Сергей Караганов

Eastern Turn 2, or Siberian Russia

When in the late 2000s I and a group of my young colleagues started working on  a project of Russia’s turn to the East (the idea was also vigorously proposed at the same time by future Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his team), it implied the need to develop and use the advantages of the whole of Siberia and the Urals―a single historical, economic, and human region. However, it worked out differently: Turn 1 towards Asia and its markets was administratively executed mainly through Pacific Siberia, with the Arctic added to it later.

The Eastern turn, which began in the 2010s, was successful only in part, largely because the Far East had been arbitrarily torn away from Eastern and Western Siberia, which had a much bigger human, industrial, and resource potential. So, these regions continued to suffer from the “continental curse”remoteness from the markets.

         Now the new geostrategic situation urgently requires us to return to the original idea―the eastward turn of the whole of Russia through the prioritized development of all Siberia, including, of course, the Urals, that is, through the “Siberiazation” of the entire country. Europe has closed for many years to come and will never be able, and should not, become a first-class partner again, but Asia is booming.

         The war that the West has engineered and unleashed in Ukraine should not distract us from the movement to the South and the East―the future center of human development where the world is heading today. This new but long foreseen situation urges us to return “home” from our more than 300-year-long European journey, which has given us a lot but long lost its relevance. (The term ‘return home’ was gifted to me by a prominent philosopher and historian from Khabarovsk, Professor Leonid Blyakher, when we worked together on the previous round of the Eastern turn). Russia would not have achieved so much if it had not been for Russia’s Western journey started by Peter the Great. The most important of our achievements is the world’s greatest literature that blends  Russian culture, religion, and morality with European culture. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Gogol, then Blok, Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn, and other Titans of spirit who shaped our modern identity would hardly have appeared without the “European inoculation.”

         During those three centuries, we half-forgot about the Eastern roots of our state and people. The Mongols plundered our lands, but they also spurred development. Indeed, in opposing them and cooperating with them, we grasped elements of their statehood, which enabled us to build a powerful centralized state and develop continental thinking. Apparently, we inherited our unique cultural, national, and religious openness from Genghis Khan’s empire. The Mongols did not impose their culture and beliefs, and they were religiously open. This explains why, in an effort to preserve Russia, the Faithful Saint Prince Alexander Nevsky formed an alliance with no one else but the Mongols.

         There would have been no great Russia, and it would most likely not have survived on the Russian plain, besieged by rivals and enemies from the west and south, if the Russians had not moved en masse “beyond the Rock” (Urals) “towards the sun” in the 16th and subsequent centuries. The speed of their breakthrough can hardly be explained other than by divine intervention. Cossacks reached the Great Ocean in six decades.

         The development of Siberia turned ancient Russia and the Russian kingdom into great Russia. Even before it was proclaimed an empire, it used Siberian resources―furskins at first, then silver, gold, and minerals―to build and equip a powerful army and navy. Northern Silk Road also played a significant role: caravans carried Chinese goods through Kyakhta to Russia and beyond in exchange for furs. Also, competing and trading Russians living in Siberia closely interacted with immigrants from Central Asia―Bukharans as they were called back then.

         Siberia strengthened dramatically the best traits of the Russian character, specifically cultural and national openness, a desire for “volya”―Russian  sense of freedom, and undaunted courage. And, of course, collectivism as it was impossible to survive and conquer large spaces and nature without mutual assistance. Siberia has been developed by people of dozens of ethnic backgrounds who intermingled with the local population. This molded the Siberians who had absorbed the best qualities of Russian people: Russian Russians, Russian Tatars, Russian Buryats, Russian Yakuts, Russian Chechens, and so on. Prominent Tyumen journalist and writer Anatoly Omelchuk says Siberia was “the brewery of the Russian character.”

         Unparalleled is the feat of the best members of the Russian elite such as Witte, Stolypin, and their associates, and of the ordinary people who built the Trans-Siberian Railway within such a short period of time. They worked using the old slogan “Towards the sun!” and a new one―“Forward to Greater Eurasia” that reflected a specific and sublime goal.  Now the time has come to adopt a new slogan.

