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‘Hawkish times need hawkish people’ How the death of Daria Dugina helped her father, Alexander Dugin, rise from ultraconservative fringe philosopher to key Kremlin ideologue
Article by Andrey Pertsev. Translation by Anna Razumnaya.
Ultra-conservative thinkers often visit the Kremlin for private meetings with key officials. Over the past few months, this has been the impression among the Kremlin insiders. Two of them, among other sources, have spoken with Meduza’s special correspondent Andrey Pertsev about what these visitors have to contribute to Russia’s emerging new ideology, and how they rose to their current influence in the administration. Here’s what we know about the philosopher Alexander Dugin, the writer Alexander Prokhanov, and the historian Vardan Bagdasaryan — and the ideas they spread.
The frequent visitors
Alexander Dugin is a Eurasianist political philosopher, and one of the most prominent ideologues of the so-called “Russian world,” an idea that at first referred to the solidarity of Russians abroad with compatriots in their home country, but later evolved into something more sinister — a call towards a total rejection of values identified with the “menacing” “collective West.” Since around 2000, Dugin has been advancing the idea of Eurasian Union. This is a proposed geopolitical body that would absorb countries that once made up the USSR. The purpose of the union is to stand in opposition to the West and everything it means. The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy and numerous others have criticized Dugin’s views as essentially fascist.
Another “frequent visitor” to the Kremlin is Alexander Prokhanov, a “patriotic” Russian writer and editor-in-chief of Zavtra (“Tomorrow”), a weekly newspaper that openly embraces the state’s “imperial ideology.” Notably, in 1991, Prokhanov supported the attempted putsch. He is also known for coining the idea of “atomic Orthodoxy” — a model of state organization that combines elements of Stalinism and the pre-revolutionary, Orthodox Christian, patriarchal Russia.
The historian Vardan Bagdasaryan is not as well-known a figure as the previous two. He has written for Prokhanov’s Zavtra newspaper, and co-authored books with Vladimir Yakunin, the former chief executive of RZD, the Russian railway company. Bagdasaryan often writes about the clash of civilizations, calling the Donbas region “Russia’s civilizational frontier.” “Not only is the Donbas a springboard for Ukraine’s liberation from Nazism,” he writes,
it’s also a platform for Russia’s own civilizational self-recovery. It is the Donbas soil that produces the new Russian ideology, not through theory, but through blood and death. Only an ideology made sacred by the blood of heroes can have real historical prospects.
“The existential question of life and death has returned,” he says in another article;
Donbas has created a new kind of young people, different from the postmodernist students in the capital. These guys, who have been through the war, will merge, sooner or later, with the rest of civic life — and then, the young people who now party in the capital will not have an easy time.
Bagdasaryan advocates the introduction of an official ideology in Russia. As for “the West,” he is convinced that it is collectively governed by a network of transnational corporations, a “global oligarchic system.”
Another regular “consultant” to the Kremlin appears to be Konstantin Malofeyev, the “Orthodox oligarch” behind Tsargrad TV, a conservative channel he started with the help of the Fox News ex-director Jack Hanick. In the past, Malofeyev’s relations with the Kremlin have been tense. In 2019, he joined the Just Russia party. It was the general expectation that Malofeyev would finance some reforms in the party and stay among its leadership. Instead, he tried to seize total control of the party. Neither the Kremlin, nor the party itself welcomed that ambition.
The outlines of a new ideology
The Kremlin insiders who agreed to speak with Meduza think that people like the four just described are supposed to help the administration “find the outlines of a new ideology.” Sergey Kiriyenko, the Kremlin’s deputy chief of staff, and his closest colleagues, Alexander Kharichev and Sergey Novikov, are known to meet and consult with the ideologues. (Kharichev heads a department servicing the State Council; Novikov is in charge of the administration’s Directorate for Social Projects.) Their meetings generate not only the programmatic contents of an official ideology, but also specific talking points that are later incorporated into speeches and addresses made not only by Kiriyenko, but also by Putin himself.
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Kiriyenko spoke about war this October, he said:
Russia has always won any war, so long as that war was genuinely a people’s war. This has always been so. We will definitely win this war, be it the “hot” war, the economic war, or the psychological and informational war that is waged against us. But this demands that it become a people’s war, so that every person would feel their involvement.
Around the same time, Kiriyenko spoke to the Worldwide Russian People’s Assembly, an Orthodox Christian organization headed by Patriarch Kirill, with Konstantin Malofeyev as his deputy. There, Kiriyenko brought up the need for “preserving the historic traditions of the people, and traditional spiritual values, including strong family, motherhood, respect for old age, and healthy lifestyle.”
According to a source close to the United Russia party leadership, Dugin and Prokhanov have worked with the Kremlin in the past — for instance, just before 2010, when the President’s Office was headed by Vladislav Surkov. Since then, their contact with the administration wasn’t as regular, since the President’s Office perceived them simply as public figures with an ultraconservative fringe audience. This has changed: their message is no longer “fringe,” and is instead rapidly becoming the basis of an official national ideology. “These days, Dugin’s vocabulary is right on Putin’s lips,” said one of the Kremlin insiders we spoke to.
The same source explains that, in the past, the media often exaggerated Dugin’s influence. Particularly in the West, he was trumped up to be “Putin’s brain” and his ideologue-in-chief. In reality, Putin knew very little about his ideas until very recently. This changed after the murder of Dugin’s daughter Daria.
Following the murder, Putin became “seriously interested” in Dugin. He sent him a telegram of condolences, and has since encouraged the administration’s contacts with the philosopher. It was one month after Daria Dugina’s murder, on September 30, that Putin first used one of Dugin’s favorite slurs: “the Anglo-Saxons” (in the sense of the presumed Anglo-American hegemony in the West). A Kremlin insider explains this as a direct result of Dugina’s death — and the way it was exploited to show Putin that “the enemies” are attacking “the upholders of traditional values,” those values being, of course, very dear to Putin.
Two of our sources close to the Kremlin assure us that neither Kiriyenko nor Kharichev, nor the rest of the President’s Office, share Dugin’s ultraconservative ideas. Rather, they seem indifferent to the contents of his ideology and see it as purely instrumental. If Kiriyenko is turning to conservative thinkers, this is, first of all, because he needs to work with people whose views will appeal to Putin. Second, among all the political consultants and political scientists who would be happy to work with the Kremlin today, there’s no one who can “offer a clear and internally consistent project that would appeal to the head of state.” Several of the former “ideologues” have lately left Russia altogether. Our source describes the situation in the Kremlin:
They have experts; they have performers. But they don’t have moderate ideologues, especially in the right kind of tone — and so, instead, they work with right-wing conservatives, which is what they have. Hawkish times need hawkish people.
Dugin, Prokhanov, Bagdasaryan, and Malofeyev did not respond to Meduza’s queries. The Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, however, did reply to our request for comment on the Kremlin’s work with these ideologues. His answer was: “We do not disclose this information.”
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