A few days before Russian dictator Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, we observed that Putin is a bad guy but not crazy and that he didn’t really need to invade to get
what he wanted, which has always been assumed to be a demilitarized Russia-friendly Ukraine as a buffer between the Russian heartland and NATO.
We suggested that the time-tested Russian tools of subversion and threats were much more likely to get Putin what he wanted and that was what we ought to be on guard against. And, if Putin had pursued that course he might very well have blustered and subverted his way to establishing a friendly regime in a neutered Ukraine.
But our friends at Tablet Magazine have offered an insightful analysis that suggests an additional more complex and frightening reason for the Russian invasion which most Americans have probably not considered.
In “Vladimir Putin, Tyrant,” Professor Waller R. Newell argues that the geopolitical urge to have a buffer between Russia and NATO isn’t the most important motivation driving Putin, rather his motivation is cultural and ideological; restoring Russia’s national pride and dignity after what he views as the “catastrophe” of the Soviet empire’s humiliating defeat in the Cold War and Slavic nationalism, or what Putin mentor Aleksandr Dugin called the ideology of “Eurasianist National Bolshevism.”
Students of history will quickly recognize similarities between Dugin’s “Eurasianist National Bolshevism” and Adolf Hitler’s German National Socialism. As Prof. Newell explained:
Noteworthy also here is Dugin’s fascination with Martin Heidegger, who lent his prestige as Germany’s leading thinker in the 1930s to enthusiastic support for National Socialism. Heidegger viewed the German Volk as placed between the “pincers” of the two global technological superpowers, America and Russia. Out of this struggle, the German people must reclaim its pre-modern destiny and lead all “the peoples” out of the grip of the rationalist global order back to their tribal roots. Dugin transferred this role of the salvational people from Heidegger’s Germany to Russia, whose spiritual values will liberate people everywhere from capitalist materialism.
Key steps in this process are the reintegration of Ukraine and Moldova into greater Russia.
But that is only the beginning, explains Prof. Newell. The long-range goal is world war between Russia and the United States, the leader of the “bourgeois” West. Preparing for that war involves Eurasianism making an alliance with radical Islam. For Dugin, the hostility of Islamists to Christianity is outweighed by their loathing for Western materialism and individualism. In Dugin’s view, Russia’s eventual victory over the United States and the capitalist system will also liberate ordinary Americans from their greedy Wall Street overlords.
Crucially, unlike Christianity which requires an affirmative decision to be saved by accepting Jesus Christ, Eurasianist National Bolshevism does not accept that acquiescence is necessary; the state, in the person of Vladimir Putin, can and will impose it on lands and peoples as required.
If we accept Newell’s analysis, then an alliance or at least a modus vivendi between Islam and Russia makes perfect sense – two millennialist worldviews with a mutual objective – the destruction of the capitalist and rationalist West.
And more frighteningly, two worldviews that believe that war is the necessary means by which the capitalist and rationalist West will be destroyed, and their civilizational, cultural, and religious goals will be accomplished.
How much of Dugin’s agenda for eventual world conquest does Putin actually embrace or believe he can realize? It is impossible to tell says Prof. Newell.
Nearly 2,500 years ago Greek historian and general Thucydides identified honor, fear, and national interest as three reasons nations go to war. Subsequent ages have added religion (or religion-like ideology) as the regular motivator of some of our most vicious and destructive wars.
If we apply these four motivators to Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine it would be fair to say all of them apply to some extent, but that the one most Americans have no idea about is the religion-like ideology of Eurasianist National Bolshevism.
Putin is therefore a rational actor only to a point, and in a very different way from how that is understood in the West. His aims are for Russia to be honored, feared and powerful, and for his newly renewed Russia to lead what amounts to a jihad against America and the West.
And says Prof. Newell, Putin is ready to go a very great deal further in pursuing his ambitions than elected democratic leaders are—a fact that he knows, and which he believes gives him a key advantage in his confrontation with the West.
He is willing to march up to the very edge of a general war in Europe, suggests Prof. Newell, or perhaps even cross that line, and he is willing to put the Russian people through extreme material deprivation rather than settle for a slice of the pie as measured out by foreign powers. Honor and national pride come first for Vladimir Putin and Eurasianist National Bolshevism.
If Prof. Newell is right about Putin and his embrace of Eurasianist National Bolshevism, then half-hearted sanctions and continuing to buy millions of dollars’ worth of Russian oil to fund the Russian war machine is a dangerous folly.
If Putin’s objective in Ukraine isn’t to demilitarize a buffer state, but to draw the United States and the West into a more general war, which he believes will bring about the downfall of the present America-centric world order, then suddenly Putin’s alliance with Islamist Iran and Red China looks a lot less like an alliance of convenience between pariah states and a lot more like a civilization crushing plan to destroy the post-Cold War order. Does anyone think Joe Biden is up to the challenge?
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