Country Report: Russia (July 2015)

Russian publications have turned decisively to the establishment of a new world order opposed to US-led “vertical globalization.” It centers on Asia, capitalizing on North Korea to influence South Korea’s choices, assuming close Sino-Russian ties at the core of the new order, and envisioning the BRICS and SCO summits as building blocks. Contemptuous of the notion that Russia is isolated, articles portray active diplomacy that marginalizes the United States and its allies. With a sleight of hand, India’s announced entrance into the SCO is heralded as if the “troika” dream of Sino-Russian-Indian coordination is near, and South Korea is presented as the frontline state that must change course to North Korea or be the cause of confrontation. The simultaneous July summits of the BRICS and SCO in Ufa attracted scant notice in the United States, but articles celebrate them as transformative events in the emergence of a multipolar order at odds with the West. Reading Russian materials takes one to an alternate universe, where today’s economic troubles appear distant and Russia is joining China in leading the bulk of Asia toward a more just and equal order.

The Korean Peninsula

In Mezhdunarodnaia zhizn’, No. 6, G.A. Ivashentsov pointed to the sixtieth anniversary of the Korean War, while offering what he called a different path to peace. The start of the war appears preordained by the Soviet reliance on leftist forces and the US on rightist forces and the adoption of two clashing models. The great powers are drawn into the war, as if the war had nothing to do with Stalin and Mao approving the plans to cross the dividing line by Kim Il-sung. The Cold War standoff is similarly distorted as if North Korea’s repeated terrorist attacks were of no consequence. Praising the 1991-1992 agreement on denuclearization, Ivashentsov blames Kim Young-sam, who insisted on the North’s capitulation and counted on its quick collapse for the failure. Treated as heroes are Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, whose summits with Kim Jong-il opened the way to peaceful coexistence, but the return of conservatives to power in Seoul drove this path of economic integration to be followed by political unification into a dead-end. Rather than blaming North Korean behavior, the author concludes that its missiles and nuclear program are a direct consequence of existing contradictions between the two countries and cannot be addressed prior to normalization between them. Seoul, not Pyongyang, is the guilty party in this one-sided analysis.

Ivashentsov argues that the fault lies mainly with Washington, which along with its allies did not recognize North Korea when Moscow acted to end the Cold War by recognizing South Korea. Washington’s military presence in South Korea is viewed not as deterrence against North Korea, but as part of a global system to enforce US “leadership” through containment of China and Russia. South Korea is faulted for contributing more than Japan to this pursuit. Ivashentsov charges that some of the weapons Seoul is acquiring are not so much to counter the North Korean threat as for a unified state whose orientation could become a serious challenge to Russia. He observes that Russia matters to Seoul for: forging a multilateral system of security in Northeast Asia, extending trade and scientific and technical partnership, denying North Korea Moscow’s support, and serving as a counterweight to China and Japan. There is no sign of anti-Russian attitudes in South Korea, he adds, and pressure from the West is rejected, as seen in the absence of sanctions against Russia in connection with the events in Ukraine. Yet, Ivashentsov cautions, on international problems at the United Nations, Pyongyang shows solidarity with Moscow about half the time, and Seoul only rarely. The article criticizes efforts to demonize North Korea, praises its substantial accomplishments, minimizes its military threat, and insists that the elite’s interest is to preserve their government, not be absorbed by Seoul. In turn, Russia’s interest is an independent, neutral, denuclearized state, readers are told, in contrast to the US interest in the status quo with high tension to sustain its alliance. China will stick by North Korea since it sees the situation through the prism of US containment, and Japan will fear unification. This is the line-up that is presented.

