"The West doesn't realize how much danger it's in."
Dugin, The Third Empire, the Cult of Stalin, Neo-Medievalism, and the Sources of Russian Conduct: An Introduction to Dina Khapaeva.
The other day, I included a link to an article in The Atlantic titled Putin is just following the manual: A utopian Russian novel predicted Putin’s war plan. “If you read only one article today,” I wrote, “make it this one.”
The author, Dina Khapaeva, is the director of the Russian studies program at Georgia Tech’s School of Modern Languages. Monique Camarra and I spoke to her on the Cosmopolicast about the article, which begins this way:
No one can read Vladimir Putin’s mind. But we can read the book that foretells the Russian leader’s imperialist foreign policy. Mikhail Yuriev’s 2006 utopian novel, The Third Empire: Russia as It Ought to Be, anticipates—with astonishing precision—Russia’s strategy of hybrid war and its recent military campaigns: the 2008 war with Georgia, the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the incursion into the Donetsk and Luhansk regions the same year, and Russia’s current assault on Ukraine.
It is, apparently, “the Kremlin’s favorite book.”
Yuriev was the chairman of the Russian government’s Council on Economy and Entrepreneurship and a deputy speaker of the State Duma. I wasn’t able to read the novel in full, because it hasn’t been translated into English at all. I was only able to read the few extracts that have been translated to French.
But as we discuss in the podcast, those extracts, along with Dina’s commentary, still offer significant insights into modern Russia and its ideological commitments. If John Mearsheimer and his coterie were aware of this book, perhaps they would have thought twice about confidently advancing the thesis that NATO’s expansion provoked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The discussion is especially timely in light of the assassination of Darya Dugina, whose father is a prominent exponent of this ideology.
I’ve argued before in this newsletter that the West is at a tremendous disadvantage in its analysis of modern Russia because we refuse to take its culture seriously, and in particular, because we refuse to recognize that it is in the grip of an ideology as significant and as dangerous as Soviet communism. It’s as if having seen off Soviet Union, we collectively determined that we’d invested enough time and energy trying to understand that benighted place and refused to do it again. Now, over and over, I hear one or another politician or columnist insist that the threat Russia now poses is nothing like the threat we confronted in the Soviet Union because the Soviet Union was a communist empire, whereas modern Russia is not. The suppressed premises of this argument are false.
It is true that a communist super-state poses an inherent threat to a capitalist one—as we perfectly understood during the Cold War—because to subscribe to the ideology, at least as the Bolsheviks understood it, is to understand oneself to be at war with the capitalist world. Just as you cannot be a Christian without believing in the resurrection of Christ, you could not be a Bolshevik without seeking to overthrow the capitalist state system, seize power, and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. We understood from studying Bolshevik writings, speech, and behavior that so long as men who ascribed to this ideology remained in power, the USSR would endeavor implacably to overthrow our governments and replace them with totalitarian dictatorships—and if, in reality, a “dictatorship of the proletariat” amounted to nothing grander than a particularly immiserated dictatorship, it was because the theory was wrong, not because its exponents failed sincerely to ascribe to it.
Understanding Bolshevism was key to understanding the Soviet Union and thus key to mounting an effective defense against its expansion. Had we persuaded ourselves that its ideology was insignificant—that the USSR had no global ambitions—our response to it would have been inadequate. Had we accepted (as indeed some argued) that the Soviet Union was swiftly imprisoning one after another country behind the Iron Curtain because its conception of security demanded this, we wouldn’t have conjured up a globe-spanning series of alliances to contain it. Senator Vandenberg would not have said, “Politics stops at the water’s edge” and cooperated with the Truman administration to forge durable, bipartisan support for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, NATO, SEATO, and CENTO. The Soviet Union would have continued to expand, enslave, and immiserate many more millions before it collapsed—if indeed it ever collapsed.1
The sources of American conduct may be found in George Kennan’s 1947 telegram, The Sources of Soviet Conduct. He wrote:
The political personality of Soviet power as we know it today is the product of ideology and circumstances: ideology inherited by the present Soviet leaders from the movement in which they had their political origin, and circumstances of the power which they now have exercised for nearly three decades in Russia. There can be few tasks of psychological analysis more difficult than to try to trace the interaction of these two forces and the relative role of each in the determination of official Soviet conduct. Yet the attempt must be made if that conduct is to be understood and effectively countered. [My emphasis, as is all bold text below.]
