Country Report: Russia (March 2024)


China, Sino-US relations, North Korea, India, and the BRICS as well as a possible Japan-North Korea summit drew attention in Russian publications in the first months of 2024. The common theme is how Russia’s options are changing in the anticipated new world order. Naturally, the bulk of attention centers on China. Optimism prevails. China will not turn into a hegemonic power. It is not interested in starting a conflict, but it is preparing for war. The concept of “modernization of the Chinese type” has evolved, but it has positive attributes in comparison to Western modernization. Asian states are distancing themselves from the Ukraine situation. As ties with North Korea deepen and Putin prepares a visit, the two states share much in common. The India-Russia relationship is an island of stability and a building bloc. BRICS lacks political solidarity and cannot resolve a lot of problems, but it serves as a mechanism versus the West.


Aleksandr Lomanov in Interfax on February 17 focused on China’s perspectives on the world, acknowledging a diversity of recent thinking. Arguing for China as the “partner of one window,” he predicts that China will transform globalization while satisfying all the needs of developing economies in the Global South and mid-level developed global North could acquire from China absolutely everything necessary. While China has yet to reach that level, it is moving to it, Lomanov asserts with certainty. China very much does not want the end of globalization, from which its economy has benefited greatly. However, the defense of national security has become an unchangeable component of its long-term, national security. It is on the path of acquiring technological sovereignty. Realization of its plans will turn China into the world economic leader, to which others can turn for all they need. China is confident it is on the verge of this status despite some big problems. Facing pressure from the West, China was motivated to strengthen its innovation potential and broaden its industrial competence. It still lacks some technologies of the future, such as parts for civilian aircraft, which the West could withhold to exert pressure, although by the mid-30s China should have closed the gaps. It will be the seller of choice for those sanctioned in the west. To gain access to the advanced technology of the West, China would have to discard a sovereign foreign policy and its current economic model, destabilizing its system and leaving it poor and weak. It has no alternative but to develop the full range of competences on its own. Talk in Western media of China having reached its peak is not well-intended. Yes, China needs to shift from qualitative to quantitative growth; continuance of reform is recognized as necessary in China, as the middle class grows from 400 to 800 million.

Neither in theory nor in practice is there a chance China would turn into an economic, hegemonic power, even as it becomes the main and preferred partner for the Global South. Europe and the United States would remain major actors, and India would become an influential center first of regional then of global economic growth, Thus, China will have competition and will need to keep open to foreign capital, technology, and talent. Many Chinese experts anticipate that the west will eventually accept China’s rise, but I consider this just an illusion, even if Chinese optimism elicits sympathy. World globalization will not be repeated, and China will proceed with like-minded countries to forge a new globalization, beginning with an economic space with countries of the Global South. If this project succeeds and endures, it will become possible to attain new globalization between the Global South and Global North.

In Kommersant on February 6, Nataliya Portyakova noted how China is being careful to avoid being slapped with US secondary sanctions for cooperation with Russia and other states under sanctions. In 2024 there is already a case of Chinese banks refusing payments to Russia in US dollars. Although Washington is ever more active in applying sanctions, their effectiveness is falling before our eyes. Beijing not only does not hold back from economic cooperation with Russia, but it also actively works to strengthen it in all directions. Refusal to make bank payments are of little consequence, as China joins Russia in rejecting the discredited West-centric financial system and proceed almost totally to accounts in national currencies, over 90% of the total. In recent months China introduced visa-free travel for seven countries, mostly in Europe. Russia would welcome similar treatment beyond the system in place since 2000 for group tourism, which was paused just for the period of the pandemic and has resumed along with efforts to further ease limitations on mutual tourist travel and to gradually liberalize the visa regime, in line with the agreement in 2013. Electronic procedures since the summer of 2023 in Chinese visa centers have speeded up the process.

Kim Jong-un’s visit to Russia followed by an exchange of foreign minister visits brought ties with North Korea to a qualitatively new level in all of history, demonstrating to the “collective West” solidarity in mutual support on the majority of questions on the international agenda. Out of caution some non-US Asian allies in 2022 stopped the development of cooperation with Russia along with US allies, and they still face pressure to not return to business as usual. Even so, ties continue to proceed positively. On the whole, apart from a narrow circle of US satellites, Asian states are distancing themselves from the Ukraine crisis. Pressing containment, the West is exacerbating the situation in the East, trying to bring the potential of NATO to the region as it forges new, narrow, anti-Chinese and anti-Russian blocs. Most regional players do not succumb to such provocations, seeing in Russia a reliable partner for securing regional stability and a balance of forces. As Russian diplomatic representation in the West declines, it is not easy to shift focus to the Asia-Pacific region, but more than 80,000 persons are now studying Chinese.

