Putin’s Eurasian idea

by Terence MacNamee

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has become known for his advocacy of a Eurasian Union, an economic bloc to rival the European Union. The EU and NATO have been making inroads in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet sphere of influence. The Russians would have liked to have kept this pressure off, but it has been unstoppable and has now got as far as the Ukraine.

We have almost forgotten what Soviet President Gorbachev said in the 1980s about the common “European house”. He saw Russia as belonging in Europe, and Europe as not complete without Russia. Yet Russia always seems to look two ways, Janus-like. Its Eurasian character cannot be denied. Geographically, Russia belongs in both continents, divided by the Urals. But there is also a question of mentality. Russians will sometimes tell you that Russia is more Asian than European. Perhaps that is an exaggeration. But Russia, given its huge landmass, seems to pull away from the continent of Europe with its compactness and its sharp geographical and national divisions. Russia is more like the countries of North America, and like them, much of its territory was explored and conquered in very modern times. It stretches out across the vast steppes to the East. It is open to Asia in a way that no other European country is. Could there then be a new “Eurasian” identity, led by Russia, but amounting to more than Russia?

Meanwhile Europe as we know it is bursting at the seams. Turkey wants to get in to the Union, but Turkey, despite its veneer of European-type nationalism, is more Middle Eastern than anything else. Yet Europe cannot afford to isolate itself either. Should it not be reaching out to adjoining regions at least? In the past, as we know, it did so with exploration, war and colonization. Could there not now be partnership, under the motto “Europe is not enough”?