The Global Context
THE CURRENT STAGE of Russia’s pivot to the East is the product of the second half of the 2000s largely as a belated economic response to the rise of Asia, which opened new opportunities for the country’s development, especially for its eastern part. That rise made it possible to turn the Ural region and the Russian Far East from a mainly imperial burden – or a logistics base in confrontation with the West, sometimes a front line in rivalry with Japan or China – into a potential territory of development for the entire country.
The expediency of making the pivot was substantiated by the forecasted imminent economic slowdown of its main traditional partner, Europe, and the deterioration of relations with Europe and the West as a whole.
The need for the diversification of economic ties and outside sources of development was becoming increasingly obvious.
These assessments were backed up by a number of pronounced trends in the recent decade. First, these are the disintegration and crisis of the global order that the West has been trying to impose on the world since what it saw as its final victory. Second is the process of relative de-globalization and the regionalization of the global economy and politics. And the third is the accelerating trend – related to the previous one – toward the politicization of economic ties, which made interdependence and dependence on one market comparatively less beneficial, if not simply dangerous.
Finally, the “Asia for Asia” trend prevailed over the “Asia for the world” trend. Development in Asia, especially in China, began to be increasingly oriented toward domestic and regional markets. Meanwhile, the process of spiritual and ideological emancipation of the formerly great Asian civilizations, which in the past two centuries had been in colonial or semi-colonial dependence on the West, began to gain momentum. Asian countries gained access to many achievements of the West, took advantage of the liberal global economic order that it created, became stronger, and began to claim a more appropriate place for themselves on the world’s ideological and strategic map.
The inevitability of the U.S. moving away (at least temporarily) from the role of a global hegemon, which came with a hefty price tag, became evident. Barack Obama set a course for domestic revival. However, old elites and inertia did not allow him to abandon costly and ineffective interventionism. Donald Trump strengthened the “self-isolation” trend. The U.S. has turned into a dangerous amalgam of residual interventionism and semi-isolationism. It is becoming increasingly evident that the U.S. seeks to create its own center, casting off some of its disadvantageous global commitments.
A trend has evolved toward the formation of a hypothetically bipolar world through a multi-polar world with its inevitable chaos. One of its poles is based around the U.S. and the other is in Eurasia. China seems to be its economic center, but the Eurasian center will only materialize if Beijing does not claim the role of a hegemon.
However, whatever the case may be, it has turned out that once it has finally made a pivot to the East, Russia has discovered many unexpected opportunities for itself.
RUSSIA’S PIVOT to the East, which was repeatedly proclaimed, in fact, began politically and economically in 2011-2012. Despite a decline in Russia’s foreign trade and the devaluation of the ruble, trade with Asia is growing again and its share in the country’s foreign trade is rapidly increasing.
The unprofitable and unhealthy foreign trade structure that developed during the disintegration of the Soviet economic complex and chaotic reconstruction – when, in exchange for energy, the country received relatively costly and economically less efficient goods from the West, primarily from Europe, – is becoming history. The diversification of foreign trade flows creates more beneficial positions for Russia and is shifting the balance in economic and political bargaining in its favor. These days, not only energy but also agricultural products, other water-intensive goods, and weapons are going to the East.
Investment is growing rapidly, so far mainly from China. Its estimated volume already exceeds $30 billion, if not $40 billion. The further growth of trade and investment is guaranteed by a series of macro projects in the energy sector and the launch of the Free Port of Vladivostok project, which brings together the majority of ports on the Russian Pacific coast. Fifteen priority development areas have begun to function.
Russia’s new geopolitical and geo-economic identity means emancipation from its moral and political dependence on the West and qualitative strengthening of its positions in dialogue and engagement with it.
The relationship between Russia and China is a de facto, but not de jure, that of allies. Nevertheless, they are increasingly expanding and balanced by strengthening relations with Japan, Vietnam, other ASEAN countries, India, South Korea, and Iran. Instead of the predicted rivalry between Moscow and Beijing in Central Asia, the process of alignment is moving forward, albeit slowly, developing between China’s New Silk Road project and the Eurasian Economic Union. Russia’s policy in Asia is becoming comprehensive, strategic. However, a long way still lies ahead. The outflow of people from the Far East has slowed down. It could be expected to end within the next several years.
