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Turn to the East: what is it?

Leonid Blyakher on the project "Big Eurasia"

Russia's turn to the East, announced already a decade ago, is now approaching the psychologically most difficult stage, reminiscent of the state of house repair, when the inability to continue the usual way of life is already evident, and the benefits that will arise after the completion of repairs are not seen so far. In these conditions it is especially important to clearly imagine what should happen in the end. Otherwise, there is a great temptation to "curtail" the project, to recognize it as a "failure", having conserved the unsettledness that has arisen. Below I will try not so much to describe (for this column is not a particularly suitable volume), how much to outline the future for which the project "Turn to the East" is aimed, the actions that must be taken to make it real.

Turn to the East: what is it?
Photo: Donat Sorokin / VEF, TASS

Leonid Blyakher

Professor, Head of the Department of Philosophy and Culturology of the Pacific State University, Doctor of Philosophy
After the collapse of the USSR, it seemed that the "Western" orientation of Russia finally prevailed. The Greater Europe project from Lisbon to Vladivostok, the entry of Russian representatives into the main political clubs of Europe confirmed the “European choice of Russia”. At the same time, it is significant that the subject of the discussion was not the Russian version of the future, but the possibility of “fitting” Russia into an already existing project. It was about integrating into a global project led by the United States, represented in the minds of experts - and not only experts - as a return to the path of "all civilized countries." However, already in the first decade of the XNUMXst century, a cooling in relations with "Western partners" begins. Today, this "cooling" has reached a state similar to the period of the Cold War.  

Under these conditions, the Russian "turn to the East" is perceived by a significant part of the international community, and the expert community as well, as a forced measure, a political move caused by the current world situation. The unambiguous considerations about the priority of the eastern direction for Russia, expressed by the top officials of the state, are interpreted not so much as a designation of a long-term direction of Russian policy, but as another company that will end not today or tomorrow. Of course, there are grounds for such a perception. Perhaps the most intense discussion of the prospect of a turn to the East has been in recent years, when increased pressure on Russia from the "West" literally pushes it in the opposite direction.

But there are also much more fundamental processes, which by no means in 2013-14 became the reason for Russia's distancing from the “West”. These reasons seem to be rooted in the Eurasian nature of our country, where, due to the peculiarities of spatial organization and settlement in Northern Eurasia, the traditions originating from nomadic empires and from Byzantium remain extremely significant. And the European substratum remains one of them, far from the most significant. The Eurasian essence of Russia, its inevitable stay in two, not always coinciding and even not always closely related economic, political and ideological spaces, throughout the history of Russian statehood was both its curse and its chance. A curse because gigantic, different and discordant Russia could never fully fit itself into either the East or the West. Some, sometimes considerable, part of it always remained “other”, not included in the general movement. But this, in the new conditions, is a huge chance for Russia to constitute itself in the New World.

One of the objectively existing trends of our time is the movement of the Center of the World Organism from the Atlantic to East Asia. It is East Asia, which until recently was the world periphery, a place for the export of technologies and capital, that is turning into a new “workshop of the world”, leaving the former leaders the role of rentiers living in the wealth accumulated by previous generations. In Asia, before our eyes, not only production and technological development centers are being formed, but also our own consumption centers, transforming “Asia for Europe” into “Asia for Asia”. The question is in what capacity Russia will be able to join this movement: as a supplier of raw materials, alien to the region, or as one of the key players.

Today, the “Greater Eurasia” project is becoming more and more relevant, which aims to institutionalize the transformation of only a geographical concept into an economic and political phenomenon, which has been going on for more than a decade. Due to its spatial location, the presence of a basis for the formation of a Eurasian transport infrastructure, and a vast experience of multicultural life, Russia is able to act as a “assembly” space for Eurasia. With relatively small modernization efforts, it is Russia that can become the most convenient meeting point for East and South, South and West. Not only a place of trade and the cheapest route for delivering a product to a consumer, but a place where a new multicultural entity is formed. At the same time, we are not talking about hegemony, but about a special unmerged unity in the sphere of politics, economics, and culture. 

The basis of this project is laid in the Far East of Russia. The "entrance spaces" with the countries of East Asia are being built, the Transsib is being reconstructed, the geography itself is called to become the bearing structure of New Eurasia, conditions are created for the convenience of trade and investment, new conditions for the production and extraction of minerals.

But this is absolutely not enough. The project of Russia's return to its Eurasian essence is perceived by both the population and a significant part of the elite as a regional project that concerns only and exclusively the Russian Far East. This strange understanding raises the greatest number of questions, including among the residents of the Far East themselves. Today the period is coming when it is extremely important to involve the whole country in the process of turning to the East. We need “entrance spaces” not only “to the East”, but also “to the South”, “to the West”. The objective conditions for their formation are the most favorable. Cultural circumstances are unfavorable. For the overwhelming majority of Russia's population, Asia is perceived as alien and dangerous. For a rational perception of Asian partners without "black" or "pink" glasses, it is necessary to know Asia, to know the path of Russia in Asia.

An all-Russian project is inconceivable not only without efforts in the field of economy, development of transport, but also without a gigantic educational activity. The bright and rich history of Russia in Asia remains the lot of narrow specialists. For the mass consciousness, this is the "history of the exploration of empty space." Her battles and her heroes continue to be half-forgotten. As well as the complex relations of Russia with the most powerful countries of Asia from the Dzungar Khanate to the Manchurian Empire. The history and culture of Asia continues to be in the sphere of myths and conjectures. It is difficult to imagine an educated person in Russia who would not know who Shakespeare is. But it is quite possible to imagine him unaware of the existence of Hafiz or Qu Yuan. The peculiarities of the organization of communication in this world also remain outside the mass consciousness in Russia.

Asia is a space where interpersonal trust and social networks play a much greater role than formal agreements in Europe. “To be in Asia” means for Russia to have strong and permanent loyalty networks. It is possible and necessary to create such networks from immigrants from Russia living in these countries, from foreign partners with whom a high level of interpersonal trust has been achieved. Only by relying on such loyalty networks as guides in the world of Asia, our country will be able to become a space for the formation of a new global center of power - “Greater Eurasia”.
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