It is worth rereading that telegram. It’s hard to imagine that an equally lucid document is now circulating among our national security apparatus. One lives in hope, but the Long Telegram is so much more intelligent and well-written than any government document I’ve seen in recent years that I can’t quite bring myself to believe it.
Kennan understood that the Soviet leaders’ ideology reflected the pathologies of Tsarist Russia. “From the Russian-Asiatic world out of which they had emerged [the men in the Kremlin] carried with them a skepticism as to the possibilities of permanent and peaceful coexistence of rival forces.” And he understood what this implied for the rest of the world:
[T]he men in the Kremlin have continued to be predominantly absorbed with the struggle to secure and make absolute the power which they seized in November 1917. They have endeavored to secure it primarily against forces at home, within Soviet society itself. But they have also endeavored to secure it against the outside world. For ideology, as we have seen, taught them that the outside world was hostile and that it was their duty eventually to overthrow the political forces beyond their borders. The powerful hands of Russian history and tradition reached up to sustain them in this feeling. Finally, their own aggressive intransigence with respect to the outside world began to find its own reaction; and they were soon forced, to use another Gibbonesque phrase, “to chastise the contumacy” which they themselves had provoked. It is an undeniable privilege of every man to prove himself right in the thesis that the world is his enemy; for if he reiterates it frequently enough and makes it the background of his conduct he is bound eventually to be right.
What, concretely, did this ideology imply? It had, wrote Kennan, “profound implications for Russia’s conduct as a member of international society.”
It means that there can never be on Moscow’s side any sincere assumption of a community of aims between the Soviet Union and powers which are regarded as capitalist. It must invariably be assumed in Moscow that the aims of the capitalist world are antagonistic to the Soviet regime, and therefore to the interests of the peoples it controls. If the Soviet government occasionally sets its signature to documents which would indicate the contrary, this is to be regarded as a tactical maneuver permissible in dealing with the enemy (who is without honor) and should be taken in the spirit of caveat emptor. Basically, the antagonism remains. It is postulated. And from it flow many of the phenomena which we find disturbing in the Kremlin's conduct of foreign policy: the secretiveness, the lack of frankness, the duplicity, the wary suspiciousness and the basic unfriendliness of purpose. These phenomena are there to stay, for the foreseeable future. There can be variations of degree and of emphasis. When there is something the Russians want from us, one or the other of these features of their policy may be thrust temporarily into the background; and when that happens there will always be Americans who will leap forward with gleeful announcements that “the Russians have changed,” and some who will even try to take credit for having brought about such “changes.” But we should not be misled by tactical maneuvers. These characteristics of Soviet policy, like the postulate from which they flow, are basic to the internal nature of Soviet power, and will be with us, whether in the foreground or the background, until the internal nature of Soviet power is changed.
The saving grace, Kennan argued, was that the Kremlin was not in a hurry. “Like the Church, it is dealing in ideological concepts which are of long-term validity, and it can afford to be patient.”
Its main concern is to make sure that it has filled every nook and cranny available to it in the basin of world power. But if it finds unassailable barriers in its path, it accepts these philosophically and accommodates itself to them. The main thing is that there should always be pressure, unceasing constant pressure, toward the desired goal. There is no trace of any feeling in Soviet psychology that that goal must be reached at any given time.
