia is on the right track, Putin succeeded in discrediting the West as a potential development model as well.

Correspondingly, in his third term Putin began to formulate a more coherent ‘conservative’ ideology to win support among the poorer, traditionally-minded electorate. In Putin’s view, as the West shuns its Christian values, Russia will emerge as their new home.  The idea is mainly backward-oriented and hence has no devices to cope with the reality of the world’s current interconnectedness and its problems. Yet it connects with the longing of society for reduced complexity in times of rapid global change.


Putin’s reckless gamble and Cold War lessons for today

sestanovichmaximalistNo one wants to revive the Cold War. But it offers lessons for today, says a leading analyst.

In the 1940s, the authors of “containment” saw nation building as the key to success, notes Stephen Sestanovich, a professor of international diplomacy at Columbia University, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the United States ambassador at large for the former Soviet Union from 1997 to 2001:

They wanted to check Russian power without war, and believed that across Western Europe, once viable societies were so deeply divided that they might not survive. Those nations’ political and economic models, like Ukraine’s today, were broken. They would not hold together without what Dean Acheson called “the added power and energy of America.”

What made “containment” successful was not the infliction of pain on the Soviet Union. The heart of American policy was to revive, stabilize and integrate countries on our side of the line. Yes, we worried that Stalin had been able to bring down the government in Prague. We worried even more that he might do so in Rome and Paris.

“Successful nation building eventually dispelled those fears,” he writes for The New York Times. “In time, even Eastern Europe got its chance to build successful pluralist societies, but only because years earlier Western Europe had done the same,” says Sestanovich, the author of “Maximalist: America in the World From Truman to Obama” and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.