Putin's geostrategic guru?

Writing in the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, University of Colorado assistant professor Steven Pittz examines the ideas of Russian geopolitical philosopher Alexander Dugin and speculates about their possible influence on the foreign policy of Russian president Vladimir Putin.  Dugin's geopolitical ideas are in fact quite similar to those of Karl Haushofer, a German geopolitical theorist in the 1920s and 1930s who some claimed influenced the foreign policy of Adolf Hitler.  

Dugin is the author of several books, including Foundations of Geopolitics (1997) and Last War of the World-Island (2015) (which I reviewed seven years ago in the Asian Review of Books), that portray international relations as a great global struggle between "Atlanticists" (led by the United States) and "Eurasianists" (led by Russia).  Professor Pittz notes that Foundations of Geopolitics is a textbook at the Russian military academy and in Russia's state-run school system.  The conflict between the West and Russia, Dugin writes, is both geopolitical and civilizational.  Russia, he contends, is not part of a larger global civilization or Western civilization, but is its own civilization entitled to its own geographical "space."  And that geographical space is Eurasia.

Dugin's Last War of the World-Island updated Foundations of Geopolitics and was written after Putin's aggression in Georgia but before his invasion of Crimea.  In the book, Dugin praises Putin for acting to restore "Russia's territorial integrity" and claims that Putin's policies have "expressed the geopolitical, sociological, and ideological tendencies corresponding, mostly, to the main features ... and constants of Russian geopolitical history."  And he is critical of both former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former Russian president Boris Yeltsin for their unnecessary surrender to the West.

Dugin also harshly criticizes former Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev for losing China as an ally, something Putin has attempted to reverse with a considerable amount of success.  Russia's defeat in the Cold War, Dugin writes, was a "monstrous geopolitical catastrophe."  Putin has made similar comments.  As Professor Pittz notes, "Putin's foreign policy ... often lines up with Dugin's geopolitical recommendations."

Dugin's Eurasianism borrows heavily from the geopolitical concepts of Britain's greatest geopolitical theorist, Sir Halford Mackinder, who identified Russia's geographical space as the "Heartland" of the Eurasian landmass.  In Last War of the World-Island, Dugin defines Russian geopolitics as "the geopolitics of the Heartland."  And the book's title includes Mackinder's concept of the "World-Island" (Eurasia-Africa), the control of which, Mackinder believed, meant world domination.  Today's Russia, Dugin writes, "is the geopolitical heir to ... Kievan Rus, the Golden Horde, the Muscovite Tsardom, the Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union."  "Kievan Rus," it is worth noting, is centered in Ukraine.

During the Second World War, there were several books and articles written in the United States and England (e.g., Andreas Dorpalen's The World of General Haushofer, Hans Weigert's Generals and Geographers) attempting to link Hitler's expansionist foreign policy to the ideas of German geopolitical theorist Karl Haushofer, who had served as a general in the First World War and founded the German "school" of Geopolitik, complete with a policy journal by that name, in the 1920s.  Haushofer, like Dugin, borrowed geopolitical concepts from Mackinder.  Haushofer and his intellectual disciples propagated spatial theories that were consistent with an expansionist foreign policy.  Hitler was introduced to Haushofer by Rudolph Hess, and Haushofer's geopolitical worldview was similar to Dugin's Eurasianism — Haushofer applauded the Nazi-Soviet Pact but opposed Hitler's invasion of Soviet Russia.

The common themes of Dugin's and Haushofer's geopolitics are Eurasia against the West, land power against sea power.  And just as Haushofer thought Germany and Russia should become and remain allies, Dugin thinks Russia and China should act in concert against their civilizational adversaries, which they appear to be doing today.

Historians and scholars still debate the extent, if any, of Haushofer's influence on Hitler.  Professor Pittz writes that it is "unlikely that Putin makes his decisions with Dugin in mind."  Putin's invasion of Ukraine may have nothing to do with Alexander Dugin's ideas, but it would be careless of us to ignore the possibility that Putin shares Dugin's vision of Eurasianism and acts in accordance with that shared worldview. 

Image: Tasnim News Agency.

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