These considerations make Soviet diplomacy at once easier and more difficult to deal with than the diplomacy of individual aggressive leaders like Napoleon and Hitler. On the one hand it is more sensitive to contrary force, more ready to yield on individual sectors of the diplomatic front when that force is felt to be too strong, and thus more rational in the logic and rhetoric of power. On the other hand it cannot be easily defeated or discouraged by a single victory on the part of its opponents. And the patient persistence by which it is animated means that it can be effectively countered not by sporadic acts which represent the momentary whims of democratic opinion but only by intelligent long-range policies on the part of Russia’s adversaries—policies no less steady in their purpose, and no less variegated and resourceful in their application, than those of the Soviet Union itself.
In these circumstances it is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.
There it is: The concept that for the next 43 years was to guide American foreign policy, accepted by both parties and executed so successfully that the Soviet Union collapsed—not, as is often and stupidly said, “without a shot fired” (and not by any means), but without, at least, a nuclear exchange.
The telegram was brilliant in several respects. Not only was it correct (a great virtue in a policy document), it was brilliantly written, in that it conveyed complex and alien ideas in so lucid a manner that every American understood it, and thereafter (for the most part) lent their support to the policies it entailed.
No similar understanding guides American foreign policy today, or if it has, it hasn’t been shared with the public. Our policy toward Russia has been so confused, inconsistent, and indifferent that it is hard to imagine it conforms to any overarching logic, no less a sound and considered one.
Nor does politics stop at the water’s edge. When Mitt Romney proposed that Russia was our primary geopolitical adversary, Obama sneered. Romney was right, but it is no good being right if you can’t articulate your case in a way that Americans understand. What he said made no sense to them: The Soviet Union had, after all, collapsed, and we were mired in any number of wars with countries that clearly weren’t Russia. Why should our relationship with Russia be adversarial?
Trump exploited this confusion by insisting that NATO was “obsolete.” Nothing, he insisted, prevented him from having “a great relationship” with Russia. If he’s reelected (God forbid), he would presumably say the same thing and behave the same way, a prospect at this point almost too horrifying to contemplate. A significant fraction of the American public would once again thrill to the prospect of “getting along with Russia.”
The political personality of Russian power as we know it today is, again, the product of ideology and circumstances. But there has been a critical failure, in the US and Europe alike, to appreciate the sources of Russia’s conduct, and in particular, its ideological nature—which every bit as much as the ideology that compelled the allegiance of Soviet rulers implies Russian aggression and expansion, and makes Russia uniquely dangerous in the world.
Some, such as Timothy Snyder, have argued that we fail to understand this because we’ve rendered ourselves incapable of understanding ideology—any ideology—through our embrace of what he terms the “politics of inevitability.” This, he argues, seized hold of the public imagination in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall:
The politics of inevitability is the idea that there are no ideas. Those in its thrall deny that ideas matter, proving only that they are in the grip of a powerful one. The cliche of the politics of inevitability is that “there are no alternatives.” To accept this is to deny individual responsibility for seeing history and making change. Life becomes a sleepwalk to a premarked grave in a prepurchased plot.
There’s something to this—it is one current in the intellectual history of this period, yes—but it’s certainly not the only one. For one thing, we are, when we choose, capable of understanding ideology. In the wake of September 11, most Americans understood immediately that there was an important relationship between the ideology of al Qaeda and the violence it had brought to American soil. Some even strove to understand this ideology, if often ineptly; a cottage industry emerged of half-cracked pundits who sought to teach their fellow Americans the meaning of such words as jihad, haram, dhimmi, and sharia. They did more harm than good, but at least they were trying.
To be honest, I don’t know why we’ve made no similar effort to understand what Russians are thinking. Perhaps it’s because Russia’s ideology can’t be found in a single book to which the Russian state officially appeals. Or perhaps it’s because we felt such great relief upon the Soviet Union’s demise that we’ve been unwilling to bring ourselves to think about the place again.
