Country Report: Russia (January 2017)

Russia appears to be on the precipice of some important change with less optimism than before but more candor about uncertainties. The December Putin-Abe summit left more questions than answers, less a sense of success or failure than of doubt on what comes next. The Putin-Xi summit of late November was perfunctory, coming amid continued talk of a relationship that could soar to another level qualified by sober awareness that China and Russia differ on what that next level is and that high hopes for economic integration will not be realized. Meanwhile, Russians await a new president in Seoul, wishing for a sharp shift in policy toward North Korea while complaining of the THAAD deployment plans and sensing that poor ROK relations with neighbors may lead to an opportunity. Above all, anticipation is centered on the transition to the Trump presidency. This period from November to the middle of January has coincided with the lame duck transition in the United States, raising the consciousness of Russo-US relations to its highest level with Asia in the background. A clear divide is present between the mainstream who prioritize Sino-Russian ties without concern about any serious rift and critics of problems in this relationship who welcome more balance in Asian ties, but at times draw criticism as pro-West. The former group see Russia as succeeding in Asia, the latter see more failure.

In Rossiiskaya Gazeta on December 13, Fedor Lukianov wrote of events putting the political parameters of East Asia in doubt. Abe is ready to compromise as opposed to past Japanese positions on the islands and against US pressure not to hold a summit with Putin, although that carries the risk of excessive expectations. Donald Trump has called into question the one-China policy, portending a collision earlier thought impossible due to high economic interdependence. The regional framework from 1972 is now uncertain, as Trump is not guided by precedent, which creates a new context for Russia as it prioritizes the East. At first, Russia was focused on Siberia and the Russian Far East, not pretending to be a player in the restructuring of the region. Now a unique chance has emerged for Russia to propose a regional plan to end its image as exotic and inert, but it should do so patiently as conditions evolve.

On November 28, Dmitrii Efremenko in Rossiya v Global’noi Politike had written of the end of the epoch of the post-Cold War and the emergence of Greater Eurasia (Bol’shaia Evraziia), a result of fundamental geo-economic and geopolitical change. This means the strengthening of peripheral powers as globalization under Western domination falters; “One Belt, One Road” provides a big stimulus along with a north-south corridor Russia is pushing; US policies of containment toward Russia and China are driving the two closer together; South Korea has been pressured to accept THAAD, but in the long run it will use the possibilities of Greater Eurasia; the SCO is an incubator in security, trade, and cultural exchange for the emerging framework; the weakness of the EEU can be overcome by joining in a united front to face China’s strategy in shaping the larger region, demanding equality while recognizing China’s overall leadership; and Russia can cope with the risks in forging Greater Eurasia. In this new version of Russian idealism about its clout in Asia and ability to stay close to China while shaping Asian regionalism, we again see little candor about problems.

On January 4 for the Valdai Discussion Club, Timofei Bordachev declared the year 2016 a Russian success as in Asia it uniquely has no antagonistic relations. India, China, Japan, South Korea, and the ASEAN states all get along with Russia well in contrast to their tensions with each other. Yet, the article notes the nervousness in the region when in September Russia cautiously supported China in the South China Sea and held exercises with it. In the summer, Russia got China to join it in calling for construction of an overall Eurasian partnership, broadening the scale of regionalism, while accepting the core status of “One Belt, One Road.” Yet, Trump’s unpredictable pressure on China may lead to surprises as China expects Russia’s support just as Russia relied on China’s in 2014-2015. The key success for Russia is that it enters 2017 at last recognized as an active, influential regional player. Such self-assuredness is widespread in Russia.

In contrast, Georgii Toloraya in Rossiya v Global’noi Politike writes that the peak of the “turn to the East” was an illusion a few years ago, when “East” meant all of the “non-West” and Russia’s civilization was seen as closer to the East than the West. He says that the mentality and values of Russians fundamentally differ from those of nearby Asian states and asks how Russia can draw close to Asia while preserving its own identity, answering: 1) raise the political and military prestige of Russia in the Asia-Pacific region as a “balancer” to the US presence; 2) raise contacts to a high political and military level, as in the president’s presence at the EAS: 3) advance Russia’s conception of security and integration, not delegating responsibility to China; 4) increase connectivity via transport, conferences, etc.; 5) continue the line of economic development of the Russian Far East linked to Asia, through free ports, etc.; 6) concentrate on large, long-term investment projects and commercialization of Russian technology; 7) agree on free trade with Asian states; 8) educate Russians about the countries of Asia; 9) improve ties with China and others by promoting Asia experts in government and business; and 10) stimulate Russian specialists to participate in the development of Asian states while using the Russian diaspora. For Toloraya, the “turn to the East” is feasible, but it requires a more realistic blueprint.

