Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Basis for a Real Reset

All our efforts to engineer a "reset" in relations with Russia to get them to think of us as a friend and not a foe miss the point. Russia has no real reason to fear us. And they won't learn to stop fearing us until they have something worse to fear--like a rising China:

Nevertheless, there are strong reasons to believe that Russia can play the wildcard role in Asia's future balance of power.

First, the common wisdom that Russia is moving closer to China in order to counterbalance America and its European and Asian allies and partners is incorrect, meaning that the Russian wild card is still very much in play.

While Russia is preoccupied with regaining its influence in parts of eastern Europe, Moscow is also warily watching China's unauthorised movements into Siberia and the Far East.

Beijing is about six times closer to the port city of Vladivostok than is Moscow, which has very weak administrative control over its eastern territories.

Already, an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 Chinese nationals have illegally settled in these oil, gas and timber-rich areas.

Beijing is also tempted by Siberia's freshwater supply, given that China already has severe shortages throughout the country.

The Russian Far East is inhabited by only six million people, while the three provinces in northeast China have about 110 million Chinese inhabitants. By 2020, more than 100 million Chinese will live less than 100km to the south of these Russian territories, whose population will then number between five million and 10 million.

As Medvedev recently admitted, if Russia does not secure its presence in the Far East, it could eventually "lose everything" to the Chinese.

That threat exists and will become more obvious as time goes on. Russia raises the threat of NATO when NATO has no ability to attack Russia (and for now relies more on Russian weakness to protect the newest NATO members in the east rather than our own defenses), and ignores the negative correlation of forces on their Far Eastern borders.

The Russians will reset their relations with the West as the Chinese threat perception rises higher in their minds. Don't worry about what we do or don't do to bolster a reset. And when that happens, we can factor in Russia in the Asian balance of power.