The Geographical and Geopolitical Foundations of Eurasianism

Author: Peter Savitsky

Translator: Jafe Arnold

Written in 1933, republished in the compilation Foundations of Eurasianism (Moscow, Arktogeya: 2002) 

There are significantly more grounds for calling Russia the “middle state” (Zhong Guo in Chinese) rather than China. The longer that time goes on, the more these grounds will make themselves evident. For Russia, Europe is nothing more than a peninsula of the Old Mainland that lies to the West of its borders. On this mainland, Russia itself occupies the main space, its torso. The total area of European states, taken together, is close to 5 million kilometers squared. The area of Russia within the contemporary USSR is significantly larger than 20 million kilometers squared (especially if one includes the space of the Mongolian and Tyva national republics of former “Outer Mongolia” and “Uryankhay land” which at the current moment are parts of the Soviet Union).

With rare exception, the Russian people of the late 19th and early 20th centuries forgot about the space behind the Urals (one of those who remembered them was the genius Russian chemist D.I. Mendeleev). Now another time has come. The whole “Ural-Kuznetsk combine”, with its blast furnaces, coal mines, and new cities with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants each are being built behind the Urals. There, the Turkestan-Siberian Railway (“Turksib”) is being laid. Nowhere else is the expansion of Russian culture so wide and spontaneous as in the part beyond the Urals, the so-called “Central Asian republics” (Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan). The whole torso of Russian lands, the “shot from Nyegoreloye to Xuchang station”, is coming to life.

The Eurasianists have their share of serving this turn of events. But along with this, the nature of the Russian world as a central world of the Old Mainland is being quite clearly revealed. There were moments when it seemed that emptiness laid between the periphery of Western Europe (the “European Russia” of the old geographers), to which the Russian lands before the Urals belong, and Asia (China, India, Iran). The Eurasianist arrangement of Russian modernity is filling this void with living, beating life. Since the end of the 19th century, the direct path from Europe to China and Japan has been laid through Russia (Great Siberia is a useful road). Geography points out with absolute certainty that there is no other way to run roads from Europe (at least from the Northern part) to Persia, India, and Indochina. Even today, such opportunities have not yet been fully realized. The Trains-Persian railway, cutting through Persia from the direction of the Northwest towards the Southeast and connected with the same route network as British India and Europe (through the Caucasus, Crimea, and Ukraine), was close to fruition on the eve of the world war. Currently, however, due to political circumstances, it has receded into the realm of groundless projects. There is no connection between the railways of Russian Turkestan (the “Central Asian republics”) and India and Russian railway networks are not oriented towards the Europe-India transit movement. But sooner or later, this movement will become a fact, whether in the form of railway paths, automobile lines, or air traffic. For the latter, the shortest distances are, let us say, of especially large importance for Russia. The greater the weight that will be procured by air traffic with its propensity and desire to fly in straight lines, the clearer will be the role of Russia-Eurasia as the “middle world.” The establishment of transpolar lines can still further enhance this role. In the Far North, Russia is a neighbor of America in a gigantic space. With the opening of a path through the pole, or rather over the pole, Russia will become the connecting link between Asia and North America.

Successive articles will discuss the Eurasianists’ desire to offer a spiritual synthesis of Eastern and Western elements. Here, however, it is important to point out the correspondences of this aspiration which are found in the field of geopolitics. Russia-Eurasia is the center of the Old World. If one eliminates this center, then all of the other parts of the Old World, this whole system of continental margins (Europe, Western Asia, Iran, India, Indochina, China, and Japan) become but a mere “scattered temple.” This world which lies to the East of Europe’s borders and to the North of “classical” Asia is the link that binds together the unity of all of these pieces. This is obvious in the present, and it will become all the clearer in the future.

