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“Eurasia” will not come to an end

  On February 24 this year, Russia launched a “special military operation” against Ukraine. At present, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict shows no sign of ending soon, and is increasingly showing a long-term trend. From any perspective, this military conflict can be seen as the most significant geopolitical event since the end of the Cold War in Eurasia and the collapse of the Soviet Union. What attributes will history finally endow this local military conflict? What will happen to the situation in the Commonwealth of Independent States where there are “more independence and less union”? Will the “post-Soviet space” continue to exist as a whole? Can Russia reconstruct a “new Eurasia” dominated by it and transcend the borders of nation-states, and then change the Russia-Eurasia “small world” into a new actor in international relations?
“Eurasian centrism”: from diplomatic rhetoric to substance on the international agenda

  As a former empire and a superpower during the Cold War, Russia has an almost innate obsession with geostrategic space and the various geopolitical imaginations that come with it. Among them, “Eurasia” is a core concept with high fluidity and sufficient to represent Russia’s view of regional and world order. To a considerable extent and for most of its history, Russia regards itself as a “synonym” of “Eurasia” and wants to build a “Russian-centrism” security “concentric circle” structure. However, as a concept, the borders of “Eurasia” and the related position of Russia have always been in dynamic changes in the late Soviet Union and the “post-Soviet” period.
  The end of the Cold War, marked by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, offered a possibility to restructure the international and regional power structure beyond the nation-state system. As the successor state of the Soviet Union, the nascent Russia in the early 1990s was full of yearning for a “new world”. On December 8, 1991, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed the Commonwealth of Independent States Agreement in Belovezh Forest, Belarus, announcing the demise of the Soviet Union as a geopolitical entity and a subject of international law, and also marked the republics of the Soviet Union. A “civilized divorce” was achieved. Russian leaders once believed with full confidence that the bipolar pattern between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War would inevitably turn to Russia-US institutional cooperation with Russia’s political democratization and economic marketization, and that the international order would be under “Russian-American co-governance”. “On the basis of reborn.
  In the early days of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States still maintained the historical traces of a high degree of integration in the Soviet era. However, Russian President Yeltsin adopted a “one-sided” pro-Western policy and decided in 1994 that he would no longer maintain a unified economic, currency and defense space with the CIS countries. As a result, the Commonwealth of Independent States started almost overnight key processes such as building an army and minting coins that truly symbolize sovereignty and independence. Although “Eurasia” was important in Russian diplomacy at that time, it did not receive sufficient attention compared to the Russia-US alliance that Moscow wanted to establish.
  Different from the Russian official, Russian folk elites showed a strong nationalist complex, and advocated the formation of a “small Eurasian” or a small alliance in the northern region of Kazakhstan, where Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and ethnic Russians accounted for the absolute majority at that time. Yeltsin once persuaded the then Ukrainian President Kravchuk to agree to a separate alliance of the “three Slav brothers” in the Belovezh Forest, but under the latter’s firm demand for independence, the geopolitical plan of the “mini-Soviet Union” failed to take shape.
  In 1994, under the leadership of the United States, NATO began to discuss the specific prospects for eastward expansion. The then US President Bill Clinton publicly announced that NATO’s eastward expansion is no longer a question of “if”, but “when and how”. In the course of the reunification negotiations between the two countries, then US Secretary of State Baker made a verbal promise to the Soviet high-level that “NATO will not expand eastward by even a foot” was put aside, and Russia only got the diploma that “does not rule out the qualification to join NATO in the future” Rhetoric. Russia, which was in the dilemma of transition, proceeded from the domestic and foreign needs at that time, swallowed NATO’s eastward expansion, and signed the “Russia and NATO Basic Documents on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security” in 1997, which is not binding on both sides. This minimizes the security risks brought by NATO’s eastward expansion to Russia. Until NATO bombed Yugoslavia in 1999, Russia did not seem to regard reshaping the “post-Soviet space” as an important tool to hedge against NATO and US strategic pressure.
  Putin entered the Kremlin in 2000. Since then, Russia’s important diplomatic priorities have still retained the “Eurasian first” on the surface and the “Eurocentrism” in essence. The monograph “The End of Eurasia” published in 2002 by Dmitry Trenin, a well-known Russian scholar and former director of the Carnegie Center in Moscow, is enough to reflect the Russian diplomatic layout at that time. In his view, “Eurasia” has been destroyed by the total collapse of the “Soviet legacy”, the rise of newly independent states in “post-Soviet space” and their new options for economic globalization. Trenin bluntly pointed out that the only way out for Russia after the “end of Eurasia” is to “advance to Europe”.

