Aleksandr Dugin, the ultra-nationalist Russian philosopher and erstwhile organiser of the National Bolshevik Party, has been referred to as ‘Putin’s brain’. Professor Marlene Laruelle, the world’s leading expert on Dugin, says his influence is no longer direct. Dugin’s stated mission is to preserve the “Russian soul” and expand the Eurasian empire in defiance of the West. Today, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and increasingly isolated global position feels like some of these visions have become a dark reality.
Freddie Sayers sat down with Laruelle to seek a deeper understanding of the oft-quoted concept of the “Russian soul”, what Dugin wants and how Putin might be able to help him get it.
Given the images coming out of Mariupol and Kharkiv, Dugin’s philosophy of violence now makes for disturbing reading. He has long agitated on behalf of the separatist regions in Donetsk and Lugansk, where Putin first sent troops as a preamble to full-scale invasion in Ukraine. His only complaint about today’s events, Laruelle predicts, would be that the Kremlin took so long to act.
Meanwhile, formal sanctions on Russian finance and exports are pushing the country towards economic isolation, also as per Dugin’s grand plan. But informal cultural sanctions are where Laruelle sees the greatest threat. As well as the mass exodus of Western brands from Russia, the country’s oldest exports, literature, music and ballet, are being unceremoniously banned abroad. The Cardiff Philharmonic has pulled Tchaikovsky from their programme. The Royal Opera House has cancelled a show by Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet. Frankfurt Book Fair has suspended the stand for Russian novels. If this is not a proxy war against the Russian soul, Laruelle asks, then what is?
In attacking Russia for what it is and has been, rather than what Dugin or Putin might like it to be, Laruelle says the West is making a mistake. She is clear that Russophobia will only increase support for strong-man Putin. Banishing Russia’s greatest artistic achievements plays into Putin’s most extreme suspicions, which Dugin has long-since encouraged.
Events in Ukraine have opened a potential path for Dugin’s prophecy to be fulfilled, Laruelle warns. New methods of repression are available to Putin that simply didn’t exist in the 1990s. Autarky and self-sufficiency might provide an attractive alternative to the failing global economy, but Dugin would pursue this at the cost of human rights. Will he have his way?
If the Russian soul requires a strong sense of self to survive, then it is in a moment of crisis. Cosmopolitan young people from Moscow and St Petersburg are leaving the country in droves to seek a more European-aligned life elsewhere. The Russian government and its people are split between a return to a lost Byzantine past and a Westernised future.