The Korean Peninsula

On November 30, commented briefly on the new sanctions imposed by the Security Council on the DPRK, explaining what they cover. No mention was made of the weakness of the earlier 2016 sanctions or what may determine whether the new ones are effective. Little on North Korean aims is published. Indeed, the article ends by giving without demurral Pyongyang’s perspective that it conducted a nuclear test for self-defense in the face of aggressive US policies and its aim in launching rockets is the peaceful study of the cosmos. This reinforces narratives excusing Pyongyang, although the same source five days earlier had written in detail about privileges for the North Korean elite, pointing to sharp inequalities and recalling those exposed in the late 1980s in the Soviet Union before nostalgia by many led to stress only an “egalitarian” past and silence about the old privileges since today’s elite benefits are on a so much grander a scale than in the Soviet era. North Korea is a convenient foil to look back on Soviet history, but that does not stop sympathy for it versus US threats.

A December 9 article in KM.RU v mire asked who benefits from the removal of Park Guen-hye from office. Rejecting that this was the work of corporations, the army, or the opposition, it suggests that China is the big beneficiary—seeing this as a path to eliminating plans for THAAD, which threatens it much more than Russia. At a time Americans are accusing Russia of interfering in their presidential elections, the piece supposes that Chinese interfered with the Korean presidency. Speculating that its strong economic connections enable China to pull strings in Seoul—without a shred of real evidence—, the article treats Park as a US puppet in a global rivalry and infers that China’s meddling in Korean politics led to her political collapse, adding that one with so many skeletons in her closet made it to the top post due to US intervention, recognizing that she would do as she was told. Such is the power of “fake news.”

On January 7, Rossiiskaya Gazeta accused South Korea of picking quarrels with all of its neighbors—China, Japan, and North Korea—, and sees no solution but for a new president to start with a clean slate. Standing on principle, Park has aroused divides, as both countries out of principle refuse to concede. The “sex slave” statue in Busan erected by civic groups led Japan to pull back from a financial agreement and casts doubt on a military intelligence agreement. China is punishing Seoul economically for the THAAD deployment plan, limiting popular Korean cosmetics and eying more restrictions as the deployment draws nearer. As for North Korea, the article sees Seoul’s stance as favoring regime change, suggesting that Pyongyang’s tests are a response not a cause. Fear of Trump’s impact on South Korea is noted next before the article claims that only with Russia is the ROK not seriously quarreling, although their positions are diametrically opposed on THAAD and on how to deal with North Korea and Russia sees Seoul deferring to Washington’s sanctions in restraining its economic ties. The newspaper blames Park’s policies toward Russia—even if both sides avoid letting it rise to the level of the other disputes—and other disputes to her siding with the United States and holds out hope only for a new president in Seoul. As in other writings, the Korean Peninsula is reduced to a great power battleground.

Japan-Russia Relations

The Russian response to the December 15-16 Putin-Abe summit was supportive but not very optimistic. In Kommersant on December 18 emphasis was placed on polls showing most Japanese were disappointed in the summit along with mention of the lack of quality in the agreements as seen by Russians. Mikhail Korostikov wrote that despite the positive spin Abe gave to the meetings, excessively elevated expectations were seen as unrealized. He detailed various business agreements, including some that challenge the sanctions regime. While Japanese pointed to the huge number of agreements, the article asserts that Russians were not satisfied with the quality of them, notably the absence of megaprojects and with the fact that the sanctions had not been lifted. Japan’s failure when Yachi met Patrushev in November to indicate that if islands were transferred US bases would not be permitted did not help the atmosphere, readers were told. The most serious obstacle was reported to be the conditions for joint economic activities on the disputed islands. Russia conceded that they would occur on all four islands and give Japanese privileges others would not have. Whether the two will agree on such activities and how Trump will react to this relationship will be two tests of this new model of relations. Also testing this will be whether Japanese investors find a new business climate before Abe goes to Vladivostok in September and people take stock of how the new deals are faring.

