Dreams of the Eurasian Heartland: The Reemergence of Geopolitics

Few modern ideologies are as whimsically all-encompassing, as romantically obscure, as intellectually sloppy, and as likely to start a third world war as the theory of "geopolitics."

Popularized at the beginning of the twentieth century by an eccentric British geographer, Sir Halford Mackinder, geopolitics posits that the earth will forever be divided into two naturally antagonistic spheres: land and sea. In this model, the natural repository for global land power is the Eurasian "heartland" -- the territory of the former Russian empire. Whoever controls the heartland, wrote Mackinder, will forever seek to dominate the Eurasian landmass and ultimately the world.

Unsurprisingly, this theory of geopolitics has not gone unnoticed in the heartland itself. Today, in the shadow of the Kremlin's spires, geopolitical theory has a fast-growing set of devotees. Many Russian intellectuals, who once thought their homeland's victory over the world would be the inevitable result of history, now pin their hope for Russia's return to greatness on a theory that is, in a way, the opposite of dialectical materialism. Victory is now to be found in geography, rather than history; in space, rather than time.

A geopolitical theory called Eurasianism has become the common focus of Russia's "red-brown" coalition -- the alliance of ultra-left and ultra-right politicians who together control close to half of the Duma (Russia's lower house of parliament) and who grow stronger each day, as Russia's economic crisis radicalizes the country's long-suffering population.

In its milder form, Eurasianism simply stresses Russia's uniqueness and argues that Russia need not Westernize in order to modernize. But in its hard-line version, the movement envisions the Eurasian heartland as the geographic launch pad for a global anti-Western movement whose goal is the ultimate expulsion of "Atlantic" (read: "American") influence from Eurasia.

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