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Boris Mezhuyev “The Island of Russia” and the Russian Identity Policy

Talks about Russia’s “big deal” with the West, possible after the arrival of Donald Trump, a man who, if not directly located to Russia, then related to it without the usual Anglo-Saxon hostility, include, in addition to other plots, a Ukrainian plot that can it would also be called “Eastern European”. The deal itself – more precisely, talking about it – became an acceptable reality at a time when clever geostrategists from different countries, but primarily the United States, came to the conclusion that the rivalry between Russia and Europe over Ukraine’s entry into this or that economic block – Eurasian or European – risks to turn not just the collapse of the country (which became de facto reality in February 2014), but also a full-scale military conflict “for the Ukrainian inheritance.”

Let me remind you that on February 22, 2014, the day of the coup in Kiev, in the Financial Times, Zbigniew Brzezinski issued an article urging Ukraine to reconcile with its neutral status, and Russia to accept the fact of “finlandization” of its neighbor, that is, the economic and cultural integration of Ukraine with the West, with all possible guarantees of its non-entry into NATO. Subsequently, already during the Minsk agreements, the theme of Ukraine as a “buffer” between the two poles of power on the continent became a point of consensus between sober realists of the United States and Russia. In an interview with Kommersant on February 28, 2017, political analyst Kissinger Associates and former Assistant to President George W. Bush, Thomas Graham, noted the United States and Russia have a common basis for agreements:

“In the end, everyone is interested in stabilizing the situation in Ukraine. And we know what the outlines of a possible settlement should be. They include the non-aligned status of Ukraine, respect for its sovereignty, decentralization of power, respect for the rights of national minorities, and assistance to Ukraine in rebuilding the Donbass and its own economy. ”

In fact, Sergey Karaganov, the leading Russian expert in the field of international relations, writes about the same in his program article “2016 – the victory of conservative realism”:

“Continuing to insist on the implementation of the Minsk agreements, building bypass transport routes, it is worth betting on outstripping the granting of a high degree of autonomy to Donbass in the borders of Ukraine, through a step – to lead the matter to the formation of Ukraine’s neutral, independent, friendly Ukraine or Ukraine if Kiev can not retain control over the whole territory of the present country. The only way to survive the neighboring state is to turn it from a subject of rivalry to a bridge and a buffer. ”

It can be seen that the notions of Ukraine as a “buffer” for Russian and American realists are not quite the same: in the Russian version everything sounds much tougher, and the territorial integrity of the neighboring state is directly dependent on its ability to accommodate regions with an unchangeable pro-Russian orientation. But in general – the space of a possible dialogue with the West over Ukraine is set by the imperative of preserving its neutral, non-aligned position, which does not infringe on the interests of any part of this country.

Not the era of the old Realpolitik

It seems that everything is clear. Nevertheless, difficulties arise, and not only practical, but also conceptual ones, which are also of great importance for the continuation of the dialogue about the fate of Ukraine and Eastern Europe as a whole. The modern era is not the age of the old Realpolitik, in which the problem of buffer territories was solved very simply: the poles of force could, if necessary, separate the buffer lands, as did Russia together with the German powers in relation to Poland in the eighteenth century, and subsequently the USSR with Germany in century XX. As at the end of the 16th century Poland, Sweden and Denmark entered into a long war with Livonia, and France in the 15th century with Burgundy, which was a kind of buffer between it and the Holy Roman Empire.

The Western powers do not hesitate to split the countries when they are within their zone of influence: Slovenia, Croatia, then Bosnia with the Serbian Krajina, then Montenegro and finally the autonomous province of Kosovo were torn away from Yugoslavia. But one thing is the division of the country within the European geopolitical space, the other is the dismemberment of the state, one part of which gravitates toward the West, the other – to a different pole of power, and directly adheres to its boundaries. It seems that it is morally unacceptable for the West not so much to divide the state as to deal with external – non-Western – force. Here for a start to the modern West, which for all its postmodernism is absolutely not pluralistic, one must recognize that the attraction to Russia of some part of the population is a reality, and not a political phantom due to Russian propaganda and the activity of its power structures. We must admit that free citizens can not freely choose to join the Western world.