Alexander Gabuev on December 19 in also wrote about Japan-Russia relations. He commented that Japanese investments in the Kurils while maintaining Russian sovereignty—countless deals with sanctioned companies—are welcome from a G7 state making no mention of Ukraine and Aleppo. He credited Putin with extracting from Tokyo all that is possible, even if some of the memoranda are never going to be realized. Gabuev attributed the “onsen summit” to Abe’s pursuit despite reservations from the Japanese foreign policy establishment and Japanese business community, who are oriented toward the United States and worried about drawing close to its opponent. He noted that many in the Foreign Ministry wonder what Japan will receive in exchange, not subscribing to the illusion that Moscow will make concessions and return the Southern Kurils on acceptable conditions. Gabuev linked Japan’s taboo against discussing much about WWII to the decision to make the Soviet annexation of the Northern Territories a symbol of Japan’s victimization. As Abe relegates the Foreign Ministry to only a technical role in talks with Russia, he is relying on JBIC (Japanese Bank of International Cooperation) and METI. Gabuev sees Abe as consumed with geopolitics and China’s threat to impose a Sinocentric order. Japanese also fear a G2, marginalizing Japan through a Sino-US condominium. This is accompanied by alarm about Sino-Russian relations, as Japanese also attempt to convince the US side of this danger. Implied in this analysis is that the islands are not Abe’s major concern and Russia may build ties without compromising on them.

Abe, Gabuev adds, was very reluctant to join G7 sanctions, and did so only after some heated discussions between Susan Rice and Yachi Shotaro. Going to Sochi in May 2016, he saw Obama in his final year no longer able to pressure the G7 states to stay united, winning respect from Moscow and from LDP colleagues ready to turn Japan into a “normal country,” pursuing its own national interests at odds with US ones. Given Russia’s difficult economic situation and concern about falling into the lap of China, especially in the Russian Far East, Abe sought to show Putin that Japan offers an economic alternative in Siberia and the Far East. No longer is investment treated as a prize for a territorial deal. Yet, soon Putin disabused Abe of the idea that his numerous high tech proposals to address specific concerns raised by Russian leaders could substitute for the megaprojects with state concerns or with persons close to Putin, which are dubbed “gifts to the tsar.” Russians for two years played effectively on Abe’s sentiments—complaining of sanctions and indicating what would compete with China’s economic offers. While Europeans and many Russian companies doubted such claims about China ties, talented Russians were recruited to make a convincing case to the Japanese. If Japanese were naive at first about what could influence Putin, they soon changed course. Although the arrest of Ulukayev disconcerted the Japanese, the visit of Igor’ Shuvalov to Tokyo was reassuring for economic progress, as the summit led to 80 signed documents—more than the record set in the May 2014 at the Putin-Xi summit. Yet, Gabuev recognizes the modest nature of the results—mostly “gifts to the tsar” and falling short of what Xi Jinping offered to Putin. There is a USD 1 billion joint fund from JBIC, but a similar fund with China shows that it can take a long time to find projects for it, and a meager 200 million euros for the Yamal project, falling way short of China’s USD 10 billion for this. What is important, however, is that the deals are with companies sanctioned by the United States. Most documents just point to a possible menu of future cooperation, even if Russians are wishfully prone to assert that memoranda with the Japanese are more likely to come to fruition than many with the Chinese that have stalled. Many center on the new free port of Vladivostok even if Japanese business is very skeptical about whether the rules of the game and tariffs are really durable or corruption manageable. After all, bilateral trade has been declining due to the lower oil prices and the devaluation of the ruble—from USD 34 to USD 21 billion in 2015 plus a 40 percent drop in 2016 for the first three quarters. Much depends on what will happen to flagship projects: vegetable greenhouses are flourishing and will be expanded, but a Mazda plant in Primorski Krai is cutting back. There will be consultations on joint economic activities on the islands in fisheries and tourism. If this means conditions similar to a free trade port with tax holidays and removal of many regulations, then this will get around Russian laws, allowing each side to claim success on sovereignty as Japan gains control of fishing. Another agreement is for eased visa-free travel for former residents—a big selling point for Abe—, as Russia is asking from easier visas for all Russians to Japan. Gabuev is not optimistic that these steps will lead to resolution of the territorial dispute, stressing the importance of the Okhotsk Sea as an internal Russian waterway. Even the return of two islands would be difficult because Moscow insists that the starting point is recognition of the results of WWII, i.e., Russian sovereignty over all four islands, before a goodwill gesture could lead to the transfer of two, but with a limitation on sovereignty to exclude US bases there. Gabuev concludes rather pessimistically that neither the Russian nor the Japanese side celebrated the results of the summit, and if talks on the islands move slowly or Sino-Russian relations are not diminished, Abe may well lose interest in continuing his pursuit of Putin. 

