I’ve been aware of Alexander Dugin for a long time. If I had to sum up his intellectual career, I’d say it’s been all about trying to find an ideology that would allow Russia to organize a global coalition against western liberalism and post-cold-war America.
Despite my interest in Dugin, I first heard of his daughter Darya only a few months ago, when she appeared on the Indian TV station Republic (home of prominent journalist Arnab Goswami) as a panelist in a debate about the war in Ukraine. And now she’s dead, killed in Moscow by a car bomb that was probably aimed at her father, who western headlines variously describe as “Putin’s brain” (Newsweek), “major Putin ally” (NPR), and “influential Russian writer” (New York Times, as usual aiming for a Pulitzer Prize in vagueness).
Various western pundits have been talking of Dugin as Putin’s svengali for years; for example, Quillette contributor Robert Zubrin. But it was hard to find actual Russians who shared this view of his importance. It was often said that he was better known in the west than in Russia. John Schindler, formerly of NSA counterintelligence, described him as “flypaper for Western alt-right nutballs”.
If I had to sum up my own impressions, I’d say that:
Within Russia, he was one of many right-wing intellectuals, founder of a distinct school of thought, not one with any popular influence there, but occasionally in favor with the circles of power.
Outside Russia, he was an assiduous networker, and not just in the west. He had contacts and sympathizers all over the world, though never in great numbers. He seems to have done especially well in Turkey.
Then there’s the myth that Dugin is the hidden mastermind of Russian policy. The strongest evidence of this would be his book “Foundations of Geopolitics”, which is said to have been influential in various political and military circles in the 2000s. More plausible is that he has had influence, and recognition as the representative of a particular viewpoint, but only one viewpoint, that is not always in favor. Think of western figures like Fukuyama or Huntington.
Finally, there is Dugin as man of mystery. There may be specific times when his networking has become an asset for the Russian state. He was apparently in Turkey in 2016 on the eve of the coup that almost removed Erdogan. He did appear on the Alex Jones show once; who else might he have talked with, off screen? And then there’s Ukraine.
Before he became an advocate of war against Ukraine, Dugin did try to find allies there, for his vision of Eurasian unity. Oddly, Zelensky has a prominent advisor, Alexei Arestovich, who in his late 20s was attending Eurasianist conferences in Moscow, organized by Dugin, as part of a Ukrainian delegation.
My guess is that this car bomb attack had something to do with Dugin’s covert entanglements, specifically in Ukraine. The number of people who have heard of his “fourth political ideology” is minuscule, and Russian political pundits in favor of the war are the rule, not the exception. And a car bomb is a relatively sophisticated way to kill someone, it reeks of spies and terrorists and partisan warfare, rather than, for example, a contract killing.
In fact, there’s a Russian politician in exile in Ukraine, Ilya Ponomarev, who says a previously unknown “National Republican Army” within Russia has claimed responsibility, saying that all Putin’s officials and apologists are now targets. One may doubt the group’s existence, but I’m sure there are people who will now try to make it a reality.