_ Jurij C. Kofner, editor-in-chief, analytical media “Eurasian Studies”. Munich, 18 November 2019. First published on Global Review.
When talking about the various influences on Russia’s foreign policy and on the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Western journalists and professional kremlinologists generally mention the philosophy or ideology of Eurasianism.
Eurasianism is a school of thought that was incepted by a group of Russian white emigre intellectuals almost a hundred years ago during the inter-war period in Europe. It is a complex system of ideas, which since then has produced various theoretical renderings. Yet, in its key message it affirms a cultural communality of the peoples of northern Eurasia and the existence of the Eurasian civilization, which is distinct from Europe and Asia.
However, most often the Western perception of the sway of Eurasianist theory over contemporary Eurasian integration is riddled with overestimation, misinterpretation and a general anti-Russian bias,.
First of all, most Western analysts overestimate the influence that Eurasianism allegedly has on Russian president Vladimir Putin, on Moscow’s foreign policy and on its involvement behind the EAEU. Secondly, both intentionally and unintentionally Eurasianism has often received negative reviews by Western scholars and reporters, who draw similarities with European right-wing ideologies such as Italian fascism. Thirdly, this distorted view fits perfectly into the construed narrative of “a neo-imperialist Russian hegemon that coerces its neighbors and collaborates with European populist nationalists in order to build its own post-Soviet empire and undermine Western liberal order”.
Together, these arguments have become part of the overall agenda to discredit the Eurasian Economic Union as a liberal integration project and to dissuade European leaders from contemplating cooperation with it in form of a common economic space “from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.
In the following article I would like to show that Eurasianism in its attitudes is no more “radical” than pan-Europeanism, formulated by Coudenhove-Kalergi and the other founding fathers of the modern European Union. Modern Eurasianist theory is, in fact, conservative, but not nationalist, aimed at socially oriented market economics, and affirms equal international cooperation based on the supremacy of national sovereignty.
At this point it should be noted that nowadays there actually are two intellectually dominant versions of Eurasianism: Firstly, that of so called “classical Eurasianist” ideology incepted in the 1920’s and 1930’s and modern “pragmatic Eurasianism”, which forms the true basis for post-Soviet integration.
It can be argued that two out of three heads of state, which stood behind the EAEU’s inception, namely Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and Kazakhstan’s former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, are well acquainted with classical Eurasianism, since they referred to it several times in their speeches and political program articles.
However, the classical version has had only a very indirect influence on the processes of modern Eurasian integration. Not Russian philosophical doctrine, but the pragmatic interests of the EAEU’s member states and European integration theory have formed the wording of the EAEU Treaty and the logic of building institutions of Eurasian integration.
Of course, the post-Soviet space has its own specifics and it is necessary to adapt Western integration theory and approaches to the given conditions. Firstly, the EAEU ought to be seen not as a new project, but rather as re-integration attempt, where the newly independent states of a former unitary authoritarian empire, i.e. USSR, are trying to reunite in a new format and on new principles. Secondly, another important feature of Eurasian integration is the large weight of the former Russian metropolis in the Eurasian Economic Union, making up 87% of its GDP, 85% of its territory and 80% of its population.
At the current initial stage of modern Eurasian integration, the emphasis is placed on economic feasibility and mutual benefit, at least in all official documents and intentions. Of course, as with any regional integration project, there are political issues between member states. But even here, the key principle of cooperation is put on compromise and pragmatism, not on abstract dogma.
Classical Eurasianism affirms the existence of a distinct Eurasian civilization approximately on the territory of the former Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union. Yet, this argument has its weaknesses. Both skepticism of the post-Soviet states towards political re-integration, as well as the weakness of this civilizational argument, are the reasons why it is almost not used in the official rhetoric of modern Eurasian integration.
