Country Report: Russia (January 2024)
Vladimir Putin’s visit to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, or One Belt One Road (OBOR) in Russian eyes) summit in Beijing, Xi Jinping’s summit with Joe Biden on the sidelines of the San Francisco APEC gathering, and Taiwan’s January presidential election all drew the attention of Russian writers in the last months of 2023 and the beginning of 2024. Other interests included the US Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) policy, the EU-US-China triangle, the boom in Sino-Russian trade and challenges to boosting Russian exports, India’s balancing act between the United States and Russia and exploration of relations with Taiwan, prospects for Sino-Japanese relations, the nature of NATO’s expanded role in the Asia-Pacific region, and the end of North Korea’s diplomatic isolation as its approach to South Korea is also changing.
Vladimir Kozhemiakin in the November Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn wrote of the results of the “One Belt, One Road” summit in Beijing, describing the new, just world order. One of the main events was Putin’s participation, followed by his talks the next day with Xi Jinping. Many of Russia’s top officials attended along with representatives of big business, In his opening address, Putin described various integration processes along with OBOR (not using China’s BRI label) that are leading to Russia’s proposed Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP): the SCO, ASEAN, and the EEU, which Russia is successfully developing with partners in the post-Soviet space. The article calls the forum a clear affirmation of the existing non-western world and says that OBOR, more or less, coincides with the GEP and is a step toward unification of the Eurasian region. Doubting suspicions in the West that OBOR is above all to advance Chinese interests and influence, one analyst says that truth is in the middle. China does seek to lead the newly forming world, but what it does is positive for all of the participants: money, investments, trade flows, growth, and development. We need to find the golden mean between what China wants and what we seek. The forum is proof that countries are rallying around China and attempts to isolate Russia are failing. A new world of justice, equality, and consideration of mutual interests is forming. A new contract was signed for China to buy grain from Russia for $25.7 billion. Putin said that while Russia now is sixth among China’s trading partners, overtaking Germany, its true place is much higher.
Yet, the article warned of difficulties in further development of bilateral trade ties. The current level of $200 billion is much too low, given the state of relations and the larger figure in Vietnam-Chinese trade. Russia only has energy resources to offer and gas deliveries lack means of transport. Russia must develop its infrastructure, requiring credits. Little has been realized. To the 1990s, there was no bridge across the Amur and Ussuri rivers. Only recently was a bridge built at Blagoveshchensk and a second railroad bridge. Plans for Primore 1 and 2 allowing China to export abroad through Vladivostok and Zarubino are incomplete due to difficulties in getting Chinese goods into Russian territory. Investment cooperation also suffers due to Russian insurance problems for Chinese investments and virtually no Russian investments in China. As for competition between China and Russia, as in 2013 when Chinese protested Russian moves off Vietnam’s borders, these are minor in the context of the threat from the collective West to security, which unites the two. There is no alliance, and each has its own policies where there are different interests.
In the November Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn, an article by Viktor Larin assessed the economics and geopolitics of OBOR. He called it successful and targeted at turning China from a regional to a global power, which has been welcomed by many states (180 have formally joined) dreaming of equal and beneficial economic relations. Yet, amid clashing evaluations, he found inertia in some areas briefly mentioned. Originally, its aims were modest: infrastructure and in Asia humanitarian cooperation. Yet, it sought the fastest possible gains in security and economics for China with access to resources and markets. The amorphousness and fluidity of OBOR allowed regions in China to construct their own plans, as Heilongjiang did in November 2014, seeking an economic belt through cross-border transportation infrastructure to supply provincial products abroad. The Russian variant of OBOR has two directions: the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), using Russia’s transportation infrastructure, especially for provinces in Northeast China and drawing resources for the economic development of Inner Mongolia; and the Northern Sea Route, clarified in a June 2017 publication and pushed by Jilin province. The tasks for these pursuits were modest compared to those for the northwest, southwest, and eastern directions: a high-speed train from Beijing to Moscow under central authority; and a “window to the north” through the provinces bordering Russia authorized to use local authority. Russia’s official reaction was quite cool, not directly participating in OBOR, despite agreements to “dock” the EEU with the SREB. China positioned OBOR as a narrowly economic strategy, rejecting warnings of foreigners of its geopolitical aims.
