Years ago, when I was a graduate student at UC Berkeley, I attended a roundtable discussion held on campus about the legacy of Stalinism. Like most things at Berkeley, the event was open to the public. After introductions and some brief remarks, audience members were invited to ask questions. Spilling binder papers as he stood, one odd-looking man hurried to ask the first question. Except, his wasn’t a question so much as a theory. “What if,” the man began, “all the Terror and all the Famine weren’t the work of the Real Stalin, but an imposter? An Evil Stalin!” For the next several minutes, despite the moderator’s best efforts to move on, the room learned about this stranger’s belief that a second Stalin is to blame for all the crimes of Communism.
You might laugh. In many ways, after all, the Theory of the Two Stalins is just some Californian’s bizarre way of understanding one of history’s bloodiest tyrants. That fellow in Berkeley, however, isn’t alone. One of Russia’s most prominent scholars subscribes to a similar hypothesis: the Theory of the Two Putins.
Alexandr Dugin is a political scientist at Moscow State University (MGU) and a conservative ideologue. He advocates creating a Eurasian empire to counter the influence of the United States, and he has accordingly—and vociferously—supported the rebels in eastern Ukraine fighting against the government in Kiev.
Last week, Dugin announced that MGU had fired him from his job in the school’s sociology department because of his political position on the Ukraine crisis. Indeed, in May following a deadly fire in Odessa, Dugin said in an interview, “Kill. Kill. Kill. There shouldn’t be anything more to say [about what to do in Ukraine]. That’s my view as a professor.” The remarks upset many, including the more than 11 thousand people who have signed a change.org petition calling for Dugin’s dismissal.
Strangely, Moscow State University denies that it has fired Dugin, whose name is still listed online in the sociology department’s faculty. Dugin, however, insists that he has indeed lost his job. And, as of this morning, he says he knows whom to blame: the Lunar Putin.
Unlike the Evil Stalin, the Lunar Putin is not literally an imposter, but the President’s dark side—the opposite of the good “Solar Putin.” Dugin believes the Lunar version is responsible for Putin’s occasional failures to lead Russia in the right direction. In his 2012 book, “Putin versus Putin,” Dugin explored these two sides in some depth, before ever coining the “lunar/solar” terminology.
Он стал преемником по сговору ельцинских элит и благодаря эффективной информационной кампании. Теоретически он мог править, проводя совсем иную линию—никто не мог бы его одернуть за рукав в силу авторитарного характера российской политики. Его предшественники Горбачев и Ельцин спокойно разрушали Россию кирпич за кирпичом, и им все сошло с рук. Один спокойно умер в своей постели, другой до сих пор рекламирует пиццу и Vuitton.
Путин нам вначале был навязан, но стал по-настоящему популярным и народным, так как принялся делать то, что должен был делать болеющий за свой народ и свою страну совестливый и волевой русский человек. Итак, исходя из логики шести подвигов, Путин правил правильно, и мы его за дело поддерживали.
[Putin] became the successor [to the Kremlin] by way of the Yeltsin elite’s conspiracy and thanks to an effective information campaign. Theoretically, he could have ruled entirely differently. Nobody could have even tugged at his sleeve, thanks to Russian politics’ authoritarian nature. His predecessors, Gorbachev and Yeltsin, quietly dismantled Russia brick-by-brick, and they got away with it. One died peacefully in his bed, and the other to this day is advertising pizza and Louis Vuitton.
Putin was imposed on us at first, but he became truly popular when he decided to do for his country what a conscientious and strong-willed Russian person should do. And so, based on the logic of six great achievements, Putin ruled justly, and we supported him for it.
Putin’s great feats, according to Dugin, satisfy a Eurasianist honey-do-list—an inventory of what is necessary to build a new empire that would stand against the West. At crucial moments, however, Dugin’s hero has stopped short or backtracked.
На этом кончается идиллия, и начинается вторая графа баланса. Убытки и недостатки.
[…] Самым главным, впрочем, был седьмой подвиг. Он заключался в том, чтобы довести первые шесть подвигов до логического конца. Это значит: накрепко геополитически и идеологически привязать Кавказ к России; создать имперскую систему сочетания стратегического централизма с демократическим самоуправлением на низовом уровне; проводить во внешней политики независимый и результативный курс; разработать национальную идеологию; завершить чистку олигархата и остановить коррупцию; приступить к созданию сверхнациональных политических образований на пространстве СНГ (союзное Российско-Белорусское государство, Таможенный союз, «Евразийский союз» и т.д.).
На этом седьмом подвиге Путин споткнулся […]. Довести шесть первых шагов до логического конца, до точки необратимости Путин не смог, не сумел или… не захотел?
The peace and harmony ends here, and the second balance column begins. [Putin’s] disadvantages and shortcomings.
[…] The most important, it must be said, was [Putin’s] seventh achievement. It was necessary to bring the first six achievements to their logical conclusion. This means  firmly tying the Caucasus to Russia geopolitically and ideologically,  creating an imperial system that combines strategic centralism with democratic self-rule at a low level,  putting foreign policy on an independent and effective course,  developing a national ideology,  completing the purge of the oligarchy,  stopping corruption, and  launching the creation of supranational political entities within the Commonwealth of Independent States (a united Russian-Belorussian state, a Customs Union, a “Eurasian Union,” and so on).
Putin stumbled on this seventh achievement […]. Putin wasn’t able to take the first six steps to their logical end, past the point of no return. He wasn’t able to do it … or maybe he didn’t want to?
These seeds of doubt about the President have blossomed in Dugin’s mind into his ideas today about the Lunar Putin. Writing on Vkontakte, where he has over 9 thousand followers, Dugin has cataloged the drama of his apparent dismissal. Last weekend, Dugin said he planned to confront the university's rector, Viktor Sadovnichiy, to find out who in the government approved firing him. (Probably correctly, Dugin believes that such an act would have required the consent of high-ranking officials.) Reluctant at first to blame Putin, Dugin said he had “certain information” pinning responsibility on his enemies within the Kremlin, a group he calls the “Sixth Column.”
Today, however, Dugin confirmed that Putin himself gave the order. “Now this is a bad sign indeed,” Dugin wrote online. “It’s the Lunar Putin—there’s no other way to explain it.”