It’s an interesting concept, fleshed out by Pepe Escobar in his latest article.
Eurasianism – and its several declinations – treats the complex Russian identity as double-faced, between east and west. Western liberal democracies simply can’t understand that these ideas – infusing varied brands of Russian nationalism – do not imply hostility to “enlightened” Europe, but an affirmation of Difference (they could learn a bit from reading more Gilles Deleuze for that matter). Eurasianism also weighs on closer relations with Central Asia and necessary alliances, in various degrees, with China and Turkey.
A perplexed liberal west remains hostage to a vortex of Russian images which it can’t properly decode – from the two-headed eagle, which is the symbol of the Russian state since Peter the Great, to the Kremlin cathedrals, the St. Petersburg citadel, the Red Army entering Berlin in 1945, the May 9 parades (the next one will be particularly meaningful), and historical figures from Ivan the Terrible to Peter the Great. At best – and we’re talking academic level ‘experts’ – they identify all of the above as “flamboyant and confused” imagery.
The apparently monolithic liberal west itself also cannot be understood if we forget how, historically, Europe is also a two-headed beast: one head may be tracked from Charlemagne all the way to the awful Brussels Eurocrat machine; and the other one comes from Athens and Rome, and via Byzantium/Constantinople (the Second Rome) reaches all the way to Moscow (the Third Rome).
. . .
So since the 8th century, Carolingian and Byzantine Europe were de facto at war across an Iron Curtain from the Baltics to the Mediterranean (compare it with the emerging New Iron Curtain of Cold War 2.0). After the barbarian invasions, they neither spoke the same language nor practiced the same writing, rites or theology.
This fracture, significantly, also trespassed Kiev. The west was Catholic – 15% of Greek catholics and 3% of Latins – and in the center and the east, 70% Orthodox, who became hegemonic in the 20th century after the elimination of Jewish minorities by mainly the Waffen-SS of the Galicia division, the precursors of Ukraine’s Azov batallion.
Constantinople, even in decline, managed to pull off a sophisticated geo-strategic game to seduce the Slavs, betting on Muscovy against the Catholic Polish-Lithuanian combo. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 allowed Muscovy to denounce the treason of Greeks and Byzantine Armenians who rallied around the Roman Pope, who badly wanted a reunified Christianity.
Afterward, Russia ends up constituting itself as the only Orthodox nation that did not fall under Ottoman domination. Moscow regards itself – as Byzantium – as a unique symphony between spiritual and temporal powers.
. . .
With the fall of the USSR, Russia found itself in a geopolitical situation last encountered in the 17th century. The slow and painful reconstruction was spearheaded from two fronts: the KGB – later FSB – and the Orthodox church. The highest-level interaction between the Orthodox clergy and the Kremlin was conducted by Patriarch Kirill – who later became Putin’s minister of religious affairs.
There’s more at the link.
This may sound far-fetched, until we recall that in 2019 the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, the titular (but disputed) “first among equals” of all Orthodox Patriarchs, recognized the Orthodox Church of Ukraine as an independent Patriarchy, no longer subordinate to the Patriarch of Moscow – the same Patriarch who works so closely with Vladimir Putin. More recently, on the Feast of St. Cyril IV of Constantinople last week, the Ecumenical Patriarch spoke openly about the situation in Ukraine:
“In our difficult days, in which Orthodox Christians massacre Orthodox Christians in Ukraine, torch cities, plunder houses, and castles, expel and force to expatriation of millions of people, energetically exclude countries and peoples, threaten with nuclear destruction the world, and generally completely overthrow the Gospel and the ethos of Christianity in a demonic way, we appeal to the help of St. Cyril, to stop the devastating war and to give His peace to the long-suffering country and the whole world!”
Those words are pretty unambiguous. The Ecumenical Patriarch has publicly rebuked Russia for its attempt to reassert its hegemony over Ukraine and, by extension, the rest of the Orthodox Church throughout the world. Them’s fightin’ words, to quote a well-known saying. He recognizes that the Patriarch of Moscow wants to be the “first among equals” instead of the Patriarch of Constantinople – and that President Putin would like that very much, as a means to extend and increase Russian influence into every Orthodox nation. In one sense, his words are a public rebuke to Patriarch Kirill, who has officially blessed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and justified it.
I think the Ecumenical Patriarch has confirmed, in so many words, the thesis put forward by Mr. Escobar. It seems Russia – or, at least, its President – may well be seeing the Ukraine war from spiritual and religious perspectives, as well as geopolitical. That opens up a whole new can of worms . . . because the Russians may now regard opposition to the war by anyone, whether Russian or foreign, as somehow “evil” or “satanic” or “against God’s will”.
Any student of history will confirm that wars of religion tend to be nastier, bloodier, and more catastrophic than almost any other kind. One can only hope and pray sanity prevails in Ukraine before religious fanaticism drags that war down the slippery slope yet again.