On August 19, 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited French President Emmanuel Macron, in the south of France. At their joint press, Macron channeled Charles de Gaulle: "I am thinking about everything that has happened over the past few decades, what has managed to drive us apart. I know that Russia is a European country in its heart of hearts. And we believe in a Europe that spreads from Lisbon to Vladivostok."
However, Macron, was not merely echoing De Gaulle – who first voiced the idea about a Europe stretching "from the Atlantic to the Urals" – he was invoking an old Putin proposal as well. Back in 2011, during his term as Russian prime minister, Putin wrote an article titled "A New Integration Project For Eurasia: The Future In The Making," in which he stated that his pet project, the Eurasian Union, does not entail a "revival of the Soviet Union," because "it would be naïve to try to revive or emulate something that has been consigned to history." Instead, Putin proposed "a powerful supranational association capable of becoming one of the poles in the modern world and serving as an efficient bridge between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region," Putin specified that the Eurasian Union "will be based on universal integration principles" as an essential part of a "Greater Europe."
Putin explained that, in line with the idea of a Eurasian Union, Russia proposes "setting up a harmonized community of economies stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok."
Probably, Macron read Putin's 2011 article. However, if he expected an enthusiastic reaction from his guest, he was dissappointed. Commenting on Macron's statement, Putin said: "Regarding the prospects for creating a common Europe stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok… I believe that, if we think about this today, and if we set such goals, which are very important for Europe, in the strategic long-term context (if it wants to preserve itself as the center of civilization), and also for Russia, and if we work on this together, then, sooner or later, we will come close to achieving this. It is important to choose a way in one form or another (it does not matter how) and to move slowly in the right direction, in line with the present-day conditions…"
In his answer to Macron, Putin specified the circumstances under which this vision can be realized: Moscow is ready to create a Common Europe provided that Europe preserve itself as the center of civilization. In other terms, while the US became known as the promoter of democracy around the world, official Russia arrogates to itself the role of European identity's preserver.
For official Russia, democracy is not a value per se, identity is the real value worth fighting for. The former Kremlin advisor Sergey Karaganov believes that authoritarian regimes command "an advantage over modern democracies," since they are better at consolidating resources and promoting a consistent long-term policy.
The anti-liberal Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin, interviewed by the Economist (September 22, 2017), underscored the importance of identity in Russian society and the difference between Russian and European identity today.
Dugin said: "First of all, in order to understand what the difference is between Russian and European identity, we need to understand what European identity is, because it is not so easy to understand. There are two reasons for that. First of all, now, European identity consists, as far as I understand, of ultimate destruction. So the concept of identity is judged by the liberal or progressive agenda as something which we should overcome.
"Liberal European identity consists of denying any identity, as some kind of transgression. To be European today means not to be European, but to be on the side of immigrants, Muslims, and everybody except Europeans. When or if you affirm yourself as an English man rooted in English culture or a Frenchman, 'Français de souche', it is almost or it sounds like you are not only a conservative, but a Nazi. You are something completely labeled as extremist, marginal. Today, European identity is negation, denial of any kind of identity. This was obviously not always so, but that is the liberal agenda.'
Dugin then added: "Precisely the difference with Russian identity is that we deny this denial. With Russian identity, we have no shame in being Russian. We have no guilt for being Russian. We have no remorse for being Russian. That is the difference, because, precisely to be German, that is to be ashamed of what Germany did. To be British today is to have remorse for everything the British Empire did in the past. To be American is to be ashamed of the Southern part of history, of the slave trade.
"We have no remorse, so we are judged immediately for having an identity - that is a crime compared to the liberal agenda. That was not always the case. Before, the West blamed the East or Catholics blamed the Orthodox for different reasons. The same geopolitical tensions existed before, but were formulated in other terms. Today it is clear that we defend our identity as something that has value."
Russia therefore considers that Europe is losing its own Western and European identity and questions where Europe's traditional values and identity are going.
As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explained few days after Putin's statement: "Russia's future as part of Europe largely depends on Europe's willingness to preserve the civilizational identity of this area."
'The Liberal Idea Outlived Its Purpose'
In order to understand Putin's words addressed to Macron, and the idea behind them, it is important to read the Russian President's interview with the Financial Times (June 27, 2019), in which he describes post-modernism and liberalism as today's Europe's identity malaise.
In the interview, Putin explained that "the liberal idea" had "outlived its purpose" as the immigration, open borders and multiculturalism policies failed and risk to destroy the Western identity.
Putin: "What is happening in the West? … What is happening in Europe as well? … Of course, we must always bear this in mind. One of the things we must do in Russia is never to forget that the purpose of the operation and existence of any government is to create a stable, normal, safe and predictable life for the people and to work towards a better future.
"There is also the so-called liberal idea, which has outlived its purpose. Our Western partners have admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable.
"When the migration problem came to a head, many people admitted that the policy of multiculturalism is not effective and that the interests of the core population should be considered. Even though, those who have run into difficulties because of political problems in their home countries need our assistance as well. That is great, but what about the interests of their own population when the number of migrants heading to Western Europe is not just a handful of people but thousands or hundreds of thousands?"
Putin also argued that "liberal idea", permeating the West, became "obsolete": "In other words, the situation is not simple in Russia either, but we have started working to improve it. Whereas the liberal idea presupposes that nothing needs to be done. The migrants can kill, plunder and rape with impunity because their rights as migrants must be protected. What rights are these? Every crime must have its punishment.
"So, the liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population. Or take the traditional values. I am not trying to insult anyone, because we have been condemned for our alleged homophobia as it is. But we have no problems with LGBT persons. God forbid, let them live as they wish. But some things do appear excessive to us."
