Last month I was in the U.S. Congress to give a briefing on the situation in Ukraine. The audience consisted of Republican congressmen and their staffers. Suddenly, Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, former employee of President Reagan, took the floor: "Why all this criticism of Putin?" he asked. "Putin is our ally in the fight against political Islam." Then he took off, leaving behind him a heated discussion. The confusion in conservative America has grown after columnist Pat Buchanan (former employee of Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan) wrote last year: "In the cultural battle for the future of humanity, Putin might be one of us."
Also in Europe there is a remarkable understanding for Putin. Earlier this month, a group of 200 German intellectuals sent a public endorsement to Putin. They lay all the blame for tensions in Ukraine on the U.S., led by President Obama, once so applauded in Berlin. Three former German chancellors (Schröder , Schmidt and Kohl) expressed their understanding for the annexation of Crimea. A majority of the German population thinks Germany shouldn't stand on the side of the West, but in between the West and Russia. British eurosceptic Nigel Farage expressed his admiration for Putin and Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, visited the President of the Russian Parliament in Moscow. Other of the PVV's far-right allies in Europe, such as the Austrian FPÖ and the Italian Lega Nord, admire Putin.
The source of these endorsements is the Putin doctrine that aims to restore Russia's status as a great power, flanked by political, social and cultural themes that are also present in the public debate in Europe and the U.S. What does the Putin-doctrine consist of?
1. The fundamental element is nationalism, national identity and what in Russian is called 'derschavnost': the identity of a great power. The Russians have no nostalgia for communism, but for Russia as a respected power in the world. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the West treated Russia as a failed nation. That left deep psychological scars. The annexation of Crimea was the first step towards 'derschavnost'. Moscow seized the right to play by its own rules - as in the eyes of many Russians - suitable for a great power. European nationalists admire this commitment to national identity.
2. Putin's prevailing economic view is state capitalism, because the state is the guardian of the Russian nation and state monopolies, including the gas company Gazprom, the economic arm of Moscow. So no free market or 'neo-liberal philosophies'. Gazprom is working on an agreement with Chinese energy companies and Putin is expected to visit China next month in order to sign the deal. That is the state capitalism which both European far right and far left are dreaming of.
3. Social conservatism is the cultural guidance of Putin's politics. He advocates 'family values' and turned violently against homosexuality and anything that deviates from traditional marriage. That elicited Buchanan to conclude: "Putin is one of us". The Kremlin depicts the West as decadent and profiles itself as a protector of 'traditional values'.
4. The Russian march to 'derschavnost' is fuelled by anti-Western rhetoric, by which Moscow manifests itself as a U.S. counterpart. The civil war in Syria was a test that Putin won because the West was indecisive and weak. In Moscow, the philosopher Alexander Dugin in particular is seen as the founder of the Putin doctrine, and he is therefore sometimes called the 'Rasputin of Putin.'
The impact of the Putin doctrine goes beyond confusion among American conservatives and support from Europe, led by Germany. This doctrine can throw around the current structure of international politics. The writer Francis Fukuyama announced in the early nineties that we had reached the "end of history": liberal democracy had finally won. World diplomacy focused since then on global governance, with international conferences on peace, poverty and climate change. Putin challenges 'Western domination' and can expect support from China, India, Iran and Africa. Next to Western culture, Putin presents his political-cultural counterculture. This new ideological division needlessly exacerbates any local or regional conflicts such as Syria and now in Ukraine.