Putin’s Thousand-Year War

Kelly O’Neill discusses Eurasianism as an imperial idea in Foreign Policy.

Kelly O’Neill provided insights into Putin’s historical focus and Eurasianist goals for Michael Hirsh’s article “Putin’s Thousand-Year War” in Foreign Policy:

Putin’s historical focus is also meant to convey his deeply entrenched belief that Russia is a distinct civilization that has little in common with the West. This is a key element of “Eurasianism,” a Russian imperial ideology that is more than 100 years old but today has been directed at what Putin and his supporters see as the “philistinism” of the West and the corruption of its democracies, said Kelly O’Neill, a historian of Russia at Harvard University. She suggested that Putin’s reluctance to fully integrate modern Russia into the global economy—beyond selling it a lot of oil and gas—is based on the Eurasianist belief that Russia and its dominions are “distinct economies that belong to this beautiful imperial whole. It’s a defensive mechanism. If you integrate, then you become more vulnerable. Their view is, ‘We’re fortress Russia. We don’t need anyone else.’”

This attitude also has profound roots in Russian history, especially the Russian belief that Orthodox Christianity is superior to the West’s liberalized Christianity, which Putin and other conservative Russians view as corrupted by Enlightenment ideas. In the early 19th century, the Russian answer to the French Revolution’s Enlightenment creed, “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, Fraternity), was “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality”—which Sergey Uvarov, minister of public education to Tsar Nicholas I, formulated as the conceptual foundation of the Russian Empire. [...]

[...] “Eurasianism is an imperial idea because it offers a way to reconcile the unity of the people as a whole and their diversity,” O’Neill said. “It’s difficult to do that if you don’t have an empire.”

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Director, Imperiia Project / Lecturer on History, Harvard University

Kelly O’Neill is a historian of the Russian Empire and an advocate of spatial history.