Of course, the economic turn is proceeding very slowly because of the accumulated inertia, including the inertia of economic thinking, and the sluggishness of the Russian government apparatus, corrupt elites, and, most important, economic stagnation and the weakness of the investment climate, primarily for Russian small and medium-sized businesses. Siberia has not yet become a territory of economic freedom. Meanwhile, that was precisely how it used to develop during the tsarist era. Let’s hope that the country will never again see development through Gulag coercion or the relocation of production capacities during the Great Patriotic War.
Tellingly, the government’s decision to move the head offices of a number of corporations and federal agencies to the Russian Far East has yet to be implemented. For our part, we consider it expedient to create Russia’s third – east, Pacific – capital.
To reiterate, a long way still lies ahead. However, the main thing has happened: The geostrategic orientation of Russia’s ruling elite has changed. Despite the ongoing territorial expansion to the east, over more than the past 300 years, our elite has regarded their country largely as a European periphery, seeking to join Europe or using it as a jumping board. Europe generously fueled that striving while trying to obtain economic and political concessions from the candidate aspiring to join the “club.” The most recent example is the failed attempt by the late Soviet or early Russian elites to jump on the bandwagon and play the role of an apprentice according to proposed rules.
Russia’s cooling toward Europe was also encouraged by Brussels’ democratic messianism, attempts to impose modern-day European, often post-European values. It began to rise again in the late 2000s, parallel to the growing weakness within the EU.
Understandably, a key role in weakening the eagerness of a greater part of Russian elites to join Europe was played by the greedy and reckless neo-Weimar expansionist policy of Western alliances on the territory that Russia considered vital in terms of ensuring its security, for which the people of the Russian empire and the USSR laid down millions of lives. This policy led to the failure of the project to create a stable European security system, a common home, a union of Europe.
Tension and mutual estrangement were growing slowly but surely. Finally, in 2012-2014, political relations sharply aggravated. The introduction of sanctions to exert pressure on Russia and, by creating an “external enemy,” to stop the internal decline of the EU showed the danger of excessive economic dependence on the European market, stimulating the pivot toward new markets, to the East.
Estrangement from Europe also proceeded at the ideological level: Old-style anti-Western and anti-European Eurasianists were partially pushed back by former Westerners. Some of them began to say that “Russia is not Europe.” Another part of the elite began to maintain that Russia is in fact genuine Europe but not the EU. The third part, which did not go so far, settled for a course toward possible temporary cultural and political separation. The question of Russia’s cultural self-determination with regard to Europe has not been finally decided yet, even though the trend is obvious.
However, the most important development has occurred in politics, geostrategic self-determination, and increasingly in the economic sphere. Russia’s self-determination has changed from a provincial European to central Eurasian and possibly northern Eurasian power. In modern Russian geopolitical thinking, Eurasia includes the western part of the continent and is not anti-European, as in the judgment of old Soviet and Russian Eurasianists.
Russia’s new geopolitical and geo-economic identity means emancipation from its moral and political dependence on the West and qualitative strengthening of its positions in dialogue and engagement with it. At the same time, Russia does not intend to abandon cooperation with European countries where it is beneficial. This abandonment is not only economically counterproductive and impossible but is also ideologically dangerous, jeopardizing the identity of most Russians who consider themselves Europeans even if there is a lot they do not like in modern Europe, which is becoming a post-Europe, renouncing a significant share of its inherent values that Russia regarded as its own too.
Based on the assessment and forecast of geo-economic and geopolitical trends, as well as relying on the preliminary results of its economic, political and mental pivot to the East, the idea of establishing a new community – Greater Eurasian Partnership – was put forward in Russia. This idea was officially supported by the Russian and Chinese leadership, becoming a bilateral initiative, naturally, open to other countries. Russia’s new Asian policy will be closely integrated with its second, European track, the third, southern, the fourth, northern, Arctic, and of course the American track, everything to the degree possible.