Dmitrii Strel’tsov, writing on the summit for as well, found that more questions were left than answers provided. He asserts that an expected US military pullback in East Asia and increase in Japan’s autonomous presence raises Japan’s salience. Yet, he finds that Japanese were largely negative because they thought that concessions were made, including economic offers, with nothing received in return, faulting Russia for hardening its position after Trump was elected. The author does not place much hope in joint economic development talks for the islands since there is no way to obfuscate paying taxes to one side or the other. Yet, Strel’tsov expects from Putin’s call for a peace treaty a sign that he is prepared to cut a deal to transfer islands and treats as a concession Putin’s willingness to allow joint development on all four islands as well as to discuss extending visa-free travel even to Sakhalin and for all of the residents of Hokkaido. Even if Putin focuses on Trump and Abe loses strategic salience, Japan’s growing strategic autonomy and Russia’s concern for balancing Chins should revive momentum. However, Japanese fear that Trump may use an effort to exclude returned islands from the US-Japan alliance to decline to apply Article 5 to the Senkaku Islands too, and the alliance will take precedence.

China-Russia Relations

A RSMD report on the May 30-31 2nd China-Russia international conference identified issues in this relationship: 1) the two societies do not know each other well and are influenced by stereotypes, despite a large increase in the number of Chinese tourists coming to Russia in the past 1-2 years; 2) Sergei Lavrov reminded participants that the two countries had been allies in WWII and need to continue the effort at the commemorations of the end of that event in 2015 to combat falsifications of history, including recent rehabilitation of Nazism and militarism, suggesting more work ahead to unify views of history vs. Japan and the West; 3) he applauded efforts to specify a “roadmap” for forging a common economic space, awaiting details on transportation routes to link the EEU and SREB; and 4) Dai Bingguo praised relations, but he urged raising them to an even higher level and limit the impact of obstacles, resolving seven problems. First, he warned of actors (on the Russian side, presumably) who do not welcome stronger relations and the danger if relations are set back, as if this would be serious and hard to reverse, pointing to sad lessons of the past. Two, he stressed the long-term nature of the relationship, insisting that trust is needed in all circumstances, as if Russians of late have shown too little trust. Three, this is a relationship oriented to the progress of humanity, the development of civilizations—the two must respect one another as forces for this common good even when problems arise. Four, there is a danger of big problems arising, and mutual trust demands constant attention. Five, one must avoid idealizing the relationship. Six, despite recent gains, mutual images based on contacts remain insufficient. Seven, study of Sino-Russia relations must be developed, showing what is distinctive. What Dai’s message shows is that China seeks a closer relationship, but it seems dubious that Russia is ready for that.

Boris Titov followed Dai with praise for Russia’s impact on Chinese intellectuals and the revolutionary movement, i.e., communism brought the two together positively. Yet, there was only movement from Russia to China, and much was later lost, to the point that some Russians still fear China. After 1984, change proceeded in the opposite direction, but troubles resulted as even today Chinese complain about how they are treated at the border, and this is only slowly changing. Titov claims that in 2014 a new period began, as Russia abandoned its pro-West thinking, Russia is stronger, and Russian goods now are numerous in Chinese markets. He argues that ties now should build on existing preconditions for establishing a new, shared ideology. Yet, a hint of discord can be found in insistence that this needs to be a two-way street. This suggests that to 2014 the model did not suffice, and now Russia is seeking Chinese recognition that China must change toward Russia too, for a closer relationship.

