Russian Eurasianism: An Ideology of Empire

  • Published

Russian Eurasianism: An Ideology of Empire by Marlene Laruelle. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008, 296 pp.

Russian prime minister and former president Vladimir Putin strongly promotes patriotism and defends Russia’s being a great power, yet refuses to endorse Eurasianism as a national identity or rallying cry for a resurgent Russia. In Russian Eurasianism, Marlene Laruelle ponders the extent that the ideology of Eurasianism can be considered a singular Russian phenomenon, post-Soviet defeatist tool, or a sweeping surge of cultural fundamentalism intended to overcome the East-West divide.

The author’s thorough research aids the reader in appreciating the true breadth of Eurasianism and the extent to which this form of cultural fundamentalism has influenced the Russian people, intellectuals, and politicians. Her thesis focuses on explaining the degree and extent that Eurasianism has spread throughout the Asian continent, assumed a form of Russian nationalism or patriotism, or merely sustained a cultural theme. Through her meticulous analysis of historical and cultural documents, Laruelle explores how the ideology emerged and survived in Asian societies, despite opposition efforts to extricate it. Her definitions of the differing aspects of Eurasianism are presented through the historical and modern perspectives of several theorists and describe the impacts on the political landscape of the Muslim, Turk, Kazakh, and European-oriented Russian cultures.

Initially used as a pejorative term that described children of mixed Euro-Asian couples, Eurasianism emerged as a cultural descriptor that spans the continents of Europe and Asia. From its Slavophile beginnings to the early 1800s where Russians sought distinction as a non-European nation, Eurasianism has evolved into a doctrine of systematic conceptions. Following a humiliating resolution at the Berlin Treaty of 1878, Eurasianism’s growth intensified as an emotional form of Russian nationalism aimed at restoring Russia’s greatness and prominence. Following the Bolshevik revolution in the 1920s, Eurasianism threatened the communist ideology and was therefore suppressed into the academic circles. Forced underground through the 1980s, Eurasianism reemerged during Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika initiatives that permitted free thinking and open dialog in the Soviet Union.

Neo-Eurasianism, the most recent variant, emerged following the Soviet Union’s collapse. Plagued with numerous perspectives, ambitions, and political agendas, neo-Eurasianism faces limits in its potential for achieving a unifying and nationalist pattern. Despite overt statements of Russian imperialism, nationalism, and expansionism, the modern version of Eurasianism lacks clarity among the scholars and ruling elite and suffers from ambiguity and unsynchronized messages among the many factions promoting the theme. Challenges of racial misuse, empire advocacy, and advancement of political agendas by opponents and cynics have further kept the movement fragmented and largely controlled by Russian intellectuals.

Interesting was Laruelle’s chapter on Aleksandr Dugin, the influential and quirky Russian academic whose popular modern-day descriptions of Eurasian theory are revered by numerous academic institutions and scholars throughout Asia. Laruelle’s long and detailed chapter is an interesting read; however, the passage leaves the reader wondering why Dugin’s message continues to fall on deaf governmental ears and why he is among a few lone voices in Russia who consider revolution an acceptable option for change. Laruelle concludes that Dugin’s complex theories are impossible for a single party to endorse which is, therefore, the reason for his theory’s lack of political traction. Somewhat in contrast to Laruelle’s conclusion is that of Ukrainian scholar Dmitry Shlapentkh, who posits in his article “Dugin, Eurasianism, and Central Asia” (Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 2007) that Dugin is extremely concerned about the United States’ aggressive nature that frequently includes inciting democratic revolutions in authoritarian states. This, according to Dugin, is not in Moscow’s best interests. Perhaps it is Dugin’s anti-Western message that suppresses his Eurasian theories among the Russian political scene.

The author concludes that neo-Eurasianism will likely remain in academic circles with no clear indication of becoming a movement that spreads beyond the current Russian Federation due to the ideology’s prescribed theme of Russian exceptionalism, ambiguities, and contradictions and its lack of government endorsement as a nationalistic or patriotic movement.

Russian Eurasianism is an interesting sociopolitical study, but the author’s conclusions are mild and meaningless to the strategic thinker who is searching for useful information upon which to build assessments and estimates of the future. The conclusions attempt to convince the reader that the Eurasianism movement has strong convictions in Russia, yet falls short of portraying the extent to which it may inspire the Russian government or population towards action. The reader is left wondering if Eurasianism is merely a benign belief that exists among the mixed European and Asian cultures or if it might actually possess the potential to strike a rebellious fire among the subscribers. The book provides few answers to the author’s posed research questions and, further, has no assumptions, predictions, or assertions that describe how Eurasianism might impact the future of Russia or the West.

COL Eric Smith, USA

Air War College

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."