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  • Fringe BenefitsHow a Russian ultranationalist think tank is laying the “intellectual” foundations for a far-right movement
  • Natasha Bluth (bio)

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ZURA MCHEDLISHVILI

Just four days before Germany’s September parliamentary elections, posters urging voters to support “Putin for Chancellor” reportedly started appearing near the Reichstag parliament building in Berlin. An image of one of these posters plastered on the side of a building was published online by the Stockholm-based conservative news site Free West Media. Upon closer examination of the photo, it was clear that it had been [End Page 87] doctored, and unclear whether the posters had ever actually existed. Nevertheless, inspired by the incident, Zavtra, the most prominent extreme-right newspaper in Russia, published a fantastical work of short fiction about an underground German movement conspiring to elect Vladimir Putin as Germany’s leader.

The editor-in-chief of Zavtra is Russian ultranationalist Alexander Prokhanov, who made his name as a Soviet publisher. After founding another far-right magazine in the 90s, he began collaborating with the younger Alexander Dugin, whom Prokhanov praises as “perhaps the only ideologue in Russia.” For decades, these torchbearers of the Russian extreme right have been prolific writers and publishers, and have dabbled in a mix of ultra-conservative organizations and think tanks. Their newest endeavor, a group called the Izborsky Club, is arguably the first organized and successful ultranationalist think tank in Russia, and has incorporated different far-right factions under a single umbrella.

Founded in 2012 and headed by Prokhanov, the Club is a self-described “intellectual circle”—a group of 47 philosophers, criminologists, journalists, businessmen, and even Orthodox bishops dedicated to promoting revanchist notions of Russian superiority on the international stage. (The Club is named after Izborsk, the town where it was conceived.)

The members’ stated objective is geopolitical—not only to forge a more “just” world order, but also to promote Russia’s key role in it. They advocate “Eurasianism,” an anti-West political movement championed by Dugin that seeks to expand Russian territory to encompass the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and parts of Asia. The resulting totalitarian, Russia-led Eurasian Empire would confront and eventually overthrow the West, as well as the democratic and liberal values it stands for. Like the Kremlin, the Club is haunted by the perceived threat of a Western sponsored “color revolution”—a term used to describe the wave of mostly non-violent civil uprisings that spread across the former Soviet Union in the early 2000s—emerging in Russia. To avoid this, the izborists believe that Russia must implement Stalin-era industrialization, convert the Eurasian Economic Union into an autarky, and merge the government with the Russian Orthodox Church.

In addition to Prokhanov’s Zavtra, Dugin runs and contributes to various multilingual blogs—including Geopolitica.ru and The Fourth Political Theory—and hosts a YouTube channel. Collectively, the Club’s members have written hundreds of texts. Prokhanov alone has published more than 40 books and Dugin’s neo-fascist Foundations of Geopolitics, released in 1997, remains a textbook at many institutions of higher education in former Soviet countries, offering a Eurasianist take on how to elevate Russia’s status in the post-Soviet world. The izborists regularly make appearances as lecturers at conferences, pundits on talk shows, and participants in televised debates.

While the Izborsky Club’s only direct line to the Kremlin is Sergei Glazyev—an adviser to President Putin who has decried the “genocidal” effects of International Monetary Fund and U.S.-driven economic reforms in post-Soviet Russia—other members have previously held government positions and enjoyed close relations with Putin. Bishop Tikhon of the Russian Orthodox Church, a Club member, is referred to as Putin’s personal confessor, and the Russian Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky, was present at the Club’s inauguration.

Dugin, the most famous izborist, was formerly an adviser to State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov and to Sergei Naryshkin, a prominent member of the ruling United Russia [End Page 88] party. He has also organized his own political parties, one of which was banned in 2007 on charges of extremism. But while Dugin’s access to...

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