Friday, June 16, 2017

Why Russians Can Sleep at Night is Beyond Me

If China's drive to build economic links to Europe falter, China will be stuck making do with inroads to but not through Russia and Central Asia. Is Russia fine with that?

As I've argued, the Chinese economic drive to Europe is really a foreign policy problem for Russia:

But really, the Belt Road Initiative (aka Silk Road initiative) is a focus on the interior of Asia as a path to Europe. So really we are talking about Central Asia where former Soviet republics could lead to the Middle East and then to the Mediterranean and Europe; or through Russia for a path to Europe.

Which means China isn't a threat to American influence but a threat to Russian influence in Central Asia, Russian freedom of action, and even Russian dominance of their own sparsely populated but resource-rich Far East (of which large chunks were seized from China in the 19th century).

Really, if China is putting a lot of money into building trade routes to Europe, is China going to be happy with Russian military adventures in Europe and the Middle East that threaten Chinese trade?

Won't China attempt to exert more restraint over Russian aggressiveness in the west?

As alarming as this should be for Russia, these are problems caused by China simply going through Russia and former Russian territories in Central Asia to reach Europe.

What happens if China's vast expenditures of money to build those trade links falter upon reaching (non-Russian) Europe?

[It was once true that China needed European technology and Europe needed China's markets,] but it doesn't really apply any longer seeing as Chinese companies are buying the coveted technology from sources all over the globe and are busy extending their own know-how at home. At the same time, the Chinese market is losing its appeal to European companies since Beijing is still refusing foreign companies full access to its markets. Indeed, European Union countries severely curtailed investments in China over the past year.

What will China do when the money that China can ill-afford to squander on this One Belt One Road initiative leaves them sitting in Russia and Central Asia with no place to go to earn a return on that investment?

Right now, Russia exerts influence in their former Central Asian provinces through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO):

The CSTO is merely a Russian policy tool employed in the post-Soviet space, lacking inherent value as a stand-alone body. Moscow allies that are constituent members of the CSTO cannot publicly support Russia since they are not immune to international pressure. Still, differences in opinion have proven insufficient to drastically alter foreign policy vectors or attitudes towards integration projects with Russia. CSTO member states are economically weak and as a consequence, remain dependent on the Kremlin – a fact that the latter will no doubt be all too aware of.

What happens when China enters these areas with money and large hopes to earn a return? Won't China try to earn profits from where they are rather than abandon their investments? Won't that come at Russia's expense?

Will these Central Asian states reliant on Russia find that China is a useful counter-weight to Russia and allow these states to separate their policies from Russia's objectives?

Heck, will Russia enduring Chinese pressure to make the Russia route pay off for China find it has larger worries in its own Far East than worrying about Chinese inroads in Central Asia?

And will Russia fight China to retain their influence and sovereignty in these areas of growing Chinese influence that will develop as One Belt One Road advances west but falls short of fully reaching the West in practical terms (which would eliminate a Greek nuclear option to avoid their debts)?

If it comes to that, Moscow will rue the day it decided to alienate NATO by treating NATO as a threat rather than a potential ally just to disguise Russian appeasement of China in the post-Soviet era of Russian weakness.