Or perhaps it’s because academic scholars of Russia are divided and confused about post-Soviet ideology, and no single voice has managed to capture our attention the way Kennan’s did. Scholars have argued variously that Putin acts in Russia’s national interests, which it defends against Western hegemony; that Russia is the curious product of the triumph of capitalism and the failure of democracy; that it is defined by the entrenchment of oligarchy, organized crime, and a healthy dose of the resource curse; that it represents a restoration of Russia to its pre-1917 status on the periphery of world capitalism; that it is glittering, surreal, and above all postmodern; or that it is nihilistic to the core and bent on destruction for destruction’s sake. These arguments (most of which are at least partly accurate) converge on no single formula and suggest to us no clear policy.
Perhaps this is why the public reaches for terms it already knows: Russia is a fascist state; it is a theocracy; it is (still, somehow) a communist regime; it is a giant, clapped-out gas station; or (most wondrously) it is pleasingly “conservative” and a natural ally against China and gay parades.
None of that is quite right. (Although I’d argue “fascist” comes very close.)
Dina Khapaeva has offered a particularly compelling account of Russia’s ideology, and because it is compelling, deeply unnerving. She has written at length about the connection between Putin’s re-Stalinization of Russia and a specific version of Eurasianism, one she terms neo-medievalism. Re-Stalinization, she argues, is a mass movement grounded in the unresolved memory of Soviet atrocities. Eurasianism combines the denial of individuality with the promotion of a new social contract based upon medieval views of society, citizenship, and politics. All of these ideas are profoundly enmeshed. Together, they are an ideology—one that could not be more bleak.
She describes the ideological substrate of Putin’s regime in an article titled, “Triumphant memory of the perpetrators: Putin’s politics of re-Stalinization.”2 Its symbols are the cult of the Great Patriotic War, the re-imagination of Stalin’s era as a Golden Age, and the glorification of the reign of Ivan the Terrible. The ideology is characterized, too, by occultism and a belief in the imminence of the Apocalypse. Re-Stalinization and neo-medievalism, she argues, have forged a new bond between the regime and the majority of post-Soviet citizens. This has given rise to what Khapaeva terms the “Gothic Society.”
The concept of Gothic Society emphasizes the crucial role of aesthetics and historical memory in shaping social, political, and ideological arrangements in the contemporary world. It describes a new type of social contract built on quasi-feudal relationships of dependence that originate largely from the unprocessed experience of the zona, the Soviet camps and prisons. This social contract relies heavily on a particular aesthetics that becomes an important vehicle of an accelerated dehumanization of “outsiders.”
The Gothic Society—modern Russia—is impregnated with the mores of the zona, she argues, owing to its failure honestly to confront and condemn the Soviet regime’s crimes. The citizens of this society now “prefer to identify themselves with the criminal regime rather than with its victims.”
The signs of this are visible everywhere you look:
Over the past 15 years, there has been a movement involving the erection monuments to the dictator who personally signed 40,000 death sentences and under whose rule more than nine million innocent citizens were murdered during peacetime on political charges. Northern Ossetia, a region whose inhabitants were deported at the end of World War II, is probably the leader of this movement counting by various estimates more than two dozen Stalin monuments. The Caucasus region is not alone: beginning in 2001, several major provincial cities: Vladimir, Penza, Tambov, Sochi, Mirnyi, Lipetzk, Marii El, Orel, Yakutsk, Orenburg and Atkaraks erected Stalin monuments, not to mention several smaller provincial Russian towns and villages that have also been active in this campaign.
The other pillar of the Gothic society, neo-medievalism, has even more important ramifications for Russia’s conduct as a member of international society. It evokes as the ideal an image of a fictive Middle Ages, one in radical opposition to the ideals of the Enlightenment, where the modern notion of the Dark Ages is inverted. What we consider dark, the neo-medievalists reify. This is, Khapaeva writes, “a potent metaphor to deny the basic values of democratic society.”
