Perhaps the next superpower on the world stage will indeed be a Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis. It’s often said here on Global Geopolitics that Germany’s Fourth Reich will lead the new superpower, which is to say a United States of Europe. That may strongly be the case, but a twist as described here, can also come into play. This isn’t the first time “from Lisbon to Vladivostok” has been mentioned.
Whatever it may look like, a new superpower emerging certainly isn’t far away as America suicides itself into the history books. The next chapter in world history isn’t going to be the end of the world, but the end of America as we know it.
In a landmark treatise titled “Russia’s Foreign Policy: Historical Background,” published March 3, 2016 in the Russian foreign affairs journal Russia in Global Affairs, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov challenged the Western perspective on Russia with an analysis of Russian history. According to Lavrov, Russia has played an important role in shaping both European history and contemporary European policies. He writes that contrary to the belief widespread in the West that Russia is Europe’s” political outsider, “it is an integral part of the European context, adding that while throughout history Russia’s power has been obstructed by European countries, Europe’s geography, and its historical, intrinsic interconnection with Russia, signifies that the former will always have to consider the latter. Lavrov also sketches out a bipolar world in which Russia confronts the U.S. by expanding its own realm of political influence and power from the Atlantic to the Pacific, as part of a new political entity – Eurasia. The vision of Eurasia and the resultant political goals are in essence an ideological blueprint for an ideological agenda to counter the U.S.
This report will present the Russian perspective, political ideology, and goals, as set out not only by Foreign Minister Lavrov but also by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and citing these ideas’ roots in recent history. It will not, however, include an examination of the extent to which these ideas and goals can actually be implemented at this time, given the country’s current economic, political, and structural situation
A Europe From Lisbon To Vladivostok
In his article, Lavrov notes that the concept of a “common European home” for Russia and Europe, which was supported by French president Gen. Charles de Gaulle who never questioned that Russia belongs to Europe, is the only way to build a strong and safe Europe. De Gaulle is actually quoted often by Russian politicians, because of his idea of a Europe extending from the Atlantic to the Urals. In a November 23, 1959 speech in Strasbourg, he said: “Yes, it is Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, it is Europe, it is the whole of Europe that will decide the fate of the world.”
It is not by chance that a Russian politician quotes a French president, as de Gaulle’s France had several points in common with the Russia of today. After WWII, France was in a predicament: It felt that it could either choose submission to the new superpower, the U.S., that had saved France from the catastrophe of Nazism – and give up its dreams of grandeur – or take an anti-U.S. approach so that it could rebuild the global power that it had once had. The second option was more appealing to de Gaulle, and he looked to Russia to build a strong Europe that could counterbalance the American strength and give France an international role as a major power. In this context, de Gaulle pursued a policy of “national independence” that led him to withdraw from NATO’s military integrated command, a move still appreciated today in Moscow.
Today’s Russia, like de Gaulle’s France, also harbors nostalgia for its own national grandeur. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Russia resented the U.S. – not only for the collapse of the Soviet Union but also for NATO’s eastward expansion, that came in spite of NATO secretary-general Manfred Wörner’s guarantees to Russia that there would be no such expansion.
In an article on the website of the Russian think tank Valdai Discussion Club, Rein Müllerson, Research Professor at Tallinn University in Estonia, noted that the nightmare of the U.S. is the prospect of the emergence of a Europe “from Lisbon to Vladivostok, or, using the vision of de Gaulle, from the Atlantic to the Urals.” He states that even though European foreign policies have become “subordinated to the American interests,” de Gaulle’s dream is “still alive.” De Gaulle predicted the rise of China and concluded that this was another reason for Europe’s and Russia’s need for each other. In line with this thinking, Müllerson also notes that in early 2016, 20 high-level French diplomats, including former foreign ministers Hervé de Charette, Roland Dumas, and Hubert Védrene as well as prominent intellectuals from the Club des Vingt, wrote that Europe should strengthen relations with Russia in order to prevent the emergence of a bipolar world led by China and the U.S. Their statement read: “A European continent without the new Russia would not be complete; a strong Franco-Russian relationship is essential for the sake of the [intra-]European balance. A Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis would be an ideal guarantee of peace in Europe and even beyond, so as to prevent the risk of the emergence of a bipolar (Sino-American) world.”