In the same issue of Mezhdunarodnaia zhizn’ Aleksandr Vorontsov discussed both Koreas, pointing to the peninsula as one of the main arenas for Russia to strengthen its position in the Asia-Pacific region and to find a strategic partner in a geopolitical confrontation with the West, since without Russia’s participation it is difficult to resolve regional problems of security and the spread of WMD. The peninsula, he argues, is not only a threat; it is an opportunity for Russia, which it can seize by playing a more active role. Citing a new book edited by G.D. Toloraia, Vorontsov welcomes the role of young researchers in a field expanding due to the growing significance for Russia of relations with both North and South Korea. In the book he finds the argument that Korea did not follow the scenario of Germany with the fall of the Berlin Wall because it is the zone of intersection of the great players in the Asia-Pacific region, none of which find it beneficial for unification to occur. For the United States, he argues, unification would mean the loss of its forward position in Northeast Asia or possible confrontation with China. In turn, China fears a pro-American dagger pointed at it or even a united Korea that would become a strong, independent force. It is Beijing and Moscow that have restrained Pyongyang in its responses to serious threats from Washington of “regime change,” credits Vorontsov, adding that much depends on Seoul whether the peninsula will become a zone of confrontation. It can decide whether to pursue its own interests and manage Sino-US clashing interests.

Vorontsov focuses on changing Seoul’s policy of treating Pyongyang as an enemy, warning that if Pyongyang’s elites were faced with the choice of a “color revolution” or, more or less, soft control from China, they would choose the latter. He calls for an “evolutionary” scenario anticipating a long process before reunification of peaceful coexistence and enticement into a market economy. Seoul should recognize that it has new opportunities as Russia reduces ties with Europe and seeks diversification away from excessive orientation toward China. Vorontsov insists that Russia needs to give priority to relations with the DPRK since that keeps it in the game as one of the six main players, while its economic interests lead to cooperation with Seoul. No matter what Russia’s differences with North Korea are, if relations worsen Russia’s role in Northeast Asia is diminished, he concludes. Despite Seoul’s alliance with Washington, it strives to maintain constructive relations with Moscow, not least due to fear that in case of a confrontation Moscow would undoubtedly go over to the side of Pyongyang. Vorontsov praises the 2015 book for drawing these conclusions.

Vorontsov proposes restarting the Six-Party Talks with Pyongyang declaring its intention to denuclearize, Washington affirming its respect for North Korea’s sovereignty and its readiness to take steps to normalize relations, all the parties agreeing on a compromise that opens the way for North Korea to get a light-water reactor, the UN ending its role from the Korean War, a peace conference agreeing to economic assistance to Pyongyang from international organizations, and a plan for a system of security in Northeast Asia with all active states included. At the crux of these and other recommendations is a stress on winning the trust of North Korea, satisfying it and assuring it. The notion that it needs to assure others is nearly absent from this analysis, and the possibility that it would not denuclearize after all is also ignored. The nature and history of the regime is completely disregarded here.


In Mezhdunarodnaia zhizn’ No. 5, Igor’ Denisov traced the evolution of foreign policy under Xi Jinping. He cited an article in Xuexi shibao of early September 2012, which he takes as authoritative in reviewing the foreign policy of the “fourth generation” as too passive, failing to take advantage of opportunities and lacking a strategic plan. The fault is placed on the stale doctrine of “taoguang yanghui,” which following the debates of 2009-2012 was seen as seriously undermining the confidence of the people. Throughout articles from 2012, there was much talk of the need to correct China’s foreign policy course despite China’s rise to the center of the international arena. Thus, 2008 stands as the turning point and 2012 as the completion of the transition. While disagreeing with Western analysts that growing self-confidence and provocations orchestrated at the top were leading to sharp intensification of conflicts with China’s neighbors, Denisov insists that China faces too many internal problems to allow it to take an aggressive foreign policy course as its foreign policy apparatus continues to be cautious under the weight of the old Deng doctrine. He anticipates that gradually Chinese policy will shift from a reactive mode, using economic diplomacy to forge a network of friendly partner states and transforming the system of foreign policy expertise and the apparatus for managing such policies. Denisov finds this transition of great practical interest for Moscow for finding new points of policy coordination. China will be proposing its own path for resolving problems, and it is important that Beijing and Moscow agree on foreign policy concepts. The Council of Wisemen of Russia and China, established in 2014, can be one of the platforms on a high level for conducting this dialogue and making recommendations, as the architecture of international relations is changing quickly and Chinese think anew about Russia too.