But even if realistic grounds for Russian centrism are allowed, it is unlikely that the Western powers will be ready to accept the soft divorce of various parts of the territory of Ukraine (or, say, Georgia and Moldova) simply as a gesture of goodwill. This step would cause a storm of indignation in European countries, would be called the new Munich, the new Yalta, with all the refinements resulting from such a comparison. Therefore, the division of buffer states into spheres of influence can be implemented only by unilateral actions of Russia, which, of course, narrows its diplomatic capabilities. European realists theoretically allow the preservation of the neutral status of the buffer countries, but agreement on this step also requires recognition of the cultural and political heterogeneity of these states.

But from this recognition the following question arises: what is Ukraine sharing, between what and what is it a buffer? It is clear that it shares not separate countries and not only military blocs, since the West or the Euro-Atlantic is a certain community of states united by a whole series of obligations – defensive, legal and cultural. If Russia is a European country, if it is culturally and civilizationally owned by the West, then for what reason should it be separated from the West by some intermediate, limitotropic territories? Alas, Russia itself for a long time had no clear answer to this question, preferring to explain the opposition to NATO’s expansion to the East by fear of falling away from its native Europe. This was quite possible argument right up to the point of dispute with Europe over the “Eastern Partnership”, and then the ups and downs related to Ukraine’s intention to sign an agreement on Euroassociation. As soon as the dispute turned to countries that are part of Russia’s civilizational field, there was a natural bewilderment: if we are so afraid of our separation from Europe, apparently considering the pro-European orientation compatible with Russian identity, then on what basis are we kept from joining others? The indistinctness of civilizational self-identification manifested itself in the indistinctness of our diplomatic strategy as a whole, aimed at integrating economically and culturally into Europe through the head of limitropic states, and at preventing independent attempts of these states to join Europe, including through detachment from Russia.

Self-determination of Russia

So, the dispute over the expansion of NATO and the civilizational self-determination of Ukraine inevitably came out on the problem of Russia’s civilizational self-determination. Russia could not, having started the struggle for Ukraine, did not discover the paucity of its geopolitical and geocultural conceptual arsenal. If the pro-European orientation is the only possible for the Slavic peoples, including Russian, on what basis can we dispute the pro-European choice of the Ukrainian people?

Russia clearly had a deficit in its own identity policy. The expression “identity policy” has two meanings unrelated to each other. In one case, it is a question of the requirements of ethnic, gender or other minorities to recognize their identity as equals with the identity of the majority. In this article we are not talking about this. Elena Tsumarova proposed a definition that seems to me relatively operational and convenient:

“Identity policy is the activity of political elites in shaping the image of” we-community “in existing administrative-territorial boundaries. The main directions of the policy of identity: the symbolization of space, the ritualization of belonging to the community, the formation of ideas about the “we-community” and the establishment of the boundaries of “our – a stranger.” Symbolization of space occurs through the adoption and replication of official symbols, as well as the cultivation of the natural and cultural characteristics of the community. ”

An important addition to this definition is that existing administrative-territorial boundaries are accepted as a given, while “identity policy” can theoretically work both for recognition and for non-recognition of existing boundaries. And such – revisionist – was essentially the whole geopolitics of imperial Russia, as well as the policies of many other countries – the German Reich, revanchist France at the end of the XIX century, and today’s Japan dreaming of the Kurils. Peoples can pursue a “policy of identity” that is very revolutionary in relation to the world order. But in general, the cited researcher of rights: to consolidate and internal recognition of existing boundaries, a special – conservative – “identity policy” is required, aimed at maintaining the status quo against all attempts at a radical revision of the balance of power. But it was precisely such a policy that Russia did not have at the right time.