In Valdai on March 15, Andrei Sushentsov focused on the search for a world balance: rethinking the role of the United Nations and China-US relations. The world has lost any understanding of what the balance is as conflicts arise with small and medium states experimenting or protesting against the international system. Thus, Sushentsov argues, it is time for the senior countries to coordinate relations. In today’s complex world, the United States aims to harm Russia, China, and even its own allies such as Turkey and Hungary, even as it worries about the ongoing events in Europe and the Middle East. As the US loses its hegemony, China is restrained and does not seek total control. The UN is overwhelmed, pursuing just two functions: sovereign equality and avoidance of a big war between nuclear powers. Complicating the search for balance is tension between the center of world production in China and the center of global consumption in the United States. The US is the aggressor against China, e.g., using territorial disputes and drawing China’s neighbors, including India, into a web of military entanglements. China long avoided contemplating a military confrontation caused by the United States, but it has changed and is preparing for war. It will not initiate the conflict, readers are told, and seeks a new balance, but it is determined to control the surrounding seas.

In MEiMO, no. 1, Olga N. Borokh and Alexandr V. Lomanov wrote about the evolution of the concept, “modernization of the Chinese type.” Tracing it back to the end of the 1970s, when Deng spoke of the “four modernizations of the Chinese type” and added with “national specifics” and for “xiaokang,” they find Chinese leaders insistent this is different from Western modernization. In contrast to Stalin’s version of Marxism with its rigid linear scheme of the transition to socialism, this approach recognized diverse pathways. Xi Jinping accentuated the need to accelerate from the centuries required in the West with parallel success in various spheres, not sequential and gradual transformations and with shared access to other countries. Also key was the enhanced role of the state. Not copying the Western political system would not be destabilizing since it was not a primary cause of success in modernization. Nor was Westernization required. The traditional model of socialist modernization did not succeed because it tried to skip stages of development. China’s model drops one-sided stress on heavy industry and a monopoly of state property with a planned economy and closed, inflexible institutions. China’s success exposed the bankruptcy of the idea of one Westernized model. There are four types: UK or US capitalism with an outward orientation; German or Japanese capitalism with state leadership and an inward orientation; the USSR’s socialism with state leadership and inward orientation; and China’s socialism with a combined leadership sources of state and market and outward orientation. Following China’s example, developing states can avoid “development with dependency, preserving their sovereignty while opening and escaping poverty. Most complicated for the Chinese social scientists is to classify the East Asian model of modernization—a civilization close to China’s with successes. This is little discussed. It could be interpreted as a prototype of the Chinese path of development with recognition of differences. Behind, China could economically catch Japan and South Korea only with the help of a more radical variant.

Also complicated is the impossibility of reproducing beyond China the political system led by the CCP and the ideology of “socialism with Chinese characteristics. Xi has spoken of China’s uniqueness. Priority is given to maintaining sovereignty and strengthening national self-awareness, but there is no theoretical synthesis. Instead, stress is put on the distinctiveness of Chinese achievements and limitations of Western theories of modernization. Much is made of a new stage of development for humanity with equality in human relations, coexistence among states, and harmony with nature, but the question remains how to replicate the Chinese model of modernization in other developing countries. Questions arise over population decline from 1.4 to 1.25 trillion by 2050 and a slowing economy, which could lead to “growing old before getting rich.” Japan and South Korea succeeded in getting rich first. Improved coordination between the government and the market can limit the economic slowdown, but the process of modernization could be interrupted by a big international military conflict. Yet, there is no reason for excessive pessimism; all depends on maintaining one’s own strategy. If foreign factors matter, the main danger is internal, requiring tackling weak sectors of the economy, coordination of development among regions, and raising standards of well-being. The article notes that the tendency of many Chinese authors to underscore the superiority of modernization of the Chinese type over the Western model does cause criticism, but such publications do not give adequate attention to the evolving character of modernization and the challenges before it. Chinese concepts are plentiful, but they do not add up to a theory. It will take many years to deepen this work. Only at mid-century will we be able to draw a final judgment on the effectiveness of modernization of the Chinese type when it will be known if China emerged in the ranks of world leaders.