The linking and unifying role of “middle earth” has been influential throughout history. Political dominance in the Eurasian world belonged to the nomads for several millennia. Occupying the space stretching from Europe’s borders to China, while simultaneously reaching towards Western Asia, Iran, and India, the nomads served as intermediaries between the  disparate worlds of settled cultures in their original states. Let us recall that historical interaction between Iran and China was never so close as in the epoch of Mongol rule (from the 13th to 14th centuries). And thirteen to fourteen centuries earlier, only through the nomad Eurasian world did the paths of the Hellenic and Chinese cultures cross, as shown by the latest excavations in Mongolia. It is an unavoidable fact that the Russian world was called to play a unifying role within the confines of the Old World. Only to the extent that Russia-Eurasia fulfills this vocation can it turn into an organic whole which combines all of the diverse cultures of the Old Continent and remove the confrontation between East and West. This fact is not yet sufficiently recognized in our time, but the correlations expressed by it lie in the nature of things. The tasks of unification first and foremost boil down to tasks of cultural creativity. A new and independent historical force grew into the unifying and conciliatory role in the form of Russian culture at the center of the Old World. Russian culture can fulfill this task only by cooperating with the cultures of all the surrounding peoples. In this regard, the cultures of the East are just as important for Russia-Eurasia as the cultures of the West. The particularity of Russian culture and geopolitics lies in precisely in such a simultaneous and even-footed approach to both East and West. For Russia, there are two equal fronts – the Western and South-Eastern ones. The Russian field of view can and should become one which first and foremost covers the entire Old World to an equal and full extent.

Let us return, however, to phenomena of a purely geographical nature. In comparison to the Russian “torso,” Europe and Asia both represent the outskirts of the Old World. Moreover, from a Russian-Eurasian point of view, Europe is, as has been said, everything that lies to the West of the Russian border, while Asia is everything that lies to the South and Southeast of it. Russia itself is neither Asia nor Europe. Such is the fundamental geopolitical thesis of the Eurasianists. In this view, there is no “European” or “Asiatic” Russia, but merely parts of Russia which lie to the West or East of the Urals, just as there are parts of it lying to the West and East of the Yenisei River, and so on. The Eurasianists continue: Russia is neither Asia nor Europe, but instead represents its own special geographical world. How does this world differ from Europe and Asia? The Western, Southern, and South-Eastern outskirts of the continents differ to a significant extent in their coasts and topographical diversity. Hence, it is not necessary to discuss the “torso” of this world insofar as, as has been said, it is merely a component of Russia-Eurasia.

This torso consists first and foremost of three plains (the White Sea plane, the West Siberian plane, and the Turkestan one) and of the regions lying to the East of them (including the low, mountainous countries to the East of the Yenisei river). The zonal composition of the Western and Southern outskirts of the continent are marked by “mosaic-fractional” and far from simple shapes. Forested areas, in their natural state, are replaced here in a bizarre sequence by, on the one hand, steppe and desert regions, and on the other side by tundra areas in (the high mountains). On the central plains, this mosaic is counterposed by the Old World relatively simply by a similar “flagged” locative zone. For this designation, we point to the fact that, when applied to a map, this location reminds one of the contours subdivided on the horizontal stripes of a flag. Going from South to North, deserts, steppes, forests, and tundra follow each other successively. Each of these zones forms a continuous latitudinal band. The broad latitudinal division of the Russian world is stressed most significantly by the latitudinal stretch of mountain ranges bordering the southern planes: the Crimean ridge, the Caucasus, the Kpet Dag, the Parapamiz, the Hindu Kush, the main mountain ranges of the Tien Shan, and the ranges in the north of Tibet, Ying Shan, and in the area of the Great Wall of China. The last of the above-mentioned ranges lies on the same line bordering the Southern, elevated plain occupied by the Gobi desert. This is linked to the Turkestan plain via the Dzhungarian gates.

One can note peculiar futures of an East-West symmetry in the zonal structure of the Old World’s mainland which indicate that the character of phenomenon on its Eastern outskirts is analogous to the same phenomena on the Western outskirts while differing from the nature of phenomena in the middle part of the continent. Both the Eastern and Western margins of the continent (the Far East and Europe) are located at attitudes between 35 and 60 degrees North which are naturally covered by forested regions. Here the boreal forests directly touch and gradually transition into the forests of Southern flora. Nothing else can be observed in the middle world, where forests of southern flora exist only in the regions of its mountain edges (Crimea, the Caucasus, and Turkestan) and never meet forests of northern flora or boreal ones, being separated from such by a continuum of steppe-desert strips. The middle world of the Old World can thus be identified as the region of the steppe and desert band stretching in a continuous line from the Carpathians to the Khingan taken together with its mountain frame (in the South) and those regions lying to the North of it (forest and tundra zones). It is this world that the Eurasianists call Eurasia in the exact sense of this word (Eurasia sensu stricto). This must be distinguished from the old “Eurasia” of Alexander von Humboldt which encompassed the whole of the Old Continent (Eurasia sensu latiore).

