Monday, April 17, 2017

An Odd Pivot to Asia

I find this assessment of Russia's failure to bolster their Asia front fascinating:

Over the last five years, Russia has been trying to achieve two strategic goals: A “Pivot to Asia” (away from Europe) and a renewed focus on post-soviet integration with its Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Both of those aspirations are rooted in the desire to break away from dependence on Europe, while reasserting its influence in what Russia refers to as its “near-abroad.” The “Pivot” was supposed to bring Russia closer to new Asian markets and energy consumers, and the EEU is conceived to counter European influence through creating a “Eurasian alternative” to the EU in the post-soviet space.

It is an odd pivot to Asia that features a Russian invasion of Ukraine (in violation of the UN charter, the Budapest Memorandum, and the agreement dissolving the Soviet Union) and occupation of part of that state's territory plus vocal hostility to NATO and the non-NATO states of Finland and Sweden.

The Central Asian states of the EEU have reason to worry that being an ex-Soviet state like Ukraine is just a temporary loss as far as Russia is concerned, to be remedied when a revival of Russian power and opportunity bring those ex-Soviet states back into the empire.

Not that Russia doesn't need a pivot to Asia to succeed soon. I've noted on a number of occasions that the expiration of a 20-year pact suspending China's land claims against Russia in Asia will take place at the start of the next decade.

If Russia has to face a China that rediscovers a "core interest" of recovering lost Asian territory, the Russians might want to end their pointless hostility to NATO and America.

Of course, the situation is very different than a failed pivot to Asia if Russia has decided it cannot match China despite the 20-year pause in Chinese claims, with a policy that is more like this:

Today, Russia's ties with Asia are centred on China in multiple areas, including geopolitics, security and defence cooperation, trade, arms sales, and energy exports. Russia has resumed exports of advanced arms to China. The existing and planned oil and gas pipelines are mostly bound for China – Russia is now China's largest supplier of crude oil. Joint naval exercises have been tailored first and foremost to meet Beijing's strategic needs. The unintended consequence of ever closer relations with China has been a reduction in Russia's capacity to establish deeper ties with other Asian states. In effect, Moscow's policy of turning to the East has been crippled.

Russia's acquiescence to Chinese pre-eminence has been even more conspicuous in Central Asia.

If Russia has truly resigned itself to this unequal relationship, Russian efforts to conceal their appeasement of China with hostility to the (so far) weak European NATO states will continue.

It's an odd pivot to Asia that simultaneously stokes tension in Europe.

But if Russia needs to oppose the West--even at the risk of creating the threat Moscow pretends threatens them--to pretend it hasn't bent the knee to China, it makes more sense.