Politics / Reports

Neo-Eurasianism and hybrid warfare: defining Russian expansionism

Neo-Eurasianism is the school of thought, advocating the amalgamation of  former Soviet Union countries into a single Russian state. Maksym Beznosiuk identifies neo-Eurasianism as the ideological foundation for the Kremlin’s present expansionist policy. The report contends that hybrid warfare is a tool for furthering neo-Eurasianist agenda in practice, as evidenced by the 2014 annexation of Crimea

Nearly two years have gone by, since revolutionary events in Ukraine triggered its transition to a pro-European government and the beginnings of Russian incursion into Ukraine. Experts have defined the extent to which Russia’s takeover of Crimea affected the international legal order and the balance of powers in Europe. The hybrid warfare campaign in eastern Ukraine remains a key factor, responsible for the first redrawing of borders in Europe since the end of World War II.

Experts in defence and security have investigated the motives and goals of the Kremlin in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The relatively new concept of neo-Eurasianism and its impact on Russian foreign policy has received inadequate attention in the academic community.

It is crucial to understand neo-Eurasianism as the main driving force behind Kremlin’s recent activities in post-Soviet space. This helps explain the nature of Russian hybrid warfare, presently at work in Ukraine.

Neo-Eurasianism, the driving force behind Russia’s foreign policy

The collapse of the Soviet Union contributed to the re-emergence of an old debate concerning Russia’s relationship with the West.[1] Its focus has been the prospective implementation of economic and democratic reforms in Russia, aimed at facilitating closer convergence with Europe.[2] At the time, Russian pro-Western liberal-minded and nationalistic intellectuals fiercely advocated the role of Russia’s unique strategic and geographic location, between Europe and Asia[3].

While pro-Western Russians seemingly lost influence over the aforementioned debate at the end of the 1990s, nationalists exposed the ideology of neo-Eurasianism, which had become popular with Russian intelligentsia and post-Soviet state officials. The neo-Eurasianist concept stems from traditions of Russian nationalism, which typically focus on the uniqueness of the Russian-Eurasian civilization, in its struggle against the dominance of the West.[4]

President Vladimir Putin, who came to power in 1999, was among those officials who were anxious over the weaknesses of the Russian State. Amongst others, Putin aspired to see Russia revive its past glory and might.[5] He and his close circle were closely tied to neo-Eurasianism ideologists led by Alexander Dugin, and shared both the ideas and ideals of the neo-Eurasian concept.[6]

Since the beginning of the century, Putin and his entourage have been influenced by neo-Eurasianism as an ideology. These individuals have actively been involved in reviving Russia’s former geopolitical status and influence in the region. The consequences of their activities are reflected in Kremlin’s recent attempts form a Eurasian Union and its active usage of political tools. This indicates a geopolitical neo-Eurasian project in due course of implementation, designed by the Kremlin, in order to rebuild the Russian State and restore the boundaries of the former Soviet Union. Russia’s recent acquisition of Crimea serves as a key example of Moscow’s application of neo-Eurasianism in post-Soviet space.

Neo-Eurasianism explained

At the beginning of 1990s, initiatives to implement economic and democratic reforms in Russia were not positively perceived by Russian patriotic groups, which opposed rejection of all remaining elements of the Soviet system. The latter considered the USSR demise a tragic event in the history of Russia. [7] Alexander Dugin was among these leading intellectual figures. Later on, he started to work on the concept of neo-Eurasianism, which incorporates elements of Eurasianism, Slavic and pan-Slavic movements.

Supporters of neo-Eurasianism consider the Russia-Eurasian space uniquely positioned in geographical and civilizational terms, hence representing the legacy of the former Russian imperial and Soviet statehood.[8] In their view, Russia-Eurasia represents both a unified civilizational entity that formed in the geographical heart of Eurasia, and an ideological principle.[9] The key imperative of this principle is to make use of neo-Eurasianism as a main platform in the battle against the US-dominated West.[10]


Graph 1. Neo-Eurasianists believe that the West tries to implement the so-called “Anakonda” strategy to encircle and diminish Russia’s influence[11].

Neo-Eurasianists attribute the demise of the USSR to a tactical and strategic loss of vast Russian territories and influence in the region. According to their stance, there are ongoing attempts near Russia’s western borders to further encircle its territory and diminish its economic and political influence.[12]


Graph 2. Loss of ideological control and surrender of Russian imperial ambitions[13]

Following on from the aforementioned assumptions, the top priority of neo-Eurasianist agenda is to prevent any further western pressure and attempts to destabilise Russia, by expanding so-called “Eurasian large spaces.”[14]


Graph 3. Neo-Eurasianist vectors of natural geopolitical expansion of Eurasian large spaces. Three Eurasian spaces – (1) Western (EuroAfrica), (2) – Core (Russia-Eurasia) and Eastern(Pacific)[15]

Russian hybrid warfare: a tool for implementing neo-Eurasianist agenda

A new pro-Western government in Ukraine has been threatening the implementation of Russia’s neo-Eurasianist project in post-Soviet space, aimed at restoring a new integration structure led by Russia. The democratically elected government of Ukraine gave birth to Kremlin’s fears a similar democratic scenario potentially developing in Russia[16].

