Review: Putin Vs Putin: Vladimir Putin Viewed From The Right
Author: Alexander Dugin
Paperback: 318 pages
Publisher: Arktos Media Ltd (30 Sept. 2014)
The author, Alexander Dugin, is a prominent figure in the “Eurasian” movement in the Russian Federation. His fundamental belief is that the interests of Russian foreign policy lie in building a power-base in Asia, utilising the vast resources of Russian lands east of the Urals. His world view is that Russia should re-claim the status, and arguably the territories, of the former Soviet Union, taking its place in what he describes as a multi-polar world as opposed to a uni-polar world dominated by the United States. This policy would mean playing down the importance of Russia`s relations with the European Union, and the total rejection of globalisation and of liberalism, both economic and political. Dugin sees Putin as attempting to ride two horses at the same time, unable to make up his mind between Eurasianism and greater accommodation with the U.S. and the E.U. – but the signs, from Dugin`s perspective, are hopeful. He pins his hopes on a speech delivered by Putin in Munich in 2007, which Dugin describes as a “turning-point in Russian History”.
Dugin`s interpretation of Russian history is central to his argument. “Peter the Great and the Westernisation of Russia” was required reading for a generation of `A` level students of Russian history in England. This was seen as “a good thing” – backward Russia being dragged forcibly up to date by a modernising, autocratic ruler. The foundation of St. Petersburg as “a window to the west” was a visible symbol of Peter`s intentions. It has always been an object of suspicion to Russian traditionalists. It is also Vladimir Putin`s home city. For over 200 years it remained the capital of the Tsarist Empire under a succession of rulers who followed in Peter the Great`s footsteps. Catherine the Great (herself a German) was an admirer of Voltaire and the European Enlightenment. Alexander I was an admirer of Napoleon despite proving his nemesis in the campaign of 1812. Alexander II emancipated the serfs. Nicholas II allowed an elected Parliament (Duma) to influence policy despite keeping ultimate power in his own hands. Even the Bolsheviks, despite moving Russia`s capital back to Moscow, followed a similar path; Marxism itself, with its rejection of tradition and its faith in progress, is a product of the Enlightenment. Boris Yeltsin, and the early Putin, seemed destined to follow the same route; despite substituting economic liberalism for Marxism, they followed a similar westernising route.
For Dugin, all of the above represented a betrayal of Russia`s true traditions and interests. For Dugin, the wrong turning in Russian history was taken by Peter the Great and continued by all his successors. Dugin`s heroes are the “Old Believers”, from one of whom he claims to be descended. They were the traditionalists, believing in a dominant Orthodox Church, bearded (Peter made his courtiers shave off their beards), regarding Moscow as a rival to Rome, wearing traditional Russian dress and emphasising a distinctive Russian culture totally opposed to western influences. For Dugin, Eurasianism is rooted in this version of Russian history, one which he hopes that Putin will follow. The parallel is by no means exact, but if Dugin sees Peter the Great as Russia`s Ataturk, maybe Putin will turn out to be its Erdogan. Time will tell.
Meanwhile it should be noted that Eurasianism is by no means new. Debates on Russian foreign policy in the period c1890-1914 within the ruling elite included a school of thought which saw Russia`s future interests in Asia rather than in the Balkans and Constantinople. The construction of the Trans-Siberian railway, completed in 1903, brought Russian power to the shores of the Pacific. The catastrophic defeat by Japan in the Russo-Japanese War 1904-5 brought these ambitions to an abrupt halt, the focus Russian foreign policy turning back to the Balkans, which in turn led to the outbreak of European war in 1914.
Will Putin go down the Dugin route? Despite the Munich speech referred to above, the jury is still out. One suspects that Putin is more of an opportunist than an ideologue, and I find it difficult to believe that he shares Dugin`s reverence for the Old Believers.
Reviewed by Joe Ward
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