Since the announcement of Putin’s return to the presidency in September 2011, the rise of radically anti-Western nationalist jingoism in the Russian public sphere has been accelerating. The societal impact and the deeper effects of the escalating demonization of the USA on Russian public discourse should not be neglected as merely temporal phenomena. Radical right-wing intellectuals became more important than before Putin’s third term. A key-figure is the Eurasian philosopher Aleksandr Dugin, who has occasional links with the highest echelons of power

by Andreas Umland

Since the announcement of Putin’s return to the presidency in September 2011, and the start of large anti-government demonstrations in Moscow in the second half of that year, the rise of radically anti-Western nationalist jingoism in the Russian public sphere – including high and local politics, mass media as well as intellectual discourse – has been accelerating. The Russian government’s promotion of rabid anti-Americanism in the public rhetoric and politics can be easily identified as a PR maneuver, by the Kremlin, to distract the population from pressing domestic challenges such as wide-spread corruption, blatant electoral falsifications, rising economic imbalances, or an increasingly bloated government.

While Russian anti-Americanism has thus primarily political-technological origins, the societal impact of the bizarre TV campaigns, and the deeper effects of the escalating demonization of the USA on Russian public discourse should not be neglected as merely temporal phenomena. This has become clear from the long-term repercussions of similar, earlier instances of Russian anti-American media hysteria, for instance, in connection with the bombardment of Serbia by NATO in 1999, the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the Russian-Georgian Five-Day War in 2008. Following these campaigns, public opinion in the Russian Federation has become increasingly critical of the US and, to some extent, also of the EU.

Dugin

The renewed stimulation of anti-Western discourses through application of ‘political technologies’ is accelerating the development of – what may be called – ‘uncivil society’ in Russia. The anti-democratic faction of the Russian Third Sector represents a network of, partly cooperative, partly competing, extremely anti-liberal groups, organizations, and publications that are politically active, yet do not constitute proper parties fighting for governmental posts. Many of them, to be sure, are currently distinguished by the support they receive from government agencies and through active advertising on Kremlin-controlled TV channels. They thus present GONGOs (Government-Organized Non-Governmental Organizations), rather than genuine civil society initiatives.

Long term repercussions

However, the accelerating media campaign of incitement against the US may have two deep, long-term repercussions. First, it will permanently establish a conspiracy-minded, paranoid worldview as a legitimate pattern for the interpretation of international events. And second, it will thus help to socially entrench and publicly establish the corresponding activists, authors, publishers, and clubs as legitimate participants of Russian political as well as intellectual – and, partly, even academic – discourse.

Since September 2011, the following three novel characteristics of the theoretical, intellectual and publishing sector of Russia’s post-Soviet ‘uncivil society’ have emerged:

• the emergence of new umbrella organizations, above all the Izborsk Club, covering a larger range of extremely right-wing intellectuals than earlier.

• a prominent incorporation or even leading role in these broad coalitions of as extreme a fascist theoretician as Aleksandr Dugin, and

• a link of the Izborsk Club, in particular, to the President and government of the Russian Federation, above all via the membership of Putin’s prominent economic advisor Sergei Glazyev.

Earlier umbrella organizations

To be sure, there had been earlier attempts to create umbrella organizations for ultra-nationalist intellectuals, and occasional links between the extreme right and the highest echelons of power. Aleksandr Dugin, for instance, created in 2001 the Eurasia Movement, now called the International Eurasian Movement (IEM), that, since its foundation, mentioned in its list of Highest Council members certain other rabidly anti-Western publicists like, for instance, army newspaper Krasnaia Zvezda (Red Star) editor Nikolai Efimov. Notably, the Highest Council of Dugin’s movement included also a number of non-extremist high-ranking officials of the Russian presidential apparatus, government and parliament. In addition, there seems to be a rather close link between Dugin and the Presidential Administration official Ivan Demidov, and there have been rumors about a long-term connection between Dugin and Putin’s KGB buddy from Soviet times and current Russian government official, Viktor Cherkesov.

Dugin’s connections into the executive branch of the Russian state have been and are certainly impressive and multifarious. But, nevertheless, Dugin was, until recently, a relatively isolated figure within the right-wing extremist intellectual scene somewhat reminding Vladimir Zhirinovskii’s once similarly isolated position within Russian ultra-nationalist party politics. Most independent Russian ultra-nationalists had been keeping a distance to the SS admirer.

Flag of the Eurasian Youth Union
Banier van de Euraziatische Jeugdbeweging

Izborsk Club

Against this background, the Izborsk Club, if it continues to exist, constitutes a new stage in the development of Dugin’s position within the extreme right, in particular, and the evolution of Russian right-wing extremist intellectualism, in general. Dugin’s prominent inclusion into this club as well as into Sergey Kurginian’s Committee is marking a new level in (a) the consolidation of Russian extreme right, as a movement, and (b) its penetration of the Russian state and society. These developments can be seen as repercussions of the considerable increase of Dugin’s prestige, in Russian society, as a result of his 2009 appointment as Moscow State University professor. Via the Anti-Orange Committee and especially via the Izborsk Club as well as via other channels, Dugin, continuing his coded propagation of neo-Nazism, has now found his way into the mainstream of Russian right-wing extremist intellectualism.

The combination of these features constitutes an explosive cocktail that by 2013 had created considerable risks for US-Russian relations in particular, and international security, in general. Arguably, the 2011-2013 tendencies in Russia’s radical right contributed to the escalation of the Western-Russian confrontation and public legitimization of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014.

Further reading? Here the Umland’s annotated article Aleksandr Dugin and Moscow’s New Right-Radical Intellectual Circles.