Russia Keen to See Turkey and U.S. Fight, Nationalist Guru Says

(Bloomberg) -- Russia gave a green light to Turkey’s military occupation of northern Syria because it’s keen to foster divisions between the Turks and the U.S., said Alexander Dugin, the Russian philosopher and nationalist who became a key Kremlin fixer.

The arrival of Turkish troops in Syria’s Afrin region in March, where they drove out local Kurdish fighters, should hurt Syrian Kurds’ ties with Washington more than their links with Moscow, Dugin said in an interview last week in Antalya in southern Turkey. The upside for Russia is that “it’s a fight between two NATO allies,” he said. “That’s the only reason why we let it happen.”

After seizing Afrin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said other Syrian provinces under the control of U.S.-allied Kurds could be targeted too, a move that could bring Turkey into even more direct conflict with America. Meanwhile, Turkey under Erdogan, who’s running for re-election in June, has drawn closer to Russia -- a rapprochement that Dugin helped broker. The two leaders have partnered with Iran in trying to impose a settlement to end Syria’s civil war.

Turkey has also signed a contract to purchase Russia’s S-400 missile-defense system, ignoring warnings from U.S. that a NATO ally should “look for other sources.” Moscow will deliver the systems toward the end of next year, Interfax cited Vladimir Kozhin, President Vladimir Putin’s aide on military cooperation, as saying last month.

Bannon, Islam

Russia was criticized by Kurds for withdrawing its forces from Afrin and allowing Turkish jets to fly there. But that’s a small cost on the road to achieving Russia’s ultimate aim, which is to show the world that “a Middle East without Western presence is possible,” Dugin said. For that project, “we need Turkey and Iran as allies.”

Dugin likens himself to Steve Bannon, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, though he has no official role and also says that his influence on the Kremlin is “of no importance at all.” He said that both he and Putin are driven by the same force, “the logos of Russia.” Russia’s form of government, he said, is “authoritarianism from below -- it is demanded. Putin is the screen on which the Russian will is projected.”

The Christian Orthodox strategist made the “humble suggestion” that Turkey should take a leading role in creating a “new Islam” based on the mystic traditions of Sufism. He said Erdogan already made “two wrong choices” in the religious sphere, backing first a modernized brand of Islam favored by the West and then “the Saudi, almost the Salafi version. Both failed geopolitically and ideologically.”

While Erdogan’s roots are in political Islam, he’s caused a stir recently in Turkey’s religious circles by slamming dogmatic clerics. “They’re incapable of understanding that Islam needs to be updated,” the president complained on March 8. “One cannot implement rules from 14 centuries ago.”

During a visit to Uzbekistan late last month, Erdogan took Turkey’s army and intelligence chiefs on a visit to the tomb of Abu Mansur Al Maturidi, a ninth-century Islamic theologian whose teachings emphasize the importance of reason.

Dugin said he welcomed Trump’s election as “one of the best moments of my life” but takes a more measured view today. The American president has been “hijacked” by the “globalist elite,” though he’s stubbornly resisting, he said. “Maybe he will have the chance to change the system if he’s re-elected, but now he cannot. I don’t think they will let him stay.”

Erdogan is different, according to Dugin. The Turkish president tried to ally with everybody, be them enemies or friends, and has arrived at the conclusion that in order to save Turkey’s sovereignty he should be with the east, with Eurasia, Dugin said. “It wasn’t his original idea.”

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