Yet, Chinese eventually linked it to forging a “community of common destiny” and used it to form an image of a “responsible global power.” Support from other states was seen as a guarantee of further Chinese investments. Economic results were limited; trade with Russia for Northeast China provinces grew haltingly or stagnated, as Chinese trade by sea to other areas surged. OBOR countries were not a dominant target of investment abroad despite transportation corridors to the south. So far, nothing is working in the docking plan. The line to Moscow has not begun. The improved transit of Chinese goods through Russian railways and ports as well as the Northern Sea Route, largely to satisfy the interest of provinces in Northeast China, has stalled. Agreements to proceed on these have not led to desired outcomes. In the fall the third OBOR forum was less pompous and more pragmatic with 10,000 participants from 151 countries and 41 international organizations, as China showcased positive results from this initiative and goals for its further development. The brief mention of troubles connected to Russia is overshadowed by praise.
Aleksander Lukin on October 19 in Nezavisimaya Gazeta covered Putin’s visit to China and the limited perspective of OBOR for Russia. He notes that for the third time Putin was the main and most honored guest in Beijing at the OBOR international forum. The special status of Putin was recognized in each protocol detail: he spoke first after the host, he stood in the honored place to the right of Xi in the official photograph, and the Chinese media cited his remarks just after Xi’s. This may seem strange since Russia does not directly participate in the Chinese initiative. It only cooperates through the EEU in docking with the Silk Road Economic Belt, not on a bilateral basis. On the left of Xi in the photo stood Tokayev, the leader of the country where in 2013 Xi announced the SREB, receiving only second billing, and Widono, the leader of the country where Xi introduced the second part of OBOR, received only third billing. At first, a decade ago, Russia had high hopes for OBOR, especially a high-speed railroad through Siberia to China with agreement on its first leg—Moscow-Kazan’. Yet today the only project considered part of OBOR is the “Power of Siberia” gas pipeline operating from 2019, and the Silk Road fund put money into Russian companies through Yamal and Sibur, a pittance compared to funds sent elsewhere. Given the OBOR priority for transit to Europe and sanctions on it, Russia could hardly be seen as a useful partner ahead.
However, one should not confuse OBOR with bilateral relations between Moscow and Beijing, where projects are on the upswing. Russia needs China, above all as a geopolitical partner, and China is extremely concerned about the pursuit of global domination by the US and its allies and US military activity in East Asia and the Pacific Ocean and the new formations there perceived by Chinese leaders as an Asian NATO aimed at containing China’s development. Without Russia, holding back NATO in a different direction, China would be left one-on-one with a united West. Russia’s economic role keeps growing for China, supplying inexpensive energy and buying all manner of goods. For all of these reasons and despite Moscow, in the view of Beijing, operating on the international arena without sufficient caution, it is an extremely valued partner worthy of special respect. No less important is cooperation with China, in security and economics, for Russia, leading to Putin speaking for three hours with Xi, covering such topics as a North-South corridor through the Ural region and Siberia, modernization of the central section of the Trans-Siberian railway, construction of the Northern Latitudinal Corridor through Yamal, and other transportation projects as well as Chinese investments in the Arctic zone—all internal within Russia. Transit routes from China to Europe probably will proceed outside of Russian territory, but that is a fact of the times.
In Izvestiya on November 16, there was a review by Anastasiia Kostina of the “very modest” results of the Biden-Xi summit at APEC. Mention was made of agreements on narcotics, a security dialogue, and contacts of military officers as well as Xi’s offer to send pandas to the United States after recent departures. The main focus, Kostina reports, was to prevent further escalation of the existing political confrontation. For China, Taiwan was the prime concern. The article notes Biden’s use of the word “dictator” after the summit and blames the United States for being unwilling to yield global leadership to China. It suggests that Xi was invited to give Biden a lift in the polls in an election year.
