Country Report: Russia (January 2019)
Sino-Russian relations remain the bedrock of Moscow’s Asia policy, as reaffirmed by when the Russian ambassador to China recounted at the start of 2019 how relations had been growing closer. The perceived sharp downturn in Sino-US relations only adds to the Sino-Russian momentum. One prospect is to take advantage in 2019 of the 70th anniversary of the normalization in 1949 or of the 20th anniversary of the bilateral treaty of 2001 to produce a new document bringing ties closer to an alliance. Indeed, a review of evolving military planning in China indicates that it is ready to begin active use of its armed forces, raising new possibilities for Russia. Yet, an assessment of Chinese debates on foreign policy reveals some retrenchment back toward Deng’s modesty, which could benefit Russia by making China less confident and more eager to cooperate with Russia and forge a regional environment that opens space for a multidirectional Russian foreign policy in Asia. Also visible is alarm that the US retreat from Afghanistan and China’s intensifying BRI with Pakistan and in Central Asia will leave Russia and India the big losers in Central Asia. Such outright warnings about China are now in evidence. More common is renewed attention to the revived strategic triangle, as the US withdraws from the intermediate-range missile treaty with Russia, citing a Chinese missile build-up as a factor.
Although Putin has yet to meet Kim Jong-un to the chagrin of some, the talks over North Korea have evolved in a manner promising for Russia, leading to a lively discussion. Trump’s moves, progress in North-South relations, gains by the North, and contradictions among the parties all bode well for Russian diplomacy, as a parallel is drawn with the Cuban missile crisis for altering the security negotiating environment. While there is talk that Pyongyang could be Moscow’s closest ally in East Asia, leading to the desired multilateral order, some suggest that Moscow build ties with Seoul as a way to become more influential in both Korean capitals to shape wide-ranging diplomacy. This thinking is in line with assumptions that a compromise will be reached once the United States awakens to the need, allowing the North to keep nuclear weapons in what is called “conditional, reciprocal, incremental denuclearization.” Washington will concentrate on the threat to itself, making a compromise possible. Moscow lacks serious leverage on Pyongyang, but it is seen as supporting a compromise and dialogue. The case is made that Moscow does not benefit from conflict there and would be a major beneficiary of such a compromise.
Other Russian coverage reflected on the prospects of a breakthrough in Russo-Japanese relations and on the situation in South Asia. The former treatment centered on security, giving the situation on the Korean Peninsula and China’s challenge to Japan as the reasons for a soft line on sanctions to Russia. To these, one adds, Washington’s failures to Tokyo, driving it to Moscow, and the impression that Russia’s tilt toward Pyongyang has paid dividends even as Tokyo considers Russia a status quo power in East Asia. Yet, integration of missile defenses with the United States could drag Japan into a regional conflict or arms race and poses the most serious barrier to ties with Russia. The conclusion is that Abe is both under the positive influence of his father, who to his dying days sought better ties with Moscow, and his grandfather, who put the Japan-US security treaty into effect—two bookends to postwar Japan’s policies who matter.
On South Asia, one article focuses on closer Sino-Indian relations. Although some factors will continue to divide these states for perhaps 5-10 years, it calls on Russia to treat India as a reliable partner on a par with China and the United States. The April 2018 Wuhan summit achieved far more than expected and proved that Indo-US ties are far from the tacit alliance some have claimed. The author sees Trump angering Delhi with his blackmail and giving it no choice but to draw closer to Beijing, which would have occurred anyways for economic and security reasons. The best hope for India, readers are told, is to work out a demarcation of spheres of influence with China that guarantees China’s economic interests in return for India’s economic and security ones, as India preserves its valued strategic autonomy. Having shifted toward the United States, it is now shifting toward China, giving Russia more room to maneuver in consultation with China.