It can be argued that the cultural borders of the Eurasian civilization to the east and to the south of the post-Soviet space, i.e. towards China, Iran and the Arab world are relatively clearly outlined due to the presence of mountain ranges and deserts, i.e. natural geo-climatic barriers. However, on the western edge of the post-Soviet space, in the so-called “Russian plain”, i.e. where modern Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova are located, this boundary with Europe is rather blurry. Moving from west to east along this plain, the differences between peoples and cultures from Central along Eastern Europe and further along the western part of Russia change only slightly and more or less smoothly at each step. The absence of any significant geographical barriers and the blurriness of the civilizational “fault line” between Europe and northern Eurasia in the Russian plain also could explain why Belarus so often became an unfortunate “corridor” for European invasions into Russia and why the territory modern Ukraine was and is so often torn by civil war with the participation of external forces.
For this reason, perhaps it would be better to rethink the classical concept of a distinct Eurasian civilization, although its elements certainly exist, in favor of the image of a broader “Euro-Eurasian” civilization.
Or, we might assume that the Eurasian civilization, which the classical Eurasianists wrote about, is an “Oriental variety” of the global Western super-civilization. This thought was shared by both the Russian philosopher Alexander Zinoviev and the founder of the pan-European movement Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi.
If modern Europe grew out of the evolution of Western Rome, then northern Eurasia might be considered a descendant and successor of Eastern Rome – Byzantium. And if Belarusians, Russians and Armenians more or less are directly connected with the Byzantine cultural heritage – through Christian Orthodoxy, then the Muslim and Buddhist peoples of the post-Soviet space are connected indirectly through their Europeanization, which occurred under the influence of Russia during the periods of the Russian Empire, the USSR and in modern times. At the same time, the steppe nomad and Asian elements in the cultures of most of the peoples of the post-Soviet space once again emphasize the Eurasian character of this “Byzantine” (East Roman) branch of the global Western super-civilization.
This could form the cultural argument towards the notion that the only way out of the closed cycle of confrontation between Russia and Europe can only be the creation of a common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok, i.e. between the EU and the EAEU.
In addition, this scenario is further supported by German and Austrian research that clearly shows the potential economic benefits that the EU and the EAEU could gain from the synergy of their factors of production.
Europeans, sure. But Eurasians?
As said above, the weakness of the civilizational approach to justify modern Eurasian integration lies in the difficulty of clearly and unequivocally defining the western borders of the Eurasian civilization.
But this is not the only problem. Even if one agrees with the assertion that a distinct civilization exists in the post-Soviet space, even if it is “Euro-Eurasian” and an Oriental variety of the Western super-civilization, then still the larger part of the population of the post-Soviet countries are not aware of this fact. Unlike Europe, where the self-identification of “we are all Europeans” is in many respects the indisputable subject of modern European integration, in the CIS countries and in the EAEU, the identity of “we are all Eurasians” has not been fully developed yet. Therefore the category of a “Eurasian” identity cannot yet serve as the political subject of modern Eurasian integration.
So far, among the peoples of the post-Soviet space, self-identification dominates either with Europe or with its own ethnic group or nation.
This does not mean that the category of “Eurasians” does not exist at all. Potentials for its final formation certainly exist. Already, many representatives of the intelligentsia from Brest to Tashkent are in all seriousness calling themselves Eurasians. The history of civilizations and the evolution of cultures does not stop in the 21st century and the longer the Eurasian Economic Union will exist and successfully work, the wider will be the proportion of people who are likely to consider themselves to be Eurasians.
Synthesis as an advantage
However, the blurring of the western borders of the Eurasian civilization and the lack of the category of “Eurasians” as a historical and political subject of modern Eurasian integration are not only a problem, but also a competitive advantage – no matter how contradictory this may sound.
On the one hand, the EAEU itself is trying to provide the prerequisites in order to become an independent and competitive pole in the world market. Moreover, as mentioned above, as the EAEU strengthens and its importance for the economic development of its member states rises, the number of people wishing to call themselves Eurasians will gradually increase.
The desire to develop such a Eurasian pole (subject) in the economic, political, and, retrospectively, in the historical dimension, should certainly be welcomed and supported.
However, at the same time, one should condemn attempts to artificially construe an ostensibly independent or even isolated “Eurasian civilization” by trying to dig up every implausible justification. The worst version of such attempts to exaggerate the Eurasian “otherness” is the concept of a “Fortress Eurasia”.