'Representatives Of The So-Called Liberal Idea Are Simply Forcing Their Ideas On Others'
A few days later, commenting on his interview with the Financial Times, Putin further elaborated on his ideas: "There are other issues related to that liberal idea. This idea is multifaceted, and I do not question its attractiveness on the whole, but look at the migrations I have just mentioned. You see, how can one imagine that in some European countries parents are told that 'Girls should not wear skirts to school for safety reasons.' What is that? Listen, people are living in their own country in their own culture. What is that? How did it get so far? This is what I was talking about.
"It has gotten too far, in my view, that this, liberal idea starts destroying itself. Millions of people live their own lives whereas those who promote those ideas, they seem to be living in their own paradigm. This is what I was saying…"
Putin also tackled the topics of gender identity and of the LGBTQ community: "We have a law that everybody has been kicking us for – a law prohibiting homosexual propaganda among minors. But listen, let a person grow up, become an adult and then to decide who he or she is. Leave children in peace. There are so many inventions nowadays. I also said in that interview that they invented five or six genders, transformers, trans…
"You see, I do not even understand what it is. This is not the problem. The problem is that this part of society is aggressively imposing their view on the majority… Meanwhile, representatives of the so-called liberal idea are simply forcing their ideas on others. They dictate the need for the so-called sex education. Parents are against it, and they are practically imprisoned for that…"
Post-Modernism Vs. Neo-Modernism
The Western "liquid" society, as described by the philosopher Zigmund Bauman, is perceived by Russia as the postmodern ultra-liberal dissolution of traditional values and identity.
The director-general of the Russian think-tank RIAC, Andrey Kortunov, described post-modernism in the West as characterized by four pillars:
- Agnosticism (i.e. legal relativism and moral relativism).
- Pragmatism (i.e. foreign policy viewed as a purely technical mechanism for servicing immediate economic interests).
- Eclecticism (i.e. double standards and political correctness in foreign policy narratives).
- Anarcho-democracy (i.e. a "geopolitical deconstruction," in which rigid structures are replaced with flexible tactical alliances, where every member can determine the format and degree of its involvement without making any firm or long-term commitments).
In contrast, Russia supports a different vision, which Kortunov describes as neo-modernism, characterized by the following four tenets that are antagonistic to post-modernist principles:
- Nationalism (as opposed to post-modernists tearing down walls along the "friend or foe" line)
- Transactionalism (i.e. joint work with partners and opponents on the international stage to establish business relations where each negotiating party bargains for the best possible terms. Notions like "common values," "interests of humanity" or "world public opinion" are not key priorities. Transactionalism disparages the double-speak, and the political correctness of the post-modern era).
- Holism (i.e. when economic considerations are deprived of their determining role in foreign policy, and considerations of national security, ethno-cultural identity and state sovereignty achieve equal importance).
- Historicism (contrary to post-modern leaders, who draw their inspiration "from fantasies about the global future of mankind", neo-modernists are guided by political beacons rooted in their national past).
Europe, Not Russia, Needs To Remain Part Of The European World
In his Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly in 2013, Putin further explained his antagonism to post-modernism. Putin said: "Today, many nations are revising their moral values and ethical norms, eroding ethnic traditions and differences between peoples and cultures. Society is now required not only to recognize everyone’s right to freedom of consciousness, political views and privacy, but also to accept without question the equality of good and evil, strange as it seems, concepts that are opposite in meaning. This destruction of traditional values from above not only leads to negative consequences for society, but is also essentially anti-democratic, since it is carried out on the basis of abstract, speculative ideas, contrary to the will of the majority, which does not accept the changes occurring or the proposed revision of values.
"We know that there are more and more people in the world who support our position on defending traditional values that have made up the spiritual and moral foundation of civilization in every nation for thousands of years…
"Of course, this is a conservative position. But speaking in the words of [Russian philosopher] Nikolai Berdyaev, the point of conservatism is not that it prevents movement forward and upward, but that it prevents movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state."
In his comment to Macron, Putin once again criticized the post-modernist policies, implying that Europe's agnosticism (i.e. moral relativism and consequently a loss of traditional values) and lack of national sovereignty policies won't preserve Europe's role as the "center of civilization." Moreover, Putin clearly stated that official Russia is not interested in a common Europe, if the latter will keep on pursuing policies that he considers damaging to the European traditions and identity.
Quite ironically, during the meeting in France, Macron recalled and quoted lines from "The Raw Youth" by Russian philosopher and novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky: "A Russian becomes most Russian when he is most European." Macron was essentially arguing that it is necessary for Russians to become part of the European world. Putin's riposte was that it is not Russia, but Europe that needs to remain part of the European world.
*Anna Mahjar Barducci is Project Director of the Russian Media Studies Project.
 Kremlin.ru, August 19, 2019.
 Izvestia, October 3, 2011; See also MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1239, Understanding Russian Political Ideology And Vision: A Call For Eurasia, From Lisbon To Vladivostok, March 23, 2016.
 Kremlin.ru, August 19, 2019.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7730, Former Kremlin Advisor Karaganov: Our People Are Anti-Western; Authoritarianism Is Not Imposed On Us From Above, History Shaped Our Genetic Code, October 25, 2018.
 Geopolitica.ru, November 22, 2017.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 8263, Russia This Week – Focus On Bilateral Relations – September 6, 2019, September 6, 2019.
 Kremlin.ru, June 27, 2019.
 Kremlin.ru, June 29, 2019.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6846, From Western Post-Modernism To Russia's Neo-Modernism – Director General Of Government-Funded Think Tank, Kortunov: 'International Relations Today Are Entering A Neo-Modern Period', March 28, 2017.
 Kremlin.ru, December 12, 2013.
 Kremlin.ru, August 19, 2019.