During the decade that divided the two Maidans, the vacuum of the “identity policy” relevant to the solution of the “Ukrainian problem” begins to be filled in in Russia by two very simple ideologies – imperialism and nationalism, which immediately entered into battle with each other for leadership in the patriotic camp. The imperialists and nationalists tried to answer the question that is clearly not solved within the framework of official ideology: why does Ukraine need Ukraine? In a sense, Russian neo-empire is obliged to Zbigniew Brzezinski, who seems to drop in the book “The Great Chessboard” of 1997, that Russia will remain an empire if it preserves Ukraine, and inevitably ceases to be an empire if it loses. Since the empire, according to the Imperials, is the only possible form of existence for Russia, and the era that began in 1991 is simply a temporary collapse of traditional statehood, then any full-fledged strategy of restoring the country’s grandeur must inevitably provide for the reintegration of Ukraine – completely or partially. If not in Russia, then in a certain supra-state entity controlled by Russia, such as the Eurasian Union, which at the same time would not be thought of as a pragmatic economic unification, but as the first step towards the re-creation of the imperial grossra.

The nationalists, unlike the Imperials, were much less concerned with finding the former state greatness, for them Ukraine was just an artificial entity that forcibly kept territories with the Russian population and Russian identity while constantly trying to Ukrainize them. Accordingly, the best way to resolve the Ukrainian issue would be to separate Russian regions from Ukraine and join them to Russia. Not so much for the reconstruction of the empire as for the completion of the process of building a Russian national state, for increasing the number of Russians inside Russia and for correcting all internal policies in order to protect the interests of the titular ethnic majority.

We see how the supporters of the imperial and national policies acted in different ways in the situation of the Ukrainian crisis of 2013-2014. The Imperials were most active at the first stage, when it was about the prospects of Ukraine’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union. Nationalists intensified in the era of the “Russian spring”, when there was a chance to split Ukraine and to separate from it all the so-called Russian-speaking regions. We see that in the end both lines were frustrated and did not fully meet the task of providing some kind of diplomatic dialogue with the West over Ukraine. Neither the imperialists nor the nationalists, based on their ideas of Russia’s identity, could agree to regard Ukraine as a “buffer”. The Imperials wanted the integration of this state into a kind of neo-imperial education, nationalists – a split along ethnocultural borders.

On the other hand, political realists who were just forced to engage in a dialogue with Western realists could not explain between what and what Ukraine is a “buffer”, which, in the cultural and political sense, it is called upon to share, a direct clash of what with what it could prevent. It turns out that Russia did not have any intelligible identity policy in reserve, which it could present to the West in order to substantiate its position – with its tough conditions and with possible compromises. This is precisely the situation of the ideological vacuum that made the geopolitical concept of the “Island of Russia” Vadim Tymbursky (1957-2009) virtually uncontested for any potential “deal” with the West.

Tsymbursky wrote an essay “The Island of Russia. Perspectives of Russian geopolitics “in 1993, he subsequently refined and corrected his conclusions several times, the essence of which remained, however, unchanged. And we now – within the framework of our topic – should not go far into the discussion of the evolution of his worldview. Suffice it to know that Tsymbursky considered the collapse of the Soviet Union as the separation of the civilizational niche of Russia from the territories that spatially connected it with the platforms of other civilizations, that the meaning of imperial expansion of Russia towards the West and the South was explained by the desire to break the barrier between Europe and Russia or to form, contrary to Europe own geopolitical space, which could serve as a counterbalance to the Romano-Germanic world. In this sense, the dumping of these territories did not bring Russia closer to Europe, which was not adequately understood and understood by the post-imperial political elite. Therefore, Tsymbursky believed, only after abandoning the idea of ​​reunification with Europe or from projects to recreate an anti-Western ideology of the new empire under the “umbrella” of the new empire, we will be able to strengthen our security, of course, if the Euro-Atlantic structures do not try to take control of the so-called the belt of the Great Limitrof, that is, the whole vast space from Central Asia to the Baltic, the mastery of which was the goal of Russia’s geostrategy in the Great Imperial centuries of its history.

