The Russian muslim south: Russian preoccupations and the "Eurasian Theory"
Sir Halford Mackinder-1861-1947-, was one of the founders of the Geopolitics studies and the founding father of the “Heartland Theory”. The theory in simple terms discussed the vital importance of exerting control in the Eurasian mass and its subsequent importance in the world balance of powers. According to Mackinder; “The One who controls the heartland, controls the earth”. Nowadays this notion of Geopolitics is active in Russia, with a determinist outlook that surpasses the scientific aspect and twinkles in a more metaphysical form.
The “Heartland Theory”, was a combination of two elements: The long term significance of geographic stability and the offsets that it produces as far as military operations are concernedi. In 1918 Mackinder proposed the creation of buffer states in Eastern Europe in order to create a bulwark against the focal point of the Heartland, the newly Communist Russia of that era. In 1919 Lord Curzon the British Foreign Minister gave the chance to Mackinder to propose an official plan for the dismemberment of Russia. Therefore Great Britain would support the independence of Byelorussia, Georgia, Armenia, and Dagestan. Moreover he added for the recognition of a Southern Russian state which would be run by the “Whites” the Czarist supporters. Also the importance of the Batum-Baku railway was seen as a vital geopolitical sphere which should be administered by the then British Empire. At the end none of these proposals was to be fulfilled, and Mackinder himself proclaimed the rise of Russia as a superpower due to its control of vital Eurasian mass and corridorsii.
In the current Russian affairs now, Zbigniew Brzezinski has categorized the Russian Geopolitical Schools of Thought into three spectrums. Firstly we have the “Zapadnik” or pro-Western one, the “Slavophil” nationalist one and the “Eurasian” oneiii. The West was always friendlier to the Zapadnik supporter, as anyone would assume, that often bring fierce critic from the opposite sides in today’s Russian political life. Vladimir Maksimenko a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a Researcher on the Institute of Eastern Studies in Moscow; accuses Brzezinski of Neo-imperialist intentions and confirms Russia’s vital interest in Central Asia, which is viewed as an integral part of the Russian national power sphereiv.
Brzezinski from his part argues for an American strategy that would promote the geopolitical pluralism within the area of the Ex Soviet Empire, a prospective viewed with anger by many Russian pundits. For them there could be no question that the West and NATO would like to drive them out from their birth land and the only source of their power in modern world affairsv.
Furthermore Aleksandr Dugin, a nationalist regularly addresses for the need to oppose the Muslim threat in Central Asia and in his book “The Geopolitical future of Russia”, he calls for the creation of axis between Moscow and: Teheran, Berlin and Tokyo. The main purpose is to renew “Derzhavnost”, or the Great Russia, a very popular idea in Russia that is probably the main assumption for the leaders of that state as wellvi. Dugin moreover has turned against the Baltic states, Poland and other neighboring countries that are considered as potential adversaries in the post Cold War era. In parallel the importance of the “Wahhabist threat” is acknowledged in which the Christian Russian element along with the moderate Muslims should confront with all means necessaryvii.
President Putin himself was keen in addressing the danger that these radical Muslim elements pose on his country security. “An Islamic terrorist network tries to establish an Islamic Caliphate, the United States of Islam that will encompass several Central Asian states and regions of the CIS”viii. The 9/11 brought Russia and the West closer, and also signaled the end of the idea once exercised by the Soviet Union of using Islam as a counterbalance against the West especially in Middle Eastern affairs. Continuing, Russia uses its perceived Islamic threat in order to promote its interests in Caucasus and the promotion of Chinese –Russian affairs since the creation of the “Shanghai Cooperation Organization”, has as a main interest the counterbalance the all-growing Muslim paragon in Eurasia that affects China as well; through its problems with the Muslim minority on the Westernmost part of the countryix.
The aforementioned Russian approaches to the Muslim issue, were not a decisive factor as far as the relations between Russia and other Great Muslim states are concerned. Tehran and Moscow enjoy relatively good relations and their points of view as far as the Chechnya issue is concerned, seem pretty much alike. Turkey now, often accused for supporting the Chechen rebels enjoys as well good bilateral relations with Russia with a booming trade balance and possible defense procurements by the former. At that point the pragmatist approach by the Putin administration is shown, that is cautious enough not to come into opposite terms with the Muslim world as a whole, but merely to protect Russian interest in Caucasus and Central Asia. As Putin himself stated “Russia has always perceived itself as a Eurasian nation”x
On overall the main Russian concern nowadays is firstly to drive out the radical Muslim influence from its vital Eurasian sphere of influence and in a second level, incorporate in a variety of forms the area, firmly under Moscow’s control. The “War on Terror” led by the USA greatly assists Russia gaining this goal by emphasizing the need for international cooperation against terrorism that ultimately leads to Russian assertiveness as the protector of international interests against the terrorists in Eurasia.
It is more than certain that the late Sir Halford Mackinder would be much occupied had he lived up to date, judging from the complexity of the current geopolitical reality.
i Geofrey Sloan, “Sir Halford Mackinder: The Heartland Theory Then and Now”, London, 1999
ii Anssi Kullberg, “From Neo-Eurasianism to National Paranoia: Renaissance of Geopolitics in Russia”, The Eurasian Politician, 04/08/2001-www.cc.jyu.fi
iii Zbigniw Brzezinski,”The Great Chessboard-American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives: Basic Books, N.Y, 1997.
iv V. Maksimenko :Central Asia and the Caucasus: Geopolitical Entity Explained
vi For Dugin’w views see: www.strana.ru and www.arctogaia.ru
viii “Russia :Putin notes extremists, terror threat to Republics”, (FBIS/SOV-2000-0519, 19/05/2000
ix Sergei Gretsky, “Civil war in Tajikistan:Causes, Developments and prospects for peace, Washington D.C: Center for Political and Strategic Studies, 1995.-www.cpss.org/casiabpy_chap_16.txt
x Vladimir Putin “Rossiya vsegda oshchshala sebia evroasiatskoy stranoy”, www.strana.ru 13/11/2000.