In MEiMO, no. 1, Ivan Zuenko examined Russian opportunities to boost agricultural ties to China, overcoming alarmist sentiments, bureaucratic barriers, and food shortages. He notes the growing profits from these exports and the displacement of small-scale Chinese farmers by large Russian corporations, but the continued importance of Chinese trading companies. The fall in the value of the ruble in 2014-15, the reduction in cross-border contacts in 2020-22 due to the pandemic, and the Ukraine crisis have been transformative. From 2022 a sharp decline in Ukrainian agricultural exports to China led to growing demand for Russian products. Russia must do more to capitalize on this opportunity. China is more than 95% self-sufficient in rice, wheat, and corn, but imports play a large role, especially for soybeans, frozen fish, and fruits, and even for foods mostly grown in China due to limited arable land and increased costs of production in China leading to subsidies. Some areas are degraded after long use and climate change. From 2016 Russia has led the world in grain exports. Russian soy exports to China fell recently due to lowered demand in the “pandemic period” and preferential access for US and Brazilian soybeans. Not producing with GMO, Russia has a more valuable product. Problems persist: transport, sanctions affecting Russian companies and banks; Chinese companies’ alarm about being hit with secondary sanctions, complicated cross-border bank transactions, and the risk of China returning to strict anti-COVID restrictions that could lead to the closure of any port or trans-border point. Russia has challenges in increasing production too. The main one is the lack of port infrastructure. A specialized agricultural export port should be constructed. This by itself could stimulate the “Turn to the East” in Siberia, on a scale beyond the Russian Far East. Zuenko also raises the possibility of breaking out of monopoly dependence on Chinese buyers.

In MEiMO, no. 1, Maxim Potapov traced the evolution of China’s approaches to the Asia-Pacific region with emphasis on trade, economics, and investment. He considered APEC, RCEP, the CPTPP, and BRI. With an APEC FTA stalled, RCEP strengthens China’s position, especially with ASEAN countries, but BRI is the world’s largest open, cooperation framework despite some clashing interest, insufficient investments, and political factors. In the Asia-Pacific region integration processes are characterized by webs of bilateral and multilateral agreements on free trade, struggling with different priorities. In RCEP China, Japan and South Korea will gain the most from the liberalization of tariffs, since they lacked FTAs and have large bilateral trade. The refusal of India to join boosts China’s position as regional economic leader. After Trump pulled out of TPP, China saw the revamped grouping in a new light, envisioning by 2030 a $600 billion rise in trade from joining. BRI was planned to establish three, main trans-Eurasian corridors: a maritime Silk Road, a northern corridor through Central Asia and Russia to Europe, and a central corridor to Central and western Asia and on to the Persian Gulf and Black Sea. Over ten years, a vast number of deals were signed. As for docking the EEU and BRI, six specialized transportation routes exist, including the Arctic Silk Road aimed at boosting the Northern Sea Route. The countries of the EEU are not yet ready for an FTA with China. It may take more than twenty years. Big investments in the eastern regions of Russia stumble before the low demand and sparse population. In many countries BRI initiatives are seen as China expansionism, along with US efforts to increase its influence and bilateral territorial disputes. Yet, BRI initiatives rely on FTAs and are flexible unlike traditional agreements. In short, in the Asia-Pacific region since 2000 economic integration has accelerated. China has welcomed this blow to protectionism. This has helped China transit to a higher stage of development and to boost energy and food security. On the whole, China aims for mutually beneficial trade with peaceful competition without exacerbating confrontations. Stronger, China is now moving beyond cautious policies for bilateral cooperation to active integration policies in various multilateral formats.


In Kommersant, February 14, Nataliya Portyakova wrote about the reaction in Tokyo to the preparations for a meeting between Kishida Fumio and Kim Jong-un.  Kishida’s main pursuit is to clarify the fate and explore the possibility of the return home of kidnapped Japanese citizens, a way to boost his ratings, which have taken a hit from LDP financial scandals. In Pyongyang, this issue has long been considered closed. Kishida expressed his interest in a summit last May after two secret meetings in March and May between diplomats of the two countries, and he stated in again over the following months with no sign of enthusiasm from Pyongyang. In 2024, he redoubled his effort, and in early January, Kim Jong-un sent a sympathetic message over the recent Japanese earthquake—the last time this was done was in 1995. In Tokyo this spurred new hope. Japan did not inform the Americans the details, but the Washington gave its blessing, asking only that that Tokyo raise the issue with Seoul before the meeting. On March 20 Kishida is expecting to fly to Seoul to hold talks with Yoon, prior to the South Korean elections. In 2002 North Korea returned five abductees, said that eight had died, and insisted that the other four on Japan’s list had never been on its territory. There is fear in Washington and Seoul that Kishida will put on the table a lot that will negatively affect the trilateral alliance.