On January 9, interfax.ru posted an interview with Andrei Denisov, ambassador to China, on the state of bilateral relations in 2018. He praised its growing, de-ideologized role as a stabilizing factor in a turbulent world and the results of four full-format summits from June to November. After Xi attended the Eastern Economic Forum in September, Putin will join the BRI forum in April followed by Xi’s appearance at the Petersburg forum in June. Other impending meetings will be at the SCO summit in Kirghizia, the G20 in Japan, and the BRICS and APEC summits in Brazil and Chile. 2019 will also mark the 70th anniversary of the 1949 establishment of relations. Trade has climbed to about $110 billion, up more than a quarter in one year and leaving Russia with a positive balance of $10 billion. High oil prices were a factor, as energy comprised 70 percent of Russian exports, as was the operation of a second pipeline from Skovorodino. The Yamal LNG plant—project of the 21st and 22nd century—is complete with tankers plying the Arctic route to China. By the end of 2019 the eastern gas pipeline will boost trade a lot. Given the Sino-US trade war, Russian exports of soybeans have almost doubled, as agricultural trade climbed to $3.5 billion with milk products and frozen chicken to soon be added. Cumulative Chinese investments now exceed $30 billion, 70 key, joint projects have been affirmed for $120 billion, 15 of which are already being realized. The goal is $200 billion in trade. After long delay a bridge was completed between Heilongjiang and the Jewish Autonomous Republic with train travel to come in 2019, Denisov hopes, in addition to the 23 percent rise in containers between China and Europe via Russia. The Heihe-Blagoveshchensk auto bridge is due for completion in 2019. Yet, Denisov acknowledges complications in transport infrastructure, crossing points, and trade and investment procedures, which still need time to resolve. He warns of Pyongyang losing interest in talks if sanctions are kept as before, praising close Sino-Russian cooperation on this, as Morgulov meets with his Chinese counterpart almost bi-monthly, while noting the first three-way talks with a North Korean official that occurred in 2018.
Aleksandr Gabuev in Kommersant on January 11 predicted a long economic war between China and the United States. Despite upbeat accounts from both sides after the just-completed talks, Gabuev sees little chance of a deal in 90 days from the Trump-Xi summit, where the timetable was set. Trump’s optimism was no more than a show to boost the markets, while Xi is willing to lower trade deficits but not change China’s plans to boost national champions unacceptable to US businesses and bureaucrats. The United States has lots of instruments to pressure China, not only tariffs, but actions such as the arrest of Huawei official and planned coordination with allies. Even if a deal is reached in March, Gabuev concludes, there will be no end to the trade war.
Iurii Tavrovskii in Zavtra on December 27 argued that Sino-Russian relations are nearing the level of an alliance in response to US ultimatums to both, which must be answered with ultimatums, preferably jointly. Tavrovskii reviews agreements between Putin and Xi boosting ties, adding that the time has come to defend the interests they set forth with a warning of an alliance. In 2019 Moscow and Beijing will celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations; in 2021 their current treaty expires—a new document is needed.
Vasilii Kashin on November 22 in Rossiya v Global’noi Politike assessed China’s military strategy, explaining that the long period when China has not been at war may be ending.
Reviewing white papers and other documents with military strategy, he finds a transition from 2014 from Deng’s passive foreign policy to the “diplomacy of a great power with Chinese characteristics” to forge a new type of international relations as an alternative to the “liberal world order.” As China’s dependence on exports fell in a decade to 2017 almost in half to 18.5 percent of GDP, Kashin views it as still dependent on a new wave of foreign investment to achieve its desired technological leap and under growing demand to defend its interests around the world. Its military budget in real terms rose more than five times from 1997 to 2015, well surpassing the growth in its economy. He reviews Chinese military planning, noting major shifts in support of contemporary technology in 1991, 1999, 2003, and later, he concludes that China is now the third military power, in many respects the second. Its missile forces rather than Russia’s alleged violations have led the United States to leave the 1987 INF treaty. Its nuclear forces pose a problem for US use of ICBMs, which would fly over Russia and could trigger Russian fear of being attacked. Having achieved a technological leap, China faces reorganizational needs, which it has been addressing effectively of late, making the armed forces an important instrument of foreign policy. In conclusion Kashin predicts that the long period of three decades since Chinese troops participated in a military conflict will soon come to an end.
