Foreign Affairs on Dugin & Putin

3 04 2014

Articles posted on this blog have refererred repeatedly to Eurasianist ideologue and “conservative revolutionary” Aleksandr Dugin and his connection to Vladimir Putin’s expansionist strategy in Crimea. This article in the Council on Foreign Relations’ journal Foreign Affairs puts the Putin-Dugin relationship into some historical and political context.

While the article doesn’t discuss this in any detail, the Dugin-led Eurasianist Youth Movement has been influential in fueling opposition to Ukraine’s interim government in areas of southern and eastern Ukraine. Read the rest of this entry »





Open Letter to Chomsky

20 05 2022

Since my response to Noam Chomsky elicited quite a flurry of feedback, both pro and con (and occasionally in between), I suspect readers will also be interested in the Open Letter to Noam Chomsky published yesterday by four Ukrainian academic economists.

The authors challenge Chomsky on several premises underlying his arguments concerning Ukraine and Russia. These include his denial of Ukraine’s sovereign territorial integrity (violated by Russia in contravention of several international agreements to which Russia was a signatory), his treatment of Ukraine as a pawn on a geo-political chessboard, the misplaced causality of his argumentation about NATO, and his utter incomprehension of the genocidal and frankly fascist motivations underlying Russia’s invasion. All of these premises are rooted in a selective anti-imperialism that, as I have argued , ignores the multiple forms imperialism can take in order to fight a single imperialism, equated with the U.S.-led West. The risk with such selectivity is that it chooses “strange bedfellows” (since it actually aligns with some fascistic anti-westerners like Dugin and now Putin).

As I argued in my E-Flux piece, the only kind of anti-imperialism that makes ethical and political sense today is a decolonial anti-imperialism, and “Decoloniality is by definition not just an anti-imperialism, but an anti-all-imperialisms. That makes every place in the world an ‘obligatory passage point’ for decolonialism.” Ukraine today is a site for decolonial, anti-imperialist struggle against a force whose cutting edge is the neo-imperial Putin regime, but whose fellow travelers are found around the world (especially, but not exclusively, on the political right).

Read the complete Open Letter here.





Decolonialism and the invasion of Ukraine

22 03 2022

Placing the Russian invasion of Ukraine into the context of postcolonial and decolonial theory can be a tricky business. This post takes a few recent articles as its starting point to explore some of its ambiguities.

Decolonization, take 1: Ukraine and Russia

Writing in e-Flux journal (and reprinted in left-wing German magazine Taz), Oleksiy Radynski, filmmaker and cofounder of Kyïv’s Visual Culture Research Center, astutely untangles the deeply colonialist underpinnings of Putin’s war on Ukraine and Ukrainians. In “The Case Against the Russian Federation,” Radynski briefly pursues two fascinating lines of argument. (Each of them has been developed in greater depth by others, but not to my knowledge combined in such a concise and currently relevant way, thus my focus on it here.)

The first argues that Putin’s, and many Russians’, anti-Ukrainianism — the “deep ethnic and political hatred towards Ukrainians” evident in his recent speeches — is a disavowal of that which threatens them internally. Ukraine today represents “a radically different Russia,” with the disavowal working in both directions.

Read the rest of this entry »




Laruelle on Putin’s ideological pasturelands

16 03 2022

Historian and political scientist Marlene Laruelle is unquestionably one of the leading western experts on Russian political thought. She has authored and edited numerous volumes including Russian Nationalism: Imaginaries, Doctrines and Political Battlefields (2018, and available in open-access), Understanding Russia: The Challenges of Transformation (2018), Entangled Far Rights: A Russian-European Intellectual Romance in the 20th Century (2018), and Russian Eurasianism: An Ideology of Empire (2008).