Post-Soviet Eurasianism combines the Soviet denial of individuality with the idea of a state-dependent patriarchal society and Russian historical messianism. It glorifies the reign of Ivan the Terrible and Stalin as the best incarnation of an “authentic Russian tradition of authoritarian monarchy.” Alexander Dugin, its porte-parole, known for being influential on Putin, served as an adviser to State Duma chairman Sergei Naryshkin, and Ivan Demidov, his supporter, served on the Ideology Directorate of United Russia party. Dugin runs his Eurasia Party and the Eurasia Youth Union, an Internet news agency, which broadcasts in Russian, English, Romanian, Serbian, and Ukrainian. The Eurasian Economic Union (Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan) was informed by Eurasians’ ideas. Dugin insists that: “Stalin expresses the spirit of Soviet society and the Soviet people” because he was “the Soviet Russian Tsar, an absolute monarch” and represented the “greatest personality in Russian history.” Like Ivan the Terrible, who had built the Muscovite-Russian state, “Stalin created the Soviet Empire” and, therefore, “there could be no doubts about the greatness of Stalin as a historical leader.”
Dugin is largely unknown to Americans, most of whom heard his name for the first time this week. They were first told that he is “Putin’s brain,” then told this was a very unsophisticated bit of wrongthink; in fact, corrective articles quickly informed them, he’s “insignificant,” and has recently had no dealings with the Kremlin.
But Khapaeva holds Dugin to be quite significant:
Post-Soviet Eurasianism in general and Dugin in particular have been long regarded as a joke of Russian politics, a marginal movement without any political influence whose leader was not to be taken seriously. It is time to admit that this view is unjustified.
It’s worth explicating in more detail just what Dugin believes:
Devotees of Eurasian ideology argue that there can never be equality among people. For them, the Enlightenment values are part of the “masonic plot” and alien to “the Russian soul.”
From the point of view of the Eurasia movement, state-sponsored terror is the only efficient form of governance because “crowds are to be dominated” by an “authoritarian monarchy.”
Let’s be perfectly clear: In the Russian context, a call to revert to the Middle Ages is a call to return to slavery. Americans tend to forget, so acute is our shame of our slaving past, that no less than the antebellum south, medieval Russia was a slave society—and then a serf society, which was more or less the same thing. The emancipation of the serfs was roughly contemporary with the emancipation of American slaves. (It is a minor mercy that it remains a taboo in America to call for the revival of the Peculiar Institution, though at the rate we’re going, I give it five years.)
What should surely alarm us above all is the role the Apocalypse plays in this system of thought. Influential figures, she notes, have appealed to it with increasing frequency over the past decade. Patriarch Kirill argues that Doomsday is not merely inevitable, but near. The former spokesperson for the Russian Orthodox Church, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, has said that “God sanctions” the “annihilation of the masses” in order to “instruct society.”3
This apocalyptic rhetoric, she argues, is closely related to the idea that Putin is a messiah. She notes that Vladimir Solovyov (the batshit insane television propagandist) calls Putin “the czar and the prophet,” whose mission is preparing Russia for the Last Judgment. He has even written a novel to this effect:
Vladimir the Apostle, the book’s first-person narrator, destroys thousands of “sinners,” including the entire city of Krasnoyarsk, by burning them alive. Tellingly, Vladimir the Apostle reflects that the “sinners” who were left with no time to repent “just croaked.” For Solovyov, preparing for the “long-awaited and bright day of the Last Judgment” requires Russia to introduce hereditary “antidemocratic monarchy,” with Putin as its czar.
Dugin again is an important exponent of this idea:
He calls Putin “katechon,” an Orthodox leader who prevents the “kingdom of the Antichrist,” which he defines as a combination of Western “globalization, post-liberalism, and post-industrial society.” Yet, far from wanting to avert the Apocalypse, Dugin wants the Eurasian movement to help bring it about. As a panelist on a Russian radio program recently put it, “The contemporary world, like the Middle Ages, is longing for the Apocalypse,” because “the world without the Apocalypse is boring beyond belief.”
