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Policy Watch: Moscow's Multipolar Mirage

File photo of Aleksandr Dugin.

Washington (UPI) Oct 10, 2005
One of Russia's leading geopolitical thinkers, Aleksandr Dugin, outlined his vision of a "multipolar" world in a speech in Washington, D.C. on October 5. Dugin advocates the creation of a multipolar world as a means of resisting what he sees as American "unipolarism" as well as American-sponsored globalization.

Understanding Dugin's ideas is important because they have gained an important following not just in Russia, but in the Kremlin itself. But while Russians are increasingly attracted to these ideas, they are deeply flawed.

Speaking at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, Dugin outlined his multipolar vision. He sees America as attempting not just to extend its power, but also its values and civilization to the rest of the world. Dugin said that while he did not reject those values per se, he -- and others like him --reject them as universal values. There are other systems of values, and a multipolar world must be created to protect them against America and its values.

But according to Dugin, no single nation besides the United States can afford to be a polar power. Hence, a bipolar world -- as during the Cold War -- is no longer possible. Other nations wishing to resist American unipolarism, then, must do so in conjunction with others on a transnational basis.

Dugin sees the European Union as an example of the successful creation of a transnational pole. In his vision, there can be two more such poles. One would be an Asia/Pacific one based on collaboration between China and Japan. The fourth pole would be a Eurasian one based on the collaboration not just of most of the former Soviet states, but also with Pakistan, Iran, and perhaps even Turkey.

America, Dugin claims, is building its own empire. Russia should respond by creating a Eurasian empire. This Eurasian empire, though, would be different from the Tsarist and Soviet empires. These earlier empires oppressed different peoples, including the Russians themselves. The new Eurasian empire, by contrast, would be created through the free choice of different peoples. Protecting the rights of nations -- not classes or individuals -- would be one of the main purposes of the Eurasian empire.

While Dugin indicated his agreement with Samuel Huntington (author of The Clash of Civilizations) that the world is divided into different civilizations, he disagreed with him about the inevitability of their clashing. They can accept one another instead. A multipolar world is needed, though, so that other countries that wish to can resist the democratic, free market, liberal values being exported by America.

Dugin seems to have two main goals: to resist pressure for democratization and liberalization in Russia while at the same time resurrecting Russia's status as a great power. His acknowledgement that Russia can no longer be a great power in its own right is a realistic assessment. But his notion that this can be done through the voluntary creation of a Eurasian empire is mere geopolitical romanticism. (The notion that China and Japan will collaborate is also unlikely, but there isn't space to discuss why this is so here.)

Now that they have been independent for nearly a decade and a half, it is doubtful that there are very many former Soviet republics which would voluntarily surrender their independence and reintegrate with Russia. Belarus -- with its close ethnic ties to Russia -- might be an exception, but it is probably the only one. Even Putin's increasingly authoritarian rule might seem preferable to its unhappy citizens than that of Belarus's own bizarre dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. But expecting this elsewhere is unrealistic.

The Orange revolution occurred in Ukraine last year partly because of the Kremlin's heavy-handed support for one of the two main presidential candidates there. And while the commitment to democratization of the man Russia opposed who became president as a result of the Orange revolution has come under increasing question, Ukrainian nationalism would undoubtedly rise up again if he or anyone else seriously sought to reintegrate Ukraine with Russia.

In his speech, Dugin expressed reverence for Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whom he sees as sharing the Eurasian vision. Yet while Nazarbayev talks politely about Russia, at home he has steadily pursued policies favoring ethnic Kazakhs and undercutting the power and influence of his country's large ethnic Russian minority. It is highly doubtful that Nazarbayev or the Kazakhs generally would risk reversing this in exchange for the nebulous benefit of reintegrating with Russia. Nor are any of the other increasingly nationalist Muslim republics of the former USSR likely to do this.

Dugin's hope of somehow integrating Russia with Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey seems even more far-fetched. None of these would willingly subordinate themselves to Moscow. In fact, if population size translates into relative influence in this projected Eurasian empire, Russians would find themselves a minority among a Muslim majority. Dugin, of course, Russians to be predominant within this Eurasian empire. But there is utterly no reason why these large Muslim states -- or smaller ones for that matter -- would voluntarily accept this.

Dugin is correct in recognizing that there are many other nations that share Russia's wariness of the United States. His fundamental error, though, is to conclude from this that those who are anti-American must therefore be pro-Russian. This does not hold true among the Muslims whom Dugin (and possibly the Kremlin?) hopes to recruit for the Eurasian empire. Indeed, if there is a common attitude toward Russia among these diverse nations, it is not one of admiration but of contempt.

During my visit to Iran this past May, distrust and hostility toward Russia was commonly expressed by scholars and clerics who were also anti-American. Expecting Pakistanis to admire Russia appears utterly nażve after Moscow has done so much for so long to aid their rival, India. And no matter how anti-American the Turks may have become, the history of Russo-Turkish relations has been (like the history of Russo-Iranian relations) too contentious and painful for them to bear much admiration or trust for Russia.

Dugin's vision of a Eurasian empire centered on Russia, then, is just a mirage. Russians would surely do better to drop their geopolitical daydreams and get on with the mundane task of economic development which has been successfully undertaken by so many other states in Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere. Sadly, the popularity of Dugin's ideas both in the Kremlin and Russia generally suggests that this won't happen any time soon.

(Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University.)

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