Viktor Vekselberg also called for a new type of relationship, stressing economic ties beyond natural resources, but he looks back to efforts from 2007 gloomily, writing of the catastrophically low level of partnership in machine-technical and innovative production. Insisting that enormous potential exists with Russia’s academic and research levels and China’s industrial prowess, he does not explain what is wrong. He writes of massive projects poised to make the two countries world leaders for machinery, high-speed railroads, wide-body aircraft, robots, etc., if only government supported business, he indicates. The projects exist, delegations keep going back and forth, but where is Chinese capital, he seems to be asking. Why are Chinese studying in the United States but not in Russia? Russian aspirations for this kind of economic relationship obviously contrast to what Chinese are seeking. Both desire a much stronger partnership, but bemoan the fact their dreams clearly do not overlap. 

Gabuev’s article in this conference collection asserts that China seeks to forge a Sinocentric system of regional security. In turn, Russia seeks conditions for the rise of Siberia and the Russian Far East, diversification of its raw material markets, and incoming investments. Both, he controversially adds, seek to maximize stability and to resolve contradictions, but he suggests despite overlapping interests, long-term ones are asymmetrical. China has more territorial conflicts, not corresponding to the interests of Russia, which supports good relations with all sides in these disputes. It opposes armed conflict, fearing that it could not avoid involvement and that there would be negative economic spillover into Russia. China is much more concerned about US military activity and strengthening alliances in East Asia. The article states that Russians and Chinese agree that the essence of the challenge is the US attempt to maintain its dominance by containing China, as Russia, and to integrate it into the US world order, using the North Korean nuclear program as a pretext and obliging Seoul to follow along. The article complains that Russia and China do not work well together in regional forums, even faulting the SCO for being too narrow and failing to develop a normative base and China for opposing “internationalization” in the East Asian Summit in order to keep conflicts in the South China Sea and the Taiwan issue off the agenda. Russia avoids getting dragged into Sino-US conflicts there; so it keeps a low profile in its representation there, as does China, and ignores the EAS as a platform for regional security architecture too while avoiding regional divisions.

Iaroslav Lisovolik wrote in the same collection on relations between SREB and the EEU, explaining China’s push into Central Asia as a response to a slowing economy and a goal of developing its western regions and its aims as strictly economic, fully corresponding to the interests of the EEU. Yet, he sees a lot of work needed within the EEU for successful blending of the two groupings. Enthusiasm is shown for a transport corridor through Mongolia, as if it would aid development of the Russian Far East and ties with Japan and South Korea, whereas others have seen it as bypassing these areas. The author expresses optimism about ongoing Chinese investments, offering no indication of the problems. In the following article, however, Russia’s failure to attract Chinese capital is stressed. One explanation is that the sparsely settled Asiatic part of Russia cannot compensate for the drop-off in western parts of Russia. Another problem is the centralized location of both Russian state organs and companies, which count on personal ties and observations, as is the language barrier with interpreters needed and the cultural barrier in Asia with delayed focus on the real issues and many unnecessary documents with no hope of realization. For Russians, detailed written documents are sought versus Chinese informal handling. In addition, Russian business circles and society are oriented to the West in contrast to its politics. As for China’s huge export market needs, they rely on the West. Moreover, the heavy stress on security in Sino-Russian relations, accompanied by emotions aroused over exclusivity, works against attention to economics or business concessions to other states. Besides, China is focused on exports; so it demands of Russian companies that they use Chinese investments for this purpose and joint enterprises that they can control—not acceptable to the Russian side. The timing is bad too as each economy is slowing amid the search for a new model. Large Russian companies exported natural resources and small Chinese ones exported finished goods, but now different companies are needed. Russia seeks exclusive agreements as in gas supplies, but that is not China’s choice. In light of these problems, the nature of trade will stay as before and the total in 2020 will struggle to reach USD 100 billion, which was in sight already in 2014. Competition will be a problem too, as both move into the same high tech sectors and hesitate to cooperate. One more problem is that China’s infrastructure and investment are likely to complicate plans to integrate the EEU. Thus, Evgenii Nadorshin paints a gloomy picture for economic ties.