On the contrary, Eurasia is often called a crossroads of cultures and civilizations. It is a wide and open space, where for centuries people have been resettling and uniting, and where not only goods, but also ideas were exchanged along the Silk Road(s). This spatial openness, this synthesis of the ideas and principles of West and East is depicted on the EAEU logo and is a unique feature. Neither Europe, nor Africa, nor Asia, nor North America, nor even South America, where European, African and Native American peoples mixed and intermingled, can boast of such a rich history of interaction of such a large number of peoples, cultures and civilizations as Eurasia, in particular – northern Eurasia, i.e. the post-Soviet space.
In this regard, it would be foolish not to take advantage of this unique advantage in the further construction of the Eurasian integration project. The key expression of this idea is the concept of a “Greater Eurasia” or “Greater Eurasian Partnership”, which implies the creation of a complex network of free trade zones, the integration of regional integration projects and the connection of continental transport corridors throughout the wider Eurasian continent. The result would be the creation of a common space “from Lisbon to Shanghai”. The main goal would be to promote economic prosperity and the development of the welfare of the national economies through different formats and degrees of economic integration of the mainland.
At the same time, one should not think that this Eurasian spatial openness for the perception and transmission of external impulses is evidence that wider Eurasia in general and the EAEU in particular are only an empty object for fertilization by external forces. Rather, spatial openness is one of the attributes of the Eurasian subject.
Previous reflections lead us to the question of the economic model in modern Eurasianism.
Here, first of all, it ought to be stated that, in contrast to Europe, the economies of most of the post-Soviet countries are characterized by a market economy structure with significant government involvement.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in Russia, Belarus and other post-Soviet countries a dispute has arisen and is actively going on between supporters of the Western school of liberal capitalism, on the one hand, and a national view in favor of economic statism, on the other.
Unfortunately, too often these liberal and statist economists have been guided not by empirical observations, but by their own dogmas, which either do not meet the criteria of scientificness or are true “in principle”, but only under conditions typical for developed OECD countries.
On this background, the economic school of modern Eurasianism complies with the above-stated principle of pragmatism. The pragmatic approach in the Eurasianist political economy is expressed in three aspects: firstly, that Eurasian economic policy should be based solely on the results of empirical research and on a scientific approach.
Secondly, that it has to take into account the conditions of post-Soviet reality in the socio-economic, legal and political dimensions. For example, certain principles developed as part of the EU monetary policy can be viewed as universally applicable. At the same time, one cannot blindly copy the monetary policy of the EU and the eurozone to apply it in the Eurasian Economic Union due to the many differences between them: higher inflation rates, volatility of exchange rates, a less effective monetary transmission mechanism, etc.
Thirdly, the Eurasianist political economy combines the principles of economic competitiveness and social justice. Normally, such a balance is ensured by a good combination of market liberalization with government regulation and social transfer. This aspect, of course, is still more related to the national economic policies of the EAEU member states rather than to the integration agenda as a whole. This is primarily due to the fact that such important areas of economic regulation as industrial and fiscal policy were only partially transferred to the supranational level.
On the one hand, the history of the world economy and most economic studies show that a liberal market economy is more efficient than a planned economy. Moreover, the experience of countries such as Germany and that of Scandinavia shows that only liberal market economies are productive enough as to accumulate the necessary surplus of wealth, which then can be redistributed among the citizens in the form of a high level of social security. In Europe, this model of a socially oriented market economy has worked quite successfully for the past 70 years.
On the other hand, in most countries with a Soviet heritage we notice the prevalence of a developing nature of legal and civil institutions, a dominant position of the public sector and a raw material orientation of exports. In such conditions, moreover, in the context of catching up with technological competition, the preservation of an important role of the public sector and of state development programs seems appropriate. It is this combination of market and statist principles that the classical Eurasianists already proposed in their program manifestos for the time “after the Communist regime”,,
Eurasia of Nations
One of the fundamental theses of classical Eurasianism is a call for the preservation and development of the cultural identity of each of the peoples of the world. At the same time, this slogan has nothing to do with some kind of separatist provincialism or narrow-national chauvinism. Simply put, according to the “formula” developed as part of the civilizational approach of the classical Eurasianists: a certain group of (sub-) ethnic groups is part of a certain peoples (nation) and a certain number of peoples (nations) make up a specific civilization (union, i,e. regional integration bloc). Like the Russian “matryoshka” doll. For example, the Bavarians are part of the German peoples, which are the core population of the Federal Republic of Germany, which, in turn, is part of European civilization and the European Union. Another example: the Tatars are part of the multi-ethnic Russian peoples forming the Russian Federation, one of the EAEU member states.