The Western border of Eurasia stretches to the Black Sea-Baltic bridge, i.e., the region where the continent narrows between the Baltic and Black Seas. Along this bridge and in general in the direction from Northwest to Southeast pass a number of indicative botanical and geographical borders such as, for example, the Eastern borders of yew, beech, and ivy. Starting on the shores of the Baltic Sea, each of these trees can be found reaching up to the Black Sea. to the West of these borders, i.e., where the above-mentioned species grow, the stretch of this forest zone along the whole area spanning from North to South has a continuous character. To the East begins the division into the forest zone in the North and the steppe zone in the South. This boundary can be considered the Western border of Eurasia. Eurasia’s border with Asia in the Far East runs along the longitudes at which the continuous strip of steppes dips in its approach of the Pacific Ocean, i.e., at the longitude of the Khingan.

The Eurasian world is a world “of both periodic and symmetric zone systems.” The boundaries of the main Eurasian zones conform with significant accuracy to the spanning of certain climactic boundaries. For example, the Southern border of the tundra matches the line joining the point of annually average relative humidity of 79.5% at 1 P.M. (The relative humidity in the afternoon is of particularly large importance for the life of vegetation and soils). The Southern border of the forest zone lies along the line connecting the point with the same relative humidity of 67.5%. The Southern border of the steppe (with its tip into the desert) is matched by the exact same relative humanity at 1 P.M. of 55.5%. A value lower than this is found across the desert. Attention should be drawn here to the equality of intervals covering the forest and steppe zones. Such coincidences and the same rhythmic distribution of intervals can be established even according to different indices (see our book The Geographical Particularities of Russia Part 1, Prague, 1927). This gives grounds to speak of a “periodic table of the zone systems of Russia-Eurasia.” Russia-Eurasia is a symmetric system, but not in the sense of the East-West symmetry which we discussed before, but in the South-North symmetric regard. The treeless tundra of the North is matched by the treeless steppes of the South. What’s more, the calcium content and percentage of humus in soil from the middle parts of the black soil zone symmetrically decrease moving in the directions of both North and South. This symmetric distribution of phenomena can also be noted in terms of soil colors, which reaches its greatest intensity in the very same middle portions of the horizontal zone. Moving both Northward and Southward, the soil color weakens (passing through shades of brown to whitish ones). In terms of sand and rock substrates, there is also a symmetrical divergence from the border between the forest and steppe zones: between the steppe islands to the North and the “islands” of forests in the South. Russian science defines this phenomenon as “extrazonal.” The steppe sectors in the forest zone can be characterized as a “southward-bearing” phenomenon and the forest islands in the steppes are essentially a “northward-bearing” phenomenon. These southward-bearing formations of the forest zone match the northward-bearing formations of steppes.

Nowhere else in the Old World is such a gradual transition in zonal systems, with both its “frequency” and simultaneous “symmetry”, displayed so clearly as in the plains of Russia-Eurasia.

The Russian world thus possesses an exceedingly clear geographic structure. The Urals do not play any defining or divisive role in this structure as they have been assigned (and are still attributed) by geographical “cliches.” The Urals, “by virtue of their orographic and geological specificities not only do not divide but, on the contrary, rather closely tie together ‘pre-Ural and post-Ural Russia,’ once again proving that taken together, both geographically constitute a single undivided continent of Eurasia.” The tundra, as a horizontal zone, lies both to the West and to the East of the Urals just as forest extends beyond one side and the other. The same is the case regarding the steppes and desert (the latter borders the Southern continuation of the Ural-Mugodzhary from both the East and West). We can observe no significant changes in geographical environment signified by the “border” of the Urals. More substantial is the geographical border of the “Intermarium”, i.e., the space between the Black and Baltic Seas on the one hand, and the Baltic Sea and the coast of Norway on the other.

This distinctive, crystal clear, and at the same time simple geographical structure of Russia-Eurasia is tied to a number of important geographical circumstances.

