Staunton, March 2 – Aleksandr Dugin has promoted the Eurasianist idea that Russia is at the center of “the world heartland” and that it is thus in a position to dominate the world as a result, notions that Vladimir Putin has accepted. But according to Vladislav Inozemtsev, neither Russia nor the heartland as the Eurasianists understand it is in a position to play that role.
In an article in the current issue of “Politiya,” the economist argues that “Russia as a result of objective circumstances is no longer capable of being the Heartland or to hold on to its imperial past” and that the concept of the Heartland itself is no longer relevant given the rise of sea-based trade as compared to the railroad (http://ttolk.ru/?p=23092).
The idea of the world Heartland arose in Britain in the nineteenth century when a scholar there was impressed by the importance of transcontinental railways in linking countries together, Inozemtsev says; and it was expanded upon by writers in Germany who viewed it as a justification for an alliance between Germany, Russia and Japan.
Some in Russia continue to be impressed by these arguments, but the basis for them has disappeared. Railway construction and the importance of transcontinental lines have declined relative to the rise of ocean-based shipping. And consequently, at present, the economist says, those countries with access to the sea have much greater advantages now than they did.
Indeed, Inozemtsev says, “territories distant from the ocean shore became the accursed ones of the second half of the 20th century,” and “countries closed inside continents were and remain the poorest in their parts of the world” and not the richest and most powerful as the Eurasianists imagine.
This is true within countries as well as between them, the economist says, noting that a century ago, the industrial might of the United States was concentrated in the Middle West, but now that area, as the situation of Detroit has shown, is in economic decline, and states on the Pacific coast like California and Alaska are the powerhouses.
Another set of changes over the last century which have undercut the arguments of those who urge that the Heartland can be at the center of geopolitics concerns the size of armies needed to prosecute a war. Under very recently, the amount of territory a country had determined its ability to raise a force. In short “size mattered.”
“Russia was always ‘a champion’ concerning the successful relocation of its potential and its ability to withdraw for the sake of final victory over an opponent,” Inozemtsev says. But with nuclear and even modern conventional weapons, “territory is no longer a means of defense” because control over it “requires no less effort than in the past” but gives fewer advantages.
“Today,” he writes, “the success of a country is defined not by its independence from others but by its irreplaceability; successful strategies thus are not about defense but about attack. In such conditions, possibilities for export” by sea and “openness to trading partners” are “critically important factors for a breakthrough.”
According to Inozemtsev, “present-day Russia is a unique country, unique in that it is consciously trying to restore its dominance over the Eurasian Heartland” at a time when this will bring it many burdens but few advantages. Most of its neighbors want to escape as far from it as possible. Who wants to be part of this project even minimally?
The answer is those which are large but which do not have a coastline or well-developed port infrastructure: Kazakhstan, Belarus, “continental Armenia and Kyrgyzstan,” and “no doubt” eventually “continental Tajikistan as well.” When other countries are seeking partners via the sea, Russia is going against the flow and linking its fate with “practically hopeless countries.”
Moreover, Inozemtsev says, Moscow continues to talk about railroads and developing the center of the country rather than building ports and a maritime fleet. “Such a strategy,” whatever its advocates think on the basis of 19th century theories, “does not have a future in the 21st century.”
Russia, of course, has an alternative to Eurasianist fantasies, the economist says. It needs to “rethink its historical role having cleansed itself of vulgar myths.” Russia began as a European country which opposed challenges from Asia. Its proper future role is not to become Asian but to become a European country in Asia.
Moreover, Russia needs to recognize that building pipelines may bring profits in the short-term but it ties Moscow into a particular set of arrangements that the Russian state may want to escape. Instead, it should be re-industrializing and developing its coastal regions and ports and promoting trade via the oceans, steps that give it far more flexibility.
The Eurasianist idea is flaws and dangerous, Inozemtsev argues, “because it creates the illusion of the utility of control over large land areas.” In many cases those are a burden rather than an asset under modern conditions. And “Russian cannot and must not become a transit country” just as it must not become drawn into “Central Asian geopolitics.”
Instead, he argues, Russia more logically should “repeat the experience of the US, which being a great continental power is developing largely as an oceanic country.” Russia can do so in two directions, toward the Pacific and toward the Atlantic. And it should not be afraid but should welcome the shift of economic activity from the center to the two coasts.
At the present time, Inozemtsev concludes, Russia needs to stop fighting two enemies: distance and cold. Those are conflicts, he says, in which it is “almost certain to suffer defeat.” It needs to look beyond the fantasies of 19th century geopolitics and accept the realities of 21st century geo-economics. And it must expand its ties by sea than seek to control more territory.