In her new essay for UnHerd, “The brains behind the Russian invasion,” Laruelle takes on what for some is the all-important question, “Who is the President’s Rasputin?” She examines several key candidates for such an ideological whisperer — Ivan Ilyin, Lev Gumilev, Alexander Dugin, Konstantin Malofeev, the Russian Orthodox Church’s Bishop Tikhon, the Moscow Patriarchate itself, and Putin’s close friend Yuri Kovalchuk — but argues instead that

The reality is more complex: there are multiple ideological sources who have blended to cause the disastrous invasion, all mediated through his “court” of  trusted people and group of military advisers, and many of whom unite in their vision of Ukraine as a country that needs to be brought back by force into Russia’s orbit.

More complex, then, but in some ways also more banal, in that the sources of Putin’s impulses may be much more broadly cultural:

Like many of his fellow citizens, [Putin is] probably saturated by political talk shows cultivating anti-Ukrainian feelings, as well as by patriotic movies celebrating the Russian Empire’s greatness and its territorial conquests. There may be no need then to look for a doctrinal text that would have inspired him, as the memory of Russia’s empire and the subordinated role of Ukrainians in it permeates so many components of Russian cultural life.

Putin’s worldview has been built up over many years, and is more shaped by his personal resentment toward the West than by any ideological influence. Readings of the classic works of Russian philosophy which insist on Russia’s historical struggle with the West, emphasise the role of Ukraine as a civilizational borderland between both, have simply reinforced his own lived experience. [emphasis added]

Why, then, such a seemingly disastrous decision to invade a country that will fight tooth-and-nail against the invasion? She blames this on “low-level intelligence-gathering.”

And it is here that the President’s mask slips. It becomes clear that Putin is an aging and isolated authoritarian leader surrounded by advisers afraid of bringing him a realistic assessment of the likelihood of victory, thereby accelerating Russia dragging a sovereign Ukraine along with the rest of Europe towards the worst catastrophe since the Second World War.

The entire article is worth reading. It’s accompanied by a video interview with Laruelle carried out by UnHerd‘s Freddie Sayers.

Read the rest of this entry »




Edenborg: Homophobia as geopolitics

15 03 2022

Another piece of Putin’s claimed justification for his invasion of Ukraine, at least in terms of his main support base both within Russia and outside of it, is that of the threat posed by “the West” to Russia’s “traditional values.” Writing in the Boston Review, Stockholm University professor Emil Edenborg examines this in detail in “Putin’s Anti-Gay War on Ukraine.”

When Putin entered office for a third presidential term in 2012, in the wake of massive protests and declining popularity, his government wholeheartedly embraced the notion of “traditional values” as official ideology guiding both domestic and foreign policy. While a usefully vague and often undefined concept, “traditional values” are seen as encompassing patriotism, spirituality, rootedness in history, respect for authority, and adherence to heteronormative and patriarchal ideals of family and gender. In the rhetoric of the Kremlin and state-loyal media, LGBT rights, feminism, multiculturalism, and atheism are identified not only as foreign to Russia’s values, but as existential threats to the nation.

This plays into the idea that Putin is “purifying” Ukraine by “denazifying” it, but it only does that if one accepts the hybrid discursive construct that Dugin has proposed of the “liberal-Nazi West,” a place that imperialistically imposes its own “decadent” cultural morés onto the world.

Describing the Kremlin’s position as a form of “homophobia as geopolitics,” Edenborg examines gender stereotypes, state cultural policies, myths of “national rejuvenation and the recovery of collective greatness,” and the complex politics of superiority, inferiority, and resentment:

On the one hand, Russia has pursued an imperial, “civilizing” mission against peoples seen as culturally and racially inferior, for example in the Caucasus and Central Asia. On the other hand, Russia is perceived as historically suffering under Western cultural, economic, military, and epistemological hegemony. 

He concludes:

These are not harmless skirmishes in the “culture wars” of late-stage capitalism: they are grave matters of life and death. Gender norms—tropes of masculine protection, women-and-children in need of saving, and sexual and gender deviance as a threat to the body politic—fuel and perpetuate authoritarianism, militarism, and, as Russia’s war on Ukraine now makes all too plain, state aggression. Without addressing the former, there is little hope of changing the latter.