The nature of the Eurasian world is minimally favorable to any sort of “separatisms,” be they political, cultural, or economic. The specific “mosaic-fractional” structure of Europe and Asia facilitates the appearance of small, confined, and isolated worlds offering the material preconditions for the existence of small states specific to each city or province of cultural spheres or economic regions possessing large economic diversity in a narrow space. But Eurasia is quite another case. The wide cut sphere of “flagged” zonal distribution does not result in anything of the sort. Endless plains render customary wide horizons on the scale of geopolitical combinations. Within the steppes, moving across land through forests up until water, are numerous rivers and lakes. Man here finds himself in constant migration, continuously changing his place of inhabitance. Ethnic and cultural elements are drawn into intensive interaction, interbreeding, and mixing. In Europe and Asia, it sometimes happened that one could live only by the interests of his own “bell tower.” But in Eurasia, if this happened at all, then in a historical sense this lasted only an extremely brief period of time. In Northern Eurasia are hundreds of thousands of kilometers of forests among which there is not a single hectare of arable land. How can the inhabitants of this space survive without contact with the more Southern regions? In the South, on no less vastly spread steppes suitable for livestock and partly for agriculture,  there is not a single tree across many thousands of kilometers. How can the population of these regions live without economic interaction with the North? The nature of Eurasia has shown people the necessity of political, cultural, and economic unification to a much greater extent than in Europe and Asia. It is thus no wonder that what was in many respects a “uniform” way of life was the case for nomads across the entire space from Hungary to Manchuria and throughout history from the Scythians to the modern Mongols. It is similarly thus no wonder that such great attempts at political unification were born on the expanses of Eurasia such as those of the Scythians, Huns, and Mongols (13th-14th centuries), etc. These attempts included not only the steppes and desert, but also the Northward lying forest zone and the more Southern “mountain halo” region of Eurasia. It is no coincidence that the spirit of a sort of “brotherhood of peoples” hovers over Eurasia, having its roots in the centuries-old contact and cultural mergers of peoples of the most different races ranging from Germanic peoples (the Crimean Goths) and Slavs to the Tungus-Manchurians with links via the Finnish, Turkish, and Mongolian peoples. This “brotherhood of peoples” is reflected in the fact that there is no opposition between “higher” and “lower” races, but rather a mutual attraction much stronger here than any repulsion, thus easily awaking a “will for a common cause.” The history of Eurasia from its first chapters to its last is solid proof of this. These traditions were embraced by Russia in its fundamental historical cause. In the 19th and 20th centuries, they were at times turbulent on account of deliberate “Westernism” which demanded that Russians feel themselves to be “Europeans” (which they in fact weren’t) and treat the other Eurasian peoples as “Asians” or an “inferior race.” Such an interpretation led Russia to nothing other than disaster (such as Russia’s Far Eastern adventure at the beginning of the 20th century). It should be hoped that this concept has been completely overcome by now in the Russian consciousness and that the last Russian “Europeanism”, still hiding in exile, has been deprived of any historical significance. Only by overcoming deliberate “Westernism” can the path be opened to real brotherhood between the Eurasian peoples from the Slavic and Finnish to the Turkish, Mongolian, and others.

Eurasia earlier played a unifying role in the Old World. Modern Russia, absorbing this tradition, must resolutely and irrevocably abandon violence and war, the old methods of unification belonging to gone and overcome epochs. In the modern period, the cause is one of cultural creativity, inspiration, insight, and cooperation. This is what the Eurasianists say. Despite all their temporary forms of ties, the peoples of Europe and Asia are still largely sitting in their own cubicles, living according to the interests of their own bell towers. Eurasian “place-development” will give impulse to this common cause in ways very much its own. The purpose of the Eurasian peoples is to, by their example, carry the other peoples of the world down this path. Then will the ethnographic ties by which a number of Eurasian peoples are connected to some non-Eurasian nations become useful for ecumenical affairs. These include the Indo-European connections of the Russians, the Persian and Iranian relations of the Eurasian Turks, and those points of contact existing between the Eurasian Mongols and the peoples of East Asia. All of these will come to benefit the construction of a new, organic culture for the “Old” World, which is (we believe) still young and carries in its womb a grand future.

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