The loneliness of the half-breed

Vladislav Surkov, long considered an important ideological figure within the ‘Putin regime’, has previously been described as a ‘relative Westernizer’ among Vladimir Putin’s advisors. But even he is apparently now fed up with the West. In an article published yesterday in Russia in Global Affairs, Surkov declares that Russia is neither of the West nor of the East. Instead it stands alone.

The events of 2014 (the annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine) marked a turning point, Surkov argues,

the completion of Russia’s epic journey to the West, the end of numerous fruitless attempts to become part of Western civilization, to join the “good family” of European peoples. From 2014 onwards, a new long era, the epoch of 14+, stretches into a future in which we will experience a hundred (two  hundred? three hundred?) years of geopolitical loneliness.

Surkov states that for the past 400 years, the Russian elite have tried to Westernize their country, following whatever trend seemed to be most in fashion in the rest of Europe, be it socialism a hundred years ago or the ideology of the free market in the 1990s. None of this has led the West to accept Russia as one of its own. The problem, says Surkov, is that

Despite the external similarities of the Russian and European cultural models, their softwares are incompatible and their connectors dissimilar. You can’t make a common system out of them.

That does not mean that Russia should turn east, Surkov says. Russia has done that in the past, during the era of the Mongol ‘yoke’. That left its mark on Russia, but in the end Russia moved on. Thus, Surkov writes:

Russia moved East for 400 years, and then moved West for another 400. Neither the one nor the other took root. We have gone down both paths. Now we need the ideology of a third path, a third type of civilization, a third world, a third Rome … And yet, we can hardly be called a third civilization. Rather, we are dual one, a mixture of both East and West. Both European and Asian at the same time, and thus neither completely Asian or European. Our cultural and geopolitical identity resembles that of somebody born of a mixed marriage. He’s a relative everywhere, but nowhere is he a native. He’s one of his own among strangers, but a stranger among his own. … Russia is a western-eastern half-breed country.

It’s time to recognize this reality, Surkov argues. This doesn’t mean total isolation. Russia will continue to trade, to exchange scientific knowledge, to participate in multilateral organizations, and the like. But it should do so ‘without denying its own self.’

Surkov’s article will no doubt get a negative reception among Western commentators, and be spun to argue that Russia is bent on confrontation with the West. After all, if you’re not with us, you must be against us. But it’s worth noting that Surkov at no point condemns the West nor argues that Russia should be trying to undermine Western hegemony. He simply argues that Russia and the West are doomed to go their separate ways. This is far removed from the ambitious Eurasianist designs of the likes of Alexander Dugin, who argue that Russia should lead a grand international coalition to overturn the existing international order. In this regard, it’s noteworthy that Surkov avoids using the term ‘Eurasia’ to describe Russia and also directly denies that Russia is a ‘third civilization’, thus failing to endorse a key Eurasianist concept.

Rather than Eurasianism, with its often expansionist, anti-Western ambitions, Surkov’s view of Russia’s place in the world seems closer to that of the late Vadim Tsymbursky and his idea of ‘Island Russia’ into which Russia should retreat. That is keeping with the editorial line of Russia in Global Affairs, which in recent times has published a number of Tsymbursky-inspired pieces, such as articles by Boris Mezhuev on the idea of ‘civilizational realism’ and an essay by Nikolai Spassky, entitled ‘Island of Russia’.  These bear witness to a growing isolationist trend in Russian geopolitical thought. ‘Isolationist’ isn’t actually a very good word, because as Surkov points out, separation from the West doesn’t mean that Russia won’t still be connected with the wider world. Perhaps the word he chooses to use – ‘loneliness’ (odinochestvo) – might be better. But whatever word one uses, the point is the same. If Surkov’s article, and others in Russia in Global Affairs, are anything to go by, Russia’s elite aren’t looking for a conflict with the West, but are increasingly convinced that partnership is impossible and that Russia will have to learn to live on its own. People in the West should not find that threatening, but personally I do find it more than a little bit regrettable.

26 thoughts on “The loneliness of the half-breed”

  1. You have hit the nail on the head here, Paul. This is indeed the classic Tsymbursky position. The West will not let Russia integrate into it, period; therefore Russia’s geopolitical strategy must attempt setting up safe boundaries that keep the separation from being a danger to Russia.

    You are right — even this will be construed as aggressive. But the liberal revolutionaries have never let rationality get in the way of their infinite ambitions.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m thinking that it might be a good idea to pen an article on Tsymbursky and the implications of his views. It could help dispel some misconceptions. Do you think TAC might be interested in that?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Nah, it looks to me as basically the same as Dugin, only without trolling. Dugin’s a polemicist, that’s the only difference. The idea is the same: leave us be, and do what you want on your side of the fence.


      1. Also, the Eurasianists often have this messianic tinge to their thinking – that Russia holds some eternal truth which it is its mission to spread to humanity as a whole. The Tsymbursky-ites don’t go for that.


      2. Dugin’s said a million things, a lot of it I perceive as trolling, trying to get attention, or getting carried away.

        The essential message I heard was exactly this: there are ‘civilizations’, each one of them is entitled to go its own way without being lectured or harassed by others. Now, there is, obviously, animosity towards the west, because it’s perceived as doing exactly that at the moment. But that’s the extend of it.

        He definitely isn’t advocating proselytizing anyone. He says, some westerners move to Russia and become Russians. Some Russians move to the west and become westerners. Good for them; no problem there.

        At least that’s what I heard.