In POLIS, No. 6, China-Taiwan relations were scrutinized with warnings that China might use nuclear weapons from Aleksandr Lomanov. Saying that Southeast Asia is growing increasingly tense due to the situation in Taiwan, the article asserts that the ruling party, if victorious in the upcoming elections, plans to establish an independent state and, if needed, to defend it with arms. China repeatedly warns that this would be a declaration of war. Warning of the threat of an apocalypse, it discusses full annihilation of the lower Yangtze, threatening the lives of tens of millions of PRC citizens and the Three Gorges dam, as Taiwan retaliated in a war. Sanctions would follow, similar to the anti-Russian ones imposed by the West, striking a heavy blow on China.
Vladimir Kulagin In Vedemosti on January 14 asked what the election of an independence supporter in Taiwan will mean, noting the 40 percent of the vote won by Lai Ching-te. While Tsai Ing-wen in 2020 gained 8.7 million votes, Lai only won 5.6 million, and if the two opposition candidates had agreed in November 2023 on a single candidate, the opposition had a realistic chance of winning. The DPP could not resolve problems of living and lost its absolute majority in parliament. A decisive factor will be where the smallest 8-person delegation, ideologically in the middle, will turn. A US congressional delegation will visit in May. Vasilii Kashin finds the electoral results both positive and negative. The opposition parliament will create difficulties for Lai. Under Chen Shui-bian the opposition blocked acquisition of US arms, but today’s KMT would not go that far, while opposing provocative measures, argued Kashin. Andrei Karneev said that the ruling party would more strenuously insist on Taiwan’s international status while the KMT is supporting cooperation with the mainland, but not unification. Lai will be very careful in his concrete actions, as will the PRC in its responses, seeking informal contacts with Lai’s party. Losing the majority in parliament could complicate life for Lai, the article concludes.
On January 14 in Profil, Ivan Zuenko discussed the consequences of the Taiwan election, leading to a parliament without a majority party and complicating decision-making or the new leader’s moves. The main danger is full independence leading to the mainland using force. Tsai Ing-wen did not cross red lines, and Lai Ching-te without full parliament backing is even less likely to do so. Xi Jinping has made it clear that unification cannot wait forever with the dates treated as significant: 2027, 100 years from the PLA’s founding, and 2035. Most likely is the status quo holding on the “Taiwan question” over the next four-year political cycle. Lai will be more occupied with socio-economic issues (a rise in inflation and property prices, a lack of workers and an aging population, and negative consequences of worsening ties to the PRC) than foreign policy ones.
United States IPEF
In Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn, No. 12 Grigorii Eliseev discussed US intentions in Asia, pointing to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). In essence, IPEF aims to draw countries of the Asia-Pacific region closer under the economic and trade leadership of America. Secretary Gina Raimondo called it the most significant engagement ever of America in international economic relations of the Asia-Pacific region. It was officially launched in a May 23, 2022 ceremony in Tokyo with 14 states enrolled. Unlike TPP, there is no open door for other superpowers, Russia and China. Inviting India, a strong and growing regional power, aims at economic containment of China. Exclusion of Canada and Mexico is related to their role in USMCA. There is no plan to lower tariff barriers, protecting US markets and preventing the use of the Mexican and Canadian markets as platforms to penetrate the US market, although Canada has asked to join IPEF. States do not have to join each of the four pillars of IPEF: fair and resilient trade; supply chain resilience; infrastructure, clean energy, and decarbonization; and tax and anti-corruption. Only in September 2022 were the tasks of negotiators for each pillar announced, many drawn from the TPP agreement. In December 2022 occurred the first round of talks in Brisbane Australia, but in the wake of the second round in Bali unavoidable problems were exposed indicative of clashing interests. The same was true of the third round in Singapore and another in Detroit. Without the liberalization of trade, it is stymied. Also, given the goal of serving US interests and separating US exports and imports fully from China—a new integration structure to resolve US problems with minimal input of US resources and under US control—it arouses skepticism. This attempts to duplicate Obama’s “pivot to Asia” under a new signpost to restore the lost US position in the region, while ending dependence on China and offering nothing in exchange to partners. IPEF faces serious problems coming into existence.