In Eurasianism, ethnic or local patriotism does neither contradict national patriotism nor wider civilizational patriotism. On the contrary, as part of one civilization, patriotisms of different levels complement each other.
Out of this call for the preservation and development of cultural identities, as well as from this thesis of “multi-level patriotisms”, modern Eurasianism derives two approaches to regional integration.
At the national level, Eurasianists would prefer a federal structure in those countries where their multi-ethnic nature is evident. That is why most of the pro-EAEU political forces in Ukraine on the eve and during the Maidan protests in 2014 continuously called for the federalization of the country. Potentially, if this federalization would have been realized, then the intra-Ukrainian civil war might have been prevented and the Ukrainian state might have preserved the territories that it had then lost.
At the supranational level, the Eurasianist approach to regional integration presupposes the primacy of the principles of the supremacy of national sovereignty and of non-interference in the internal affairs of states. According to the Eurasianists, it is the states that guarantee the preservation and development of the cultural identity of the peoples that form them, which implies the principle of the inadmissibility of interference by external and supranational forces in the historically established specificities of their political and social structures.
In this regard, modern integration processes within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union are characterized by another important feature, apart from the two that have been mentioned at the beginning of the article (the re-integration nature and economic “domination” of Russia): a rather weak supranational component and the predominant role of intergovernmental modes of decision making. In the EAEU administrative hierarchy, the supranational EEC Board is at the lowest level, below three intergovernmental bodies (the EEC Council, the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council and the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council), where each member state has an equal vote and decisions are made by consensus.
On the one hand, many experts rightly see this as a weakness that slows down integration and limits its effectiveness. On the other hand, this property can, again, be presented as a competitive advantage and attractive feature of the EAEU compared with other integration projects, for example, with the EU. As a researcher at the University of Cambridge, David Lane, writes: the Eurasian Union horizontally creates democratic conditions between its member states, whereas the European Union from above imposes “democratization” at its discretion within states.
Along with this, the Eurasian Economic Union has not yet been assigned supranational competencies on humanitarian and cultural cooperation. Many politicians and representatives of the intelligentsia of the member states oppose the addition of such powers to the agenda of exclusively economic integration within the EAEU, since they equate cultural cooperation with the politicization of integration processes in favor of Moscow’s alleged “hegemonic ambitions”.
However, such suspicion could be erroneous. Adding elements of cultural cooperation to economic integration does not necessarily lead to political unification.
Firstly, research shows that humanitarian cooperation successfully complements economic integration, increasing its effectiveness. For example: to complete the creation a single labor market it is necessary to cooperate in the field of education and in order to conduct a Union-wide industrial policy it is essential to cooperate in the scientific and technical sphere.
Secondly, as already mentioned above, it is extremely important not to force the emergence of a general Eurasian patriotism. For the citizens of the member states, self-identification with the concept of “being Eurasian” has to occur voluntarily and gradually based on the success of the Eurasian integration project.
The EAEU’s role is not so much in political unification of the post-Soviet space or imposition of a Eurasian civilizational community, but as a tool for the preservation and development of the cultural identities of each of the Eurasian peoples and member-states individually. And of course, this does not contradict the above stated principle of “multi-level patriotism”.
It is in this light that the Eurasian Economic Union can offer an attractive alternative to the European project, where the trends of Americanization, open border policies, multiculturalism, deconstruction of European nation states and cultures prevail.
In 2013 Russian president Vladimir Putin expressed this exact notion rather nicely in a famous speech held at the Valdai think-tank:
“We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. […] In Europe and some other countries so-called multiculturalism is in many respects a transplanted, artificial model that is now being questioned, for understandable reasons. This is because it is based on paying for the colonial past. It is no accident that today European politicians and public figures are increasingly talking about the failures of multiculturalism, and that they are not able to integrate foreign languages or foreign cultural elements into their societies. […] The future Eurasian Economic Union, which we have declared and which we have discussed extensively as of late, is not just a collection of mutually beneficial agreements. The Eurasian Union is a project for maintaining the identity of nations in the historical Eurasian space in a new century and in a new world. […] I want to stress that Eurasian integration will also be built on the principle of diversity. This is a union where everyone maintains their identity, their distinctive character and their political independence”.