New Fascism Syllabus: Russia’s irrational violence

15 03 2022

The collaborative New Fascism Syllabus, which provides scholarly perspectives on 20th and 21st century fascism, authoritarianism, and populism, has been publishing analyses relevant to the Russian invasion of Ukraine since that invasion began on February 24.

The articles variously discuss the weaponization of historical memory including the rhetorics of fascism and “denazification,” the new martial masculinities in evidence on both sides of the war, the recent blossoming of Holocaust scholarship in Ukraine (and worries over its fate), moral complicity in Russia’s political censorship, and Western strategies and perspectives on the invasion.

Omer Bartov’s bittersweet reminiscence of the beauty of Ukraine, its deeply troubled history (he is a historian of the Holocaust), and its recent “heroic efforts to reforge itself,” entitled “My Ukraine is Not Yet Lost,” is particularly moving. Bartov writes:

The war, the genocide of the Jews, the ethnic cleansing of the Poles, and the imposition of an oppressive and vengeful Soviet regime, seemed to have put an end to the world of the borderlands that lasted for centuries and, despite its many warps, prejudices, vast inequality, grinding poverty, and occasional bursts of horrific violence, was also the birthplace of much beauty and creativity, precisely because of its mix of cultures, religions, and ethnicities.

Like several of the authors, Bartov worries that all of the progress made in recent years will be undone by Russia’s violent attempt to turn back the clock to a world ruled by imperial fiat.

Two of the articles dwell on the “irrationality” of the invasion. In Andrea Chandler’s case, it is Putin’s irrationality, which she sees in full evidence in the recent events, despite her best efforts to find reason.

The only way that I can make any sense of Putin’s actions in Ukraine is to imagine a secret-police frame of decision-making in which the strategic value of territory is detached from its inhabitants. This frame exaggerates the threat that a self-reliant Ukraine poses to Russian sovereignty: if we “lose” Ukraine, we lose our “krai” – so where will our new “krai” be? 

In Russian, krai (край) suggests “borderland” or “edge” (окраина), while in Ukrainian it is commonly understood as “our country,” “our land,” “in-land,” or “within-land” (україна).

In Alexander Reid Ross and Shane Burley’s “Into the Irrational Core of Pure Violence,” the irrationality is found in the “convergence” between Aleksandr Dugin‘s “neo-Eurasianism” and the war being waged by the Kremlin. While there is debate around the level of continuing influence Dugin’s neo-fascist geopolitics has on Putin’s own thinking, and so the authors may err slightly in overemphasizing it, there is no doubt that Putinism has been shaped by a broad swath of Russian ultranationalist, neo-imperialist (to the point of being messianic), Orthodox theocratic, and other far-right ideologists including Dugin, Ivan Ilyin, Lev Gumilev, Konstantin Leontiev, and cronies in the Russian media-political sphere such as Kiselyov, Malofeev, Prokhanov, and others.

The authors write:

the hypocrisy of the supposed “de-Nazification” of Ukraine can be found in the fact that the invasion has been, since 2014, the project of fascists, Orthodox ultranationalists, and Dugin’s own network of self-described “neo-Eurasianists.” From the start, the aggression against Ukraine was bankrolled by Dugin’s patron, Russia’s “Orthodox Oligarch,” Konstantin Malofeev. During the first years, on-the-ground efforts were led by Malofeev’s associates Alexander Borodai and Igor Girkin, an ultranationalist who participated in the Bosnian Genocide before becoming Malofeev’s security chief. Girkin and Dugin are listed together as among Russia’s “authentic high-principled Hitlerites, true Aryans” in a mordant article by Russian dissident Andrey Piontkovsky.

