Byzantine and Mongol Russia. The Land.

_ Henry Norman Spalding (using the pseudonym «by an English Eurasianist»). «Russia in Resurrection. A summary of the views and of the aims of a new Party in Russia». Part One: Byzantine and Mongol Russia. Chapter I. The Land. London, 1928.

Part One: Byzantine and Mongol Russia

I. The Land

Russia a geographical world apart

In 1921 P.N. Savitsky published a paper called “Continent-Ocean, the first of a series of articles which have pointed out on the one hand that Russia is for the most part cut off by mountain ranges or frozen oceans from the rest of the World, and on the other that within her mountains and oceans she is a vast homogeneous, and in the main self-supporting land, with easy means of communication. These articles have created a considerable stir, as they bring into prominence, from the geographical point of view, the distinction between Russia and the rest of Europe and Asia, and the essential unity of the Russian lands, so destroying the view that Russia is a European state with vast colonies (Siberia and Turkestan) in Asia. She is, he says, a third Continent – Eurasia.

These views are worth considering for they form an important element in the new body of ideas called Eurasianism.

Russia, then occupies a vast territory to the North of Europe and Asia, from which however, it is shutoff by mountains and frozen seas. To the North, the Arctic Ocean is frozen for from seven to ten months of the year, to the East the Sea of Okhotsk for six and the Sea of Japan at Vladivostockfor three months, to the West the Baltic for four or five. To the South, the Black Sea issues to the Mediterranean through two straits in alien hands, while the Caspian Sea islandlocked. The land frontier makes equally for isolation, as it principally consists of vast and remote plateaux and mountains. For most of its length it follows two huge folds, pushedupatan obtuse angle to each other by the shrinkage of the earth’s crust as it cooled, and meeting in CentralAsia. The first or Alpine-Himalayan fold, Russia touches, or nearly touches, at the Carpathians and at the plateaux of Asia Minor, Persia, and Afghanistan; thence, after the knot of the Pamirs, the frontier bends nearly at a right angle to follow a great series of plateaux running from Central Asia to the Behring Straits in the extreme North-East. This great divide, which has been called the back-bone of Asia, comprises the tablelands of Chinese Turkestan and of North-West Mongolia (crossed by the Tian Shan, Altai and Sayan Mountains), the plateau East of Lake Baikal (Transbaikalia or Dauria), the Aldan plateau and the mountains of Kamshatka. The Northern edge of all these plateaux generally rises into heights, separated by fertile valleys from mountain ranges lying to the North, such as the mountains of the Crimea, the Caucasus and the Kopeh Dagh, and after the bend those in which lie Bokhara, Samarkand and Barnaul, and the head-waters of the Yenesei and Lena. At two points, however, the frontiers of Russia are less obviously natural. The North-West frontier is formed by the mountains of Scandinavia and a line drawn between them and the Carpathians, marking the Eastern limit of the North European plain. The North-East frontier deserts the Asiatic backbone to follow the line of the rivers Amur and Ussuri to the South-East, thus including a slice of what is geographically China.

Within these ocean and mountain limits lie vast stretches of plains, most of which have from a geological point of view only recently risen from the sea, especially the vast basin of the Ob in Western Siberia. These huge plains, which comprise a third of the surface of the Old World, exhibit a remarkable uniformity. Stretching from West to East lie belts that differ from each other in natural characteristics, and therefore in the opportunities that they offer to man. Speaking generally, to the North come marshes and forests, to the South steppes and deserts; the first the result of a moist, the second of a dry atmosphere.

Four principal zones may be distinguished. First, along the coast of the Arctic Ocean, the tundras – almost treeless swamps of moss and lichen, frozen for the greater part of the year, but covered with masses of flowers and berries during the riotous but short-lived summer. Then comes the wide forest belt of cone-bearing trees-fir and pine and larch, known in Western Siberia as the taiga (forest) – intermingled with swamps and marshes where the tangled roots of the grasses make it necessary even for the bear to walkwarily. These coniferous forests, which stretch from the Baltic to the Pacific, cover nearly half Russia. Thirdly, in European Russia comes the “forest-steppe” belt, combining some of the characteristics of the forest to the North with those of the steppe to the South. This belt consists of narrower districts of Summer-leafing woodland, where oak and birch predominate, interspersed with pasture and ploughed fields. During the Winter these regions are under snow, which at the approach of Spring melts into vast floods. As these subside, Spring comes on in great beauty-slowly in Central Russia, with a sudden rush where further south the woods give way to the open; the meadows are carpeted with flowers, the forests with millions of lilies-of-the-walley, where later onstrawberries and raspberries ripen in profusion in the open glades. Great Summer-leafing trees are also to be found on the Chinese slope. Last comes the region of the steppe, subdivided into arable, pasture, and desert. First, the region of the black earth (formed of loess and humus), where the rainfall is insufficient for the growth of trees, but the fertile soil produces without manure vast fields of corn – a region stretching from South-West Russia (the Ukraine) to the upper waters of the Ob (including the great Barabin steppe) in Western Siberia, and thence in broken patches through North-West Mongolia to the lower or Eastern terrace of Transbaikalia. To the South of these run prairies or grass steppes that are for the most part the grazing grounds of the Kirghiz – reaching from the lower Volga to the Altai mountains. These grassy regions gradually melt into the sandy and infertile desert of the depression (much of it below sea-level) surrounding the Caspian and Aral Seas, the waters of which are rapidly drying up.