The theory of Tsymbursky, unlike all other foreign policy concepts, allowed to answer two key questions – why can Russia accept the existing borders of its state without thinking about imperial revenge or the nationalistic irredent, but why should Russia at the same time do all it can To prevent the total taking of the limited territories under the control of the Euro-Atlantic structures. To understand what Russia is and why it should preserve its geopolitical sovereignty, Tsymbursky turned to a civilizational theory, a fashion for which in the early 1990s, established Samuel Huntington with his famous article “The Collision of Civilizations”, which was published in the same year as “The Island of Russia.” Tsymbursky disagreed with Huntington on the issue of the status of limitropic territories. According to Huntington, it would be necessary to divide the territory of Eurasia into the space of individual civilizations in order to minimize conflicts on their borders. From his point of view, the West had to limit the march to the East by Protestant and Catholic states, minimally thinking about extending NATO to states with a historically Orthodox population. From the point of view of Tsymbursky, it is impossible to divide the entire territory of Europe into unambiguously stable spheres of influence: a number of limitropic states will always play on the contradictions of the external centers of force, maneuvering between them, while other countries try to fully integrate them into the structures of a single civilization inevitably fall into pieces.

Two de facto “split” states existed since the collapse of the Soviet Union – these are Moldova and Georgia. Both these republics could preserve their integrity, only being in the Russian zone of influence, which was unacceptable for a large part of the title peoples of these countries. In 1994, Tsymbursky expressed his confidence, which, alas, was prophetic, that in the event of a crisis of Ukrainian statehood, Crimea, Novorossia and the Dnieper left bank would fall away from it, and he insisted that in such a situation Russia could confine itself to recognizing the fallen parts of Ukraine as independent states , not thinking about territorial expansion: “As for Ukrainian affairs, the deepest crisis of this state formation could go for the benefit of Russia, if she, firmly declaring the refusal of a formal review ra its current borders, support in the Ukrainian central authorities occurrence of degradation from outside its borders – on the left bank, the Crimea and the New Russia – an additional buffer layer of regional “sovereignty” in the Ukrainian part of or outside of them. ”

Transformation of the “island” concept

I have already written that when Tsymbursky was just beginning to develop his concept of the “Island of Russia” in 1993-1994, he proceeded from the erroneous assumption that the West would not be able to include the territories of Eastern Europe-and based this a hypothesis on the difficulties of economic integration in East Germany. He believed, and believed reasonably, that the accession of countries – former members of the Warsaw Pact and especially the former Soviet republics to the EU and NATO – would weaken these organizations. When the expansion of the alliance to the East became a fact, the concept of the “Island of Russia” in its early, overly optimistic version began to seem not very convincing, including, probably, to the author himself, who for a long time preferred not to seek an answer to the most painful of his system The question is the question: what policy should Russia pursue in the “strait territories” that share it with the Euro-Atlantic, in view of the latter’s advance.

Tsymbursky in the late 1990’s – early 2000’s. devotes a whole series of articles to discussing the prospects of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, demands that the US penetrate the Central Asian underbelly of Russia, seeks opportunities for economic and strategic cooperation with China, and finally reflects on the rationality of moving the capital of Russia to the east, closer to its real geographical center and away from all more tense western borders. All this tells the theory of Tsymbursky in part a Eurasian or, more accurately, oriental hue, which was not at all in the early version of his concept. Simultaneously, Tsymbursky devoted himself entirely to the study of the history of Russian geopolitics, for which he began to write the fundamental work “The morphology of Russian geopolitics and the dynamics of international systems of the eighteenth and twentieth centuries”, which left unfinished, but which nevertheless came out last year with the support of the foundation IISPI, was a heavy volume. Nevertheless, the “Ukrainian question”, more precisely, the question of the frontier for the western part of the Great Limitraf in Russia, remained unresolved in his theory, and the geopolitician himself felt that the “island” concept requires a radical alteration in order to meet the challenges of the time.

