Chances are, you've never heard of Alexander Dugin. In the U.S. and Europe, the soft-spoken Russian political philosopher is still very much a marginal figure. But within Russia itself, the 43-year-old strategist has become an influential political force. And, increasingly, his radical ideas about a reconstituted, anti-Western empire are making their mark on Russian foreign policy.
Mr. Dugin's political past is mired in controversy. During the 1980s, he reportedly worked as an archivist for the KGB, where he was exposed to, and influenced by, the ideas of the early "Eurasianists" -- Russian thinkers like Lev Gumilyov who, in the early 1900s, had modernized and popularized the idea of Russia's historical destiny as an empire. A one-time fascist, Mr. Dugin joined forces with controversial writer/activist Eduard Limonov in the early 1990s to form the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), using it as a platform to advocate a "conservative revolution" pitting Russia against the West.
By the late 1990s, however, Mr. Dugin had broken with Mr. Limonov and the NBP in pursuit of a more puritan political approach. In 1997, he gained prominence with the publication of his seminal work, "Osnovy Geopolitike" (The Foundations of Geopolitics) -- a rambling, 924-page treatise advocating the re-creation of an anti-Western Russian empire. In it, Mr. Dugin postulated that Russia and the U.S. are destined for global confrontation, and proposed a series of alliances through which Russia can achieve international dominance.
Since then, Mr. Dugin has begun putting these principles into practice. In 2000, he created "Eurasia," a socio-political movement dedicated to the revival of the art of geopolitics -- and to the idea of a "Greater Russia" stretching from the Middle East to the Pacific. Not surprisingly, the group's heady cocktail of mysticism, religious symbolism and good old-fashioned political partisanship found more than a few takers among Russians disenchanted with their country's second-rate economic and political status. (Today, according to Mr. Dugin, his movement boasts some 25,000 members in Russia and its so-called "near abroad," many of them current and former members of the Russian intelligence services and military.) Two and a half years later, Mr. Dugin's ideas were formally entrenched in Russian political discourse with the chartering of his "Eurasia Party," a political faction deeply supportive of Russian President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy line.
Over the years, Mr. Dugin's influence has ebbed and flowed with the currents of Russian foreign policy. Before September 11th, his ideas about multipolarity and anti-Americanism were very much in vogue in the corridors of the Kremlin, with Mr. Dugin reportedly serving as an unofficial adviser to a number of important Russian defense officials and diplomats. But in the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Mr. Dugin's star waned. Against the counsel of many in Moscow, President Putin rallied to the side of the United States, supporting the war on terror and the U.S. offensive against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Gradually, however, Mr. Dugin's philosophy has resurfaced, buoyed by a wave of renewed nationalist sentiment and imperial impulses. In the aftermath of the U.S.-led campaign against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Washington's cooperation with Moscow has cooled, and the Kremlin has reverted to old habits. In the Middle East, in line with Mr. Dugin's dictums, the Russian government is stubbornly nurturing its nuclear contacts with Iran, as well as expanding arms supplies to the beleaguered regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. In Asia, Moscow is drifting closer to China in a strategic partnership that Mr. Dugin has praised as an "alliance… in the heart of Eurasia." And in Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Kremlin is gravitating toward an increasingly hostile, anti-American foreign policy stance, nervous over the recent democratic transformations that have taken place in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
Mr. Dugin, for his part, is seizing the moment. The philosopher has provided much-needed intellectual cover for this summer's landmark Russian-Chinese military maneuvers, which have elicited serious worries in the West. This type of aggressive military cooperation is only natural, Mr. Dugin explains, because both countries are threatened by the recent Ukrainian, Georgian and Kyrgyz "color revolutions" -- and by the perceived "American connection" to these transformations.
Mr. Dugin has also thrown his weight behind Moscow's efforts to oust American influence from the "post-Soviet space." "A new strategic bloc is taking shape before our eyes," he recently wrote with admiration in the newspaper Vedomosti. "The Americans are firmly resolved to continue their policy in Eurasia," and "Russia's salvation" lies with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a Moscow- and Beijing-led regional anti-Western alliance encompassing many of the former Soviet republics.
At home, meanwhile, Mr. Dugin is channeling his energies toward the mobilization of various nationalist forces. In recent weeks, his Eurasia movement has spearheaded the rapprochement of various ethnic and political groups in Russia and the near abroad. The goal, according to Mr. Dugin, is the creation of a sweeping "Anti-Orange" political front aimed at confronting the new, pluralistic and pro-Western governments in Ukraine and Georgia -- and of preventing similar democratic inroads in an increasingly authoritarian Russia.
As these maneuvers suggest, Mr. Dugin's vision is xenophobic, antidemocratic and deeply anti-Western. Alarmingly, it also appears to be gaining serious ground in Putin's Russia, where authoritarian drift and opposition to the U.S. are again becoming the order of the day.