On June 29, 2022, the 6th Caspian Sea Rim Summit was held in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan President Shcherdar Berdymukhamedov, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kazakh President Tokayev, Iranian President Lehi, and Azerbaijani President Aliyev were present.

  Therefore, when the short “honeymoon period” between Moscow and Washington after the 9.11 incident broke down due to the Iraq war, Russia increased cooperation with France and Germany, the “old European” powers. In 2005, Putin proposed to build four “unified spaces” with the EU: “economy”, “freedom, security and justice”, “external security” and “humanities”. In 2009, the then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed the establishment of a new European security architecture, and the following year launched the “Modernization Partnership Program” with the European Union. It can be basically confirmed that until 2007 when the establishment of a customs union within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Community was announced (officially launched in 2010), “Eurasia” was actually marginalized in the overall layout of Russia’s diplomacy. The formation of this situation is related to the Russian tradition of “great power centrism”, but also because Russia still had illusions about the West at that time.
  As a result, the “post-Soviet space”, which was regarded as the product of the “divorce of civilization” in the Soviet Union, was increasingly “de-Russified”. The CIS countries basically pursued diversified and balanced diplomacy, and developed and cooperated with foreign powers in parallel, thus building a more internationalized Political, economic and social picture. As a result, the whole world has witnessed the reorganization of spatial relations in the Eurasian region.
  In 2011, Putin launched the process of establishing the Eurasian Economic Union, which to a certain extent heralded the “return of Eurasia”. In 2012, when Putin and Medvedev “translocated” and returned to the Kremlin, the strategic mutual suspicion between Russia and the West also reached a new height. In 2014, Crimea was incorporated into the territory of Russia, which further solidified the confrontational structure between Russia and the West, and the relationship between the two sides has since entered a downward spiral. As a tool to hedge against the overlapping strategic pressure of the West, in addition to “turning to the East” to strengthen cooperation with non-Western powers such as China and India, Russia has significantly increased its investment in Eurasian regional affairs and its criticism of Western civilization.
  In 2015, the Eurasian Economic Union was officially launched, China and Russia signed the docking document between the “Belt and Road” initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union, and the “Greater Eurasian Partnership” was officially released. These major events marked the traditional “post-Soviet space”. With the support of the state (in fact not all of them) and the non-Western countries’ “Alliance of Civilizations” as the basis, Russia has officially begun to reconstruct “Eurasia” and given it the mission of the times to consolidate and strengthen Russia’s status as a great power. Since then, “Eurasia” has gone beyond the category of “post-Soviet space” and has become Russia’s core tool for maintaining global influence, and “Eurasian centrism” has evolved into a tangible international agenda.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict is a key node in where “Eurasia” is heading

  The Russian-Ukrainian conflict that broke out in 2022 will undoubtedly be a key node in where the entire “Eurasia” will go 30 years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. For Russia, in the context of accelerating international power transfer and increasingly fierce strategic competition between China and the United States, it is undoubtedly the best choice to obtain greater development potential through the reorganization of Eurasian geopolitical and economic blocks. Some Russian analysts pointed out that Russia has failed to find a place in the liberal international order dominated by the United States, and now has the opportunity to gain a favorable position in the “post-American order” formed by ideas such as “Greater Eurasia”. At least in Moscow’s view, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict not only has the effect of integrating the “post-Soviet space”, but also has the justice of anti-US and anti-hegemony.
  The 30 years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union is not only a process of continuously consolidating its status as a sovereign state by the newly independent states, but also includes three historical developments of “integration” in which states in the “post-Soviet space” frequently interact. The “maintained integration” with a high degree of political, economic and cultural interdependence; the second is the “bundled integration” that is being promoted and led by Russia; the third is the EU as a sample, which is taking the shape of the EU as a sample, and is promoted jointly with China and other major powers “aggregation integration”.
  It should be noted that some countries in the “post-Soviet space” have mixed attitudes towards Russia’s position and measures on the Ukraine issue. They have become accustomed to existing as independent subjects of international relations in the past 30 years or so, and they have also built an extensive cooperation network with the outside world. They further hope to develop balanced relations and expand cooperation with major powers.
  In a sense, the disintegration of the Soviet Union of “emotional” and “psychological” processes is not yet complete, especially for Russia. Russia will not “recreate the Soviet Union”. It is even more likely that, with the joint construction of the “Belt and Road” and the development of the Eurasian Economic Union as the driving force, Eurasian countries will break away from their previous fate as the fringes of globalization and achieve a brand-new development. Opportunities, and then generate a “Eurasian moment” in which many external forces pay attention and compete with each other.