In Polis, No. 1. Aleksandr Lukin discussed a sharp discussion under way in China on Chinese foreign policy, contrasting the activist and realist (sticking to Deng’s legacy) schools and putting the leadership in between the two. Taking place since the start of the century, the discussion has intensified with the trade war with Washington, which exposed China’s weakness and dependence on the US economy. Some have criticized BRI as provocative. The article analyzes the nature of these exchanges, much of it unpublished. Noting that under X Jinping Chinese society had appeared monolithic, Lukin finds that Trump’s trade war fundamentally changed the situation, casting doubt on aspects of Xi’s course and on the ability to predict the world situation, albeit often only indirectly identifiable. Critics noted the inability to anticipate Trump’s new, harsh course, asked if Chinese propaganda about its rise as the world leader had not provoked the US response, and cast doubt on departures from Deng’s principles of modesty and not exacerbating foreign relations. Yet Lukin is careful to add that this is criticism of tactics and timing, not of the leadership’s strategy to make China one of the leading powers. Among those blamed are Hu Angang, ideologist of Chinese triumphalism and champion of breaking the monopoly of Western culture in the world now that China has overtaken the United States in comprehensive national power. Some warned that China had come out from under the shadows too soon, that journalists close to the military and security agencies had been pushing over the Internet since the second half of the 2000s to act triumphally, that hawks are attacking the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as too dovish and the Party is losing control over the military, and that the public has been aroused to demand tougher policies toward the United States, Japan, etc. Lukin cites numerous examples, adding that the hawks had begun to influence foreign policy and that “core interests” were being broadly interpreted. Pressure was exerted through arrests on foreign companies, sanctions were imposed, and territorial disputes were harshly treated. A rhetorical battle proceeded between peace-loving or power, cooperation for mutual benefit or China’ unique role in the world, and market adherence or a Chinese model of development. The impression has spread that many are dissatisfied with political authorities, including traditionally pro-west intellectuals and businessmen tied to western economic interests.
Lukin reviews criticisms of BRI from China’s partners, observing that one factor is the struggle over international markets not only with western conglomerates carrying on an anti-Chinese media campaign but also with Indian interests protective of traditional spheres of influence. At the core, problems stem from a geopolitical battle with the United States and the geopolitical and foreign economic policies of China. The former has been exacerbated by Trump, whose moves defy all of China’s assumptions and are grounded in an ideology shared by the entire US elite, reacting to weakness before it is seen as too late. At fault is failure to grasp the real intentions of the United States and its determination out of excessive belief in the irreversibility of China’s rise, but China is in no way at fault for its rise and for US moves to force a fundamental transformation in its course while calling it a greater threat than Russia. China’s economic success without need for the western political system undercuts western modernization theory.
For geopolitical reasons the confrontation between Beijing and Washington is inevitable even if Xi Jinping had not advanced his ambitious programs. This confrontation has laid bare the problem of having no allies amid tense relations with many due to moves attributable to its hawks, as in policies toward Japan, India, many Southeast Asian states, Mongolia, and South Korea and in use of overseas Chinese as if they are pawns of Beijing. Lately, due to the crisis in US relations, Beijing has undertaken some correctives toward Japan, India, South Korea, and others. US pressure against China’s purchase of the S-400 missile defense system led China to declare the necessity of raising strategic ties to Russia to a new level rather than banks more strictly abiding by US sanctions. Lukin concludes that Deng-like modesty plays a positive role and brings more control over state enterprises abroad by favoring an image of mutual benefit. He blames pseudo-research centers in search of state financing for squeezing out honest analysis. For Russia the stakes are high, needing China to forge an alternative model in order to forge a real multipolar world, but also preferring a less “self-confident” China to set aside notions of Russian “territorial debts” and of getting by without need for any friends and partners.
