It is up to European countries, including Russia, to talk through a future European security structure: even though strategically Russia can rely on its Asian partners, it cannot separate itself from Europe geographically. If Russia intends to promote Greater Eurasia eastward smoothly, European stability should be taken into consideration: cooperation with the Belt and Road Initiative, whose route goes to west, is also a major part of Greater Eurasia.
In February 2022, Russia’s military operation in Ukraine began, causing a rapidly deteriorating relationship between Russia and Europe. The European Union, following the United States, quickly introduced several rounds of sanctions. At present, the situation has not been brought under control, and several important cooperation projects between Russia and Europe (such as Nord Stream 2) have been suspended. In the short term, the tension between Russia and Europe, following the situation of the 2014 Crimean war, has escalated; In the long run, security, which is closely related to the development of both sides, will become a major issue in Russia-Europe relations.
The proposal of Greater Eurasia and its advantages
In 2016, Russian president Putin put forward a “Greater Eurasia” plan: at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, Putin mentioned “considering the prospects for more extensive Eurasian partnership involving the Eurasian Economic Union”, which will include China, Pakistan, Iran and India. In terms of its concept, the core consideration of Greater Eurasia is returning to Asia. In terms of its practice, the core of Greater Eurasia is China-Russia relationship: north-eastern China and Russia have very close trade ties. Greater Eurasia will contribute to the interconnection between China and Russia, promoting the development of Russian Far East and revitalizing the economy of north-eastern China. In the past few years, the cooperation between the Belt and Road Initiative and Greater Eurasia has been fruitful: in 2019, the Heilongjiang bridge built by Heihe and Blagoveshchensk, after 31 years, finally came into use; the China-Russia east route natural gas pipeline has also been completed.
From the perspective of both geopolitics and geo-economy, Greater Eurasia has great potential and advantages.
From the perspective of geopolitics, Greater Eurasia can stabilize western Russia in the short term. First, the eastward development of Greater Eurasia will cushion the pressure from the Atlantic alliance and NATO’s eastward expansion. Second, Greater Eurasia will promote a geopolitical balance between Russia, Europe and Asia. In the past, Russia’s political focus was limited to the west, which means a certain degree of vulnerability: once the relations with Europe go down, Russia fell into isolation. Greater Eurasia can make up for this by moving eastward.
From the perspective of geo-economy, Greater Eurasia is in line with the interests of both China and Russia, having a solid practical basis. First of all, Greater Eurasia meets the need of a balanced development in Russia. Russia’s economy suffered from an unbalanced way: although the central and eastern part have trillions of dollars of natural resources, these regions lagged behind in their development. The implementation of Greater Eurasia can make full use of resources in eastern region and achieve a more balanced development. Secondly, China has the ability and the need to connect with Greater Eurasia: China is the world’s largest manufacturing country with huge demand for international resources and international market, which can form a good complementary economic structure with these regions. Finally, the Belt and Road Initiative will provide a good foundation for the economic development of eastern Russia. Greater Eurasia will play a key role in Sino-Russian cooperation and Eurasian interconnection: the construction of the China-Mongolia-Russia high-speed railway will contribute to the interconnection of Eurasian infrastructure.
On the other hand, Greater Eurasia has been regarded as a Russian Eastward Strategy since proposed. It was put forward as a response to the pressure from the west Russia has faced since the end of the cold war, with the EU incapable of integrating Eurasia as a whole. The Russia-Ukraine conflict can be seen as a reaction to the fact that Russia’s strategic space has been continuously compressed by the EU and NATO, which can be comprehended from three dimensions. From the Millennium dimension, Ukraine and Russia used to share a same origin, but their internal contradictions divide them. From the Centennial dimension, Europe still insists on the nation-state model of Westphalia System, and Ukraine was once the buffer zone between the core countries of Europe and Russia. The eastward expansion of the EU and NATO means the sharp decrease of these buffer zones, threatening Russia’s strategic security. From the Cold War dimension, three decades after the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, instead of being dissolved, NATO continued to expand and cut down Russia’s security space. Putin’s speech can be seen as a response to this: he wants to bid farewell to the former Soviet Union and return to the Russian Empire, publicly criticizing Lenin’s policy of national autonomy.
