When the Nazis in the mid-twentieth century carried out schemes to kill millions of people (soldiers and civilians), they did not say, “Yes, we are evil, but we have the most guns.” Rather, they espoused a political philosophy to justify their actions. According to this Wikipedia entry, the Nazis held that they were simply carrying out normal, healthy, natural selection (the strong eliminating the weak) by having the “superior” race kill and displace the inferior races of humans. Germans therefore felt justified in occupying lands in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Ukraine, to provide “living space” and agricultural production for the master race.
It seems that a somewhat similar political philosophy has taken hold among Russian elites. This became evident early on in Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, when the Russians bombed a children’s shelter and a maternity hospital. Since then, there have been innumerable bombings of apartment buildings, shopping malls, etc., as deliberate murderous attacks on civilians, rather than having any direct military benefit. The Russians are killing Ukrainians with the sort of callous abandon displayed by the Nazis towards “undesirables”. The initial Russian complaints about Ukraine joining NATO have disappeared; it is clear that Russia wants to simply erase Ukraine as an entity. It seems that this has been Russia’s plan under Putin for many years. Reportedly, Russian textbooks since around 2014 have deleted discussion of Ukraine as a separate nation.
Where did this toxic outlook come from? According to many observers, a chief architect for this view is political philosopher Aleksandr Dugin. German professor Antony Mueller has summarized some of Dugin’s positions:
Russians are “eschatologically chosen.” They must stand against the false faith, the pseudoreligion of Western liberalism and the spread of its evil: modernity, scientism, postmodernity, and the new world order. This is the thesis of Aleksandr Dugin, the prominent Russian philosopher, and a mentor of the Russian president Vladimir Putin…His theory is a “crusade” against postmodernity, the postindustrial society, liberal thought, and globalization… For Dugin, America is a threat to the Russian culture and to Russia’s identity. He makes his position unmistakably clear when he declares:
“I strongly believe that Modernity is absolutely wrong and the Sacred Tradition is absolutely right. USA is the manifestation of all I hate—Modernity, westernization, unipolarity, racism, imperialism, technocracy, individualism, capitalism.”
Dugin apparently believes that the world, or at least Eurasia, can only be saved from the ravages of “modernity” and American influence by uniting under Russian leadership and returning to the Sacred Tradition of “religion, hierarchy, and family.”
An independent Ukraine stands in the way of this grand vision. From the Guardian:
Dugin’s worldview is most clearly articulated in his 1997 publication “The Foundations of Geopolitics”, which reportedly became a textbook in the Russian general staff academy and solidified his transition from a dissident to a prominent pillar of the conservative establishment.
In the book, Dugin laid out his vision to divide the world, calling for Russia to rebuild its influence through annexations and alliances while proclaiming his opposition to Ukraine as a sovereign state.
“Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning, no particular cultural import or universal significance, no geographic uniqueness, no ethnic exclusiveness,” he wrote.
… Twenty-five years later, Russia’s president repeated some of Dugin’s views on Ukraine in his 4,000-word essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, which many saw as a blueprint for the invasion he launched just six months after it was published.
And as far as Ukrainians resisting Russia’s neo-imperial ambitions, Dugin said, “I think we should kill, kill, kill [Ukrainians], there can’t be any other talk.”
There you have it. The exact influence of Dugin on Putin is debated, but there is no doubt that Dugin’s views are influential in the circles of Russian decision makers. Many Westerners thought early on that Putin would be satisfied with conquering the Russian-speaking Donbas region in the east, and a narrow land bridge to connect that with the Russian-occupied Crimea. His attempts, foiled by heroic Ukrainian resistance, to take Kiev and to take Odessa in the southwest showed that he wants the whole enchilada.
This could be a long war.
Addendum: Dugin’s daughter was killed by a car bomb near Moscow on August 20, 2022. Reportedly the bomb was aimed at Dugin himself, since he was expected to be in the car with his daughter. Moscow accused Ukraine of the assassination, which Kiev plausibly denies. There is also reasonable speculation that a Russian government agency (presumably with Putin’s tacit approval) was aiming to bump off Dugin, for some Byzantine reason.