Aleksandr Lukin was interviewed as an expert of MGIMO University in its June 29 posting. He was asked to comment on what has happened to China studies in Russia since the Gabuev fall Kommersant article, which bemoaned its serious crisis. Lukin observed that the overall situation for science in Russia is deteriorating, e.g., there have been many layoffs and salary cuts at MGIMO. Yet, he notes that a rising interest in China as Russia’s key partner as relations with the West grow worse has had the effect of getting more people to listen to the experts, more invitations to discussions with officials, and preparation of materials with some influence on decision-making. Lukin concludes, however, that fundamentally Chinese studies continue to die with no sign of revival. Lukin had remarked that a rising China poses a much greater challenge for Western ideology of world government than a much weaker Russia and was asked if China could help Russia grow stronger. He responded that it is doing so through solidarity on international problems and economic cooperation. By agreeing in May to cooperation in the development of the EEU and the SREB, it is actually supporting the Eurasian Economic Union despite the antagonistic response to the EEU in the West and China’s own doubts, argues Lukin, adding that China will continue to offer its support, but not at the cost of its own national interests. With this in mind, Russia should cooperate only on the basis of mutual interest or benefit.

Lukin finds that Russia and China diverge from the West in different ways. Russia, in principle, does not reject Western principles of political construction but ever more diverges in moral values, such as gay marriage, euthanasia, surrogate motherhood, and radical feminism—all claimed to be signs of freedom and liberalism in the West. China has a more pragmatic culture without a monotheistic religion, making it more receptive to Western moral innovations, but it has a harder time agreeing with ideas of the priority of individual rights over social and state goals. Lukin, thus, strives to narrow the gap between Russia and the West to some specific new issues, while he, indirectly, hints at a wide gap between Russia and China on political ideals or even on human rights—a contrast that many Russian writers on China are not drawing. Yet, Lukin argues that a unity of views about the world and the role of the West are driving closer Sino-Russian economic ties more than economics is driving politics.

Andrei Ionin posited a technological alliance in place of the North Atlantic one in No. 3, Rossiia v global’noi politike. He argued that the sanctions imposed on Russia by the West are not intended to force it to succumb to demands, such as in Ukraine, but, as a long-term strategy, to reduce Russia’s competitiveness. Over the past year discussions have ensued in Russia on what to do, Ionin observes: should it rely on its own forces, maximizing import substitutions in order to be self-sufficient in every area? Should it forge a strategic union with China? Should it capitulate before the superior and consolidated forces of the West? Warning that all of these options are complicated and pose threats to the development of the country, Ionin proposes a “technological alliance.” He notes that the Russian market is 3 percent of the global one, and the population just 2 percent—too small for competitiveness. Ionin counts China, India, Brazil, Iran, Indonesia, Argentina, and Vietnam, as states that have suffered from technological sanctions and should be approached, one by one, to appreciate the similarities with Russia and to join with the objective of guaranteeing their sovereignty, resources, and internal markets for joint development. He especially calls for a united market of the BRICS. This proposal would reduce the risk of domination by any one government. Missing in the article is clarity on how Russia is able to avoid China’s dominant role or how this very diverse group of states would see the proposal as in their common interest. This is a strained effort to avoid drawing very close to China while subsuming China in a broad grouping that it does not lead.

In Rossiia v global’noi politike on June 7, D.P. Novikov focused on the triangle with the United States and China. He first examined Sino-US relations, then turned to how Russia should respond after operating until recently as a balancer and geographical bridge between East and West as well as, strategically, one of the few countries able to conduct an independent foreign policy with wide room to maneuver. He draws a parallel with Maoist China, able to stay on the sidelines in the confrontation during the Cold War. While some assert that Russia’s possibilities in the “New Cold War” are narrowed to capitulation before the West or a junior partner to China, Novikov thinks that this is not completely true. Russia never subscribed to Mao’s formula, since it has serious global interests. Meanwhile, its presence in the Asia-Pacific region at present is insubstantial, while China’s interest is concentrated there and its strategic presence globally falls far short of its growing economic role. China’s imbalance now gives Russia an opportunity, while it was limited as a force capable of maneuvering between the two sides as a balancer as long as Sino-US relations had not fallen into a pre-war situation, in which one side or the other needed an ally. Even in the Asia-Pacific region the imbalance in China’s power is visible, opening the door to Moscow to actively capitalize on contradictions in Sino-US relations. Yet, it must recognize, Novikov remarks, that Beijing will not join in the reconstruction of the global order that Russia has been pursuing since the spring of 2014, despite the Sino-Russian declarations to this end. Instead, it is fixated on reforming the financial and trade system, for which Russia now has little to offer. Similarly, there is no way the United States will draw China into responsibility for the world order, he adds.