We should be grateful to them for their dedication, as well as to those who ended up in Siberia against their will for their hard labor. Convicts and Gulag prisoners made a huge, not yet fully appreciated, contribution to the country’s development.

         There was the spirit-lifting Soviet project to develop the Arctic and great Komsomol construction sites in Siberia, where representatives of all peoples from across the Soviet Union worked together, made friends, and created families. Siberian butter, grain, and sheepskin coats, horses from Mongolia, Buryatia, and Tuva and, of course, Siberian regiments played a crucial role in defending Moscow and winning the Great Patriotic War.

And then came Siberian oil and gas.

         But, of course, Siberia’s main asset contributing to Russia’s treasury is its  courageous, persistent, strong, and enterprising people―an embodiment of the Russian spirit. We should not only facilitate the resettlement of Russians from the country’s central regions (including the newly incorporated ones) to Siberia, but we should also encourage Siberians to run the country using their experience, knowledge, and the sense of closeness to Asia.

Generations of our fellow citizens who developed Siberia did not fully realize, although there were some who did, that by bringing Siberia to the Asian markets and into the future they making Russia a great Eurasian power. That future has come.

         The confrontation started by the West, the decomposition of its society spurred by the elites, and a long-term slowdown in Europe’s development unequivocally indicate that the future of Russia is in the East and South, where the center of global development is shifting.

Russia, with its unique culture and openness, is called upon to become an important part of this shifting, one of its leaders, to become what fate, Almighty, and the selfless work of generations of our ancestors predetermined it to be―Northern Eurasia, its balancer, military-strategic core, and a guarantor of the diktat-free renaissance of the previously suppressed cultures, countries, and civilizations.

         We are witnessing the birth of a new world. In many ways, we have become its midwife, having cut the foundation from under the 500-year hegemony of Europe and the West―their military superiority.

Now we are repelling, hopefully, the last attack of the outgoing West, which is seeking to reverse history by inflicting a strategic defeat on us in Ukraine. We must win this fight even by making threats and, if need be, using the severest of means. This is necessary not only for our victory but also for keeping the world from sliding towards the Third World War.

         But, I repeat, the fight with the West should not distract us from the most important creative tasks, which include the new development of the entire east of the country. Not only geo-economics and geopolitics, but also climate change, inevitable in the coming decades, on the one hand, necessitate, but on the other hand, prove the possibility and advantage of declaring and implementing a new Siberian turn for the whole of Russia, and shifting the center of its spiritual, human, and economic development to the East.

         Siberia’s mineral resources, rich lands and forests, and abundance of clean fresh water are destined to lay the foundation for the development of Eurasia through the use of modern technologies and, most importantly, the talents of Siberians. Our task is to hold Siberia firmly in our hands and develop it for the benefit of our country and its citizens, and for all humankind. So far, we have been supplying mainly resources of low-level processing. The task is to build all-Russian full-cycle production complexes to be regulated by the state. It is necessary to recreate the Siberian machine-building industry on the newest basis, using the current stream of defense orders.

All-Russia administrative centers―ministries, legislative bodies, headquarters of large corporations―should act likewise, attracting patriotic and truly ambitious young people. If Peter the Great were to livve now, he would certainly found a new capital in Siberia and broaden the window on Asia substantially. Russia utterly needs a third, Siberian capital, along with Moscow and St. Petersburg. This is also necessitated by the tense military-strategic situation that we are most likely to have in the coming years.

I know that people living in the Urals and beyond, many of whom carry the fiery spirit of their ancestors―the great discoverers―wish for the revival of Russia and prosperity, including through the prioritized development of Siberia. Unfortunately, seeing no prospects and opportunities for applying their ambitions and abilities, a considerable part of them move to well-developed central regions or quietly wither away in small towns and villages in the eastern part of the country. It is in our power and interest to use this colossal human potential and destroy unnecessary bridges between the Siberian hinterland, large administrative centers, and the rest of Russia in order to assemble the great geographical and civilizational axis of history. Reorientation of consciousness and mentality of all our fellow citizens, and commitment to the glorious Siberian past, present, and future for the benefit of the whole country will by all means find an echo in the hearts of Siberians. I will say this again: we need a Siberian strategy for the whole of Russia, not just for the Ural, Siberian, and Far Eastern districts, which, frankly speaking, are weak, including because of narrow approaches.