The country’s deeper cooperation with other European countries and closer engagement between the Russians and other Europeans on a new basis, at a new level, and from new positions would be beneficial. Europe is an accustomed partner and reliable supplier of many technologies and goods. A new rapprochement with old partners is also made easier by Russia’s foreign policy successes. In Ukraine, the mortally dangerous expansion of Western alliances was halted, even if belatedly and at a hefty price. In Syria, the insane policy of regime change was also halted. From a semi-Weimar, backward country, Russia has reinstated its accustomed role as a victorious power, gaining new confidence.
THE GREATER EURASIA PARTNERSHIP or Community is, first, a conceptual framework that sets the course for engagement between states on the continent. It should be aimed at the joint economic, political and cultural revival and development of dozens of Eurasian countries, which used to be partially backward or were under oppression, and Eurasia’s transformation into a global economic and political center. It will include countries of East, Southeast, and South Asia, Central Eurasia, Russia, and evidently also countries on the European subcontinent and their organizations to the degree to which they are prepared for and committed to constructive engagement.
Second, Greater Eurasia is an emerging geo-economic community, predetermined by the “Asia for Asia” trend, China’s pivot to the West and its alignment with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and Russia’s pivot to the East.
Third, it is a space of cooperation between different civilizations that is being recreated after a centuries-old hiatus, a space embodied by the cultural aspect of the Silk Road, which brought together the great civilizations of China, India, Persia, and the Arab Middle East, and connected them with Europe via the Eastern Roman empire, Venetia, and Spain.
Fourth, Greater Eurasia is a movement toward a new geostrategic community – i.e., a pan-Eurasian space of development, cooperation, peace, and security, designed to overcome the divisions left over from the Cold War, prevent new divisions, and regulate disagreements and friction between partnership members. Its most important potential function is to get China “immersed” into a network of ties, cooperation, balances, and agreements so as to prevent its emergence as a potential hegemon that other Eurasian countries would inevitably turn against and invite outside players that have less interest in preserving stability and peace on the continent. At the same time, Greater Eurasia should be completely open to the rest of the world and another major global center that is being formed around the U.S., through APEC, similar forums, Atlantic structures, and the tripartite dialogue that we propose on global issues and international strategic stability between Russia, China, and the U.S.
Greater Eurasia should be formed on the basis of the traditional values of international law and international coexistence, and the rejection of any universalism, the superiority of values, unchallenged domination, or hegemony. Underlying principles for Greater Eurasia (ideally, for international relations as a whole) include:
- unconditional respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, the renunciation of the policy of hegemony, dictates and threats, and mutual efforts to maintain peace and stability under the aegis of the UN;
- unconditional respect for political pluralism, the freedom of political choice for countries on the continent, and noninterference in each other’s internal affairs;
- economic openness, lowering barriers to international trade and investment, the abandonment of the politicization of economic ties, which undermines interdependence, and economic engagement according to the “win-win for all” principle;
- renunciation of the creation of military alliances and the expansion of existing alliances, comprehensive support for the principle of neutrality and nonalignment, and security guarantees for states that have made this choice;
- adherence to the creation of a continental system of development, cooperation, and security from Jakarta (or Tokyo) to Lisbon, which would cover and compensate for the failed European security project, providing a new format for resolving disagreements in Europe, along with China’s perimeter, on the Korean Peninsula, and in the Middle East;
- adherence to the maintenance of military-political stability and the prevention of conflicts as an indispensable condition for social development and improving well-being and ultimately ensuring fundamental human rights;
- adherence to the maintenance and development of cultural diversity, creation of new and re-establishment of historical-cultural ties through dialogue between Eurasian civilizations leading to peace, cooperation, and mutual enrichment;
- protection of human rights in close interconnection with the rights of societies and states.
Greater Eurasia is a conceptual framework for Russia’s geo-strategic and geo-economic identity for the future as the northern and central part of the rising continent, serving as one of its important transport and economic hubs and a major security supplier. Thanks to its centuries-old experience in dealing with both the West and the East, the peaceful interaction of many religions, and the openness of Russian culture, Russia is called upon to play a central role in establishing and fostering cultural cooperation in Eurasia. At the same time, Russia does not intend to abandon its fundamental European cultural roots and will work to develop them.