In Nezavisimaya Gazeta Aleksandr Khramchikhin depicted China on the offensive, squeezing Russia and India from their zones of influence. Western China’s geopolitical role has greatly increased. As early as the 1970s, China engaged in a policy of encirclement of India, adding Bangladesh to its close military ties in addition to Pakistan. Sri Lanka was soon targeted too. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, China turned to economic reforms that allowed it to expand economically into Central Asia and demographically, readers are told. China had border disputes that it, on the whole, resolved to its advantage while later using the SCO as an instrument of economic expansion. In the mid-90s when the Eastern Turkestan Islamic movement pushed for independence in Xinjiang, China made use of this to pressure any opposition at home and to intervene abroad on the pretext of fighting terrorism. At the same time, it had excellent relations with all countries organizing and sponsoring Sunni Islamic radicalism, which led it until recently to remain neutral regarding the civil war in Syria. China did not suffer from terrorism since it befriended the sponsors of terrorism, although in Xinjiang the threat may revive. Without any real threat at home, China has a pretext for action in its west.
The article identifies BRI as both a political and an ideological project. The key ally is Pakistan, to which arms are going in large quantities and through which important transportation corridors pass. The Gwadar port serves as a gateway for goods from the Middle East and Africa to China and back by land and sea. Soon Gwadar will be designated an official Chinese military base. Now that Pakistan has unpayable debts, China will not forgive any but just keep pressing more. It is proceeding similarly with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. A parallel situation is unfolding in Central Asia, as debts accumulate, which must be repaid even in territory. For the gas pipeline funded by China, Turkmenistan pays in gas, meaning it receives next to nothing from its revenue, leaving it in a serious economic crisis. The alliance with China has left it in ruins, it is said. In Tajikistan, some Chinese companies have paid for an electric station and highway in return for the rights to work gold deposits—a very favorable deal for China compared to a normal commercial contract and opening a road there as in Turkmenistan. Tajikistan is left heavily in debt to China, reportedly resulting in paying with territory. Kirghizstan’s extraordinary debts to China have made Kirghiz dependency a big internal political factor. The situation is less dramatic in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, but China’s expansion is proceeding very quickly there, too.
In each case China has started to send arms. Naturally, China’s economic influence is turning into military-political influence, as in an agreement it initiated with Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan for a joint struggle. This could lead to the formation of a military bloc under China, readers are told, observing that the United States could not get Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together, but China is more successful as it proceeds to “buy” Kabul. If Washington has blessed this coalition, Russia has not, which on an unofficial level fears a loss of its influence in Central Asia as China proceeds to take advantage of Russia’s problems to replace it in various areas. BRI goes around Russia and establishes rival transportation bypassing it. The article concludes by emphasizing that Russia and India are the losers, not the United States, warning that Central, South, and Southeast Asia could all fall under China’s total control. Such alarmist articles about China have not been common in mainstream publications of late, which insist that BRI and EEU can be joined, that China is still deferring to Russia in Central Asia, or that the United States is a player that will stand firmly against China.
Sergei Trush in Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn’ asked if we are back to the Russia-US-China triangle, noting that in recent months this focus has clearly been revived. Pointing to the end of the 60s to the beginning of the 90s as the heyday of this approach, he stressed a US guarantee to China in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack and a boost to the US position in talks with the USSR. In the 1990s geopolitical risks were reduced, as economic interdependence superseded concern over security. Now that risks are in the forefront for all three and China and Russia draw closer on security, the triangle has revived, albeit without an ideological or values component and, instead, with more equal distribution of military power, newfound economic weakness in Moscow, and the rise of regional centers of power. Indicative of triangularity is the pullout by Trump from the INF treaty with talk of drawing China into the negotiating process. Supposedly, in an effort to maintain the treaty, Moscow will urge Beijing to join in three-way talks, but this is not realistic, given its impact in subverting Moscow’s close ties to Beijing into rivals, at a time of crisis in Russo-US ties. Also, China counts on mid-range rockets to contain the US across the western Pacific. While they pose a threat to Russia, which is more exposed than is the US mainland, in the future it may agree to talks with China or triangular ones on them, and China too may agree, aware of how the United States could build up its forces. As a new triangular balance is taking shape, Russia should avoid emotionalism in weighing risks and threats that lie ahead.