Her communications and her products

Russia thus forms, say the Eurasianists, a continent to herself, largely shut off by her maritime isolation from commercial intercourse with other nations, but rich in inland communications and in the variety of her resources. These communications are of two kinds. There is first the great grass steppe, unimpeded by trees like the belt to the North, well-watered in contrast to the deserts of the South, yet only by such head-waters as form no impediment to travel. Stretching East and West, from the Amur to the Ukraine, the steppe was the route of the Mongol horsemen, along which galloped from Karakorum to Kiev the victorious cavalry of Chingiz Khan, the greatest of the World-conquerors. Secondly, Russia is rich in river communications. To the West the Volkhov and the Dnieper run North and South, forming a single waterway between Scandinavia and Constantinople; upon it rose the earliest Russia with Great Novgorod on the Volkhov and Kiev om the Dnieper. These two rivers, the Western Dvina and the Volga all rise in or near the Waldai Hills in the North-West, thus connecting the Baltic, the Black and the Caspian Seas. One tributary of the Volga, the Oka, flows near the head-waters of the Don, another, the Kama, near the Northern Dvina and the Petchora, bringing these three seas into communication with the Arctic Ocean. The five greatest rivers of Russia are double rivers – rivers, that is, in the form of a T, the head-waters forming the cross-piece: Volga-Kama, Ob-Irtysh, Yenese-Angara, Lena-Vitim, Amir-Sungari. Except for the last, these rivers run South or North, their head-waters East and West, thus forming a network of waterways, and bringing the Atlantic into touch with the Pacific. Along the rivers journeyed the merchants and the explorers; and it was this fact, more than the political activity of the government, that secured the unity of cis-Ural Russia and made the colonization of trans-Ural Russia so rapid. In the future, too, as Russia develops her resources, the facilities offered by the long plains running East and West and the long rivers running North and South will be very great. What the sea is to other nations the land is to Russia – it unites, it enriches; that is why the Eurasianists call her an “ocean-continent”. “Happily,” writes L.P. Karsavin, “her natural riches allow of her becoming self-sufficient, if only she decides to seek the ocean at home, that is to say, to organize her economic life on interior lines of communication and with the help of a rational division of her vast territory. Eurasia is in reality an economic world in itself, a continental ocean.”

Her immensity

Her resources in land and raw materials are enormous. It might indeed be supposed that in so vast a territory there would be land and to spare for everyone. Nevertheless, the pressure of population in Central and South-West Russia was at the root of her economic difficulties until the Revolution of 1917; nor has the seizure of the private estates by the peasants in that year done more than ease the situation. But great vacant lands await immediate settlement, situated for the most part between the Volga and the Urals, in the patches of black earth in Southern Siberia, and in the fertile valleys and plains at the foot of the mountain frontiers. It is estimated that when these are occupied Russia will be able to support twice her present population – that is to say, three hundred millions. The immense areas covered by tundra, forest and desert could not be settled without a huge expenditure of labour and capital in clearance and irrigation. Again, the Russian Continent is, or may become, singularly rich in natural products of nearly every kind. As the Eurasianists point out, “everything that Great Britain is forced to import from Canada (such as corn), from Australia (wool and fruit), from India (cotton and rice) we already have in our Russia world, however little trouble we have taken to develop it. The steppes supply large quantities of corn and wool, the Caucasus and Turkestan cotton and rice.” It is true that there are a few articles, such as rubber and coffee, which Russia apparently cannot produce; but she supplies many of the most important raw materials of industry – her forests wood and furs, her mines coal, iron, and oil, her steppes corn and meat, and so on-in the richest abundance. These vast resources still for the most part await development.

The land of Russia has had a great effect upon the Russian spirit. It is a land of sadness, and of laughter; of icy Winter, and of sudden Spring; of tempest and the wolf, of lilac and the nightingale. Above all is its vastness, its mystery. As the European is most moved by the sublimity of mountains, so the Russian, cabined and confined when he finds himself among mountains, is moved by the sublimity of his plains. He feels that the forests stretch away endlessly; that the steppes go on and on to a horizon he can never reach; that the sands of his deserts know no bounds. The long darkness of the Winter nights, the long light of the Summer days, have a similar effect. He feels that he is in the midst of – infinity,

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