The Horizons of Eurasia
by Stefano Caprio


Russia is home to more than 200 nationalities, but expresses a culture dominated by a single people, the Russian, which in Asia presents itself as European and in Europe repeats the battle cry of the Asian peoples. Russia's own claims to "security guarantees" in negotiations with the West to prevent the Ukrainian conflict from escalating contain all the suggestions of a nation that perceives itself as "intercontinental".



Rome (AsiaNews) - There is a great misunderstanding that is perpetuated in the perception of space on a global level, and that continually produces new misunderstandings and contradictions. It concerns Europe, which in official geography is considered one of the five continents into which the earth is divided, while unlike the Americas, Africa and Oceania, European territory is actually an appendix of Asia, and not a large one.

The very definition of Europe, moreover, has unclear roots both historically and geographically, being in fact a result of the medieval division of what was the true land of origin of European peoples and cultures: the Mediterranean, a crown of territories that embraces a sea that in turn is little more than a lake compared to the oceans, and which today are divided into three continents, although clearly united by destiny and history. The name Europa itself, by the way, goes back to the mythological daughter of Agenor, the king of Tyre, in the Asian Lebanese territory.

Where is the dividing line, the separation between Europe, Asia and Africa? And what are the differences that distinguish the peoples representing these continents? These questions arise at every turning point in history, at every war and every peace negotiation, at every migratory movement, which represents the most natural phenomenon of mankind: leaving one's home to build a new future, and a new home.

It had seemed that twenty years of "globalisation" had cancelled these anxieties and distinctions, opening to all peoples the doors of that "common home" that the visionary Alexander the Great, three centuries before Christ, had already called oikoumene, "our home" from Macedonia to India. Today we are facing a new beginning, or a new end, a new Middle Ages.

Africa is pressing on Europe with incessant journeys of hope of those fleeing misery, war, persecution, the ever-widening and inhospitable desert. The Middle East is torn apart by dreams of new emirates and sultanates that are born and die, forming alliances and fighting each other as in the days of Mohammed's successors. Asia is bubbling over with ethnic ferment and imperial dreams, and even the great 'Silk Road' project evokes medieval suggestions; Europe is unable in any way to find its own convinced and shared identity. The European Union is a grandiose title for a quarrelsome and uncertain alliance between 27 of Europe's 50 countries, involving 450 million people out of the 720 on the entire 'continent'. Not to mention the repercussions this has on the lives of the inhabitants of the Americas and Oceania, continents ethnically made up of European, Asian and African peoples.

In all this confusion there is one country that sums up all the contradictions and crises of identity, what constitutes its curse and at the same time its uniqueness on the international scene. This is Russia, the only truly "intercontinental" nation, the "Russian World" which occupies one sixth of the earth's landmass, competing with the Arctic and Greenland for first place. Russia alone makes up almost half of Europe, and almost half of Asia. Although it is very sparsely populated, with only 144 million people, it is home to more than 200 nationalities, but it expresses a culture dominated by a single people, the Russians, who in Asia present themselves as Europeans, and in Europe reiterate the assault cry of the Asian peoples, as the poet Alexander Blok wrote at the time of the revolution, in the poem "The Scythians":

You are but millions. Our unnumbered nations
Are as the sands upon the sounding shore.
We are the Scythians! We are the slit-eyed Asians!
Try to wage war with us—you'll try no more!

You've had whole centuries. We—a single hour.
Like serfs obedient to their feudal lord,
We've held the shield between two hostile powers—
Old Europe and the barbarous Mongol horde.

Your ancient forge has hammered down the ages,
Drowning the distant avalanche's roar.
Messina, Lisbon—these, you thought, were pages
In some strange book of legendary lore.

Full centuries long you've watched our Eastern lands,
Fished for our pearls and bartered them for grain;
Made mockery of us, while you laid your plans
And oiled your cannon for the great campaign.

The hour has come. Doom wheels on beating wing.
Each day augments the old outrageous score.
Soon not a trace of dead nor living thing
Shall stand where once your Paestums flowered before.

