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Global Governance
Common Eurasian Home: Towards a Conservative Political Economy

Gorbachev’s Common European Home envisioned a shared continent that could accommodate ideological differences. Russia’s current Greater Eurasia Initiative can be seen as a Greater Eurasian Home as it proposes economic integration on the supercontinent whilst accommodating and preserving strategic autonomy and civilizational differences.

The Common European Home that never materialised

Towards the end of the Cold War, Gorbachev advocated for a Common European Home with separate rooms to accommodate both capitalist and socialist states. The initiative envisioned transforming international politics by facilitating both cooperation and competition. The intention was to decouple the competition of ideas and ideologies from the destructive rivalry of military blocs.

Washington rejected the Common European Home idea and instead pushed the alternative of a “Europe Whole and Free”, which has become the mantra for liberal universalism and NATO expansionism. In this format there is a European home consisting of one liberal democratic room under US leadership. 

The format of liberal universalism has been detrimental to Russia as it preserved bloc politics and reorganised relations along a subject-object divide of sovereign inequality.

By taking on a socialising role in which the West was the teacher of liberalism and Russia the student, cooperation no longer entailed harmonising interests to align policies. Instead, Russian policies are referred to as “behaviour” and cooperation entails a pedagogic approach of rewarding or punishing Russia.

There is no conceptual space for competing interests, rather the teacher has the prerogative to shape the international system and the student must accept unilateral concessions.

Liberal hegemony was enabled by the concentration of economic power in the West, which lays the foundation for a centralised and liberal international economy. The dual challenge for Russia has been to develop strategic autonomy and diversify its economic connectivity to reduce reliance on the West, and to reject liberal universalism as the foundation for the subject-object divide in the international system. 

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Constructing a Russian room in a Greater Eurasian Home

Economic nationalists recognised from the early 19th century that economics was intrinsically linked to national-building. Free-trade was rejected as it cemented Britain’s administrative control over the international economy due to the competitive advantage of its mature industries, rule over the seas, and dominant banks. The US, Germany, France, Russia and other rising powers pursued various formats of a three-pillared geoeconomic strategy seeking national control over strategic industries, transportation corridors and financial instruments to defend their political autonomy in a British-led international system.
In realist theory, peace exists when there is an international balance of power and incentives to preserve the status quo. The geoeconomic equivalent expects that peace is possible under a balance of dependence, in which states avoid excessive reliance on more powerful states. 

The benefits of economic connectivity had to be tempered by the need for political autonomy. As Friedrich List argued in 1841: 

the ultimate aim of rational politics is… the uniting of all nations under a common law of right, an object which is only to be attained through the greatest possible equalisation of the most important nations of the earth in civilisation, prosperity, industry and power, by the conversion of the antipathies and conflicts that now exist between them into sympathy and harmony. 

Russia’s Eurasian geography prevented its development along the lines of a Western European maritime power. There is a long historical continuity of the West attempting to control Russian maritime corridors - from the Treaty of Stolbovo in 1617, to the terms of surrender in the Crimean War, to NATO’s current expansionism to control the Black Sea, Baltic Sea and the Barents Sea. 

In the later 19th century, Sergey Witte, Russia’s Finance Minister (1892–1903) recognised a Eurasian solution to the excessive reliance on Western trade, transportation corridors and finance: “the economic relations of Russia with western Europe are fully comparable to the relations of colonial countries with their metropolises”. 

Witte recognised the need for strategic autonomy and diversification as he oversaw the construction of the trans-Siberian railway, which was to be supported with strategic autonomy in industry and finance by also trading with Asia.

In the contemporary international economic order, multipolarity similarly requires the tree-pillared geoeconomic strategic autonomy to construct regions. The Greater Eurasia region challenges US primacy by developing collective strategic autonomy and influence with new industry, transportation corridors, and financial instruments. Within multipolar Greater Eurasia, Russia is developing various strategic industries and a domestic digital ecosystem to manage the new industrial revolution; Russian-centric transportation corridors such as the Northern Sea Route, an East-West land-corridor and the North-South bimodal corridor; and financial institutions and payment systems that are either national, part of the Eurasian Economic Union, BRICS, or a competency of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. 

In Putin’s UN General Assembly speech in 2015, it was argued: “Russia proposes harmonising original economic projects. I refer to the so-called integration of integrations based on universal and transparent rules of international trade”. The reference to harmonisation economic projects and interests, as opposed to pursuing a centralised international economic system, has striking similarities to the fair trade ideas of Friedrich List and Alexander Hamilton. Integration of integrations entails multipolarity by preserving strategic autonomy within an interconnected international economic system. 
In other words, Russian geoeconomic initiatives aim to develop its separate room for Russia within a Common Eurasian Home.

 A Conservative Political Economy

The political economy of Greater Eurasia supports the conservative revival of Russia. A conservative platform for a Common Eurasian Home is more feasible and responds to Russia’s historical challenges of preserving its civilizational distinctiveness whilst modernising. Enhancing economic connectivity across Greater Eurasia offers what Russia has never had in the past – an organic path to a competitive political economy as opposed to conflating modernisation with reinventing Russia as a Western state.

The Eurasian schism in Russia since the 13th century set Russian conservatives on an eternal search for an organic path to modernization. Russia was severed from the arteries of international trade, and modernization has since entailed reconnecting with maritime corridors and “returning” to Europe. The civilizational task of balancing the preservation of cultural distinctiveness and economic modernization has been problematic in Russia as this duality manifested itself geographically as an eastern versus western identity.

In the early 18th century, Peter the Great interpreted the Enlightenment in terms of geography as the modernization of Russia and becoming a maritime power was supplemented with a Cultural Revolution to uproot its Muscovite and Eurasian past. Russia has subsequently been fragmented between the liberals seeking to modernise Russia by remaking it as a Western European state and conservatives who often resisting economic modernisation to preserve its civilizational distinctiveness. Many Slavophile conservatives even contradicted the conservative concept of organic growth by seeking to turn back the clock to the pre-Petrine era.

Eurasian conservatives in the 1920s reformed conservatism and sought to bridge internal divisions. Savitsky argued that Russia’s historical woes were the result of a Eurasian power attempting to modernise and reinvent itself as a Western European maritime power . The principal challenge for Russian conservatism has been a fragmented history, and a conservative concept was required to include all the various and contradictory periods of Russian history. The prolific conservative, Nikolai Berdyaev, acknowledged “the development of Russia has been catastrophic” due to lack of continuity:

Interruption is a characteristic of Russian history. Contrary to the opinion of the Slavophils the last thing it is, is organic. There have been five periods in Russian history and each provides a different picture. They are: the Russia of Kiev; Russia in the days of the Tartar yoke; the Russia of Moscow; the Russia of Peter the Great; and Soviet Russia. And it is quite possible that there will be yet another new Russia.

The geoeconomics of Greater Eurasian aspires to bridge a fragmented Russian history and political paths as liberalism can be decoupled from the notion of Westernising Russia, and conservatives have a Eurasian path to organic growth. Lastly, the initiative advocates for strategic autonomy and vitality in an international system based on sovereign equality. 

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Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.