The EU-US-China Triangle
In POLIS, No. 6, N.K. Arbatova analyzed the triangle of the EU with the US and China. She notes that Gazprom is desperate to find a market for its gas in Western Siberia, while China has other options too. One source is quoted as saying that Chinese companies want deals entirely their way and even for free. For Russia, only by reorienting exports to China did it access funds for imports. Russian automobile producers were saved by Chinese suppliers offering full copies of Western components under new names. A polycentric world is emerging as international relations are transformed, including regional players—Turkey, India, Iran, the UAE, Nigeria, Brazil, and others. In the most winning positions are powers or coalitions able to build good relations with other centers of power, which until recently included the EU. After the image of unipolarity, China was approaching the US standard before its prestige seriously suffered from the epidemic. Further, the end of its economic miracle has arrived. Its growth over 40 years was a triumph of traditional economic principles, of private entrepreneurship, not state substitution for the market. Both CCP interference in the economy and deeper hostility with Washington have serious consequences for economic progress and China’s foreign relations, possibly leading to social tensions. The EU and Russia represent contrasting models of economic and military power. From 2016 the EU was on course to become a full-fledged center of power with the US and China, not just an economic center, leading to strategic autonomy, as it occupied the epicenter of the battle between China and the US for global technological leadership. It needed technological sovereignty to achieve military sovereignty.
To February 2022 world development was headed toward a quadrilateral framework of the US, EU, Russia, and China. Deepening contradictions between Russia and the West and China and the West (above all the US) worried the EU countries not eager for latent bipolarity. Change has followed with an ideological clash, giving China, not Russia, the main role. The Ukraine conflict has frozen active cooperation of Western countries and their Indo-Pacific allies with Russia. In place of a quadrilateral, a triangular configuration has emerged of the EU, the US, and China. The Russian factor plays an important role. Commercial expansion leads China to globalization, which requires international stability in all regions. In this way, China seeks a rapid end to the Ukraine conflict, coinciding with the interests of the EU and US, while not desiring a weakening of Russia, its principal geopolitical partner, as in opposing the West in the Global South. As an example, they agree on a division of labor in Central Asia, where Russia pretends to the principal role in providing security and China is the leading economic power—both strongly resisting the US and Islamic extremism. However, in the near future expectations of China will not be limited to economics, as Xi Jinping’s policies increasingly focus on security, as in the SCO. Sino-Russian interests increasingly clash in Africa as China’s navy moves closer and Russia’s role there limits China’s possibilities. In various African conflicts they are on different sides. China also has had success in Eastern Europe, more promising than Western Europe for its companies.
For Xi’s worldview the Global South under China’s lead will be the base of a different world order. It is an open question if he will succeed. Since 2014, when Russia united with Crimea, security has risen to the top of the EU agenda. Trump opposed European strategic autonomy. Biden, however, accepts the EU taking more security responsibility, not fearing a split in the trans-Atlantic alliance. US military assistance to Ukraine has drawn the EU and US closer, despite EU concerns about US loss of interest. A divide exists between European integrationists and Atlanticists, the latter in “new Europe” especially concerned about US support against Russia. The former look at the EU strategy in the Indo-Pacific region as simultaneously a means to manage the trans-Atlantic alliance and an affirmation of strategic autonomy. The latter see it as management of the alliance and a way to draw closer to the US. There are fundamental intra-European disagreements. The tendency of China to press for leadership on the international arena, including geopolitical expansion continues to arouse concern in the EU leadership. A turning point came with the massive violation of human rights in Xinjiang and the aggressive economic expansion of China, as reflected in China’s retaliation for sanctions over human rights, coercive trade measures, and China’s position regarding Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine.
The EU is not ready to back just any moves by Washington against China, apparent in Macron’s pursuit of strategic autonomy and rejection of “duopoly” and wariness on Taiwan. Germany plays a middle role between the US and France and France and Asian states in the EU-US-China triangle. A softer position of late of some states is not to minimize the risk from US policies but also to seek China’s mediating role on Ukraine. Xi takes a balanced position on the conflict, categorically against sanctions while some companies and banks froze contacts with Russia and Belarus, fearing the sanctions. China regards the EU as an organization for economic integration and not military; so if Ukraine receives more economic support after entering the EU, this would not cross a “red line.” China’s main goal is to stir disagreements between the EU and US, compensating for Russia’s actions driving the EU closer to the US. The EU seeks to strengthen ties with the US in security, to cooperate with China economically while reducing risks, and to maintain a balance in ties to Washington and Beijing to work to avoid conflict. This means maintaining a united world order, but it needs to play a more active role uniting liberal and non-liberal states. The Russian factor unavoidably operates in this triangle. Normalization of relations of the EU after the end of the Ukraine conflict would facilitate a polycentric world and serve Russia’s interests as well.