  3. “Our cultural and geopolitical identity resembles that of somebody born of a mixed marriage. He’s a relative everywhere, but nowhere is he a native. He’s one of his own among strangers, but a stranger among his own. … Russia is a western-eastern half-breed country.”

    Surkov is clearly projecting here. The article is not about Russia – it’s about him.


  4. Not knowing the person, it’s a crude piece of writing.
    Using terms like “…half breed country” Can have all sorts of connotations.
    It perhaps expresses his own personal sentiments not some universal philosophy.
    I wonder why he wrote this and published it.


    1. “I wonder why he wrote this and published it.”

      As I said above – because it is not about Russia, but about him, Vladislav Surkov – half-Chechen and half-Jewish “Grey Cardinal of the Kremlin” ™, who desperately wanted to be loved by the liberals in country and by the West… and failed to get the desirable.


      1. “If that’s the case, then why couldn’t he just go write a poem?”

        His Muse left him? ‘)


      2. Twenty-five years ago I left my home country, that “precious stone set in the silver sea”, and settled in Russia.

        Russia is Russia and I wish to live nowhere else: I shall live and die here. The West has long held few attractions for me and the last thing I wish is that Russia become “part of the West”.

        The past is another country and even if I were to wish to return to the land of my birth, it would be a different place that I once knew …

        Into my heart an air that kills
        From yon far country blows:
        What are those blue remembered hills,
        What spires, what farms are those?

        That is the land of lost content,
        I see it shining plain,
        The happy highways where I went
        And cannot come again.

        Well, someone mentioned poetry!


  5. “Russia’s elite aren’t looking for a conflict with the West, but are increasingly convinced that partnership is impossible and that Russia will have to learn to live on its own…. I do find it more than a little bit regrettable.”

    What’s regrettable? Awareness of the obvious truth (total impossibility of partnership) is a good thing. Isolationism reduces the likelihood of conflict, which is good for everyone.


  6. Strange . . . . I would have thought Russia was the quintessential Eurasian–and am even quite pleased to watch Washington push Russia further and further into the arms of Beijing. I can’t help hoping that other European states would follow Russia’s example and make real the Eur- in asia.


  7. Though I don’t want to pile in, Paul, I concluded shortly after the 2nd round of NATO expansion that mutually beneficial good US-Russian relations simply were not possible, because the US gvt, on a bipartisan basis, simply do not want it.

    Consider sanctions. The 1973 Jackson-Vanik Amendment put economic sanctions on the USSR for restricting Jewish emigration. Gorbachev ended this restriction in 1989, yet the J-V Amendment continued to be applied to Russia until 2012. And the very day they were repealed, the Magnitsky sanctions were imposed. Yes, Russia has been under Congressionally-mandated economic sanctions Every. Single. Day. Of. Her. Independent. Existence. Even Yeltsin’s abject submission was insufficient to get them lifted.

    Consider Obama’s ‘Reset’ Policy. The US got several valuable benefits from that, such as Russian cooperation on Iran sanctions, suspension of an SA-10 sale to Iran after the Iranians had already paid for them, and the Northern Distribution Network. After Pakistan suspended transit in 2011, “The Troops” in Afghanistan would have starved to death without access to the Russian rail system. Now, can anyone tell me what benefit of similar scale to these that Russia derived from the Reset?

    Consider now that 2nd round of NATO expansion. The RAND Corporation has just come out with a new report, Assessing the Conventional Force Imbalance in Europe:

    Click to access RAND_RR2402.pdf

    According to RAND, the problem is that Russia has the temerity to have a ground force in her Western Military District that is larger than the combined ground forces of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia as well as an effective IADS vicinity her 2nd largest city, St. Petersburg and in Kaliningrad, the main base of the Russian Baltic Fleet. Even though NATO military spending and forces vastly exceeds Russia’s, NATO must urgently address this imbalance by moving more NATO forces to the Baltics. In this report, there is no hint of the fact that this situation is utterly & entirely self-inflicted on NATO. No, the fault is Russia’s and NATO must respond.

    The point is, the US approaches Russia only for unilateral benefit, and tries its utmost to reciprocate nothing. This has gone on since 1989, and I’m amazed by Putin’s patience under this sustained US hostility to Russia, and to him personally.

    But Surkov shows us that this patience has finally ended.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Okay, seriously now. If we are to read to this cry of Surkov’s soul as being genuine piece of “politology”, this means one thing – Russian elite admits that this old political-economic idea, which became the ruling one in Perestroika time, aka “One Integrated Common European/Western Home” for Russia has failed. Perestroika and the Shock Therapy did not integrate Russia into the “welcoming Western Family of the People” ™. Instead, it resulted in the annihilation of the country, economic catastrophe and the opening of your own country (and other freshly “independent” former SSRs) to the political occupation by the West.

    Tl;dr that 30 years of de-Sovietization, paying and repenting (repenting and paying), of going prostrate in order to please our “Western Partners” were for naught. That idea of the absolutely open economic (and political) system in Russia, open, first of all, to the West, was a mistake. Russian elite finally realized it and their instinct of self-preservation tells them, that Something Must Be Done. Right now, dear and beloved West can go full Bolshevik on them and their assets just because they are “Russians”. Just because.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. There may be an inadequate choice of term in translation to English: I’d argue that Surkov used “odinochestvo” to say singlness (in the purest sense) better known as uniqueness in everyday parlance… This doesn’t affect the essence of the essay but it does point to a different expectations regarding the outcome of the next 100/200/300 years of Russian geopolitical position


  10. Good topic. I agree, it is basically the Tsymbursky’s position, who is underrated and under discussed. It deserves longer, more thorough debate.


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