Yes, the West wants to move to Russia. It turn out that Moscow isn’t just the Fourth Rome; soon, it will be the Second Hamptons.
Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Russia will become the next Mt. Ararat (even though the first one is practically a neighbor). When the rest of the world succumbs to ecological catastrophe, only Russia will remain habitable.
This scenario is the result of yet another mutation in Russian conspiracy theory. Just as the Houston Project is packaged as the next, more detailed iteration of the Harvard Project, its detail is drawn from yet another set of sources. Much of the content of Houston Project is filled by the growing lore accruing to a powerful local, Russian conspiracy called the “Golden Billion” (Золотой миллиард).
First put forth by A. Kuz’mich (the pen name of Anatolii Kuzmich Tsikunov) in a book called “The World Government Conspiracy: Russia and the Golden Billion” (“Заговор мирового правительства: Россия и ‘золотой миллиард’) (1994), the Golden Billion was quickly popularized by the prolific Sergei Kara-Murza and has become a staple of contemporary Russian conspiratorial thought. The Golden Billion represents a real change in the Dulles/Harvard rhetoric of conspiracy, in that it is based less on (bad) social science than it is on (bad) natural science.
In a refreshing change from what is familiar to followers of American conspiracy and right-wing discourse, the Golden Billion takes the prospect of ecological change seriously. So seriously, in fact, that most of the plans of the “world government” are predicated on looming global disaster. The coming cataclysm is not just a matter of climate change or even the depletion of fossil fuels; the Golden Billion is a nightmare vision of overpopulation. The Golden Billion weaponizes Malthusianism. If modern concerns about the world’s growing population were set off by Paul Erlich’s 1968 call to arms The Population Bomb, the Golden Billion comes as close as possible to rendering Erlich title literal.
The “billion” in “Golden Billion" refers to an imagined, ideal population for a sustainable planet; the “Golden” part describe the class dynamics on which the conspiracy is built. The developed world is maneuvering to a point where one billion people (the wealthier people from the wealthiest part of the globe) populate the planet. It is not the meek, but the rich who shall inherit the earth (which makes some sense, since they have the most experience with inheritance).
The Golden Billion also confirms the russ0centrism I posited in the beginning of the chapter. If the only inhabitable territory left on the globe were in, say, Africa or Australia, the theory would be far less compelling. Russia would be destroyed, but only as part of a larger story of calamity.The Golden Billion tells the opposite story: it is the God-given right of Russia to survive the apocalypse, but the West is conspiring to steal Russia’s very destiny. Here the power and desirability of the Russian land are reinforced precisely by the covetousness of the enemy, and the struggle against this plot can be yet another heroic tale of the defense of Russia from invasion.
The Golden Billion gathers together many of the most important tropes of benighted, post-Soviet Russia (the need to defend the country’s natural resources from a rapacious West, the West’s demoralization of Russia’s youth, destruction of Russia’s economy, and destruction of public health) into one compelling narrative, a story combining historical touchstones (the Great Patriotic War) with science and pseudoscience. It also builds on and sustains the hostility towards population control encountered throughout the Russian media in the Putin era, in which the distribution of condoms is a clever Western plot to bring down Russian birth rates. This idea is often reinforced by an unsourced, but frequently repeated quote from Margaret Thatcher, that “Russians should be reduced to 15 million” (from a population ten times that size). All of this can be summed up in a phrase that is common to Russian extremist discourse, and made more mainstream by the conflict in Ukraine: “The genocide of the Russian people.”
It is also time to state the obvious: The Harvard Project, the Dulles Plan, the Houston Project, and the Golden Billion only make sense if you assume a widespread, deep-rooted hatred for Russia and the Russian people that goes beyond the vagaries of contemporary politics. Before I bring this chapter to a close, we must reckon with the specter that, if it is not haunting Europe, certainly haunts Russia: the specter of Russophobia.
Next: Russophobia and Homophobia