In Kommersant on December 28 Sino-Russian trade was discussed, noting how in the past two years China had become indispensable for the Russian economy after it lost Western markets. However, in 2023 the prospects of increasing Russian exports have almost been exhausted, as the growth of imports is beginning to contradict the interests of Russian industry. Russia has become China’s sixth leading trade partner after the EU, the US, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, but Russian business has started to realize that there are limits despite Putin’s talk of unlimited possibilities.
In 2023 trade was balanced with $110 billion in exports and $100 billion in imports over 10 months, allowing almost all exchange to take place in yuan and rubles, bypassing sanctions. (Exports over 11 months hit $118 billion—$61 billion of oil, $13 billion of coal, and $11 billion of gas, together 70%.) In comparison, Russian trade with India jumped to $55 billion over the first ten months, but 95% are Russian exports, mainly oil, while Russian companies do not want rupees and Indian ones will not accept rubles. With China, exports of oil are less profitable than to India or Turkey, and there is no hope for export of steel or aluminum, while wood products have hit an impasse of just 3% growth due to expensive logistics and low prices on the Chinese market. The only hope to increase exports is joint projects and new signed contracts, but Chinese companies are in no hurry, sticking to the commercial logic of relations., as seen in the drawn-out negotiations over “Power of Siberia-2” despite past hopes of signing when Xi visited Moscow in March and again when Putin went to China in October, and finally when Mishustin was there on December 18—each time encountering demands to set minimal purchase prices.
Chinese cars are flooding the Russian market, as in other products prices are lower due to economies of scale from China’s vast market. Post-sales servicing, however, falls short of what is customary. Also, in some sectors, China is acquiring a monopoly after Western companies fled. Chinese use this to raise prices to the level of the European markets despite lower technical standards. Gradually, competition among Chinese suppliers is beginning to Russia’s benefit. In some cases, Chinese machines, as gas turbines, cannot replace Western brands. Chinese will quickly pull back after extended talks over the slightest risk. Many machines are banned from import from China due to certification rules to protect the Russian market. In the mid-2010s some Chinese products of dubious quality were imported. Russia lacks workers at the moment to meet some production needs, e.g., for railroad cars. Surprises can result from buying components China imports from unfriendly countries, renaming the products. Overall, China has made it possible for Russian exporters and importers to survive, but few want to increase the scale of ties, which would contradict sectoral lobbies and state policy. The solution may be deeper integration with Chinese firms, but Chinese business has practically no interest in this.
In the January 8 Nezavisimaya Gazeta, an article explained how India is succeeding in balancing ties to Russia and the West, calling it a giant in a favorable position. It has a rapidly growing economy, a vast internal market with a young population, and developing key sectors from IT to space to peaceful and military atomic energy. While many social problems persist, progress in dealing with them is striking to return visitors after just a few years. India is avoiding excessive global involvement by balancing relations with key players. It is deeply involved in Western-centered globalization, enabling its economy to grow with a nationally oriented modernization and integration into global production networks. Political relations with the US and EU are constructive without India being dragged into US alliances even if directed against China. The quality of India-China contradictions differs from US-China ones since India does not display excessive ambitions for global leadership. China has had terrific results in resolving social problems and forging a huge economy, but its first thought is US containment policies, leading to an exhaustive struggle, which India avoids, conserving resources. The US and China are not forcing their confrontation, both fearing loss of control over an escalation, but Moscow forced an open challenge on the West, demanding equality in political relations and consideration of its security interests with Ukraine the epicenter of the clash. Attempts to isolate Moscow by the West have put Russia in the vanguard of change to the world order. Even as India maintains constructive relations with the US and its allies, it joins Russia in advancing new principles of international relations independent of the west with a bonus of phenomenal growth in trade with Russia, benefiting from oil redirected from Western markets. If the conflict between Russia and the West extends to open war with a realistic chance of nuclear war, India will lose along with the rest of the world. Along with oil, the Russian market beckons, freed from Western competitors, along with further arms, space, and nuclear energy cooperation, as well as jobs for Indian workers in Russian enterprises. India’s diplomatic equilibrium allows it to diversify its international relations and Russia to escape isolation by the West.