In this sense, the EAEU could formally proclaim the slogan of building a “Eurasia of Nations” as a futuristic eastern echo to Charles de Gaulle’s concept of a “Europe of Nations”.
As already said, the culturological outline of the borders of the Eurasian civilization, proposed in classical Eurasianism, has its weaknesses. Against this background, the geographic determinism, which is embedded in classical Eurasian theory turned out to be much more stable and successful in framing the borders of northern Eurasia.
The main figures of the classical Eurasian movement, such as Peter Savitsky, Nicolas Trubetskoy and George Vernadsky, clearly showed in their works: firstly, that there are clear geographical and climatic features that contribute to the internal unity and shape the external borders of the northern Eurasian space, i.e. the historical territory of the former Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union ,,.
Secondly, that economic integration is the only reliable way to compensate and overcome the negative aspects of the geographical and climatic features of the northern Eurasian space.
It is this geographical determinism that is another unique feature of Eurasian integration. Contemporary research on this topic is being developed by the former chief economist of the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) and now the chief economist of the Russian Sberbank, Yaroslav Lisovolik.
There is an unprecedented distance of Greater Eurasia’s hinterland/heartland, where most of the EAEU’s territory lies, from the global ocean and accordingly from international markets. Four out of five of the EAEU’s member states are landlocked: Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world. Belarus is the largest landlocked country in Europe. Kyrgyzstan, apart from being landlocked, is among the countries with one of the highest levels of elevation above sea level in the world. Armenia is the only country of Western Asia without access to a sizeable water space.
In view of the higher transportation costs faced by landlocked economies they are less competitive, as imports and exports are more expensive. According to research by the World Bank, landlocked countries have on average 30 per cent lower trade turnover than countries with access to the sea; continentality reduces a country’s growth rate by 1.5 per cent as compared to coastal countries. Here, the founding of the Eurasian Economic Union can be seen as an answer to this geographic problem, since the EAEU performs a crucial role of improving the access of its members to international markets via reducing customs duties and non-tariff barriers, as well as by advancing connectivity in transportation through the formation of a common transportation space.
As has probably become noticeable throughout this article that the central “spirit” of classical and pragmatic Eurasianism is the dialectical approach, i.e. the desire in all phenomena, and especially in its normative part, to find a synthesis and a middle ground between opposing principles: West and East, private economy and the state, ethnic, national and civilizational patriotisms, etc.
The dialectical approach is a fairly simple and understandable rule on how to approach problem solving in all spheres of life and social development. In the desire to find balance in everything there is a certain intuitive truth, like the eastern philosophy of “yin and yang.”
At the same time the approach of finding a golden mean excludes extremes from both sides. In this sense it is opposed to populism which by definition tries to give glaring and simple answers do complex problems of the society.
So far, the classical Eurasianist theory has had little influence on Russian foreign policy. Despite some rather superficial references by the EAEU’s high-level policy makers, it is rarely used in the official rhetoric on modern Eurasian integration. Classical Eurasianism focuses on culturological, historiosophical and civilizational aspects of the northern Eurasia. However, as so far, exactly these aspects were of little relevance to contemporary integration in the post-Soviet space.
Firstly, the classical Eurasianist civilizational approach is flawed by the fact that the original myth of “Eurasia” has not yet developed, that a supranational self-identification of being “Eurasian” is just beginning, and that it is difficult to determine the border between European and Eurasian civilizations proper. For example, the European Union’s self-branding often refers to the famous ancient Greek myth about “Europa”, a young Phoenician princess that was kidnapped by the Zeus in the form of a white bull, which subsequently gave the name to the continent. “Eurasia” has no comparable myth. It is actually possible that the term was first used by the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt.
