|Author: Jiří Maňák|
JAROSLAV KURFÜRST: THE STORY OF RUSSIAN GEOPOLITICS: HOW THE RUSSIAN THOUGHT SEIZED MORE THAN A SIXTH OF THE WORLD
Jaroslav Kurfürst, a Czech career diplomat, presents an in-depth and exciting insight into the world of Russian geopolitics. The book is divided into six different chapters. It starts with the presentation of geopolitics as a field of study. Its historical traditions in the western world and Russia. The author shows essential categories of the discipline: Formal, Practical and officially Presented. In later chapters, different ideas are connected to the categories mentioned. The chapter shows some of the critical concepts of geopolitics such as Mackinder's Heartland which is discussed on numerous occasions in the book as the source of inspiration for many of the Russian geopolitics thinkers. The introductory chapter provides the reader with the necessary understanding of the Geopolitics and its operational codes, culture, traditions etc.
The central part of the book, presented by the next four chapters, gives an insight into the historical evolution of the geopolitics in Russia and to the main drivers behind it. The chapter "Russian Geopolitics before Geopolitics" shows, that basis for the future development were given a long time ago in the medieval times and derived from the complicated history of the Russian nation. The process of expanding the empire is shown as a historical necessity due to the geographical conditions in which there were no natural barriers to protect the empire's core. The continuous expansion mainly in the east, but also in the south and west direction is a process which lasted for centuries and became a part of Russian identity and its geopolitical thinking long before Geopolitics even existed. In this era, the Church and military were the critical elements of spreading Russian power in the newly conquered territories. The idea of the third Rome, Moscow as the centre and saviour of Christendom, was established and have contributed to the ideological and political competition with the West, which is present in all periods of Russian Geopolitics.
The chapter “Classical period of Russian Geopolitics” is concerned mainly with the events in the 19th century and the well-known struggle between the Western and Eastern affiliation of Russian Empire represented by Westernizers and Slavophiles. It shows the three main ways of development, Conservative national centrism, Liberal Western thoughts and Geographic State centrism. The main geopolitical traditions were born in this period, and the author nicely describes the struggle between them but also how these traditions are interconnected. Kurfürst identifies the concept of Eurasianism as the leading intellectual product of this period. The idea in which the Russian Empire should be developing its own unique identity and political role in Eurasia and not being dependent on the Western world.
The development of Geopolitics under Soviet rule is discussed in the chapter “Soviet hybrid geopoliticall culture”. The author shows that despite Communist regime banned Geopolitics as bourgeois pseudoscience, the acting of the Soviet empire was following some of the geopolitical traditions created in the classical period. The nation was replaced with the proletariat, and the Russian imperialism was now framed in the discourse of spreading the socialist revolution. Kurfürst nicely shows, that during the Soviet history the element of ideology was slowly diminishing and State-centric thought has replaced it in the decision making despite the ideological discourse still being in use. Most of the traditional Geopolitical thoughts, such as the strong revisionist position, the idea of patriotism, imperialism or the ideas of foreign threats targeted against USSR were still very much present.
The development of Geopolitics after the dissolution of the USSR is discussed in the last chapters. It shows how the turbulent era and collapse of the Soviet empire brought the old idea of Smuta (Dark times) back to life and how in this period the Westernizers again took the chance to navigate Russia towards Europe and Liberal Democracy. One of the most significant movements towards the West was cooperation with the USA after 9/11 attacks which showed the opportunity to unify against the common enemy and bring more sympathies towards Russia in return.
However, this small fluctuation in the relations with the Western powers was not enough to change the overall course in which the traditional Russian Geopolitics works and to change the way of behaviour of what the author calls “homo sovieticus”. Kurfürst discusses the renewal of the Eurasianism idea and also shows some of its controversial proponents such as Dugin or Zhirinovsky. He also shows how Vladimir Putin uses many different Geopolitical traditions, mainly, but not exclusively, Eurasianism in his politics. According to Kurfürst, Putin's regime works with the ideas of Westernizers in the areas of modernisation, Etatism in the ideas of returning the Superpower status to the Russian Federation, civilisationism in focus on rehabilitation of USSR and targeting NATO as the main enemy. It also advocates Conservativism with the use of the Russian Orthodox Church to safeguard the traditional Russian values and renewal of the idea of third Rome against decaying West.
The book shows us that the motives for Russian behaviour on the international scene have deep roots stretching back centuries into the past and are in line with the old Geopolitical traditions. Despite some changes occurring in the periods discussed in the book, the main motives are still very much built-in in the Russian collective thinking. The development of Geopolitical thought is described in a clear and understandable way, but some background knowledge about Russian history is needed for better understanding of the text.
In conclusion, the Kurfürst book is highly recommendable for anyone who desires to understand the underlying motives behind decision making process of Russian leaders.