“KREMLIN AIDE: RUSSIA’S CENTURIES-LONG ROMANCE WITH WEST OVER” – As they say, in Russia the past is never certain:

Russia has abandoned its centuries-long aspirations of integrating into the West and is bracing for a new era of “geopolitical loneliness,” a top adviser to President Vladimir Putin warned in a magazine article released Monday.

Vladislav Surkov wrote in the piece for Russia in Global Affairs that “Russia’s epic journey toward the West” is over, marking an end to its “repeated vain attempts to become part of Western civilization” over four centuries.

Surkov is writing about history by rewriting it. There was never such a thing as “Russia’s epic journey towards the West” or “repeated vain attempts to become part of Western civilisation”, so there is nothing to be over. Different strands of geopolitical thought in Russian history variously advocated for Russia as an Asian entity, Russia as an Eurasian power, or Russia as the leader of the Slavdom – all these incarnations of Mother Russia juxtaposed against the West, or the Central and Western Europe of Catholicism and Protestantism.

There has never been a significant party in Russian history arguing that Russia is or should be a part of Western civilisation. This is not to be confused with forces throughout Russian history striving to “Westernise” Russia in a sense of modernising her – in order to be able to compete with the West on a more equal footing. From Peter the Great onward there have been many influential leaders who have pushed for the adoption of Western science, technology, bureaucracy, and various other institutions to make Russia more developed, more prosperous, mightier militarily and more efficient. This, however, has been an attempt to import the Western hardware without the Western software – the beliefs and philosophies that have underlined Western progress: democracy, liberalism, free market, individualism, tolerance, rights, autonomy, and so on. Like much of the developing world today, from the Middle East to China, Russia has wanted to have all the goodies (technology and wealth) without getting infected with the underlying institutions and beliefs which actually produce the goodies in question.

This is all great pity, because it would be great to have Russia as part of the West. Alas, its geography, its legacy of Byzantine Christianity, and its history of autocracy have always proved too difficult to overcome to affect this great shift.