In order to prevent Ukraine’s choice to pursue closer ties with Europe over participation in the Russian Eurasianist project, the Kremlin decided to indirectly make use of military forces in the Crimean peninsula, which is mostly populated by ethnic Russians[17]. This decision was complied with the neo-Eurasianist concept to prevent Crimea from falling within NATO and EU spheres.[18] Russian political elites assume that any closer convergence between Ukraine and the EU will automatically imply Euro-Atlantic integration, which poses a threat to Russia’s western borders and the implementation of the neo-Eurasianist project in the post-Soviet space.[19]

It took less than three weeks for Russia to conduct its military operation and illegally annex Crimea. It then staged the referendum on Crimea’s return to Russia and undertook the necessary steps to legally prepare its reunification with Russia. The Kremlin’s offensive activities have resumed in eastern parts of Ukraine, where it backed up separatist movements, by sending military instructors and arms to the Donbas region.

Russia’s hybrid warfare in Ukraine serves as an excellent example of the Kremlin’s attempts to promote its neo-Eurasianist agenda at any price. After considering the essence and emergence of neo-Eurasianism, it is equally important to understand the foundation that was laid out to ensure its smooth and effective implementation.

Experts in security, defence and other fields of study have struggled to examine the nature and origins of Russia’s hybrid warfare for some time. Speculations about the doctrine of hybrid warfare have circulated. Nonetheless, a closer look at ongoing processes of transformation of the Russian military serve as evidence for Russian attempts to modernise its armed forces and to adapt to realities of modern warfare. Conceptually, the Kremlin wants to catch up with the West.

With Putin’s arrival to the presidency, Russia’s military budget increased to $90 billion in 2013[20]. In stark contrast, it had amounted to slightly less than $21 billion in 1998[21]. This increase is due to Russia’s plan to modernise 70 percent of its military hardware and technology by 2020[22]. Meanwhile, a new Military Reform Programme for the years 2008-2020 has been introduced, with the view of strengthening a centralised political and military control over Russian armed forces[23]. Structural transformations have laid the foundation for the creation of rapid deployment forces, consisting of special intelligence and operations military units. These are capable of being deployed at short notice during any possible conflict in post-Soviet space[24]. The smooth takeover of Crimea represents the first notable achievement of military reform practices within the Russian army in recent years.

The Kremlin has tried to compensate for the underfinancing of the Russian military and the discrepancy between Russian capabilities and Western ones, by resorting to use of non-military means of influence of its military opponents. Consequently, the Kremlin has placed considerable emphasis on ensuring informational dominance. Its key imperative is to deploy information warfare technologies to build a solid ground for domestic support of its neo-Eurasianist agenda, and to persuade the West to refrain from offering support to countries opposing its implementation.

It should be emphasised that Russia has been heavily reliant on Soviet research, focused on the application of the “reflexive control” theory, also known as RCT. RCT-related research has been conducted for over 30 years. Experts point to the fact that its application is at the heart of Russia’s present hybrid warfare campaign in Ukraine.[25] Generally speaking, RCT is considered to be a means of information warfare, which is of higher significance when compared to traditional military capabilities[26]. Its main purpose is to influence the perceptions and decision-making algorithms of Russia’s opponents, to condition their behavior, in a favorable manner for Russia’s strategic interests[27]. It appears the Kremlin has succeeded in its application of RCT by concealing its original motives and plans, denying the presence of Russian soldiers in Ukraine and discouraging the West from granting significant military assistance to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russia has managed to preserve its status as an outsider and an observer, rather than an active party in the Ukrainian conflict.

In conclusion, the concept of neo-Eurasianism remains the principal driving force behind recent Russian activities, aimed at restoring the country’s previous influence in the post-Soviet space. It is likely that the Kremlin will not hesitate to exert additional efforts to promote its neo-Eurasianist agenda in the foreseeable future. Russia’s recent takeover of Crimea and its ongoing hybrid warfare campaign in the Donbas region of Ukraine, serve as examples of direct application of neo-Eurasianism in practice. In turn, recent Russian plans to modernise and improve its military and non-military capabilities can be understood as an attempt to catch up with the realities of modern warfare in the West. In spite of t recent transformations within the Russian armed forces, the Kremlin remains heavily reliant on the Soviet heritage of military hardware and strategic thinking.

