‘He’s seen as a brilliant philosopher, but brilliance and madness are very close to each other.’
The Russian ultra-nationalist dubbed “Putin’s Rasputin” by Breitbart News when it was run by President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has emerged as an unlikely foreign-policy fixer for the Kremlin.
Alexander Dugin, whose bushy beard gives him a passing resemblance to the Siberian mystic who bewitched the last czar’s family, says he played a key but largely clandestine role in patching up Russia’s relations with Turkey, an account confirmed by a senior figure in Ankara. And with people he calls ideological allies now in the White House, Dugin says he’s bullish on better ties with the U.S., too.
After Turkey shot down a Russian warplane along the Syrian border in 2015, prompting “World War III” to trend on Twitter, the firebrand philosopher used his contacts in both countries to form a backchannel that helped Vladimir Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan end an increasingly dangerous feud, according to a retired Turkish general who flew to Moscow for secret talks.
The rapprochement allowed Putin to outmaneuver the Obama administration and turn the tide in Syria’s civil war on behalf of Bashar al-Assad. For Dugin, whose views on the evils of liberalism have been cited by Bannon and other far-right leaders, it also moved Russia a step closer to fulfilling his vision of unwinding the U.S.-led global order, in part by luring Turkey away from NATO and creating a “Russo-Islamic pact” that includes Iran.
Dugin, the son of a Soviet military-intelligence official, said being independent makes him an effective go-between in matters of state. The 55-year-old rabble-rouser, blacklisted by the U.S. for aiding the insurgency in Ukraine, has no official post. But he has advised a member of Putin’s inner circle and written a textbook on geopolitics that’s been used by the military.
“I can talk to people like an official can’t,” Dugin said in his Moscow office at Tsargrad TV, where he’s a commentator and chief editor. “A diplomat says what he’s told. What does a military man say? Even less. And an intelligence officer? Nothing at all. You don’t understand where the truth lies. I speak from the perspective of geopolitics. That’s why the Turks started to trust me.”
Dugin, who’s been described as everything from an occult fascist to a mystical imperialist, lost his prestigious job running the sociology department at Moscow State University in 2014 after activists accused him of encouraging genocide. Thousands of people signed a petition calling for his removal after a rant in support of separatists in Ukraine in which he said, “kill, kill, kill.”
The Kremlin, which gave the prolific polemicist prominent airtime on the biggest networks to cheerlead during the annexation of Crimea in 2014, has kept him at arm’s length since he criticized Putin for not taking more of Ukraine. When asked if Dugin played a role in the detente with Turkey, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said, “No.”
“He’s seen as a brilliant philosopher, but brilliance and madness are very close to each other,” said Sergei Markov, a political consultant to Putin’s staff. Even though Dugin’s not an official envoy, Markov said, “he appears to have given the Turks some very good advice.”
Dugin made “everyone happy” by organizing a November visit to Crimea by a Turkish delegation that included one of Erdogan’s cousins, a few weeks after meeting Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in Ankara, Markov said. The trip was a major fillip for Russia’s efforts to gain recognition for Putin’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula, which provoked U.S. and European sanctions....MORE