The Antichrist, Dugin argues, is already here:
“We live without kings and empires, we live in an immanentist materialistic worldview that overwhelms both East and West. Someone perceives it passively (like us, with moans), and someone rejoices and rushes to the front rows (American globalists, Soros, liberals). The latter do not just suffer from the Antichrist—they are at the forefront of his army. It is they who kill the Catechon, it is they who break through the breach in the Great Wall, bring his parish closer.” (In Russian.)
Do you get it? We are the Antichrist. His eternity depends on your death. (No, it doesn’t matter if you too hate Soros and liberals and the globalists. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, and Dugin is definitely of the kill-them-all-and-let-God-sort-them-out persuasion.)
Nota bene: Dugin doesn’t merely object to gay parades. He objects to the fundament of American society—the idea that all men are created equal—and to our rejection of slavery, which in his view is the ideal form of governance.
Now let’s return to Mikhail Yuriev and The Third Empire.
[T]he most important aspect of this novel is how Yuriev, one of the political leaders of the Eurasia movement, envisions the social structure of Russian society. In his utopia, Russians are called the “‘core” nation, and we are told that among the Third Empire’s population “the number of people Russian by blood is growing while the number of other people is declining and will continue to decline.” Only Russians have a right to choose freely where to live and what to do, but the citizens of the nations conquered by the Third Empire do not. In the novel, the Russian Constitution “differs from the rest of the world” because its social organization is that of a society of estates and because of the “principles of Russian self-identification are those of autonomy and nationalism.” The oprichniki, the highest estate, have full political power in Russia, including the exclusive right to elect government officials. Their estate elects the Emperor and the highest authorities and comprises the members of the state administration, army, and police force. The two other estates—the clergy and the Third Estate—have no political rights. The third estate pays all the taxes, while the oprichniks and clergy are exempt from taxation.
The oprichniki are a telling addition; the rule of the oprichnina, from 1565 to 1584 under Ivan the Terrible, was Russia’s first experiment with institutionalized state terror.
Like Ivan the Terrible’s oprichniks, Yuriev’s oprichniks report directly and exclusively to their tsar and rule the society by unrestrained terror. They live a life of “killings, adultery, fornication, and debauchery,” but this way of life does not, explains Yuriev, make Russian priests look down on them. Oprichniks are described as a “brotherhood,” and as the incarnation of “the best part of the Russian nation.”
Yet, oprichnina is idealized by Eurasian ideologists not only in fiction. In 2005, in one of his public speeches, Dugin stated that “neo-oprichnina is the Eurasian conservative revolution,” and considered oprichnina as a “model of Russian sanctity” and “anti-Western mobilization.” Ivan the Terrible or his contemporary “equivalent” represents the “sacred center of oprichnina.”
The Third Empire is narrated by a fictional future historian in Brazil:
Early in The Third Empire, a pro-Russian, Kremlin-sponsored uprising occurs in Ukraine. Its goals include “reunification with Russia and the abandonment of involuntary integration into Europe, as well as the rejection of the anti-Russian NATO bloc.” This uprising results in an undeclared war, with Russian troops marching into Ukraine. Soon, nine regions in eastern and southern Ukraine—including Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, and other areas under Russian occupation today—announce their “non-recognition of Ukrainian authorities and Ukrainian statehood” and proclaim a pro-Russia “Donetsk–Black Sea Republic.” In the referendum that follows, “82 percent of the population [vote] in favor of joining Russia.” And in Russia, 93 percent vote for “the admission of Eastern Ukraine into Russia.” Perhaps not coincidentally, in Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and incursion into Donetsk and Luhansk, Russian forces similarly took over Ukrainian territory under the guise of a locally driven initiative.
This isn’t the only queerly accurate prediction:
Yuriev also imagined, with disturbing accuracy, how Europe’s dependence on Russian energy exports limited how far it would go to punish Russia. Statements by Vladimir II in The Third Empire are nearly indiscernible from contemporary speeches by Putin. “You don’t like us?” the emperor mocks a French-television interviewer. “All right then, go to war with us and conquer us … or refuse to buy our energy products, oil and gas, so that we starve to death.” The narrator notes that the loss of Russian oil would have raised prices and “brought down the European economy.”