More hopeful articles suggested that, given China’s aversion to Hollywood, Russian films could gain a share of the rapidly growing Chinese leisure market, that outer space is a frontier for which cooperation has dramatically improved since 2014 as China eagerly seeks acquisition of Russian rocketry and Russia seeks Chinese micro-electronics for space—to the point that in the summer of 2016 China signed an agreement not to copy without licensing Russian products as an essential step to get negotiations going.

A November 29 article in asked why the recent surge in Chinese tourists is not benefiting Russia’s economy. The number doubled in 2015 and rose again by 47 percent in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period a year earlier. Blame is assigned to the poor state of Russia’s hospitality infrastructure and its laws. Chinese near the border come to 2-3 day “shop-tours,” where there is Russian exotica, but do not cross beyond the show area. Those from other parts of China go to Moscow and St. Petersburg for 7-9 day tours—the only way to travel without a visa and reassuring to people who both need a translator and fear traveling in Russia without a group. They stick to the Hermitage and Kremlin with little curiosity in Russian culture and follow their tourist agencies in where they eat and go, allowing these agencies to “harvest” almost everything spent. The fares are minimal, and almost all the restaurants used and some of the economy hotels are, in fact, owned by Chinese, even if Russians are nominally the owners. Money is avoided, as purchases center on stores that use the Chinese payment system. Profits are made in these stores, where only Chinese go and inflated prices are charged for amber and other items meant as gifts. Chinese guides will not take tourists to other stores no matter the quality or prices. Also noted are casinos (one in Vladivostok is doing well under Hong Kong ownership), stripteases, and underground bordellos. Russian bars are seen as dangerous and unfamiliar. Russian partners assist in corrupt arrangements, but this is only briefly noted. The article calls for laws to only allow Russians independent of tour companies to work as guides and to assist small and medium businesses to form as alternative stops. It avoids stressing how Russia’s shortcomings are ideal for these Chinese types of business and how this result is the logical outcome of cross-border ties since the early 1990s.

ETvnet reported on television on December 2 that Russia has proposed 20 large projects to China as they drop the dollar from their dealings (avoiding going through third countries and taking as long as five days) and strive to merge the EEU and SREB. They are seeking a “zone of free trade” with transport-logistic corridors. The article does not mention that just weeks earlier Russia had proposed a large number of projects to Japan, not noticing that it may be trying to set up a competition. Noted also is the ongoing “Power of Siberia”  “trillion–ruble” project to carry Yakutsk gas to Primorski krai to be completed in 2017 with the first gas going to China in 2019. Noted also is the plan for the Moscow-Kazan’ high-speed railway with Ekaterinburg and then Beijing to be added as this expands after 2021—also more than one trillion rubles for the first leg. Russia’s priority is for transport infrastructure, the article asserts, adding with no reservations that cyber, aviation, and space are targets too.

Irina Kurbitskaya argues in Rossiya v Global’noi Politike that China is proceeding rapidly with SREB in many post-Soviet states, posing serious challenges for Russia, which is cautiously inclined to be included in it. Putin’s June 2016 visit failed to meet expectations about accelerating this cooperation. Reasons cited are: difficulties in incorporating Turkey and Iran into it; today’s economic problems, and Russia’s priority for the EEU. SREB differs from FTAs by being focused on bilateral deals and infrastructure. If some say that a slowing Chinese economy will dim enthusiasm for this, that is contravened by China’s quest to find more markets and resolve its own socio-economic problems. It offers massive financing, making participation easy, while also sometimes making demands, as on energy pricing. It also strives for security, sending personnel into Pakistan, for example, to ease movement. Moscow views China’s regional politics through the prism of its own desire to integrate the post-Soviet space, and it does not know how to defend its priorities when SREB interferes with this integration, offering more attractive alternatives bilaterally for industry, commerce, and financing. Russia’s philosophy for regional integration favors a more protectionist approach. Kazakhstan views SREB as an open project and itself as a free bridge, at odds with Russia’s ideas. Russia seeks to neutralize some SREB effects, diversifying with smaller transit corridors oriented from north to south unlike China’s preference for east to west. Western sanctions, including those on Iran, limit Russia’s transit plans. All seven railroad lines from China to Western Europe pass through Poland, which Xi Jinping sees as the gate to Europe, whereas only theoretically does SREB help EU-EEU talks so far. The article warns that Russia has no overall strategy, adjusts with some bilateral arrangements, and is only the younger partner to SREB. This is the skeptical analysis readers will find.

