Putin’s Rasputin, Alexander Dugin – and his White House allies

“Incredibly beautiful – one of the best moments of my life.” Of the many reactions to President Trump’s inauguration last month, few were so effusive as that of Alexander Dugin, the ultra-nationalist Russian once described by Breitbart News as “Putin’s Rasputin”, says Bloomberg. A philosopher and academic, Dugin fancies himself an international fixer.

He claims to have played a key (if largely clandestine) role in patching up Russia’s relations with Turkey when the latter shot down a Russian warplane in 2015. Now, with people he calls “ideological allies” in the White House, he’s hopeful of forging closer ties with the US. Dugin, 55, has no official post in the Kremlin and he lost his job at Moscow State University in 2014 when a rabble-rousing speech in support of Ukrainian separatists descended into a “kill, kill, kill” rant. Since then, the Kremlin has kept him at arm’s length.

“He’s seen as a brilliant philosopher, but brilliance and madness are very close to each other,” says Sergei Markov, a political consultant to Putin’s staff. But Dugin nonetheless has influence: he has advised a member of Putin’s inner circle and his prolific musings on geopolitics are required reading in the Russian military. He’s clearly regarded by the Kremlin as a useful cheerleader.

Dugin subscribes to a “Eurasianist” view of Russia as an exceptional civilisation, spanning both European and Asian cultures, whose destiny is to have its imperium restored, says Oleg Shynkarenko in The Daily Beast. In 2005 he founded a youth movement, the Eurasia Youth Union of Russia (EYUR), to propagate his views. Opponents claim that EYUR were part of the “large wave of Russian spies and operatives” who flooded into Ukraine ahead of the 2014 presidential elections. “Whether or not Putin really believes the semi-mystical philosophy of Eurasian supremacy, he’s using it to justify Russia’s designs.”

Born in Moscow, the son of a Soviet military intelligence officer, Dugin is a self-taught polyglot, who read widely from a young age and later graduated in economics and management. He’s a devout member of the Russian Old Believers, a traditionalist offshoot of the Orthodox Church. In one book, calling for “strategic alliances to overthrow the present order of things”, he described Western notions of “human rights, anti-hierarchy and political correctness” as “the face of the beast, the anti-Christ”, says Salon.com.

Until Trump’s election, the US represented everything that was wrong with the world, according to Dugin. Now he believes his time has come. Even allowing for the setback of losing the pro-Russian Lt Gen Michael Flynn as Trump’s national security adviser, there are plenty more “sympathetic figures” either in, or close to, the Trump administration: notably his chum Professor Paul Gottfried, an intellectual father figure of the US “alt-right”. In a 1997 article, Dugin called for a “radically revolutionary and consistent, fascist fascism”. These days, his mantra of choice is shorter. “Drain the swamp.”