Novikov treats dynamic development of Siberia and the Russian Far East within the region’s dynamism as indispensable for Russia, relying on its two allies—energy resources and its navy—becoming an important regional player and more of a force in the global economy. Since China needs to diversify its energy use (notably greater use of gas instead of coal) and to enhance energy security, both Russia and China benefit from Russia’s energy prowess. Strengthening it military presence is also part of Russia’s “turn to Asia.” Novikov proposes that ships from China gain a presence in Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii, while Russian ships return to Dalian and Port Arthur as a partnership in regional security, demonstrating geostrategic superiority to Japan and parity with the United States and its allies in the Far East. He also proposes that as China develops infrastructure in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, it open ports for Russia’s use, enhancing its energy security and freeing it from feeling strategically alone. Novikov proposes intensified diplomacy to explain this to countries with territorial disputes with China. Not only China, but other states would welcome Russian support for avoiding a new “Ukraine” in this region, he argues. Also, he calls for support for Chinese initiatives to counter TPP in liberalizing trade. Russia should be more active, he proposes, in working with China on security in Central Asia through the SCO, given China’s fear of threats to stability there from Islamic movements. It is the one country with the military and political instruments in support of regional security there. When a new president, no matter the political party, needs to show decisiveness against the background of “weak Obama,” China will be provoked and find Russia useful for balance, Novikov argues. In various ways, he anticipates a new role for the Russian factor in Sino-US relations.

In Kommersant of June 29, Russia’s entry into the AIIB with the largest share of votes (5.92 percent) is celebrated as joining a competitor to the ADB and World Bank, where Japan and the United States are dominant. Indicating that, formally, China does not wield a veto, the article indicates that the list of investments will be topped by China’s projects, especially railroads. Asian states will have 75 percent of the votes, and the director must represent Asia. The bank is expected to start operations at the beginning of 2016 following ratification by at least 10 of the 57 states enrolled. As its guaranteed sum, Russia has pledged USD 6.5 billion with USD 1.3 owed in cash, giving it a spot among the directors, who approve investments. Given China’s much greater financial input (over 30 percent of USD 100 billion), Russia cannot count on a privileged role with some control, but funds may be used on its territory, as in construction of a gas pipeline to China. The article points to the absence of the United States and Japan, which has announced its own input of USD 110 billion into the ADB for infrastructure projects in Asia. Citing Alexander Gabuev, the article concludes that these two states are not likely to join the AIIB any time soon.

On June 23, Gabuev was interviewed in RIA Novosti about Sino-US relations on the occasion of their Economic and Strategic Dialogue. He highlighted two issues on the agenda: the situation in the South China Sea and the establishment of the AIIB. On the former, as China has acted more assertively, there has been more talk about the need for US reactions. Gabuev, however, does not expect a rupture over this issue, as Xi is aware of just two to two and a half years left of this “soft administration.” On the latter, we can expect “soft erosion” in the world financial architecture, as competition evolves on who will establish the economic rules in Asia. On Russia’s place in the dialogue, Gabuev did not think it would be an important subject. The two sides disagree on the sanctions on Russia, and Chinese banks and companies that have business in the United States will continue to take note of the sanctions with no change foreseen.


On July 17, a Nezavisimaya Gazeta article described concern in the United States and Europe about the expansion of the SCO despite feigning inattention to the BRICS and SCO summit in Ufa. Claiming that this is a period of US struggle for world leadership and the isolation of Russia, the article points to the summits as forging international relations, to which Washington is at a loss to respond. It cites Newsweek’s warning that the influence of the SCO will spread into South Asia with the entry of India and Pakistan, its role as a counterweight international institution will grow, and its scale of almost half of the world’s population and four nuclear powers will, statistically, be prominent. Pointedly, the article notes that Iran is one of 11 countries interested in joining. This is the pathway to both a multipolar world and a united Eurasian alternative to Western Europe, Lukin is quoted as saying. Yet, the article notes that the SCO is only at the beginning of a long and difficult process; not yet very effective but with new documents at Ufa that bode well for economic and security cooperation. The SCO’s strategy for development to 2025 opposed unilateral use of force without UN authorization as well as for reform of the UN Security Council. A warning was issued against new missile defenses that could destabilize international security. There was even a statement about fully observing the Minsk agreements. The article concludes that all of Moscow’s concerns were reflected in the summit documents, demonstrating that it is not isolated. Exaggerating the solidarity of the expanded SCO and how it stands behind Russian foreign policy serves a timely purpose for its leadership.

