This is not simply a moment of decision-making – the main decisions have already been made in favor of developing the region – but a time for making specific decisions. Russian-Chinese cooperation is at the center of the formation of an independent Eurasian center of power and provides a foundation for it.
Participants in the Russian-Chinese conference “Cooperation between China and Russia: The Process and Prospects” will discuss these and other major issues in Shanghai (China) on March 25−26. The conference is co-sponsored by the Valdai Discussion Club and the Center for Russian Studies at the East China Normal University (ECNU), one of China’s leading research centers.
Many people believe that the restless Russian soul is torn between the West and the East and that Russia is a kind of a bridge from “classical” Europe to “traditional” Asia. Given this view, it turns out that Russia’s entire history lies in its geography, that for all its vast territory it is still stuck some space “in between.” Debates on this issue have been conducted for a long time, although it is hard to specify precisely when they started: with the advent of the Rurik dynasty and Christianity in Russia or after the slaughter of Mamai.
Be it as it may, but in the 19th century the issue of Russia’s “Europeanness” or “Asianness” was one of the key subjects in the Russian political and philosophical discourse. Speaking strictly, an entire intellectual trend, albeit highly contradictory, was produced by this polemic, notably Eurasianism. Interestingly, this discourse still exists and is even developing. Moreover, it has assumed a practical dimension in recent times: indeed, how will Eurasia, part of which is in Russia, develop?
Speaking about Eurasia’s development, it seems appropriate to discuss the structure of its components. The world’s biggest mainland, Eurasia − with the 36 percent of the world’s surface and 75 percent of its population − is by no means an integral whole. There is Western Europe, Hindustan, China, and the tumultuous Middle East. Let me repeat that the mainland is great and there is a huge area in its center that stretches for thousands of miles from the West to the East and from the North to the South. This area could be called Central Eurasia. It does not have precise borders but many countries are either within Central Eurasia or largely belong to it. No doubt, Russia is one of the key countries that form the region, albeit stretching far beyond its borders.
Until recently, the Eurasian mainland developed through its outskirts, coastal regions. First the Middle East, the Mediterranean, China and then Western Europe assumed the role of locomotive. But for all Central Asia’s prosperity at a given time, what could be called central Eurasia has not been a source of development, nor become a creative civilization.
Naturally, it would be an invidious simplification to reduce the region’s history to the role of a bridge but yet the Great Silk Road is still a road leading from one territory to another, and which is used for shipping goods made somewhere else. Typically, when trade between China and Western Europe would peter out, the road between them would also fall into decay.
But let’s return to Russia. For at least 400 years Russia was trying to turn “the road” into a “territory,” a settled creative civilization, partly conscientiously and partly not. Be this as it may, but in its heyday the Russian Empire was actually building Central Eurasia or, at least, a substantial part of – as I said, this depends on how we interpret the region’s geography.
Eurasian debates and discourse about Russia’s “restless soul” are largely linked with this. A substantial part of classic Russian literature is devoted to the discussion of the existence of some special Eurasian identity. Can Russia manage to produce not only its national culture but a special Eurasian civilization in addition? Can such a civilization exist at all? Who can participate in its formation apart from Russia? Will Eurasia, including Russia, become a new center of the world? What relations should large countries have, for instance, Russia and China? And so on and so forth. There are many questions and even more answers.
More importantly, these questions are fairly topical today. New technology, a relatively long peaceful period, and absence of serious conflicts in Central Eurasia have produced a serious chance for development. A hearty broth is boiling − it is time to put in it the required ingredients.
This is the moment of truth for the countries on this vast territory, primarily Russia and China. This is not simply a moment of decision-making – the main decisions have already been made in favor of developing the region – but a time for making specific decisions. As we know, the devil is in the details.
And there are plenty of details. There is a host of issues on how the key players of the Central Eurasian project will cooperate, and what the ratio of political to strictly economic issues will be. The point is that in a sense the Eurasian project has the same intentions as the trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic projects that are a subject of heated debates today. They are all resolving the issue of development in conditions of multiple national jurisdictions and the international, global nature of modern business. In other words, what will regulation be like in large, multi-state regions? Who will exercise it and on what terms? What role will the national governments play in this respect?
Disputes about these issues are absolutely commonplace even today. Russia must also answer these and many other questions, whether it wants to do so or not.
Importantly, the development of Eurasia, especially its central part, is playing a key role for Russia. The development and economic growth of the territories between the Ural Mountains and the Pacific is, generally speaking, Russia’s recipe for success. .
Therefore, the ambivalence mentioned in the beginning of this article has a practical purpose – how to draft a development strategy for Russia and Eurasia as a whole? The flow of the future is inevitable and it is necessary to take on these new challenges. The Valdai Club’s intellectual task is to interpret these challenges and understand which processes are involved.