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Aleksandr Dugin: Who is 'Putin's brain' and what is his view of Russia's war in Ukraine?

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By Alasdair Sandford  & AP, Reuters
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Alexander Dugin, the neo-Eurasianist ideologue, sits in his TV studio in central Moscow in August 2016
Alexander Dugin, the neo-Eurasianist ideologue, sits in his TV studio in central Moscow in August 2016   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Francesca Ebel

The death of pro-Kremlin TV commentator Daria Dugina in a suspected car bomb near Moscow on Sunday immediately prompted speculation that the intended target of the attack may have been her father.

Aleksandr Dugin is a prominent ultranationalist philosopher and writer who advocates a vast new Russian empire and is a vehement supporter of the country's war in Ukraine.

According to some commentators, the 60-year-old has been a major influence on Vladimir Putin, although he has no official ties to the Kremlin.

His writings also eerily foretell Russia's turbulent relations with the West: a 1997 book set out a game plan whereby Moscow would sow division, while at the same time luring Europe into increasing economic dependence on its eastern neighbour.

'Fascist prophet' who is 'Putin's brain'

Dugin has no direct link to Russian foreign policy. But the numerous references to him in the international press as "Putin's brain" appear to be well founded.

To some, the influence of the far-right figure on the Russian leader has been monumental and is key to understanding Putin's view of the world and Russia's place in it.

"A broader understanding is needed of Dugin’s deadly ideas. Russia has been running his playbook for the past 20 years, and it has brought us here, to the brink of another world war," Washington Post columnist David Von Drehle wrote in an opinion piece in May, describing him as "a fascist prophet of maximal Russian empire".

The author says Dugin's analysis could be seen directly in Putin's long, rambling speech on the eve of the Russian president's invasion of Ukraine in February, as he formally recognised the independence of the two rebel-controlled regions in the east.

The Kremlin frequently echoes rhetoric from Dugin's writings and appearances on Russian state TV. He promoted the term "Novorossiya", or "New Russia", that Moscow used to justify its annexation of Crimea and support of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

In May this year, writing for Tsargrad — a pro-Kremlin, Christian Orthodox outlet where he was once chief editor — Dugin called for Ukraine to "become an integral, organic part" of a "new, eternal, true and profound Russia".

'Russian nationalist mythmaking'

In Dugin's view, Russia is depicted as a country of piety, traditional values and authoritarian leadership; Western liberal values are scorned.

"A product of late-period Soviet decline, Dugin belongs to the long, dismal line of political theorists who invent a strong and glorious past — infused with mysticism and obedient to authority — to explain a failed present," said the Washington Post's David Von Drehle.

In the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea, French historian Marlène Laruelle described "Novorossiya" — the propagandist language promoted by the likes of Dugin, and increasingly by Putin himself — as "Russian nationalist mythmaking".

In his 1997 book, "The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia", Dugin was fiercely critical of US influence in Eurasia. He called for Russia to rebuild its own authority in the region and advocated breaking up the territory of other nations.

The United States imposed sanctions on Dugin in 2015 for being "responsible for or complicit in actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, or sovereignty or territorial integrity of Ukraine".

"Dugin was a leader of the Eurasian Youth Union, which actively recruited individuals with military and combat experience to fight on behalf of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and has stated that it has a covert presence in Ukraine," the US Treasury said in March this year.

"Ukrainians must understand that we are inviting them to create this new, great (Russian) power. As well as Belarusians, Kazakhs, Armenians, but also Azerbaijanis and Georgians, and all those who not only were and are with us but also will be," Dugin wrote in his article for Tsargrad in May.

Disruptive influence in the West

"The Geopolitical Future of Russia" lays out not just a vision for the country itself, but includes advice concerning Russian strategy that has startling echoes with subsequent events.

Dugin recommends the invasion of Georgia, the annexation of Crimea, and — two decades before Donald Trump's election and Brexit — for rifts to be fomented between the UK and the rest of Europe, as well as within the United States.

Dugin described Trump's arrival in the White House as "a victory for Russia", telling CNN in 2017 that Putin had provided an "inspiration and a kind of example" to the new US president. The two leaders could carve out a new world order, he believed.

"His (Trump's) inauguration speech, discourse, was if I would write it myself," he said proudly.

According to several US media reports, there are links between Aleksandr Dugin and members of the alt-right and white supremacist movement. The Russian nationalist was reportedly invited to an American far-right think tank's conference in Hungary in 2014, although sanctions prevented him from attending.

The current US administration argues that Dugin continues to play a malign role in Western affairs.

"Dugin controls Geopolitica, a website that serves as a platform for Russian ultra-nationalists to spread disinformation and propaganda targeting Western and other audiences," the US Treasury statement said.

"For example, on February 8, 2022, Geopolitica published an article falsely accusing the US and NATO of provoking war with Russia, in order to 'further terrorize the American people in all sorts of malicious ways'."

The day before the attack that killed his daughter, Aleksandr Dugin posted a message on his Telegram channel calling for Russia's war in Ukraine to be stepped up — citing the extent of Western-backed Ukrainian resistance.

"The increased attacks on Crimea, the attempts to nuke Zaporizhzhia, the declarations of a counter-attack on Kherson, Zelenskyy's rigid refusal to compromise, the West's insistence on cutting all ties with Russia are all signs that the other side has decided to stand up to the end. They can be understood: Russia has actually (and this is not propaganda) challenged the West as a civilisation," he wrote.

"So we too will have to go all the way to the end."