In 2014, on a Paris visit, Russian State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin said that de Gaulle’s idea for a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals was important for Europe’s security and that it “has no alternative”: “We remember Gen.de Gaulle as the author of the idea of a unified Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals. He, like no one else, sensed the core of global processes that were taking place in Europe at that time. His scenario of providing a safe future for Europe is relevant in our days, and has no alternative. Those who are trying to break that trend while staying thousands of kilometers away from Europe [i.e. the U.S.] are making a great historical mistake.”
NATO’s Expansion Eastward – A Provocation Against Russia
According to the Kremlin, the relationship between Europe and Russia cannot succeed, since the U.S. is building barriers, via NATO’s expansion, to separate the two. In his treatise, Lavrov also quotes Sovietologist and architect of U.S. Cold War policy George Kennan, who had noted that NATO’s expansion eastwards would be a “tragic mistake.” On April 30, 1998, the U.S. Senate voted to expand NATO by including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in it. A few days later, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote about a conversation he had had with Kennan, in which the latter called the Senate’s move the “beginning of a new cold war” and added: ”I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country [i.e. the U.S.] turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [The NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.” Kennan also noted that the West should not be “turning our backs” on Russia: “I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don’t people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.”
Moving From Europe To Eurasia
In his treatise, Lavrov further reiterates that Russia’s history, culture, and geography make it a natural bridge between Europe and Asia. It will never be wholly European because of its Mongolian past and its natural expansion eastwards, he says, but its natural Eurasian identity will lead it to expand its political influence across both Europe and Asia.
The concept of a Russian Eurasian identity, which is rooted in the intellectual movements of 1910-20, has been politically developed by Putin, who sponsored the 2015 creation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), an international organization of regional economic integration originally proposed in 1994. In 2011, as Russian prime minister, Putin wrote an article titled “A New Integration Project For Eurasia: The Future In The Making,” in which he stated that a Eurasian Union does not entail a “revival of the Soviet Union,” because “it would be naïve to try to revive or emulate something that has been consigned to history.” Proposing instead “a powerful supranational association capable of becoming one of the poles in the modern world and serving as an efficient bridge between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region,” Putin specified that the Eurasian Union “will be based on universal integration principles” as an essential part of a “Greater Europe.” Echoing de Gaulle’s idea of a Europe stretching “from the Atlantic to the Urals,” Putin explained that, in line with the idea of a Eurasian Union, Russia proposes “setting up a harmonized community of economies stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok.” According to Putin, a partnership between the Eurasian Union and the EU would “prompt changes in the geopolitical and geo-economic setup of the continent as a whole with a guaranteed global effect.”
Russia also needs China to implement the Eurasian integration project. Russian political analyst Sergey Karaganov explains, in a February 13, 2016 article in the Russian journal Russia in Global Affairs, that Russia and China now find themselves moving towards each other. Having met growing resistance in the Pacific from the U.S., China has been obliged to move westward, towards Central Asia and Europe – and therefore also towards Russia. At the same time, NATO’s expansion eastwards obliged Russia to move east, towards China. Karaganov explains that most experts predicted an “almost inevitable clash between Russia and China in Central Asia,” but, he added, “Moscow and Beijing had the wisdom to avoid confrontation by converting their potential differences into a potential for cooperation. In 2015 they reached an agreement to integrate or ‘pair’ the Silk Road Economic Belt project and the Eurasian Economic Union. “This agreement took shape in the joint statement by Russia and China on the integration of the Eurasian Economic Union with the Silk Road Economic Belt, a Chinese project that focuses on integrating trade and investment in Eurasia. Thus, China, Central Asia, Russia, and Europe’s Baltic region were brought together, and the agreement was adopted at the May 8, 2015 Putin-Xi summit in Moscow.
As noted in the introduction, the aim of this paper is to present the Russian political ideology, vision and goals, not critique them. However, several analytical points must be made.
The Internal Scene
The European/NATO Scene
As relations between Russia and the West have deteriorated following NATO’s expansion eastward, Russia’s willingness to engage with NATO is now limited to the level of cooperation only. NATO’s eastward expansion is perceived by Russia as a military provocation and as a way to obstruct Russia from reassuming her historic role as a global player. In 2014, President Barack Obama even called Russia a “regional power” that had seized part of Ukraine – creating further anger on Russia’s part. Following the Ukrainian crisis, Russia’s ambitions were further curbed by economic sanctions and by exclusion from the G-8. It is worth noting that Russia is also irritated by the U.S. role in supporting color revolutions in what Russia perceives as its own backyard (e.g. those in Georgia and Ukraine) as well as its backing of the ascendance of pro-U.S. leaders who aspire to join NATO.