An influential figure amongst the alt-right and Europe’s fascist “identitarian” movement. Dugin’s ideology is somewhat more syncretic and convoluted than traditional Nazism: he believes in the total destruction of the modern world and the liberalism he feels it represents. This radical upheaval of the world would be followed by the rebirth of patriarchal blood-and-soil communities distinguished by a caste system ruled by warrior-priests, which he calls “political soldiers.” Dugin desires to see Moscow presiding over a Eurasian empire stretching from Dublin to Vladivostok in which Istanbul will return to Constantinople (or “Tsargrad”). For Dugin, the invasion of Ukraine represents merely the first step in this “Great Slavic Reconquista.”

With its apocalyptic struggle and “palingenetic” rebirth, Dugin’s program clearly falls into the “consensus” definition of fascism that historians like Roger Griffin have established. In 2015, Griffin himself demured from describing Putin as a fascist, and just last year referred to Putinism as a form of “resentment politics.” But seven years later, with the military invasion and the reasoning that led to it (and justifications provided for it), most of Griffin’s reservations no longer appear to hold.

Dugin’s projected alignment between Russia, Iran, India, and China appears to be incipient as Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine solidifies its own alienation from the “liberal-globalist” West.

The authors conclude:

Here, we have the irrational core of pure violence: the anti-European Europe, the anti-imperialist empire, the antifascist fascism, the anti-nationalist ultranationalism, and the defense against genocide through the obliteration of a nation’s existence and concomitant shelling of civilian targets. Without recourse to reason, Russia must resort to raw coercion, power politics, to exert its sovereignty, all while presenting its alternative to the unipolarity of the U.S. empire as the de facto liberatory choice. By offering itself as an enemy of the U.S., it hopes to court a new class of friends. Russian nationalism acts as part of the vanguard of far-right movements, helping to re-align geopolitics away from cooperation and toward a binary, illiberal opposition. 

Reid Ross and Burley see the Ukrainian resistance as a struggle against imperialism that “must be universalized on the level of a struggle for freedom and equality everywhere.”





Rise of the global alt-right

16 11 2016

With Donald Trump in power, this web site just might get a new lease on life — reincarnated as a place for examining the rise of what has been called the “global alt-right,” with its network of connections between Putinists (like Alexander Dugin, Konstantin Rykov, and Igor Panarin), Trumpists (like Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and Alex Jones, among others), and those filling a similar niche around the world.

The Trump campaign’s connections with Russia, of course, go well beyond such hazy connections as these. Ukrainian fears of these connections are legion. As Natalia Humeniuk puts it,

Read the rest of this entry »





Russian infowar

11 05 2014

I drafted an op-ed piece a few weeks ago that I failed to oversee to publication, because it was quickly overtaken by events that I didn’t manage to incorporate into the piece.

I’m sharing it here for what it’s worth, as it includes some useful links to materials I have not posted to this blog. It’s more opinionated than my posts have usually been, but that’s the nature of an op-ed. The general idea remains quite relevant (as my “Right Sector vs. United Russia” post shows). A brief update follows.

 

Manufacturing reality: The Russian infowar over Ukraine

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Where are the fascists?

8 05 2014

As both Russia and Ukraine prepare to mark Victory Day (May 9), the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union in the Second World War, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group continues to monitor the spread of fascist and neo-Nazi groups and ideas in eastern Ukraine.

Contrary to official Russian propaganda, the most visible neo-Nazis are Russians whose connections to the pro-Russian eastern Ukrainian separatists are incontrovertible. See Halya Coynash’s “Neo-Nazis in Moscow’s service,” as well as the links at the bottom of that article. Like Aleksandr Dugin (whom I’ve posted about before), Aleksandr Barkashov is well known to those who monitor fascism in the former Soviet Union.

Read the rest of this entry »





Ukraine after Odessa’s May 2 tragedy

6 05 2014

People wait to be rescued on the second storey's ledge during a fire at the trade union building in Odessa

Due to travels last week, I was not able to post anything on this blog. I have spent the last few days catching up on the media coverage — Ukrainian, Russian, and international press as well as social media — of the worsening turn of events in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Below is a brief summary of what happened in Odessa on May 2 and its immediate and likely impacts. (updated 4:06 p.m. EST)

 

Read the rest of this entry »








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