Sergei Karaganov wrote in Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn’ about the battle for peace after the United States quit the INF treaty. The situation has grown more dangerous due to the decline in the governing classes in the West and the unprecedented, rapid redistribution of forces in the world since 2000 with destabilizing impact, accompanied by an ideological vacuum filled by nationalism. The arms control process has been dealt a death blow by the United States, which now aims to draw Russia and China into an arms race while demonizing them in a manner reminiscent of psychological preparation for war. Russia including its cooperation with China is a force for stability, but it has not advanced an appealing conception of world order beyond multipolarity. The idea of Greater Eurasia, supported by China, has not been made concrete after advancing more than a little the first 2-3 years. Even the “turn to the East” is dragging as if it matters only for the Russian Far East and is just economic in focus. Calls for a regional system of security in Northeast Asia likewise seem to be forgotten, although only Russia is relatively well-received by all of the countries. Karaganov sees the prospect for arms control and war avoidance in three-way talks on strategic stability with China and the United States.
The Korean Peninsula
On November 22 Konstantin Khudolei in Rosssiya v Global’noi Politike wrote that the situation on the Korean Peninsula has promise with multiple variants possible and room for Russia to take a new approach. Asking if there has been a qualitative breakthrough on the peninsula owing to diplomacy, as occurred in 1962 due to the Cuban missile crisis, when limits were set on confrontation that threatened to erupt in nuclear war, he finds hope in what has transpired as recently as in September with the Moon-Kim Pyongyang summit. He also sees gains for North Korea, relying on its military prowess and on contradictions among the other countries. Third, Khudolei detects serious change in the structure of the negotiating process in Northeast Asia, raising the role of bilateral and trilateral contacts, although a six-sided format is optimal from Russia’s viewpoint. In the current process, Washington will consult with its two allies and Pyongyang with Beijing and Moscow. The process is not irreversible, he adds, the systems in North and South Korea are sharply at odds, if not so antagonistic. Contradictions between Washington and Beijing over the Korean Peninsula are serious, and the North’s missiles and nuclear program will continue to rattle the entire region and especially the United States. Thus, no breakthrough has been achieved, Khudolei concludes.
Talks between Pyongyang and Washington are unpredictable, readers are told. One possible scenario is total denuclearization, but Pyongyang will refuse, clinging to its nuclear status, and other barriers exist. A second variant is for Pyongyang to develop its weapons secretly while publicly proclaiming disarmament, but it will be soon discovered, leading to new, severe, US sanctions and possible proliferation in Northeast Asia, at a cost to Russia’s power. But given China’s anger as well as US opposition, this is very doubtful. One more variant is partial denuclearization and gradual warming of ties with the United States, as occurred with India after its nuclear test, accompanying a path of authoritarianism with gradual market opening backed by the United States versus China. The North would forego strategic weapons capable of hitting the United States. This would be a tough sell in both countries. The most likely variant is much talk but little action from Pyongyang, maneuvering between Washington and Beijing and playing on Seoul, as Trump, Kim, and Moon all claim success, and Beijing is satisfied with the status quo. Sanctions would be reduced for some projects. Yet, if US-DPRK talks stumble, the situation will worsen.
Russia is left on the sidelines after in recent years tilting to North Korea in politics and security. Politicians prefer authoritarian to liberal capitalism, replacing criticism of North Korea’s order with neutrality or sympathy. There is talk that Pyongyang can become Moscow’s closest ally in East Asia, contributing to a multilateral order and Moscow serving as an intermediary. Khudolei calls on Russia to show concern for South Korean security too, since, after all, North Korea threatens it and was the aggressor in 1950. Seoul is sensitive to inequality with Tokyo and could be amenable to Russia’s position on US missile defense in South Korea. The 1992 Russo-ROK treaty might be replaced with more on security. Given the slow pace of bilateral ties with North Korea and the lack of interest of Russian business in it, a multilateral approach is desirable as well as further impact on North Korean workers in the Russian Far East, opening up the society. To raise its authority and its influence in the two Korean capitals, trailing that of China and the United States, Russia should somewhat change its approach and become more energetic: joint initiatives with China are taken as Chinese, and Russia should in some cases proceed independently; there is no need to be confrontational, including to the United States, given that some in the region see Russia rather than trying to resolve the Korean problem, aiming to poke the United States in the eye, as states are careful to avoid sanctions violations toward Moscow that could complicate their US ties; and Russian initiatives should take the interests of all into account and be appealing.
