The quest for an alternative mind-set: Putin and the Eurasian way of life
East and West

The West carries with it several connotations depending on who quotes it. For some it is a historical civilization with Judaeo-Christian roots. Others may say it is a geographical region. Or even the NATO. And a social, economic and political model. A collective identity. The EU and the US. Liberal Democracies. Colonial powers. Responsible for the dependency of the Third World. The Old Europe. The USA. Constitutional States.

Even separating us from the emotional and geographical characteristics of this notion it is quite difficult to find a sufficiently convenor and unassailable definition. However, if we have to establish a minimum corollary we can say that the West represents a mind-set, based on a set of institutions and specific complicities shared by a group of people, nations and societies. This western mind-set can be good, bad, indifferent, abusive, aggregator or even awesome but this article does not have the intention to take a side. It just takes the idea of mind-set into consideration.

The fact that during the twentieth century the growth and strengthening of this western mentality were followed by the search for alternatives or optimized mind-sets cannot surprise us: the socialism-communism, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Pan-Arabism, etc. One thing is certain: belonging to a group with strongly rooted affinities that enables it to define itself as a mind-set creates an identity element and unfortunately a potentially differentiating one. We speak about ourselves and the others. We refer the westerns and the non-westerns.

The search for that alternative and distinctive mentality may help explain Putin's strategy for Ukraine. Looking at the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent positions of Russians in the Ukrainian’s eastern region we have to think beyond the exclusively security issues or the economic and energetic ones. There is no way to dissociate Putin's strategy from the ideology that drives it. One can say that the century of the ideologies may already have passed through, but those ideologies have not been forgotten or buried under the rubble of the Iron Curtain.

The implosion of the Soviet Union and the announcement of the end of the soviet model placed Russia in a space of ideological vacuum. When Putin came to power he reinvested into the plan to recover ideological legitimation for Russia’s guiding role in the region. The need to put his country back on the map of the superpowers made the Russian leader go back to the Europe’s division plan, decided precisely in Crimea at the famous Yalta Conference in 1945, by the end of World War II. And it was around that fictional line that he cooked an alternative model led by Russia as opposed to the EU’s model and, more importantly, NATO’s model. Losing the Baltic countries to NATO and the EU’s adherent ones in 2004 was a harsh strike for Russia. And Putin felt it. Therefore, after the tough moral and economic reconstruction of his country, Putin promised himself that he was not going to allow any more of these intrusions in the Russian sphere of influence.

In the case of the western mind-set it is clear that it went far beyond the geographical limits of Western Europe either through the European expansionism (Australia) or even by the adoption of this mentality by other societies and/or politicians (South Korea). Putin did not have much to choose once his strategy could only be confined to the geographical space of the former USSR, whether by Mao’s treason and the following Deng Xiaoping’s “communist-for-this-capitalist-for-that” path or by the different tracks driven by the communist countries of Africa, Central and South America, Asia and… Europe. Hence, the former members of the soviet world progressively changed their mind-sets after their father’s fall in 1991. And Russia was left alone with no friends to share a mentality.

The idea of an alternative identity mind-set came up as a result of this ideological vacuum reinforced by the humiliation that Russia suffered after the end of the Cold War. The Prime-Minister-President-Prime-Minister-President Putin devoted himself to the creation of a new, clearly anti-West ideology, based in historical and cultural incompatibilities, with special commitment and strength after the joining of the European eastern states to the EU in mid-2000s. In order to guarantee the maintenance of the remaining ex-soviet republics under Russia’s umbrella (Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, etc.), Putin fictionalized a kind of Eurasian way of life with common identity features. And with it he seeks to morally justify Russia’s actions in the region. Within this way of thinking there is no room for agreements between distinct civilizations and incompatible mind-sets.

The question that arises is simple: what are the distinctive and aggregator features of this Eurasian mentality? And who composes it? The Slavs? The Orthodox-Christians? The ex-Soviets? What is at stake here is not the existence of affinities that certain people or generations have towards Russia. That alone does not define a mind-set once it should not be considered incompatible to share these affinities with Russia and to be interested in the EU’s benefits at the same time. The identification with a mind-set requires a feeling of identity with it and the willing to be part of it and only it.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine can only be justified within Putin’s idea of the Eurasian club. Yet this mind-set appears as a purely normative exercise. It does not portray the reality, but Putin’s wishes for it. And from a perspective of historical honour issues the pathos is confused purposely with the ethos.

By doing little or nothing for Ukraine, the EU and the US are accepting this distinction. This is the key point of the current situation. Unfortunately, the West and the westerners are accepting Putin’s mind-set! In addition to not understanding the external evils of our own mind-set, we are still shackled by the ghosts of the Cold War in Europe. Are these decades of physical and ideological separation enough to accept that we are different and incompatible civilizations? And if so, how do we explain the presence of former socialist countries in the EU? If they were compatible back then why are the remains incompatible nowadays?

Europe itself must come away from the identity limitations that are dividing it since Yalta and has to stop being hostage of the Western mind-set exclusively. By accepting the existence of a Eurasian mind-set, Europe is clearly putting itself again in the centre of a new ideological conflict.

Putin appreciates it and Ukraine remains waiting.