Dmitri Kosyrev on July 15 stressed the importance of India’s presence, both as the next host of BRICS and for starting procedures for entering the SCO. Writing in, he showcased India as a world power rather than Pakistan, which is not. While previously many asserted that China blocked India’s entry in order to secure entry for its closer partner Pakistan, and whatever the case may be, the fact that the Modi administration has improved ties with Pakistan is one reason for this success. Kosyrev also pointed to Modi’s tour of Central Asia during this trip as a sign of India’s increased importance. In 2012, the prior Indian administration had indicated that it would expand ties to Central Asia, but had a minimalist foreign policy. British colonialism had severed civilizational ties in light of Russia’s presence in Central Asia, but they are reviving. Kosyrev remarks that some pro-West Indians think that India must engage in Central Asia at a time when Russia’s influence is weakening and China’s is growing there. Yet, he sees Indian voters as resisting Western intrigues to use India to stop China’s rise. This is an optimistic portrait hinting at desired trilateralism of Russia, China, and India.

Andrei Manoilo in the July 7 wrote that the BRICS and SCO summits leave the West at risk of becoming the “back door” unless it changes its policies. It has already provoked Russia to turn to the East. Putin declared the two organizations “authoritative international structures,” becoming one of the key factors in global governance offering alternative positions to those of the West and reflecting the tectonic leaps in world politics that produced these bodies—BRICS becoming comparable to the UN in authority, and the SCO changing from a regional to a global organization. Manoilo goes so far as to conclude the world will not be the same after the Ufa summits, leading the way to a multipolar, international system. He stressed the role of new, well-capitalized banks beyond US control, changing the world’s financial system. Everything is presented as in opposition to the US-centric, unipolar world in pursuit of justice and equality by countries around the world. Also noted is that Putin seeks to make the Eurasian Union a collective member of BRICS. As for Indo-Pakistan relations, he concludes that their entry “freezes” their conflict and makes its management an internal matter for the SCO, closing the door to US and NATO interference in their internal affairs under the pretext of peacekeeping. Kosyrev observes that the SCO is now hurrying to engage in Afghanistan, which knows what happens when one invites Washington to get involved. He attributes the delay in considering Iran’s entry to the delay in the nuclear deal with Iran, but he predicts that as soon as Iran is free of sanctions it will enter the SCO, where its conflict with the West will be managed. Blaming Eurocentric thinking in the West for distorting the SCO into a military bloc rather than a building bloc for a multipolar world, he insists that countries (about 40) in support of the United States and sanctions on Russia are in a minority. Little is said about China except that it is also a US target, and failure to change course to Russia and it will leave the United States and its partners to a sad fate.

Iurii Tavrovskii in Izborskii klub on July 15 wrote that the end of history has been delayed by the SCO summit, as the organization is expanding from 6 to 8 states and more than 10 potential members are waiting. He points to China’s “One Belt, One Road,” backed by its colossal economic and financial potential, as the driving integration initiative, while leaving for the future how this will combine with the Eurasian Economic Union, the SCO, and the BRICS. Crediting the major world leaders present with a shared interest in reexamining today’s world order, Tavroskii accentuates the political weight of Russia and China as giving heft to these groupings and providing a security umbrella. With Putin’s “turn to the East” and Xi’s “return to the West” (revival of the Silk Road), the core of an order is taking shape in opposition to the “Washington consensus,” which some in the Russian and Chinese elites had supported. National interests stand in opposition to the US vertical “globalization.” Tavrovskii depicts a process unquestionably leading to a new world order, centering not on China but on both Russia and China, as if they have the same blueprint and a balanced role ahead.