On December 18 Vedemosti contrasted China’s development strategy with Russia’s, crediting China with changing strategy to form a “creative” economy, while blaming Russian officials for a de facto strategy to do what China earlier did, relying on state companies with megaprojects and only feigning modernization, while the leadership fights against the creative class rather than attracting them into management. This is one of many articles that point to a sharper self-critical tone and critique of prior foreign policy idealism. The rose-colored language of recent years is less common.

Far back on February 8, 2016, Mikhail Korostikov in Kommersant had labeled the  “turn to the East” a failure despite Russia’s political success with China. Russia had argued that the West is declining, and it was part of the rising BRICS. Yet, help was not forthcoming, as Russia engaged in a crusade against the world order. Only China took this seriously, but economic complementarity was limited. In 2012 Putin has spoken of Russia’s chance to catch the “Chinese wind” in its sails, but Russian officials and business distrusted their Chinese partners. Then came the illusions of 2014-2015 that China was interested in helping Russia, exposed by the disheartening trade and investment figures of 2015. The article observes that there is no special reason for China to invest in Russia. Russian expectations were misplaced. Political statements have little economic meaning, as Chinese firms exploited the sanctions to raise prices for Russia and to make new demands. The article concludes by blaming a lack of understanding of each other’s business culture, while damping Russian hopes.

A candid article on Central Asia posited three proposals (US, Russian, and Chinese) for its development, found states there after the Ukraine crisis arose to be cautious about committing, and asked whether US appeals to China that SREB is consistent with the US plan and the globalization of the region indicate that Sino-Russian plans are less complementary. Ivan Safranchuk in Rossiya v Global’noi Politike answered that the EEU calls for removal of internal barriers but erection of external ones. The US idea of China building the hard and Washington the soft infrastructure will not be welcome in China, he adds, since it is stuck with the bill, while Russia’s proposal offers China secure transit as well as a major role in Eurasia. Meanwhile, Central Asian states do not need full openness and could lose their economic sovereignty or just have transit funds for the elite with little for the masses. China seeks to put the centers of production in its western provinces, not in Central Asia. Thus, Safranchuk argues that Sino-Russian cooperation as globalization and regionalism are balanced in pursuit of the coming economic era offers the best solution for Central Asia.

In on December 10, Alexander Lukin wrote about Sino-US relations under Trump. While during the presidential campaign Russians were partial to Trump, he finds that China tilted toward Clinton due to Trump’s negative statements, but many sympathized with him as against the establishment. Despite more negativity toward China and concern about Trump’s position on Taiwan, Chinese are quietly awaiting him: he has stopped TPP; there is confidence of US economic dependence on China, aware that both countries would lose in a trade war; the US focus will shift to terrorism and economic problems, and Trump will deal since he is a businessman not an ideologue; and China seeks stability as it changes the world order gradually. As for Russia, Lukin adds, it is much less important to China but remains the major partner in changing the world order and with Central Asia gives China a neighbor not opposed to it and working with the United States. If China would worry should Russia draw too close to the United States, he argues that has a low probability. He sees no likelihood of a problem in Sino-Russian relations resulting from Trump.

A Tsentero report on China’s global project for Eurasia drew some clear findings, such as  that China’s rising influence is inevitable and should be used in the interest of the development of Russia and Central Asian states; China’s interests largely correspond to those of Russia and Central Asia for economic development and political stability and stands in the way of “color revolutions”; problems result from China’s insistence on using its own technology and labor, but there is dialogue and they can be handled; there is a division of labor in joining the SREB and EEU with Russia dealing with security and the normative base of cooperation, while China will deal with investment in infrastructure and development mainly. Optimism is reaffirmed here.