Izvestiya on December 12 saw Kseniia Loginova discuss India and Taiwan drawing closer, as the two opened economic and cultural centers, which she called de facto consulates, and Foxconn invested $500 million in two Indian factories. Noting that Modi, prior to becoming president, had visited in 1999 and 2011, she pointed to 2020 as the turning point after the border skirmish with the PRC. Both are diversifying from the PRC and are facing increased pressure from it, as trade has reached $8.5 billion. They are drawing closer on security too, but the article explains that India is not playing the “Taiwan card,” avoiding crossing China’s red lines. Meanwhile, Taiwan companies while trying to diversify find it hard to match conditions in the PRC.
In Nezavisimaya Gazeta on November 14 Valerii Kistanov covered the possibility of a thaw between China and Japan, noting China’s strong opposition to the water discharge taking place and total ban on marine products from Japan along with about 1 million phone calls to the Japanese embassy in Beijing, some with bomb threats. Also seriously impacting relations are a string of arrests in China of Japanese on suspicion of espionage, seen in Tokyo as aimed at political-psychological pressure on it. Chinese ships near the Senkaku Islands continue to rattle relations, while Japanese fault Chinese military activity in the South China Sea directed at putting this vital trade route for Japan under China’s control. Especially alarming to Tokyo are Beijing’s plans for Taiwan, not excluding the use of force, affecting economic and military security. The FOIP of Tokyo and Washington, along with the Quad and AUKUS (which Japan now contemplates joining along with South Korea in AUKUS plus), aims at economic and military containment of China. Ever clearer is the anti-Chinese triangle of Japan-the US-South Korea, and a new alliance with the Philippines (JAPHUS). Japan strives to draw NATO countries onto its side and to institutionalize cooperation with NATO. The G7 summit in Hiroshima focused not only on Russia in Ukraine but on China in the East and South China seas. All of these actions arouse a sharply negative reaction from China; yet it seeks to normalize ties in the context of unprecedent worsening of ties to the US with hopes for ameliorating its economic troubles. Both sides declare their readiness to restore bilateral relations toward stable development. The talks of Xi and Kishida in San Francisco will be difficult without either changing course. The planned visit in late November of Komeito head Yamaguchi, who is respected in Beijing for pursuing closer ties, could be a boost, but the only way to achieve a thaw would be mutual visits of the leaders to each other’s country, the article concludes.
NATO in Asia
On January 14 Valerii Kistanov in Nezavisimaya Gazeta described NATO going to Asia with Japan guiding the alliance, especially alarmed about China’s ambitions. Despite their high trade interdependence, confrontation in the security sphere only keeps growing. The three centers of power of the collective West—the US, EU, and Japan—all are coordinating their strength more versus China. The FOIP of Japan and the US aims to contain China not only in the economic sphere but also in security. The desire to combine forces is manifested in the new concept of the indivisibility of security in the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions, introduced by Abe and put to effect by Kishida with enthusiastic acceptance by current leaders of NATO and the EU, amid talk that China could try to use force to unite with Taiwan, to seize the disputed Senkaku, and to establish full control over the South China Sea—all with negative consequences for Japan, the US, and their allies in the region. Beyond the Quad and AUKUS is the idea to forge AUKUS plus with Japan and South Korea added and the US-Japan-South Korea triangle viewed in Beijing as the “Asian NATO.”