Greater Eurasia is a conceptual framework for a joint project, or to be more accurate, for many projects of its member states and their organizations that are willing to move toward a common goal: creating a continent of development, peace, and close cooperation. Initially, a leading role in its creation would be played by a tandem of Russia and China, whose leaders have already expressed their support for the Greater Eurasia Partnership concept. However, the concept needs fleshing out in multilateral dialogue.
The conceptual framework makes it possible, by using trends, to channel the actions of states, organizations, and dialogue formats into a single course aimed at the formation and establishment of a new geo-economic, geopolitical and geo-cultural association – i.e., a Greater Eurasia Partnership and subsequently GE community. The SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) looks like a natural negotiating platform for building such a partnership – if the organization becomes more proactive and open and transitions from a purely regional organization into an organization of organizations, a forum for discussing problems. The SCO-EU and EaEU-EU dialogues could also be useful. It is also possible, to begin with, an expert and expert-political forum for Eurasian development, cooperation, and security. However, the use of an existing organization (subject to development) is more convenient than the creation of a new organization, let alone one without an institutional basis.
Naturally, the creation of a new structure on the basis of the SCO (as part of its preservation and development) will require the efficient combined efforts of its members, primarily Russia and China, whose actions in the SCO were previously restricted by the wish to contain each other’s influence in the economic area (Russia was obviously concerned about China’s domination) and in the security sphere (evidently, China did not want Russian leadership). Currently, development is held back by disagreements between India and China. A new format is needed to resolve them. This is a joint movement toward a Greater Eurasia Partnership, which requires concerted efforts and competitive advantages to mutual benefit.
A Roadmap for Tomorrow
THE PROGRESS that has been made in making a pivot to Asia requires not only an expansion in the existing development areas but also a launch of new projects. However, first of all, it is essential to thoroughly analyze the Asian and Pacific markets in order to channel investment (especially considering that so far it is rather modest) into sectors producing goods that will have long-term demand. The pivot policy should also be aligned with a Russian economic revival and development strategy, which is still missing.
For example, it cannot be ruled out that the boom of infrastructural investment in Trump’s U.S. and China’s possible large-scale investment participation in it will increase demand for metals and other energy-intensive goods traditional for Russian exports. At the same time, the extremely likely decline in global demand for coal, especially in Asia, already requires restructuring the sector and the associated massive transport flows. The intensification of the pivot process is also necessary because, due to the economic and intellectual chaos of the 1990s and the early 2000s, we lagged behind and missed enormous opportunities.
To reiterate, in addition to the development of broad transport infrastructure, it is important to develop North-South transport routes connecting not only the Far East but also central and western Siberia and the Urals region to the rapidly growing markets of western China, Iran, India, and Pakistan. Despite the current slowdown of EEU integration processes because of the economic crisis, the union needs a new long-term agenda. This could be a single transport and general trade policy, integration on optimal terms into the single space of Greater Eurasia, and participation in formulating its standards and rules.
It is important to forge multilateral technological alliances with countries on the continent both in the West and in the East. The majority of high-tech sectors cannot develop on the basis of mainly domestic or even union markets. Technological alliances are necessary to preempt and prevent the risks of continuous politicization of the global economy primarily but not only by the West.
What has been achieved in making a pivot to the East also calls for the formulation of policy, including an array of requirements, with regard to our Asian partners. Far from everything that suits Russia in the growing cooperation process while barriers for many Russian goods and investments, as well as bureaucratic and political obstacles, remain in place.
Finally, Russia needs to determine the forms of its participation in an integration association in the Asia-Pacific Region as soon as possible. At this stage, the TPP has failed. However, there is still the ASEAN-and China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that includes the majority of countries in the region. So far, due to the difficulties of formulating a common position within the union and a lack of expert potential, Russia and the EaEU abstain from participation in talks, placing a bet on the network of bilateral free trade zones. However, it is not clear whether such “abstention” is beneficial in the long term.
