What began as a fascinating analysis in Charles Clover’s “Black Wind, White Snow: The Rise of Russia’s New Nationalism”, of the idea of Eurasianism – a theory of Russian national identity not only based on geopolitics, but also potentially used to explain the rise of nationalism in the country – turned out to be a long-winded and slightly messy account of its intellectual history, of how the idea came to be. As a result, comparatively little is said about the influence of Eurasianism within President Vladimir Putin’s government (despite the persistence of this form of nationalism under his predecessors Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev), and even less is said about how it might influence Russia’s politics and geopolitics in the future.
Describing Eurasianism as “an audacious attempt to stitch together a unitary political entity out of a mythical steppe tribe ancestry and a great profusion of linguistic, cultural and anthropological data”, the book is organised chronologically across three parts, and the narrative revolves around key individuals and their contributions to Eurasianism: First, linguists Roman Jakobson and Nikolai Trubetzkoy (who inaugurated phonology, the study of the systematic organisation of sounds in languages – with further implications for a discrete “Eurasian” civilisation; that of a “Eurasian Language Union” – and who were part of the Russian émigré after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917); second, historian Lev Gumilyov (whose study of the history and geography of inner Asia as well as the history of the nomads and their culture formed the basis of his theory of Eurasianism); and third, political analyst Aleksandr Dugin (whose book “The Foundations of Geopolitics”, with its emphasis on putting “the Soviet Union back together”, is said to have had a large influence within Russian military and political circles, especially the hardliners).
The interesting biographies and storytelling reflects the extensive research done, yet “Black Wind, White Snow” only got going halfway through the third and final part, with the ascension of President Putin. With Russia conceived and projected as a civilisation which has “inherited the mantle of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union”, the lens of Eurasianism is said to offer “a consistent explanation as to which battles the Kremlin has chosen to fight, which ones it has chosen not to, and how it has fought them”. Clover then gives eye-opening accounts of the contemporary use of political technology such as polling and political messaging techniques, the conspiracies surrounding three events – the 1991 Soviet coup d’état attempt, the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, and the start of the Second Chechen War – as well as the more recent Russo-Georgian War in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Collectively, with the dissemination and even the official articulation of the ideas of Jakobson, Trubetzkoy, Gumilyov, and Dugin, the thesis is this: “Rather than viewing the Kremlin as a military unit with a strict top-down command and control structure, the concept of network organisations seems to provide a better metaphor”. Overall, however, the book is a missed opportunity to study the implications of Eurasianism for a Russia in flux: With the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election, with President Putin have registered to run for a fourth term in office, and with continued anti-corruption protests across the country.