Potential risks and the future of Greater Eurasia
Considering the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the current situation of severe Western sanctions, the European part of Greater Eurasia has encountered difficulties. Thus, a sharp question emerged: Is Greater Eurasia possible without Europe?
This problem reflects Russia’s disappointment with Europe and a sense of insecurity. To answer this question, perhaps we can get inspiration from the Helsinki Final Act (1975). As a result of the détente between the Eastern and the Western camp during the Cold War, the Final Act provides a framework of the action for both sides. More significantly, it put forward the concept of “indivisible security”. As Norman Davis puts it, “The Russia-Ukraine conflict once again shows that ‘indivisible security’ has become a global issue.” The principle of the indivisibility of security first proposed by the OSCE is of special significance for the current situation, which should not only be adhered to, but also be implemented. Applying “indivisible security” to Greater Eurasia means that the development of any country in
Eurasia is inseparable from the stability of other countries. Europe belongs to all Europeans. It is up to European countries, including Russia, to talk through a future European security structure: even though strategically Russia can rely on its Asian partners, it cannot separate itself from Europe geographically. If Russia intends to promote Greater Eurasia eastward smoothly, European stability should be taken into consideration: cooperation with the Belt and Road Initiative, whose route goes to west, is also a major part of Greater Eurasia. Therefore, Europe should not be completely ignored. Considering the current situation in Ukraine (though it has not been solved), it can be predicted that if Ukraine goes a Finnish way, it will become a bridge between the East and the West, connecting Russia and the EU – which is more favorable for all parties than making it an Iron Curtain.
In addition, if Europe is completely excluded, Greater Eurasia will face a number of risks in the long run. The risks can also be analyzed from geo-economic and geopolitical aspects.
In terms of geo-economy, the risks lie more in the plan implementation. First of all, Russia’s population gathers in the west while the eastern part is sparsely populated. If Russia plans to push forward Greater Eurasia, it is necessary to have enough labor force in that place. Secondly, without the participation of Europe, it is difficult to meet the needs of all parties in terms of market, resources and technology. There will be a problem of insufficient motivation for sustainable development – Europe is an important energy market for Russia. The absence of Europe will bring congenital defects to Greater Eurasia.
In terms of geopolitics, the absence of Europe implies that Russia will completely turn eastward, which may give rise to competition and confrontation between China and Russia against Europe and the United States, undermining Eurasia and global stability. Europe should not be completely excluded from Greater Eurasia. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has prompted Europe to reflect on the European security, and there emerged a rational voice emphasizing “European security should not be aimed at or bypass Moscow”. Some EU leaders said that the expansion of the EU and NATO in the past has brought in Eastern European countries’ hatred toward Russia, which twisted EU’s agenda, and that Europe has been taken by the emotion of these countries and has forgotten its original goal. If properly handled, the Russia-Ukraine war may also be an opportunity, which requires not only Europe to reflect and adjust its policies in time, but also Russia to face up to the existence of Europe. Both sides should work together to build a balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism in accordance with the principle of “indivisibility of security”. The future of Greater Eurasia cannot be separated from peace and mutual understanding between Russia and Europe.
To sum up, in the short and medium term, Greater Eurasia will be feasible, making Russia’s domestic economic development more balanced and enhancing Russia’s resistance to the pressure from the west; In the long run, however, compared to the China-Russia-Europe triangle, a Greater Eurasia without Europe has “divided security”, which may bring certain risks and limitations in terms of geo-economy and geopolitics. Standing on reality and taking a long-term vision, one can draw a conclusion that the interconnection between Greater Eurasia and the EU will still be possible, and that a Greater Eurasia guaranteed by a comprehensive security framework will be more stable and far-reaching.