The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw pact, and Comecon, was succeeded by the creation of 16 independent nation states. It was not only the political collapse of a state, but an ideological collapse of the belief in communism; an ideology that had played a significant role in world politics since the early 20th century.
Communism was the ideology that justified Soviet imperialism, and with the political, financial, and ideological collapse of the Soviet Union, many believed this to be the beginning of the final global victory of democracy, liberalism, and the free market. “The world had reached the end of history”, American political theorist Francis Fukuyama stated in 1992. Fast forward 25 years, and even Fukuyama himself has started doubting his belief of a utopic future. Despite communism’s defeat, a new ideological framework countering democratic ideology has arisen in the wake of a global financial and refugee crisis. Left-winged authoritarianism is now challenged by right-winged authoritarianism and nationalism.
In 2010, the United States’ role as the surviving world superpower has been severely challenged by both China and a resurging Russia. After Putin managed to stabilize the decline of the Russian economy, his ambitions has extended to reestablishing Russia as a super power. The resulting foreign policy is what many consider a second Cold War. However, Putin’s actual ideology has been harder to pinpoint than the self-declared communism of the Soviet Union. The tentatively named “Putin System” as the new political order, is difficult to delineate; it’s nationalist, authoritarian, and anti-liberal, but lacks the wholesale transcendent ideology of fascism and is built on corruption, nepotism, and the rule of an oligarchy. It emphasizes continuity, traditional values, and an opposition to the moral decay of the West, such as homosexuality, abortions, women rights, and pornography.
It is these same nationalist values of Putin’s Russia that makes Putin an idol among the far right in the Western world. These pro-Russian parties across Europe can certainly help Putin counter the anti-Russian foreign policy of the West, but it lacks the ideology to build an empire on. After all, most nationalists want “independence”, not dependence on Russia. In parts of Eastern Europe there has been a growth of ideologies supporting the notion of a shared culture with Russia. In particular, pan-Slavic groups across eastern Europe view Russia as the natural mother country.
Pan-Slavism, the ideology which, in part, paved the path for WW1, is the idea that Slavic people, like for instance Russians, Poles, Serbs, Bulgarians, form one unified culture or a ‘brotherhood’.
However, Eastern Europe is not the only sphere Russia has been increasing its influences over. As pro-Russian separatists are entrenched in Eastern Ukraine, causing major boycotts from the West, Russia has been increasingly building up its political base. Or, from a traditionalist point of view, ‘restored’ it’s influences in Asia. In 2015, the Eurasian Union was formed between Russia and the four former soviet republics of Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The goal was to eventually create a Supra-national Union of all or most of former Soviet states to create a world power on par with China, USA, and the EU.
The creation of the Union ties in to an increased interest for a political ideology termed (neo)-Eurasianism. Classical Eurasianism sprung up in the 1920s, and so the space of the former Russian empire as a distinct cultural space is shared with a culture between Slavic, Turkic and other ethnic macro-groups. Neo-Eurasianism as an ideology grew while the Soviet Union was crumbling into pieces. While having a similar span as its predecessor, it has a different ideological basis. Starting as a fringe idea by radical nationalists, most notably Alexander Dugin, it has gradually become more popular and less radical. This has led to open endorsements of the ideology within the ruling ‘United Russia‘ party and the Russian military.
Although Putin seems cautious to officially embrace the ideology, he does seem to flirt with it. Especially, Eurasianism is becoming increasingly aligned with Putin’s policies, and Dugin openly expressed support for the new Eurasian Union as a stepping stone to the rise of Eurasianism in general. Generally, the ‘Putin system’ and its views on democracy, individualism, and traditional values has come to mirror and develop in symbiosis with Eurasianism as an ideology, which eventually can become the corner stone for an international challenge to alleged Western hegemony.
Because Eurasianism is not only an ideology for domestic identity, or even identity within the post-Soviet countries, it also entails a grand conspiracy scheme about the Western liberal ideology. As Dugin framed Eurasianism, it is the idea of a destined struggle between the land based, collectivistic, and traditionalist power currently led by Russia, versus the liberal maritime powers currently headed by America. If tensions increase between the West and the East, if indeed a new Cold War is truly unfolding, which ideological trajectory will Russia elect to counter democracy and liberalism?
The Eurasianism of Dugin is certainly a candidate. With its enticing pro-dictatorship and anti-democracy angle, it seeks to legitimize Russia’s hegemony over its surroundings and its rivalry with the West. Whilst it is unclear if Eurasianism will ever be an official ideology it can serve as a useful tool in the ideological ramification of the reborn Russian empire.