As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m not a great fan of the theory of Eurasianism. I also think that its philosophical influence on modern Russia is exaggerated. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) seems to disagree, for this week Eurasianism became the latest target of Canadian sanctions against Russia.
On Monday (29 June), DFATD announced that since ‘the actions of the Russian Federation constitute a grave breach of international peace and security that has resulted or is likely to result in a serious international crisis’, the Governor General, ‘on the recommendation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ had added three individuals and 14 organizations to the list of those sanctioned by Canada. The three individuals are Eurasianist philosopher Aleksandr Dugin, and two of the leaders of the Eurasian Youth Union, Pavel Kanishchev and Aleksandr Kovalenko. The same Eurasian Youth Union then leads the list of newly sanctioned organizations.
So what has Canada got against Eurasianism?
The first mystery is the timing of the sanctions. Nothing special has happened in Russia or Ukraine in the past few weeks, so there doesn’t seem any obvious reason to impose more sanctions on Russia right now. The only explanation I can come up with is domestic politics. Strange though it may seem, there are at present some rumblings of disapproval in the Canadian Ukrainian diaspora about Canadian government weakness vis-à-vis Russia. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not approved sending weapons to Ukraine, and he has also resisted throwing Russia out of the SWIFT bank transfer system. Opposition Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, by comparison, has said that if his party wins October’s election he will support the expulsion of Russia from SWIFT. Perhaps Harper feels a need to shore up his support among Canadian Ukrainians.
But even if this is so, why pick on the Eurasianists? Dugin, his Eurasian Party and its youth wing, the Eurasian Youth Union, are on the nutty fringes of Russian politics, and enjoy a tiny, tiny percentage of popular support (well below one percent – too low to register in opinion polls). Sanctioning the Eurasianists isn’t going to induce anybody in the Russian government to change its policy towards Ukraine, or its policy on anything, quite frankly. It is a particularly futile act.
I imagine that the policy making process went something like this: Prime Minister Harper summoned Foreign Minister Robert Nicholson and told him to find some new names to add to the sanctions list; Nicholson then summoned a senior bureaucrat and told him to recommend something; senior bureaucrat asked junior underling for some ideas; junior underling did some research, and made the mistake of reading works like Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn’s Foreign Affairs article ‘Putin’s Brain: Alexander Dugin and the Philosophy Behind Putin’s Invasion of Crimea’, which among other things contends that, Dugin’s brand of Eurasianism ‘is proving to be a strong contender for the role of Russia’s chief ideology.’
There has been a lot of this sort of stuff in the past couple of years. For instance, as well as ‘Putin’s Brain’, Dugin has been described as ‘Putin’s Rasputin’. According to the Center for Security Policy, ‘The influence of Dugin on Russia geopolitics and military strategy is self-evident … it is clear that the Russian government has taken his Foundations of Geopolitics as a blueprint for their foreign policy.’ This is, I think it is safe to say, an enormous exaggeration. As Gordon Hahn has pointed out, ‘Dugin’s aggressively political, imperialistic and neo-fascist Eurasianism is a far cry from Putin’s purely economic project of creating a united free trade and customs union under the “Eurasian Economic Union.” Thus, in June Dugin was fired from his position as chair of the Department of the Sociology of International Relations in the International Relations Department at MSU [Moscow State University], effective and implemented in September. Moreover, Dugin is not an advisor to Putin.’
Still, it is not altogether impossible that our junior underling, not being very well versed in Russian philosophy, didn’t understand this, and just went with what he’d read in Foreign Affairs. Deciding on this basis that the Eurasianists really were a powerful force in Russia, he wrote a little memo to the senior bureaucrat suggesting their names. Senior bureaucrat then recommended them to the minister who, probably not having the slightest clue who they are (apart from the fact that they are obviously bad people) signed on the dotted line.
There is, though, an alternative, simpler explanation. Junior underling looked up American sanctions against Russia and discovered that the United States had listed Dugin, his fellow Eurasianists, and the Eurasian Youth Union back in March of this year. On the principle that what is good enough for America is good enough for Canada, he proposed them as targets.
One can debate whether Canadian sanctions against Russia are a good idea, but at least everybody ought to agree that if Canada is going to take action it should be action which is effective. That means if we are going to impose sanctions, we should aim them at people and organizations who are actually important, and against whom pressure might actually have some desirable impact.
Mind you, if the desired effect doesn’t have anything to do with changing Russian policy, and is only about appeasing domestic voters by appearing to ‘Do Something’ while actually doing very little, then, as the saying goes, ‘Mission Accomplished’.