Andreas Umland
February 2015

Double-headed Eurasia

We should instill in all Russians the key notion that their individual identity is secondary to and dependent on their national identity. Russians must understand that they are Orthodox first and foremost, then Russians, and only after that, human beings…

Alexandr Dugin, Foundations of Geopolitics

Vladimir Putin voiced his idea of a new “Eurasian” Union even before he was “reelected” president. It immediately garnered the attention of the press both in Russia and abroad (for example, in Ukraine it was discussed in the influential weekly Dzerkalo Tyzhnia [Mirror Weekly]). The interest in this project has not yet subsided for, as we now know, it was not just a piece of pre-election propaganda. It is telling that in June 2012 Putin, already president by then, commented on Kyiv’s limited interest in his integration schemes: “It is a shame that our brothers in Ukraine are at the moment left out of the project.” It is also clear that Putin’s plan matches not only the ambitions of the Russian ruling party, but the dreams of the many people beyond it, namely a significant portion of the “patriotic” political and intellectual elites of the Russian Federation. The term “Eurasian Union” originated from the lexicon of the post-Soviet “Neo-Eurasianism,” a curious intellectual phenomenon of the last two decades, spun largely by the prolific writer Alexandr Dugin. An occultist, “sociology scholar,”1 and leader of the so-called International Eurasian Movement, Dugin has quite a following in the post-Soviet space.

Before comparing Putin’s and Dugin’s doctrines, I would like to stress that both differ drastically from the intellectual constructs of the 1920-30s Russian intellectuals that lay down the foundations of the Eurasian movement. It should also be noted that both new reinterpretations of Eurasianism have little in common with the theories of the late Soviet dissident historian, ethnologist and geographer Lev Gumilev, which are also considered “Eurasian” by some.

Therefore, the Eurasianisms of Putin and Dugin have some similarities, including a shared (relative) splint from the classical Eurasianism or “Gumilevianism.” However, these two “Neo-Eurasian projects” have more differences than similarities.

Putin and other relatively newly minted Eurasianists of his kind come from Soviet official circles, elite civic organizations or state institutions of the late USSR: the ranks of the Communist Party, the Komsomol, KGB, Soviet Science Institutes, universities, cultural organizations, etc. They are enamored with the idea of restoring the Russian and/or Soviet Empire, that is, of getting back the power and territories of the empire circa 1989. While officially supranational, the Eurasian Union is in fact Russian-centric and actually entails the encroachment of the current Russian (pseudo)Federation on all or, at the very least, most territories of the former Russian Empire.

Hence, this old-new entity would be a more or less logical “extension” of the old Russia and would reconstitute, at least in part, the historical and territorial continuity between the Russian Federation, USSR, the Czarist empire and, some Russian historians and philosophers would even claim, the Grand Duchy of Moscow and Kyivan Rus.’ Since this project implies that Moscow should exercise significant influence (if not...

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