It’s sufficiently eerie, the relationship between this fiction and reality, that one wonders if Putin is literally following this script, following the text, even to the letter, out of superstition.
How does the book end? Is the conflict in Ukraine confined to Eastern Europe—or as Tucker Carlson would have it, does it remain “a war in some Eastern European country I don’t care about?”
No, of course not. “In The Third Empire, Russian geopolitical ambitions force the United States and the European Union to declare war.” Ultimately, the Americans and Europeans, fearful of nuclear annihilation, surrender. The world comes under Russian domination.
The novel’s dramatic crescendo is a victory parade in which the American elite are dragged through Red Square in shackles:
President [George] Bush III and former presidents Bill Clinton, Bush Junior, and Hillary Clinton; current and former members of the cabinet, the House, and the Senate; bankers and industrialists; newspaper commentators and television anchors; famous attorneys and top models; pop singers and Hollywood actresses. All of them passed through Red Square in shackles and with nameplates around their necks. … The Russian government was letting its own citizens and the whole world know that Russia had fought with and vanquished not only the American army but the American civilization.
So it’s Tucker who’s scheduled for a parade through Red Square in shackles and a nameplate. Perhaps he should consider caring about this. It’s not a joke. Too many people in Russia think this way, and too much blood has already been shed in service of this fantasy, for anyone to think this ideology can be dismissed.
Adam Garfinkle complained recently in this newsletter that our efforts to understand Islamic extremism had been lazy and desultory:
They don’t understand these cultures because they don’t bother to try, which in Afghanistan proved fatal against the long-entrenched moral system of Pashtunwali. This is the same willful ignorance that led US policy down deadly rabbit holes in places like Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Failure to promptly dispatch the senior al Qaeda leadership after 9/11 is of a piece with this somber history. You can’t find the bad guys if you insist on ignoring the cultural context in which they hide. We can expect more debacles just like this. The lyrics will differ, but the melody will be the same.
But we were positively scholarly in our efforts to understand these cultures compared to our incuriosity about Russia. At least we acknowledged that we were at war—a real one—with an enemy who sought violently to force the world to conform to a totalitarian ideology.
Russia is far more dangerous than al Qaeda ever was. They hate us just as much—and for quite similar reasons, actually. But they have a nuclear-armed state at their disposal and a century’s worth of study and experience in subverting the West. They know us far better than we know them. We pay them no mind. They notice our every word.
Khapaeva’s nightmare, she told us, is that Estonia will be next. Just as Yuriev predicted, the West will blink. The alliance will collapse. In this light, Russia’s preposterous accusation that Estonia played a role in Dugina’s assassination is particularly unsettling.
Should this happen, she said—and should Ukraine lose—she truly believes it’s the end for Western democracy. “The West doesn’t realize how much danger it’s in.”
Update: This needs a bibliography. For those of you who’d like to read more by Dina Khapaeva, these are the texts to which I’ve appealed. You need access via an academic library to read most of them, but I have PDF copies that I’m happy to send subscribers on request.
Had we adhered to the realist school of international relations—which, recall, treats the interior of a state as a black box, arguing that a state’s position in the international system (and only that position) will predict its international behavior, we would have been uninterested in this ideology. This is why I judge this theory fraudulent: It was conceived by people who figured it would be awfully hard to learn a foreign language and study another culture and concluded there must be an easier way to get tenure. (That reminds me—I need to finish that series about IR theory.) Mearsheimer of course is a prominent exponent of realism, which is why he’s so catastrophically wrong about Russia.
I’ve quoted several of her articles here. I haven’t linked to those that are paywalled, but I can send PDF copies of them to anyone who’d like to read them.
I’m taking her word for it. I did not check the link myself, because when I tried, I received a warning that the site was unsafe. Check it at your own risk.