At the age of 60, from a family of Russian military officers, his journey has been remarkable: from fringe ideologue to the leader of a prominent strand of thinking in Russia that sees it at the heart of a “Eurasian” empire defying Western decadence. He is the spiritual founder of the term “the Russian world.”
Along the way, this strand has incorporated a deep loathing of Ukraine’s identity outside of Russia.
Dugin helped revive the expression “Novorossiya” or New Russia – which included the territories of parts of Ukraine – before the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin used the word in declaring Crimea part of Russia in March of that year.
Dugin has long had a visceral loathing of Ukrainians resisting assimilation into “mother Russia.” After dozens of pro-Russian protesters were killed during clashes in Odesa in May 2014, he said: “Ukraine has to be either vanished from Earth and rebuilt from scratch or people need to get it. I think people in Ukraine need total revolt on all levels and in all regions. An armed revolt against junta. Not only in the South-East.
“I think kill, kill and kill. No more talk anymore. It is my opinion as a professor,” he said.
The following year, Dugin was sanctioned by the United States as “complicit in actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, or sovereignty or territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
The work that propelled Dugin to prominence was the “Foundations of Geopolitics” in 1997, in which he set out his vision of a Eurasian empire, stretching from Dublin to Vladivostok. The book advocated sowing instability and dissent in the United States – a pre-echo of the disinformation campaign around the 2016 US election.
In one passage, he wrote: “It is especially important to introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S.”
The book, penned in the dying days of Boris Yelstin’s chaotic presidency, became a best-seller in Russia.
John Dunlop, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, wrote in 2004 that no other book had had “an influence on Russian military, police, and statist foreign policy elites comparable” to “Foundations.”
The book prodded Dugin towards an academic career – and for a while he was chairman of the international relations in the sociology department at Moscow State University.
Dugin has always been one of Putin’s most vocal supporters. In 2007 he said: “Putin no longer has any opponents, and even if they did exist, they are mentally ill and should be sent for medical check-ups. Putin is everywhere, Putin is everything, Putin is absolute, Putin is irreplaceable.”
Gradually, inexorably, Dugin’s views have moved from the fringe of political debate in Russia to its center.
In 2011, when he was prime minister, Vladimir Putin began to talk of a Eurasian Union. Dugin reflected that Putin needed “an ideology, a reason why he needs to come back” for a third term as president.
When Russia began supporting separatists in Donbas in 2014, Dugin was prominent in the Eurasian Youth Union, which recruited people with military experience to fight on behalf of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
He also kept up a torrent of propaganda through the website Geopolitica, which the US asserts that he controls. The US Treasury said this year that it is “a website that serves as a platform for Russian ultra-nationalists to spread disinformation and propaganda targeting Western and other audiences.”
Geopolitica, for example, contended this year that the US and NATO sought to provoke war with Russia, in order to “further terrorize the American people in all sorts of malicious ways.”
As one of the ideological architects of Russian expansionism, Dugin has referred to two “versions” of Putin, and wrote a book called “Putin vs. Putin.”
He described the “lunar” Putin who is pragmatic and cautious, and the “solar” Putin, dedicated to the restoration of a Eurasian empire and confrontation with the West.
In March, a month into the Ukrainian conflict, in an interview in a Moscow daily, Dugin declared that there was “no doubt that the ‘solar’ Putin has won out, and that this was bound to happen, which I didn’t say just a year ago, but for many years now.”
“Russia has crossed the Rubicon, which I am personally very happy about,” he said.
To Dugin, that was essential because he says, the West was using Ukraine to try to bring down Russia. “They believe that they have a chance to defeat Russia; not literally, because it is impossible, but to crush and force it to surrender, by excluding it from their global system.”
It was also essential, in his view, to show “firm opposition to the Junta and Ukrainian Nazism that are annihilating peaceful civilians” as well as rejection of liberalism and US hegemony – language similar to that used by Putin in seeking to justify the invasion.
Dugin is certainly not short of enemies within Russia. In a 2019 interview, he said: “Everyone in power in Russia is scum. Except for Putin.”
Dugin said earlier this year that his adherence to the notion of “Eurasianism” is as strong now as it was when he wrote “Foundations.”
“Its center is the Russian people. And it is open to those peoples who combine their destiny with the fate of the Russian people.”
To him, the conflict in Ukraine is part of an existential battle between the lassitude of the West and a society built on tradition, hierarchy and the Orthodox Christian faith.
In Dugin’s world, Russia’s destiny “will not be complete until we unite all the eastern Slavs and all the Eurasian brothers into one big space. Everything follows from this logic of destiny – and so does Ukraine.”