Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article
Mikhail Margelov

Vice President of the Russian International Affairs Council, Executive Vice President of Sistema JSFC

Russia enjoys a unique geopolitical position between the leading poles of the global economy.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, relations between Russia and the West have been oscillating between warm and varying degrees of cool. The relations tend to deteriorate every time Russia voices an opinion that differs from that of the West, let alone acts on it. It appears that even after the end of the Cold War, the West has been treating Russia if not as an adversary than at least as a major rival of the European Union and the United States.

Any Russian action on the international arena is invariably perceived with suspicion in the West, which has been treating Moscow like a negligent student for the past 20 years. There are many reasons for this, including an enduring sense of superiority, characteristic of the Eurocentric worldview.

With regard to our country, this delusion is reinforced by a subconscious belief that modern Russia is not much different from the Soviet Union, which was defeated by the West in the Cold War. On occasion, this idea is openly stated, in violation of all diplomatic norms, as was done by the US representative to the UN after the failure of the Security Council to adopt a resolution on Crimea.

The Ukrainian crisis has destroyed the student-teacher paradigm, based on which the West had been building up its relations with Russia, confusing it with some small Eastern-European state. As it turned out, however, Russia is capable of opposing the West not only in word, but also in deed.

That the West was so surprised by Russia’s firm stance on Ukraine is quite strange, given that everything has been pointing in that direction for the past decade. Suffice it to recall Vladimir Putin’s speech at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007, which clearly indicated that Russia was interested in pursuing an independent foreign policy and insisted that its interests be respected.

However, since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, the West has failed to forsake the principle according to which only Western interests are legitimate. Nor has it learned the lesson of the events of August 2008, when Russia intervened in the war unleashed by the regime of Mikheil Saakashvili, in order to enforce peace in the region. The Georgian crisis should have made clear to everyone that Russia is not only ready to make its voice heard, but is also prepared to use force when its national interests are at stake.

Then followed a short reset in the relations between the US and Russia, with the signing of the New START treaty. The US decision to suspend Georgia and Ukraine's NATO accession process didn't hurt either.

In March of this year, US Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the reset policy was over, following the events in Crimea. In reality, however, the reset had lost momentum two years prior to that. It was undermined by the Magnitsky Act and the retaliatory Dima Yakovlev Law, by Washington’s withdrawal from the US-Russia Civil Society Working Group, by the Russian law on non-profit organizations and so on.

These reciprocal barbs were accompanied by serious disagreements over Syria, US missile defense in Europe, Iran’s nuclear program, the Arab Spring and the Eurasian integration project. But even the virulent anti-Russian media campaign during the Sochi Olympics, which was unprecedented even by Cold War standards, was just a prelude to the confrontation over Ukraine, which has absorbed and further aggravated all these disagreements along with the war of words.

In Ukraine, the US is attempting to improve its tarnished international reputation. It has failed to accomplish its goals in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other Arab countries that had been affected by the revolts known as the Arab Spring. Everywhere, the promotion of democracy by force has been leaving behind destroyed states, terrorism, economic collapse and chaos. The neo-liberal ideology and practice are rapidly losing followers.

The European integration project is experiencing a serious crisis, which includes a crisis of values. Postmodernism, which does not distinguish between good and evil, has brought confusion to the value system that prevails in the modern era, adding new values that are culturally unacceptable for most peoples of the world. As a result, a significant portion of the world no longer views the West as a community of values.

Various opinions exist on the prospects of resolving the Ukrainian crisis. While we believe that the crisis will drag on for the foreseeable future, discussing the various resolution scenarios is beyond the scope of this article. More important is the question of whether the events in Ukraine will result in a new cold war and a severe reduction of all ties between Russia and the European Union.

Some believe that the cold war, manifested in low-intensity efforts to contain Russia, never ended. While this is debatable, the fact remains that the fervent belief in Russia’s imminent accession to the Euro-Atlantic family of nations that was so popular among Russian politicians in the 1990s has all but dissipated. The centuries-old “us verses them” dichotomy in the relations between Russia and the West has not disappeared. Today, however, the existence of a global market and the interdependence of all major economies would make restoring the iron curtain extremely costly and self-damaging.

Naturally, each nation seeks to diversify its trade relations and reduce its risks in the global market. But who would want to lose time-tested economic partners with large markets? Russia is just as interested in exporting its energy resources to the European Union as the EU is in importing them. In fact, the reliability of Soviet oil and gas exports to Europe was never in question during the Cold War. Yet for many years, Washington has been strongly advising the EU to reduce its dependence on Russian gas.

The Ukrainian crisis is above all a confrontation between Russia and the United States. As for Europe, it is being dragged into this conflict by Washington. Looking to the future, we are facing the great diplomatic challenge of ensuring a new rapprochement with the European Union, especially considering that Russia is a European country, albeit one that stretches all the way to Central Asia and the Pacific. The scale of the crisis in the EU, including its governance problem, is such that it makes virtually inevitable the rise to leadership positions in the core member-states of politicians with charisma, willpower and vision, comparable with the European politicians of the second half of the 20th century.

The recent events have hastened Russia’s interest in expanding its economic relations with Asian countries; "hastened," because Vladimir Putin’s visit to China had been planned long before the Ukrainian crisis, and the plans and projects to intensify Russia’s economic ties with the Asia Pacific have been in the making for at least ten years.

In other words, this policy should not be viewed as a reaction to Western pressure, and treating it as such would be completely off the mark. The fact is that Russia is finally taking advantage of its unique geopolitical position between the major poles of the global economy to take its rightful place in the complex system of relations between states in the Far East and South East Asia.

Russia has demonstrated to the West that there are alternative economic partners to the European Union, with the demand for Russian hydrocarbons in China and other developing markets in the region just as high as in Europe. The partnership between China and Russia has both political and economic dimensions.

Russia and China have similar positions on many global policy issues, including the events in Ukraine and Western sanctions against Russia. For all the importance of the gas contract signed by the two countries, partnership agreements in other economic sectors and major Chinese investment plans in Russia are no less significant.

I recently participated in a number of meetings on the sidelines of the Shangri La Dialogue on East Asian security in Singapore. One of the conversations was with Fu Ying, chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of China's National People's Congress, during which we both agreed that Russian-Chinese relations have almost reached the level of strategic partnership, which requires effective inter-parliamentary cooperation between our countries.

In the Asia Pacific, China and the United States are vying for leadership, while other countries are wary of any dominance in the region. Fu Ying believes that hegemony of any country in the region has to be avoided, and it should be governed by regional organizations like ASEAN. This view is consistent with Russia’s approach to this complex region. Russia’s political and economic ties should be distributed between various regional countries to avoid being suspected of allying itself with any of the competing parties.

During a meeting with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, he mentioned that the gas contract between Russia and China will have a positive impact on the potential for energy cooperation between Russia and other regional countries. It is worth noting that during Vladimir Putin’s visit to China, no military-political agreements were signed. There is also a domestic dimension to Russia’s East-Asian policy: the development of Eastern Siberia and the Far East.

As for the potential cold war with the West in the form of a harsh confrontation between two systems, this is hardly possible, as these two systems don't exist today, and the world has become very diverse and interdependent. What we should expect, however, is that Russia’s new policy will periodically result in new cold spells in its relations with the West, and mutual accusations. But we should not be too concerned about that. An independent foreign policy can't please everyone.

Source: Valdai Club

Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article
For business
For researchers
For students