At the Moscow Carnegie Center Andrei Lan’kov on November 23 suggested how to limit the threat from North Korea’s nuclear program through a compromise permitting it to keep some of its nuclear weapons and avoiding regional destabilization. He contends that the main reason for delay to 2002 in fulfilling the plans of the Agreed Framework was the expectation of regime collapse by the United States and others. As the North’s economic situation was ameliorated by 2002, it was ready to resume its nuclear program beyond what US intelligence had correctly detected. No US guarantee of security would suffice. Given views that survival is more important than wealth, nuclear weapons are seen as essential. China under pressure forced the North to agree to symbolic and reversible concessions that led to talks, but promises to denuclearize should not be taken seriously. They buy time and soften sanctions. The Sino-US trade war has led China to revert to closing its eyes to small firms violating the sanctions, which has hardened the North’s position. Without this, it would still insist on some nuclear weapons. The United States is not ready yet for the necessary compromise, adds Lan’kov, due to naïve thinking, delaying an agreement.
On December 11 Oleg Kir’ianov interviewed Georgii Toloraya in Rossiiskaya Gazeta on Russia’s major role in support of the peace process in Korea as a second Trump-Kim summit is approaching. Everything depends on Trump’s political will; Kim is waiting for sanctions relief as evidence the United States is serious. US bureaucrats with psychological confidence in US superiority will not agree, insisting on denuclearization while leaving the concept vague and struggling to find a compromise move. Meanwhile, the North has separated its ties to Washington and Seoul, discussing nuclear issues with one and economic ones with the other. Its situation is very stable, and it is patient, perhaps having reached some agreement with China for assistance if it does not raise tensions. Kim has not promised to halt anything more than nuclear and rocket tests, even insisting in his New Year’s address on the need to mass produce ballistic rockets, raising further the price the United States will have to pay for dismantling programs. Toloraya views the current situation on the peninsula as favorable for Russia in any case. Sanctions are not lifted, but if they were, US business—not Russian—would benefit, and US help to Russia on connecting railways is doubtful. At the same time, the situation is not ideal for China, which is losing control over it, although it may have cut a deal with Kim. Kim is a risktaker, and Trump’s concern is winning the re-election. Kim may find Vietnam’s strategic approach after it defeated the United States useful, finding common cause with it in containing China and getting the United States to disregard human rights issues.
Should DPRK-US relations turn sour, Seoul would be in a difficult position, doing all it can to sustain dialogue and striving for a railway opening good for Russia. Pyongyang will accept no more than “conditional, reciprocal, incremental denuclearization.” Washington will concentrate on the threat to itself, making a compromise possible. Moscow lacks serious leverage on Pyongyang, but it is seen as supporting a compromise and dialogue. Toloraya makes clear that it does not benefit from conflict there—another Syria, apparently pushing back against some in Russia. Seoul is now acting quite independently on North Korea, but the alliance will endure. As for its sanctions affecting Russian ties to North Korea, some companies dependent on the US market are fearful now but may change as Russia shows how important this is. Talk of Kim visiting Russia continues, but Toloraya does not regard a visit as necessary for either side, proposing a short stopover in Pyongyang for Putin instead, since positions are already in agreement. Pyongyang understands that use of its workers depends not on Moscow but on the UN.