After the August 2008 war, Tsymbursky comes to the conclusion that it is necessary to supplement his previous analysis of the Great Limitrof with a special conceptualization of those segments that historically and culturally gravitate towards Russia and, accordingly, will be ready to withdraw from their countries if their states try to integrate NATO or the European Union. He borrows from his longtime colleague and co-author, political scientist Mikhail Ilyin the term “shelf of the island of Russia.” According to Tsymbursky, “the shelf is a territory that is connected with the current indigenous Russian territories by physical geography, geostrategy, cultural ties.” Geopolitics seemed obvious that “Eastern Ukraine … Crimea … certain territories of the Caucasus and Central Asia belong to the Russian shelf.” In one of his last public speeches at the end of 2008, Tsymbursky makes a significant difference between the “geopolitics of spaces” and the “geopolitics of borders”: the meaning of this division is revealed in subsequent fragmentary remarks. Tsymbursky is still convinced that Russia is not interested in a radical revision of its outlines, that its geopolitical niche as a whole meets its interests. But the “geopolitics of borders” is quite another matter, it “requires detailed, scrupulous analysis and accounting in a specific situation due to the existence of the Russian shelf and due to the assessment of the situation on this shelf in terms of our interests and our future.”

Although the difference between the two types of geopolitics is not brought to Tsymbursky to its logical conclusion, it seems that the author of the “Island of Russia” after the military conflict with Georgia no longer stood rigidly on the view that the formal borders of the Russian Federation can not be revised towards expansion if part “The shelf of the island of Russia” will break away from the limitotrophic belt of states rallied by the Euro-Atlantic into a single whole. Tsymbursky hoped that this assumption of a revisionist revision of the borders of the states of the near abroad would not radically change the essence of his “island” theory. Russia will remain an “island”, even if it “drains” part of the coastal shelf, will gather under its tutelage the lands and peoples gravitating towards it.

The hypothesis that Tsymbursky planned another fundamental revision of his geopolitical theory using the concept of “shelf of the island of Russia” is confirmed by the lines from his memoirs essay “Speak, memory!”, Written in the last months of life, around the end of February – early March 2009. .:

“The year 2008 with a five-day war and the statements of Russian leaders about the presence of territories outside of Russia that are of special importance to it became for me a hint of the possibility of the next conceptualization of the concept, with a special emphasis on the notion of” the shelf of the island of Russia “. This shelf is seen as an area on Limitrof, including the state Russian border, which consists with Russia in a special, requiring recognition and accounting of physical, geographical, cultural-geographical, economic and strategic ties. The world crisis has removed the urgency of such a revision of the concept, which remains in reserve. ”

It can be assumed that the events of 2014, if Tsymbursky could be their contemporary, would make the “revision” of the concept of “Island of Russia” quite relevant. Alas, fate did not let Vadim Leonidovich chance to develop the concept of the “island shelf”, although the reference to 1994 suggests that Tsymbursky remembered the already quoted phrase about the possibility of creating a “buffer zone” oriented to Russia, consisting of the Crimea, the Left Bank Ukraine and Transnistria. Meanwhile, the distinction he made between the “geopolitics of spaces” and the “geopolitics of borders” makes it possible to draw a more bold conclusion that the scientist considered it permissible – in a critical situation – to reunify Russia with certain parts of its “shelf”. From this it follows, by the way, that the attempt of some Ukrainian experts to see in Tsymbursk the inspirer of Russia’s current policy towards Donbass – that is, to attribute to him the game with these lands in the spirit of the cynical Realpolitik – is not entirely just. The scientist clearly separated the territories of the “shelf” from the strictly limitotrophic spaces for which Russia really does not bear a special responsibility and in relation to which it can behave purely pragmatically.

Civilizational Realism

So, from the latest geopolitical creativity of Vadim Tymbursky, a strategy that we in a number of publications called “civilizational realism” could have been quite logical. It would consist of the following: Russia and the Euro-Atlantic are recognized as separate civilizations, with their own orbit of gravitation, in the case of Russia, much more modest, but nonetheless real. “The Russian world” in this sense is freed from narrow-ethnic interpretation, since other nations that gravitate toward Russian civilization, in particular, Abkhazians and Ossetians, can also be included in this space, but it is quite possible that Belarusians, Gagauzians, and Tajiks , as well as Serbs and a number of other peoples who will strive to remain in the civilizational field of Russia. The territorial integrity of states in which there is a different perception of their civilizational identity, and in which the orientation toward Russia is characteristic of a number of regions, is placed by our country in dependence on the neutral status of these countries and the readiness to recognize the “Russian world” as a cultural and political reality. Meanwhile, Russia is in no way disposed to changing the format of existing borders and is still interested in maintaining a conservative status quo in Eastern Europe that undermines the revolutionary actions of the Euro-Atlantic.

