Academic journal article Romanian Journal of European Affairs

Putin's Third Term: The Triumph of Eurasianism?

Academic journal article Romanian Journal of European Affairs

Putin's Third Term: The Triumph of Eurasianism?

Article excerpt

Abstract:

In the midst of the Russian Federation's 2012 presidential election, Vladimir Putin expressed his support for the establishment of a functioning Eurasian Union by 2015. This article attempts to demonstrate that this Eurasian push, taken in context together with a number of other policies and programs pursued by Putin and Dmitri Medvedev, reflects a shift in Russian identity politics towards neo-Eurasianism. In doing so, the potential weaknesses of neo-Eurasianism as an identity framework for the whole of Russian society will be highlighted, indicating that the further centralization of political authority with the core (Moscow) will only exacerbate grievances in the regions of the periphery.

Keywords: Russian Federation, Eurasianism, Eurasian Union, nationalism, Vladimir Putin

Putin's Legacy

On March 4th, 201 2, Vladimir Putin secured a third, non-consecutive term as President of the Russian Federation. Amid widespread reports of procedural irregularities at polling stations across the country, the Central Election Commission announced that Putin had secured 63.6% of the vote. His closest challenger in the final tally was the Communist Party's candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, who received only 1 7.2% of the vote. As such, Putin is likely to remain a dominant force in Russian politics until at least the conclusion of his latest presidential term in 2018. What impact might this third term have on prevailing narratives of Russian identity and the position of the Russian Federation in the world?

One theme that emerged in the course of the 2012 presidential election was the notion put forward by both Putin and his supporters in United Russia that a Eurasian Union be formed by the Russian Federation and a number of other post-Soviet states. Such a political and economic configuration in the region has been touted as a possible counterweight to the trans-Atlantic community - namely the European Union and the United States of America - on the world stage. Much has been made in particular of the remarks made by then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on October 4th, 2011, in which he called for the formation of this Eurasian Union in order to "...create real conditions to change the geopolitical and geo-economic configuration of the entire continent and have an undoubtedly positive global effect" (BBC, 201 1a).

It will be argued here that this proposal for a Eurasian Union, as well as the attendant notion that Russian identity can be characterized as distinctly 'Eurasian', is intended as the basis for Putin's legacy. Accordingly, Putin's successful bid for a third presidential term represents the institutionalization of an increasingly coherent neo-Eurasianism as the dominant political ideology of the Russian Federation in the early 21st century, possibly de-pragmatizing relations between the Russian state and its neighbours as well as between the core and the periphery of Russian society. In order to demonstrate this, the sources of the Eurasian Union proposal will first be examined. Subsequently, the intellectual contributions of Alexander Dugin, Vladislav Surkov, and Sergei Karaganov to the contemporary narrative of Russian identity will be considered, highlighting how the ideational position of Russia has steadily shifted from an Atlanticist orientation to a Eurasian one since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

An Ever Closer Union?

In seeking to understand the ramifications of Putin's increasingly Eurasianist slant, it is necessary to outline the origins of the October 201 1 proposal for a Eurasian Union. The concept of such an organization - an intergovernmental or even supranational entity encompassing the Russian Federation and other states in the post-Soviet space- is indeed nothing new. Proposals for a Eurasian Union were initially made in 1994 by President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan (Kilner, 2011). According to Nazarbayev, the process of integration would not have the immediate effect of forming a supranational entity; rather, it would be a gradual process with perhaps even more ambitious aims than those pursued through the formation of the European Union. …

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