The philosopher Vladimir Solov'ev, at the end of the 19th century, called this claim of the Russians "panmongolism", dating back to the period when Russia was under the yoke of the Tatars. The other name that became very evocative after the revolution, to be taken up today as a definition of the Russian soul and politics, is that of Eurasia.

The Eurasist movement really existed in the early 1900s, only to dissolve in the contradictions between those who supported and those who rejected the Soviet regime. It then re-emerged in another form during the twenty-year Putin era, above all through the work of one of the ideologists of the new power, the philosopher Aleksandr Dugin, who in 1996 published a manifesto-text, "The Mysteries of Eurasia", to inspire a party, Evrazija, founded in 2002 and expanded the following year into the International Eurasian Movement.

These suggestions flowed into the president's party, that "United Russia", Edinaja Rossija, which with its edinorossy deputies has dominated all the country's parliamentary assemblies for over a decade. Putin's ideology is now firmly Eurasian, as an anti-globalising objection to the domination of the two real current superpowers, the United States and China.

Even before Dugin, the Union of Eurasian States was formed in 1994 on the initiative of the eternal president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is still at the centre of attention after the January riots in Almaty. This alliance was then transformed and reformulated in various ways, becoming in 2011 the Eurasian Economic Union under the aegis of Putin and Nazarbayev themselves, associating the other ex-Soviet leader in the saddle since the 1990s, Aleksandr Lukashenko, as an integration of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in view of a future "Asian Union" capable of opposing the EU and the US. The bicontinental balance was thus made evident, placing an Eastern European country and a Central Asian country alongside Russia, in order to attract all the others into a new vision of the world.

Russia has always sought to distinguish itself from Asia in order to truly assimilate with Europe, but has never managed to do so. In reality, more than Belarus, Moscow needs to hold on to another dimension of its historical-geographical nature, that of Ukraine, the "little Russia" on whose borders more than 100,000 soldiers are now amassed, threatening an invasion with catastrophic consequences for the whole of Eurasia and the world. There is no real border between Russia and Ukraine, just as there is no delimitation between Russia and Kazakhstan: it is no coincidence that Putin defines them both as "naturally Russian countries" due to their shared territory, history, language and a thousand other dimensions.

The same "Kazakh" ethnic group, although fundamentally Turkic - and in fact attracts the attention of another global design, the neo-Ottoman design of Erdogan's Turkey - has much in common with the "border" Slavic one (Ukraine), to the point that in the Russian language one cannot distinguish the sound of the terms kazàk, the inhabitant of Kazakhstan, and kozàk, the "Cossack" who gave birth to the Ukrainian nation from the 1600s, the "o" not being accented and pronounced like an "a". The Cossacks were semi-nomadic groups in which Slavic was mixed with Turkish and Asian, and they tried to defend their freedom by living "on the margins", fighting against anyone who wanted to subjugate them and reduce them to serfs. If the Ukraine is for the Russians the "sofa at home" on which to lie down and enjoy every comfort, Kazakhstan and the adjacent countries (the "Turkestan" of the nineteenth-century tsars) is the "back yard" in which to feel totally free from all formalities, and to move without limitations and then recompose themselves by going out into high society.

The Russian claims of "security guarantees" in the negotiations with the West, in order to avoid the escalation of the Ukrainian conflict, contain in themselves all these suggestions of Eurasia, of the reconstitution of the ex-Soviet space, of the Tatar-Mongolian dominion and of the "great game" of Central Asia in the 19th century, when the Russian empire contended with the British for these territories (especially Afghanistan) in order to secure control of the whole of Asia.

Today Russia is economically dependent on both the European-American West and the Chinese East, but it can rely on its military strength, the strategic importance of its territory and the wealth of raw materials needed by both sides. It cannot let go of its 'border peoples', the Kazakh-Cosques, who not only protect it from the rest of the world, but even more define it as the centre of the world.




Translated with (free version)