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Desperate times call for desperate measures, say the English. There can be any number of translations, but in the case with which I think I will deal with you, it will best fit: “Hopeless times call for insane actions”.
To date, Russia’s affairs in Ukraine are hopeless. Russian officials, as always, lie that everything is going according to plan, but in the international arena they are increasingly begging for negotiations to get off the battlefield. The crazy action came these days: Putin’s former ideologue Vladimir Surkov broke a long silence and published a strange article under the title “Birth of the North”.
In his heyday, up until ten years ago, Surkov was known for producing a pseudo-theoretical construction at each stage of consolidation of Putin’s dictatorship to dress up the respective stage in some shiny philosophical robes.
From him came the wording “sovereign democracy”, which meant the following: Russia may have signed all kinds of international legal documents for the observance of all human rights, but it is a sovereign state and no one can hold it to account if it fulfills these obligations. The murders of journalists and politicians began, the emigration of entrepreneurs with a one-way ticket to Siberia. Russian sovereignty was practiced in the way described by the Nazi political philosopher Karl Schmitt: Sovereignty is to do what you want and above all to break principles and treaties.
Subsequently, Surkov presented Putin with the concept of the “vertical of power”. The idea was as follows. After Russia established its sovereignty in the international arena, i.e. the right to do as he pleased followed the establishment of the same kind of sovereignty, this time Putin’s, inside the country. The “vertical of power” denoted a situation in which power does not flow from below, from the people, but from above – from the master Putin. He is independent of his people and, being sovereign, no one controls him for anything. He does what he wants, and everyone must obey.
During the first Russian invasion of the Ukraine, Surkov somewhere bit the bullet and was removed from the post of “chief ideologist”, which was taken over by the outspoken clerical Nazi, Alexander Dugin. In 2020 – in the process of preparing the Russian invasion of Ukraine – Surkov was also released from the administrative positions he held in the Kremlin. He later wrote: “There is no such thing as Ukraine” and recommended that “force be applied to the Ukrainians in order to achieve fraternal relations”. Apparently, he hoped that this new concept of his (“strength with the purpose of brotherhood”) would bring him back to the Kremlin, but this did not happen. You stayed out of power.
These days, sensing the weakness of the Kremlin, he is trying to return to the scene with a new concept – the “Great North”. Here we see a serious change in the author’s attitudes.
Surkov’s previous concepts warmed up the theme of sovereignty in Schmitt’s Nazi version, communicating the following: 1. Russia reserves the right to do as it pleases and no button can tell it. 2. Putin reserves the right to do whatever he wants and no button can tell him. 3. Russia also reserves the right to fight for fraternal relations with neighboring nations by using force against them. In short: Mind your own business, we are the strongest and as such we do what we want against whomever we want.
The concept of the “Great North” is the exact opposite of all this.
The article, indeed, begins with the usual Russian claim that the West does not understand anything about the situation with Ukraine. Here, however, we see an additional, purely Surkov fintiflyushka. According to him, the West thinks that Ukraine is like that mythical Christian kingdom “beyond the Nile” ruled by “Presbyter John” that the great powers sought as an ally to colonize Africa and Asia in the 15th century. They haven’t found it because it never existed. Today, Surkov claims, the West imagines that Ukraine is its ally, with the help of which it will break Russia. But Ukraine exists as long as the kingdom of presbyter John, i.e. – does not exist. Both are “Western hallucination”.
However, the usual Russian snarl does not follow from this production: Get out of our heads that we will crush you with our atomic missiles. Surkov has left this to Putin’s clobbers, because, although painfully ill-educated, he is smarter than them. His conclusion is exactly the opposite and reads, more or less, as follows: When we forcibly achieve fraternity with the non-existent Ukrainian people, then we want to unite with the West (Europe and the USA) in the “Great North, a triune northern geopolitical cluster”.
According to Surkov, the world is already undergoing a process of “synthesis of civilizations”, the result of which will be “the dissolution of both the West and the East into one Great North”. This Great North would, of course, be the continuation of the Pax Romana, i.e. of what he believes both Europeans and Americans have been trying to restore for generations. In this construction, Russia will be a “solider of the global triumvirate”. Well, it won’t be “The Third Rome”, but at least it will be “One-Third Rome”.
As always with Surkov, under all this pseudo-philosophical patterning lies a simple idea – in this case, a cry: Let’s live in harmony, leave these Ukrainians alone and let’s understand each other as brothers whose cultures ultimately stem from Rome .
Surkov is apparently convinced that in this way he is offering Putin a way out of the impasse of the Ukrainian war. The idea is for Putin to tell his people something like: I will not be able to revive the USSR and everyone will be afraid of us, but I am going to negotiations to meet with Europe and America and everyone will still be afraid of us; fuck the Ukrainians, we don’t need them that much.
Even Putin, however, would ask his former philosophical guru the obvious questions, such as: If West and East are going to melt into a single North, does that include Mongolia? Kazakhstan? China? Japan? What do we do with that South that isn’t quite the South – like Australia and New Zealand?
Whether Putin will still tie himself to Surkov’s next cotton candy – we will find out very easily. If it is tied, in the coming weeks, Putin’s agents in the West will start pushing the idea of a three-unit brotherhood within the framework of the Great North. If not – no.
Even if Putin pushes his propaganda in such a direction, the “Great North” will not happen. Russia is not like Europe and the USA. She is wild; they are cultivated. Her natural place, to which she has naturally slipped since the beginning of Putin’s rule, is around Mongolia and Turkmenistan.
Almost 20 years ago, Surkov himself was aware of where Russia was and warned his compatriots that they had not grown to equal communication with developed countries. Here is the conclusion of a famous lecture of his from 2007:
“We look like boys from the outermost slums who have suddenly found themselves in the business center of the city. Noise, lights, traffic, all around are full of gamblers and smart people, merchants and moneylenders. And we, like some country sparrows, step from foot to foot on foot and we are dizzy, mouths open and eyes closed.”
This time, Surkov will not be able to save Putin with his next concept. It is easy to equip a consolidating dictatorship with ideological clothes in which it can seethe in front of the people. It is difficult to save a dying dictatorship from its own recklessness with the help of colorful ideological rags.
The title is “Diary”.
The column “Analyses” presents different points of view, the opinions expressed do not necessarily coincide with the editorial position of “Dnevnik”.