The direction of Russia’s foreign policy and military-political participation in Asia-Pacific affairs is a separate set of goals. The surfacing of many long-standing conflicts in the region, the almost inevitable strengthening of the U.S. containment policy with regard to China, and they wish to play on the disagreements and fears of regional players, and, perhaps most important, the growing concern of Beijing’s neighbors about its rising power – a concern that is objective and has nothing to do with Beijing’s policy or intentions – all of this creates demand for Russia’s constructive participation as an experienced, diplomatically powerful player that is friendly toward the majority of countries. This demand is fueled by the lack of a developed and stable regional security system.
Objectively, Russia is potentially the biggest security provider in the region and in the world, including through strategic containment and dialogue with the U.S. (there is almost no dialogue these days), and in the future also through a tripartite dialogue between Russia, China, and the U.S., if the parties involved come to understand the need for it.
Russian-Chinese comprehensive, equal, and trust-based partnership and strategic cooperation also need deepening. Its character is close to that of an alliance but is not sufficiently developed at the middle and lower level, in particular in business, and lacks “strategic depth” – i.e., a common long-term co-development goal.
This goal – common to all Eurasian countries – should evidently be effective cooperation between the leaders to forge a Greater Eurasia Partnership or Community.
A roadmap for it could include the following elements:
- formulating a coordinated transport strategy;
- putting in place a system of rating agencies;
- supporting the development of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), other regional banks, a system parallel to SWIFT that precludes the use of the latter as an economic war tool, strengthening the stability of the global financial system;
- expanding the practice of the trade-in national currencies and creating independent payment systems;
- creating an economic information center, parallel to the OECD and working in close cooperation with it;
- putting in place a Eurasian network, perhaps even an organization for mutual assistance to respond to emergency situations (which are becoming more frequent), climate and man-made disasters, and post-crisis reconstruction; a possible pilot project for the last-mentioned type of activity is Syria;
- establishing an integrated independent information and analysis mega-agency combining the gathering and dissemination of information and analysis, a hypothetical combination of Al Jazeera or the BBC with Stratfor; tentative name: Eurasia News; this kind of agency would make it possible for countries on the continent to acquire greater intellectual and political independence and stand up to the politicization of information streams.
The goal of this agency is, among other things, to formulate a theory of international relations more oriented toward new realities and the future, and reflecting the interests of Eurasian countries, for example, the interaction and interpenetration of civilizations instead of a conflict of civilizations, the continuous and cyclical development of mankind instead of achieving an ultimate stage, and so on.
This also includes cooperation in order to restore the historical and cultural narrative, common to Eurasian states – from the history of the Genghis Khan empire to the economic and cultural phenomenon of the Silk Road to the history of the Byzantine-East Roman Empire, where the Asian and European streams merged together, and which preserved European culture during the period of its decline. Another case in point is the role of Venice as the Asian gate to Europe and the reassessment of the Crusades. The goal is to restore and create a single historical and cultural identity of Eurasia and the world as a whole in addition to the predominantly Europe-centered narrative of world history, which is still predominant.
In the security sphere, it is advisable to set the course toward creating a continental security system in addition to the existing formats with the partial and gradual replacement of organizations that have outlived their usefulness or are on their way out (for example, the OSCE). The prevalent method of ensuring security in Greater Eurasia is nonalignment or neutrality guaranteed by the leading players in the international community (primarily Russia, China, and the U.S.).
Building a security system should evidently begin with launching an expert and then an expert-political forum for the development of cooperation and security of Greater Eurasia countries.
As Russia moves toward Greater Eurasia and deepens its pivot toward Asia, in the next several years it should probably also consider engaging with its traditional partner, Europe, on a new political, economic and conceptual basis, especially since the ongoing crisis of the European project is objectively pushing many countries on the old Continent toward reviewing the counterproductive policy on the Russian track. For their part, European countries are also seeking to make a pivot to the East. Many are already doing so, ahead of Russia.
So far it is not clear exactly how Russia’s European policy should be reset. The situation in western Eurasia is too uncertain for that. Nevertheless, the need for such a reset objectively exists.