Maksym Beznosiuk is an international relations specialist from Kyiv, Ukraine.

[1] Alexander Woll and Harald Wydra, (ed), Democracy and Myth in Russia and Eastern Europe (1st, Routledge, 2008), 205.

[2] Harry Broadman, Tiiu Paas, Paul Welfens, (ed), Economic Liberalization and Integration Policy: Options for Eastern Europe and Russia (1st, Springer Berlin, 2006), 2-3.

[3] David Kotz and Fred Weir, Russia’s Path from Gorbachev to Putin: The Demise of the Soviet System and the New Russia (1st, Routledge 2007), 199-200.

[4] Mark Bassin, “Eurasianism “Classical” and “Neo”: The Lines of Continuity,” in Beyond the Empire: Images of Russia in the Eurasian Cultural Context, ed. Tetsuo Mochizuki, SRC (2007)284, <http://src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/coe21/publish/no17_ses/contents.html> accessed 15 December 2015

[5] Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn, “Putin’s Brain: Alexander Dugin and the Philosophy Behind Putin’s Invasion of Crimea,” FA, (2014),< http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141080/anton-barbashin-and-hannah-thoburn/putins-brain> accessed 15 December 2015

[6] Ibid

[7] Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn, “Putin’s Brain: Alexander Dugin and the Philosophy Behind Putin’s Invasion of Crimea,” (n5)3.

[8] Mark Bassin, “Eurasianism “Classical” and “Neo”: The Lines of Continuity,” in Beyond the Empire: Images of Russia in the Eurasian Cultural Context, ed. Tetsuo Mochizuki, (n4) 286.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Alexander Dugin, Basics of Geopolitics: Geopolitical Future of Russia, (1st, Arktogeya Center 2000) 55.

[11] Ibid

[12] Mark Bassin, “Eurasianism “Classical” and “Neo”: The Lines of Continuity,” in Beyond the Empire: Images of Russia in the Eurasian Cultural Context, ed. Tetsuo Mochizuki, (n4) 286.

[13] Alexander Dugin, Basics of Geopolitics: Geopolitical Future of Russia, (1st, Arktogeya Center 2000) (n10) 53.

[14] Ibid, 70.

[15] Ibid, 70.

[16 Boris Nemtsov, “Independent Expert Report Putin.War,” Putin.Itogi Reports (2015) 4 -7< http://www.putin-itogi.ru/putin-voina/> accessed 15 December 2015

[17] Janis Berzins, “Russia’s New Generation Warfare in Ukraine: Implications for Latvian Defense Policy,” (2014), Center for Security and Strategic Research, 2/2014, 3-7, <http://www.naa.mil.lv/~/media/NAA/AZPC/Publikacijas/PP%2002-2014.ashx> accessed 15 December 2015

[18] Anton Bebler, “Freezing a Conflict: The Russian-Ukrainian Struggle over Crimea”, (2014), 8(3) IJFA<www.israelcfr.com/documents/8-3/anton-bebler.pdf> accessed 15 December 2015

[19] Witold Rodkiewicz, Jadwiga Rogoza, Agata Wierzbowksa-Miazga,”Russian Policy towards Ukraine: Local Actions, Global Goals,” (Centre for Eastern Studies, 20 August 2014) http://www.osw.waw.pl/en/publikacje/analyses/2014-08-20/russian-policy-towards-ukraine-local-actions-global-goals accessed 15 December 2015

[20] Polina Sinovets and Bettina Renz, “Russia’s 2014 Military Doctrine and Beyond: Threat Perceptions, Capabilities and Ambitions”, (2015) 117 NDC RP, 5 < http://www.ndc.nato.int/news/news.php?icode=830 > accessed 15 December 2015

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

[23] Can Kasapoglu, „Russia’s Renewed Military Thinking: Non-linear Warfare and Reflexive Control”, (2015) 121 NDC RP, 8 < http://www.ndc.nato.int/news/news.php?icode=877 > accessed 15 December 2015

[24] ibid

[25] Maria Snegovaya, “Putin’s Information Warfare in Ukraine:Soviet Origins of Russia’s Hybrid Warfare”, (2015) 1 RR, 1 <http://understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Russian%20Report%201%20Putin’s%20Information%20Warfare%20in%20Ukraine-%20Soviet%20Origins%20of%20Russias%20Hybrid%20Warfare.pdf > accessed 15 December 2015

[26] Timothy Thomas, “Russia’s Reflexive Control Theory and the Military”, (2004) 17 JSMS, 2 < https://www.rit.edu/~w-cmmc/literature/Thomas_2004.pdf> accessed 15 December 2015

[27] Ibid, 1


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