Oleg Paramonov in RSMD on January 15 pointed to security as key to Russo-Japanese relations, beginning with a reminder of sanctions Japan imposed in March 2014. Japan has shifted away from solidarity with its Western partners, as in the Skripal affair. On the surface, this is to resolve the “territorial dispute,” but the deeper reasons are the situation on the Korean Peninsula and security challenges from China. One response is to revise restrictions on Japan’s self-defense and collective self-defense with friendly states, including the US alliance. Yet, Tokyo is disconcerted by US policy toward North Korea, which ignores Tokyo and leaves it a lone player with no summit prospects. On other tracks Washington is likewise failing Tokyo and its long-term goal of “open regionalism.” This has pushed Tokyo toward Moscow, seen in a September 2017 Patrushev-Yachi memorandum on consultations between security offices. The resulting impression is that Russia’s tilt toward North Korea has paid dividends in Abe’s pursuit of Putin. Also, defense forces are now in closer contact. Tokyo assumes that although Moscow acts very decisively in the post-Soviet space, it is a status quo power in East Asia. Sino-Russian military ties are a serious “headache” for Tokyo, which aims to do all it can to prevent an “Eastern Entente” as Abe, unlike some predecessors, is an independent player globally and regionally toward Russia. Trump’s election and Brexit freed Tokyo of pressure to keep a united front toward Moscow. Meanwhile, integration of missile defenses with the United States could cause Japan to lose control over how much it becomes involved in a possible regional crisis or could fuel a regional arms race. Russia’s shifting defense policies in the area are seen in Tokyo as a barrier to trust in security. Russia acceded to Japan’s request in 2018 not to hold joint military exercises on the Kurile Islands, while Japan turned down its invitation to send observers. 2 +2 talks resumed, but the results were quite modest. Also, since 2014 Japan has toughened export controls, limiting ties to Russia. Such restrictions lead the author to doubt much cooperation in security will follow. The article points to US-Japan missile defense cooperation as the most serious barrier, not excluding Aegis Ashore in Japan linked in Russia to the US exit from the INF treaty. No success has been realized in convincing Russia that missile defense is under Japan’s control, not that of the Pentagon, unlike THAAD in South Korea. The conclusion is that Abe is both under the positive influence of his father, who sought better ties with Moscow, and his grandfather, who put the Japan-US security treaty into effect.
On November 22 Aleksei Kuprianov wrote in Rossiya v Global’noi Politike of a great turnabout in South Asia, pointing to closer Sino-Indian relations. Although some factors will continue to divide these states for perhaps 5-10 years, he calls on Russia to treat India as a reliable partner on a par with the PRC and the United States. Optimistic about the future of Indo-Chinese ties, Kuprianov focuses on how this will impact Russia. The new era began with the April 2018 Wuhan summit, which achieved far more than expected in a wide range of areas and proved that Indo-US ties are far from the tacit alliance some have claimed. The author sees Trump showing less interest in South Asia, angering Delhi with his blackmail and giving it no choice but to draw closer to Beijing, which would have occurred anyways for economic and security reasons. Trade may have hit $90 billion in 2018, as investments are also rising rapidly. America First reduces US investments, making India turn to China; India helps China weather a trade war. As for security, states on the Indian Ocean are turning to China economically, and India lacks the means to be seen as the protector against Chinese imperialism. Its best hope is to work out a demarcation of spheres of influence with China that guarantees its economic interests in return for India’s economic and security ones, as India preserves its valued strategic autonomy. Having once shifted toward the United States, India is now shifting toward China, giving Russia more room to maneuver. Of course, China and India drawing closer is a Russian dream even if there is no prospect of India agreeing to a triangular alliance. The problem is that, under the influence of pro-American propaganda and in response to Russian moves in the direction of China and Pakistan, Indian elites are prone to dismiss Russia as a balancing force, as they dismissed the United States in the Cold War. Russia is left in a difficult situation, unable to be competitive economically and unwilling to sacrifice good ties to calm Indian elites, but somehow it must demonstrate its independence from China. It can upgrade its military presence in the Indian Ocean or seek “2 + 1” ties with India and regional states, such as Vietnam (the first choice with which Russia has close military ties, as it does with India), Indonesia (the most promising long-term target), and Japan. All options require consultations with China, which would benefit by states seeking defense not from the United States but from Russia and India as a pair.