The actual NATO now views China as a “systemic challenge,” and plans to boost security ties in the Asia-Pacific region, above all with Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. Japan is primary, the only member of the G7. Especially active in military cooperation with Japan with the aim of containing China is Great Britain. Japan and France also intend to boost military ties with an anti-China subtext. In turn, Japan expresses readiness to help NATO oppose Russia in Europe. During an unexpected visit to Kyiv on January 7, Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko clarified Japan’s financing for drones after earlier supplies of 155 mm shells to Great Britain and Patriot missiles in place of weapons sent to Ukraine. While France opposed opening a NATO office in Tokyo as increasing tensions with China and Germany also expressed caution, the US supported it. Just as countries promised not to extend NATO to the east in Europe, they now deny extending it to the Indo-Pacific or taking part in military activit8ies there. Very restrained on extending NATO activities to Asia are members of ASEAN, which would further weaken ASEAN centrality in regional security. On July 9-11 in Washington the 75th anniversary of the founding of NATO will be marked with anticipated attendance of Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. It can be assumed that Biden will press to draw NATO deeper into joint opposition to China. Should it not be recognized that Moscow and Beijing in response will advance their own conception of the indivisibility of security in these regions with joint maritime exercises not only in the Asian-Pacific but also in the Euro-Atlantic, e.g., the Baltic Sea?
In Rossiya v Global’noi Politike, No. 1, Artyom Lukin wrote of the end of North Korea’s isolation, linked to the transformation of the balance of forces on the Korean Peninsula following a nearly static situation from the early 1990s. He argues that although the DPRK possesses nuclear weapons the military balance on the peninsula and around it is worsening for it, which threatens its security, even more so since South Korea’s policies are not fully predictable. The North has very limited prospects of balancing the rising strategic risks through mobilizing its own resources. There remains external balancing with military powers. North Korea is ready to emerge from a long period of strategic autonomy and restore alliance relations with Moscow. It is premature to speak of the formation of a “northern alliance” of Moscow-Pyongyang-Beijing in light of China’s wariness of excessively antagonizing the US, Japan, and South Korea, but the chances for that will increase if China finally loses all hope in talks with them. From roughly 2018, Kim Jong-un shifted away from economic growth and social development priorities. His economy has fallen to one-fiftieth of South Korea’s $1.7 trillion, and he spends 20-25% of the GDP on maintenance of his armed forces, but to the degree the state ignores development of the economy its military-industrial complex will begin to degrade, something already seen in the late Cold War period, when the USSR fell behind the West in electronics and information technology, losing the parity it had achieved with such difficulty at the beginning of the 1970s. Concentration on missiles and nuclear weapons is a sign of weakness. Increased dependency on China explains not testing a nuclear weapon for the seventh time, viewed as essential for further miniaturization. Beijing does not want another test near its border and fears nuclear weapons spreading in Northeast Asia.
The world is increasingly heading toward bipolarity with the US and China the main centers, which other states are unable to influence. Over the next 5-7 years, no transformation of the ROK’s geostrategic orientation is likely, as it has no reason to switch from technological and military dependence on the West. The most it might do is refrain from joining actions serving US interests. North Korea refuses reforms as too risky. A not small part of the South Korean elite is awaiting the possibility of destroying the North Korean state, including Yoon Suk-yeol, who does not conceal his unfriendliness to the North. No wonder the North opts to sustain its model of a fortress-state. It worked to sustain the DPRK in the difficult course of the 1990s and through the double whammy of recent years—almost total sanctions and the pandemic. One of the incontrovertible benefits of the Juche model is preservation of a high level of political independence. The main issue is a low tempo of economic development. Nuclear weapons are a means to contain aggression. Otherwise, they are of little use. The North’s leaders would resort to them only in the most extreme case of a mortal threat to the state and its leadership. Possible conflicts would not be nuclear, and the DPRK would lose most. Given US and allied progress in weapons, North Korea could be left helpless before the first blow of its opponent. It would avoid actions that could lead to North-South conflict. It is showing its readiness to respond to a large-scale aggression, not signs of aggressiveness. The change in official terminology in relations with the South to call it the Republic of South Korea and rejection of the idea of unification shows its status quo orientation, i.e., survival.
In the coming years, Russia probably will be the main military partner of the DPRK, while China continues to be the main economic partner and diplomatic protector. A return to the 1961 treaty is unlikely, but that does not limit military cooperation, which will allow North Korea to feel more confident in the face of unpredictable relations with the South. China is wary of military cooperation to avoid straining ties with the US, Japan, and South Korea. Russia has nothing to lose. Also, the North’s memories of China leave it wary of drawing too close. Russia is the more equal and comfortable partner.