Secondly, there is an internal consensus between the EAEU heads of state not to create a political union. No significant cooperation in the cultural dimension is envisaged as well. The EAEU Treaty signed in 2014 puts forward a pragmatic and purely economic integration agenda which mirrors the national interests of the Union’s member states and is based on the logic of Western integration theory, mainly the concepts of cooperative hegemony and liberal intergovernmentalism. At least in its intentions, the EAEU declares the supremacy of national sovereignty and democratic relations between member states.
In the future we might see high-level policymakers appeal more frequently to the ideas of the classical Eurasianists, such as: spatial openness of northern Eurasia; mixed or even socially oriented market economy; the preservation of cultural identities and multi-level patriotisms; geographical determinism of the development of Eurasia; and a dialectical non-populist approach.
However, these concepts are far from the negative interpretation currently given to them by Western scholars and journalists. Only the notion about “the preservation of cultural identities” might be deemed problematic in the contemporary Western discourse.
In conclusion: The modern EAEU is defined by pragmatic Eurasianism. We might see a stronger appeal to some classical Eurasianist concepts in the future. Yet even they are not so different from the ideas that set the foundations of the modern European Union.
 E.g. Claude Forthomme (2019. The Deadly Ideology Driving Putin: Eurasianism. // https://impakter.com/deadly-ideology-putin-eurasianism/
 E.g. Andreas Umland (2018).
Post-Soviet Neo-Eurasianism, the Putin System, and the Contemporary European Extreme Right. // https://foreignpolicyblogs.com/2018/09/28/post-soviet-neo-eurasianism-the-putin-system-and-the-contemporary-european-extreme-right/
 European Commission (2012). The founding fathers of the EU. // http://europa.rs/images/publikacije/osnivaci_EU_en.pdf
 Evgeny Vinokurov (2013). Pragmatic Eurasianism. // https://eng.globalaffairs.ru/number/Pragmatic-Eurasianism–16050
 Alexander Libman, Evgeny Vinokurov (2012). Holding-Together Regionalism: Twenty Years of Post-Soviet Integration.
 Alexander Zinoviev (2003). The ideology of the party of the future.
 This notion is also outlined in the book by the British intellectual and Eurasianist Henry Norman Spalding: Henry N. Spalding (1928). Russia in Resurrection. A summary of the views and of the aims of a new Party in Russia.
 Felbermayr, Aichele, Gröschl. (2016). Free trade from Lisbon to Vladivostok: who benefits, who losses from a Eurasian trade agreement? (In German). ifo Forschungsberichte No. 79. // https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/167439/1/ifo-Forschungsberichte-79.pdf
 Eurasian Development Bank (2017). Integration Barometer. // https://eabr.org/en/analytics/integration-research/cii-reports/edb-integration-barometer-2017-/
 Eurasian Development Bank (2017). Monetary Policy of EAEU Member States: Current Status and Coordination Prospects. // https://eabr.org/upload/iblock/3c1/edb_centre_2017_analytical_summary_report_42_eng.pdf
 ifo Institute (2019). 70 years of social market economy – what future has our economic system? (In German). // https://www.ifo.de/DocDL/sd-2019-11-2019-06-13_9.pdf
 Oliver Falck (2019). Do we need an active European industrial policy? (In German). // https://www.ifo.de/DocDL/sd-2019-10-falck-european-industriepolitik-2019-05-23.pdf
 Svyatoskalv Malevsky-Malevich (1972). USSR today and tomorrow.
 In the writings of the classical Eurasianists, this formula is found in the form of the concept on the “symphonic personality”. E.g. Eurasian Publishing House (1926). Eurasianism. The experience of systematic presentation. (In Russian).
 Yuri Kofner (2019). Pragmatic Eurasianism. Four approaches for better understanding the Eurasian Economic Union. // http://neweasterneurope.eu/2019/03/15/pragmatic-eurasianism-four-approaches-for-better-understanding-the-eurasian-economic-union%EF%BB%BF/
 Evgeny Vinokurov (2018). Introduction to the Eurasian Economic Union.
 Peter Savitsky (1921). Continent-Ocean: Russia and the world market. In: Exodus to the East. Premonitions and accomplishments. The statement of the Eurasianists. Book 1. (In Russian). // http://eurasian-studies.org/archives/11157