A strategy should begin not so much with dry economic calculations, although the existing ones are more than convincing―owing to the work done by Novosibirsk scientists in cooperation with their Moscow colleagues―as with a spiritual and cultural return to the core of Russian identity and the magnificent and breathtaking history of the development of the Asian part of Russia. For every patriot of our country, the history of Siberia, full of romance, victories, and adventures, should become his own. The conquest of the American West, which everyone knows about, is a pale shadow of a series of exploits performed by our ancestors who did not resort to genocide but intermingled with the locals. And yet most people and even intellectuals know almost nothing about this. Take just Alexander Nevsky’s 18-month voyage in the late 1240s through Central Asia and Southern Siberia to the capital of the Mongol Empire, Karakorum, to get a higher-level label for reigning than the one issued by Batu Khan. Kublai Khan, who would soon become an emperor and unifier of China, and the founder of the Yuan dynasty, and whom we know from Marco Polo’s narratives, was there at that time. They almost certainly met. Probably, Alexander Nevsky’s campaign should be acknowledged as the beginning of the history of the development of Siberia and Russian-Chinese relations, now de facto allied and destined to become the bearing foundation of the new world order.

We must build new meridional routes connecting Southern Siberia with the Northern Sea Route, leading to China and through it to Southeast Asia. The Cis-Ural region and western regions of Siberia should get unhindered access to India, other countries of South Asia and the Middle East. It is gratifying that, finally albeit belatedly, we are finishing the railway that will connect Russia, including its Siberian regions, with the Indian Ocean via Iran.

It is necessary to develop Siberia’s water resources by engaging with water-deficient fraternal Central Asian countries with excess labor not by initiating bad river reversal projects but by jointly making water-intensive products and exporting “virtual water,” that is, water used for the production of food and other goods. A symbiosis of Siberian and Central Asian development will bring huge benefits to everyone.

Labor shortages must be partially offset by mass employment of hardworking and disciplined North Koreans. We are finally breaking the habit of stupidly following the Western stance on the DPRK and are restoring friendly relations with that country. I know that India and Pakistan are also interested in providing at least seasonal employees.

The Higher School of Economics, jointly with the Institute of Economics and Industrial Engineering of the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences, other institutes from its Siberian and Far Eastern Branches, and Tomsk, Barnaul, Khabarovsk, and Krasnoyarsk universities, is starting a project to justify the Turn to the East 2―towards Siberiazation of Russia.

We also need an intensive national program for the development of Oriental studies and the study of Oriental languages, peoples, and cultures starting from school. Uniquely culturally and religiously open Russia has a huge head start in this respect, inherited from our ancestors who moved to the East absorbing local peoples and cultures, not enslaving and destroying them, as Europeans did.

Sun Tzu, Confucius, Kauṭilya (or Vishnugupta), Rabindranath Tagore, Ferdowsi, King Darius, Tamerlane, al-Khwarizmi (founder of algebra), Abu Ali ibn Sina (Avicenna, the founder of medicine), and Fatima al-Fihriya, the founder of the world’s first university, should be as familiar to an educated Russian as Alexander the Great, Galileo, Dante, Machiavelli or Goethe is. We must understand the essence of not only Orthodox Christianity but also of Islam and Buddhism. All these religions and spiritual movements are already part of our spiritual memory. We just need to preserve and develop them.

In addition, given the inevitable climate change in the coming decades, Siberia will expand the comfortable habitat. Nature itself invites us to start a new eastward Siberian turn in Russia. Let me repeat this again: by creating and implementing a program of Russia’s turn to the East, we are not only coming back home to the source of our power and greatness, but we are also opening up new horizons for ourselves and future generations, creating and fulfilling the old/new Russian dream: aspiring for the greatness of the country, prosperity, and freedom, Russian freedom, and realizing the best we have in us―the Spirit of Russians.