In France, debates concerning the European identity of Russia go on. I am often asked about this gaullian boundary that is the Ural. The Ural range, a physical boundary that divideds Europe from Asia; is it really also a boundary in the heart of Russia or of Europe? We may also ask if the peoples and ethnic groups that dwell east of the Ural are different from those that inhabit the western side. To whomever is acquainted with Russia, such questions may seem ludicrous, yet they are in no way uneducated inventions, and, in my opinion, understandable, as far as De Gaulle’s semantic mistake is concerned, as well as the general lack of knowledge regarding Russia.
Since I have lived in Russia, I have been able to confirm what I had always thought: that Russia is indeed European, inasmuch as the very identity of its dominant people is that of the Orthodox Christian Slavs, or again because its cultural heritage is that of Greece and Rome. This European identity is present all across the Russian territory, from Moscow to the heart of Siberia, through to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast and back to the Caucasus and northern Carelia. Kazan iself, in the east, is no less European in appearance than Sarajevo. All this granted, Russia is not just like any other European country. In its size, the diversity of its ethnic groups, its territory stretching eastward toward the Pacific ocean and Asia, Russia is an empire, a giant whose dorsal spin is European, but some of its vertebrae are here Asian and Tatar, there Buddhist and Muslim. I sometimes tell my French friends that there is much to learn from the Russian multi-cultural model, at a time Europe is at pains to establish one such model.
Even if NATO and Russia are discussing the creation of a Northern Hemisphere defense arch from Vancouver to Vladivostok, disagreements remain. Through the extension of NATO to Eastern Europe, the US now has a foothold in the heart of Eurasia–a continent deemed strategically important in world affairs. Russia, itself a member of the Shangai Cooperation Organization, considered the Asian NATO, has moved to associate Europe to a new and complementary continental defense plan. In this way, the Russian plans for a common continental defense plan and a common market stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok are as visionary as, and are in fact to be understood as a continuation of, De Gaulle’s dream.