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Russian geopolitics under the microscope

Portrait of Mikhail Suslov photographed indoors.

Mikhail Suslov, a researcher at the Uppsala Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies, is editor of a book about the emergence of a Russian digital geopolitics.

Welcome, Mikhail Suslov, one of the editors of the book Eurasia 2.0: Russian Geopolitics in the Age of New Media. Can you tell us a little about the book?

“The book is about the new possibilities and threats associated with the digital geopolitics that emerged in the post-Soviet space. The authors in the book examine the return of geopolitical ideas connected to digitalisation in order to understand how this works.”

What is digital geopolitics?

“It’s about how a country’s territory is created or conceptualised through modern information technology. The authors of course deal a lot with the Ukraine crisis. The greatest source of inspiration in the digital geopolitical discussion in Russia today isn’t theoretical or dogmatic writings; it’s geopolitical memes, which spread rapidly over the Internet. Russia has a high degree of Internet use and never in Russian history has there been an opportunity like this to freely speak one’s mind. But digital media also gives more influence to the political elite to manipulate public opinion.”

Why have geopolitics returned in the post-Soviet space?

“The disappearance in the Soviet Union of Marxism-Leninism, which was viewed as a science, created a vacuum that geopolitics filled as a new national ideology. There are three levels in the debate: a formal level with ideologies and theories, a practical level with political decisions, and the popular, grassroots level. The digital revolution has caused the three levels to interact with each other, meaning that both ideologies and political decisions are affected by the debate at the grassroots level.”

Why is this an important issue?

“There is a strong belief in the former Soviet Union about the three basic theses of geopolitics: the necessity of prioritising national interests, the competition between great powers, and the conviction that national politics are controlled by external reality. One of the ways this finds expression is in a discussion about the existence of a clear Russian geographic space. But this is of course more of a social construction than a given objective fact, and it is therefore important to have a critical perspective that analyses the geopolitical debate.”

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Mikhail Suslov is a researcher at the Uppsala Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

Facts

Geopolitics analyses politics, history and sociology based on geography. Geopolitics declined in popularity after World War II due to the extensive use of geopolitical analyses by the Nazis.

A meme is another name for a viral phenomenon that is talked about and spread rapidly between people on the Internet. It is short, punchy and often based on video or images.

Learn more

 

2016-09-23