Tsymbursky considered irrational and unprofitable for Russia the destruction, as he called it, of a “half-polar world” in which the United States occupies a predominant position, but at the same time have to reckon with the regional centers of power. The scientist believed that if the Euro-Atlantic civilization collapsed as a civilization and all the players still obeying the will of Washington, will start an independent game, this in no way will be beneficial to Russia. Subsequent events partly confirmed his correctness: the game of Paris and London in Libya and the support of Sarkozy and Cameron armed opposition against the Gaddafi regime forced Barack Obama to fateful for the fate of this Arab country interference to maintain leadership in the Western coalition. The temporary weakening of the US in the same period stimulated the disparate actions of various players in the Middle East pursuing their own interests – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, which practically turned the region into a field of the classic “war of all against all.” Tsymbursky is hardly enthusiastic about the prospect of emergence of the “Europe of the Fatherlands” liberated from American control on the site of the EU, since each of these Fatherlands would not necessarily pursue a policy that would meet the interests of Russia. In his view, Russia is interested in maintaining a balance of power between the Washington global and various regional centers of power, which do not allow this equilibrium to change in the direction of either a unipolar or an entirely multipolar world order. This also manifests the “civilizational realism” of Tsymbursky: Russia should defend the position of one of the regional centers with a specific orbit of attraction, but not to achieve the final fragmentation of the entire polutorpolyarnoy construction.

Certainly, the model of Tsymbursky, which we decided to call “civilizational realism,” theoretically allows the scenario of fragmentation of buffer states and the addition of some of their parts to the nuclei of their civilization gravitation, but this scenario is assessed as extreme, conditioned by external pressure and highly undesirable. Of course, within the framework of “civilizational realism” there arises the question of relations between Russia and the Euro-Atlantic – the model of the “Island of Russia”, and this was explicitly acknowledged by its author, was also aimed at reducing the possibility of direct conflicts between Russia and the Western powers. Tsymbursky perfectly understood that Russia would remain – under any scenario – a great power, and domestic liberals, with all the will, would not be able to turn it into an analogue of Canada, another northern giant with very limited geopolitical claims. Russia will aspire to be an independent player in the field of world politics, such as China, India or the United States. Russia will always be different from modern Europe and in a sociocultural respect: the scientist considered it perfectly normal for Russia to revive the ideas of sovereignty and the nation state that have become obsolete in Europe, because Russia, according to its chronopolitics, enters the same period of history, the period of modernity from which Europe is emerging . He paid particular attention to the need to raise the small cities of Russia, in contrast to the large cosmopolitan regions, connected with the global world as if in spite of their own country. He expected the emergence of such a specific ideological complex as Russian Victorianism, by which he understood the ability of conservatively oriented middle classes, heirs of the Puritan revolution, to coerce the upper classes to external asceticism and moral integrity.

In general, Tsymbursky as no other thinker of modern Russia has managed to combine pragmatic realism in foreign policy with the civilization policy of identity. It would be very important if realistic Western politicians had the opportunity to make sure that in the minds of the Russian foreign policy elite the geopolitical concept of the “Island of Russia” is of great weight, that the name of Tsymbursky is not an empty phrase for the people responsible for the strategy in our country. This would eliminate all sorts of misunderstandings on which Russia’s enemies abroad are speculating, suspecting our country of wanting either to seize Estonia, or to split Europe, or to creep into a new empire from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

If Tsymbursky was in demand with Russian foreign policy during his lifetime, who knows what problems and difficulties we could avoid, what mistakes we could not make, which, on the other hand, the stupidity would not have been committed against us by those leaders of the West, all the same, not hatred for Russia, but unjustified fears for it or an erroneous idea of ​​its once and for all perfect pro-European choice. Perhaps, eight years after the death of an outstanding Russian scientist, it makes sense for domestic politicians and experts to re-read his geopolitical works to disassemble them for quotations.

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