North Korea

In Kommersant on February 13, Sergey Strokan argued that Moscow and Pyongyang are finding ever more in common, as they prepare for Putin’s visit to North Korea. Increasingly close bilateral contacts in all areas are turning the DPRK into one of Russia’s partners in the Far East with the greatest promise, while the North regards Russia as a main foreign force supporting iy in its confrontation with the West. Proof of this came at the forum in Moscow from February 15 on the struggle against neo-colonialism, which a North Korean delegation attended. Director of the first Asia department in the foreign ministry Ivan Zhelokhovtsev in an interview with RIA Novosti reports that the two sides are agreeing now on the timing of the visit, following the visit of the DPRK foreign minister to Russia. He noted that trade and economic potential is far from being realized, but the high level of relations bodes well for deepening cooperation, and the November agreements portend a jump in trade. Renewal of ties, paused in the pandemic years, is accompanied by an overlap in positions on the question of security on the peninsula. In an interview, Ambassador Aleksandr Matsegora said that Washington should realize that the DPRK is not alone, which should wake it and its allies up, as Russia’s foreign policy plays a stabilizing role in the region. The US is reanimating the practices of the Cold War in the region, forging a military bloc, but the main guarantee against it attacking the DPRK is the creation in the state of a powerful self-defense potential and unquestioned readiness to it in the face of a threat. It is fully realistic, Moscow assesses, that North Korea will conduct a new nuclear test made necessary in response to continuing US provocations. The responsibility will rest fully with the US and its allies. Finally, Medvedev was reported as saying that one of the most noted participants in the new anti-colonial movement, launched by Moscow, will be North Korea.

In Kommersant on January 16, Nataliya Portyakova wrote of the DPRK’s promise to South Korea of s “full occupation” and to Russia of relations on a new level. Kim Jong-un’s degradation of ties to the South, as “enemy state number one,” came against the background of closer ties to Russia, where the foreign minister is visiting this week. The inter-Korean confrontation grew from the moment Yoon Suk-yeol took office, fully rejecting the policy of his predecessor. Kim Jong-un ordered an acceleration in 2024 in preparations for war. Firing shells at the “Northern Limit Line” is not considered a provocation since the North does not recognize it. While some in Washington say the situation is more dangerous than at any time since 1950, Seoul says such rhetoric is mainly needed “for internal consumption,” redirecting dissatisfaction outwards. In its declared course to strengthen solidarity with countries against the US and the strategy of hegemony of the West, Pyongyang puts Russia first as such a privileged partner, against the background of new rumors of military cooperation and plans for Putin to visit the North.


On January 8 in Valdai, Andrei Bystritskii wrote about Russia-India relations, which he called one of the most discussed themes in Russian society. Claiming to summarize Valdai club discussions, he equated India with its vast population and growing economy and power with Russia with its vast territory and resources and military and technological prospects, while praising each as a worthy civilization. Both have the possibility of influencing the formation of a new, multipolar world order, while comprising a rare pairing of world powers bereft of mutual antagonism and favored with strong reservoir of trust from their past interactions. On critical questions on the international agenda their principal positions overlap. At the G20 summit in India, Modi voiced ideas welcomed by Russia, including for reform of the system of global governance. These are well aligned with Putin’s themes, such as inseparable security and equality of all countries with no artificial barriers. The article proceeds to consider what concretely India and Russia could do to forge a more stable world order. They have every possibility to join in raising questions about countering new (as in regulating global cyber technology) and traditional challenges, e.g., the control of nuclear weapons and the risk of nuclear confrontation. Russia seeks India’s role in the Arctic, including combatting climate processes. Both are interested in diversification of global financial accounts. The BRICS serve as one venue for realizing their global aims. Recently, India has become a major purchaser of Russian energy, and pharmaceuticals are a promising arena. Russian universities enroll thousands of Indians annually, and the demand for Indian specialists in the Russian labor market is a new phenomenon. Traditionally close military-technological ties offer another attractive option for both. As for distinct national interests and challenges, Russia faces unprecedented threats in the European region and longstanding problems with the US, culminating in the Ukraine conflict, which resulted from the imbalance in the world and European order after the end of the Cold War. Moscow welcomes India’s position on this conflictual situation and seeks its input into resolving the situation. In these complicated times, with the breakdown of the old system of international relations and gradual emergence of a new order, the path forward often traverses contradictions and conflicts in ideas and interests. In this sea of chaos, the India-Russia partnership is one of just a few islands of stability. It can become a foundation for more just global and mutually beneficial coexistence.


In Valdai on March 14, Timofei Bordachev analyzed the BRICS group, which, he said, shares a strategic vision of a just world order but pursues their own national interests. Therefore, it is not to be expected that the group will forge international financial instruments as influential as those of the West or take confrontational decisions in regard to relations with other participants in the international community. There is a gap between expectations and practices, the latter often affected by inertia. The gap can lead to disappointment with negative consequences that reduce public enthusiasm when patience is in order. It is very unlikely that one leader will arise in BRICS, as exists in NATO and the G7, capable of disciplining the other participants and getting joint aims (in the interest of the leader) realized. There is no basis to press Russia’s partners to take action more destructive for the West—this will occur in any case. If BRICS cannot resolve problems such as poverty, hunger, ecology, crime, terrorism, information security, and artificial intelligence, it can create concrete mechanisms that are alternatives to the West’s decisions.

In Valdai on January 6, Oleg Barabanov considered BRICS as well as other alternatives to the contemporary world order. As Russia settles in for protracted conflict with the West, it needs a different model of development, world order, and values acceptable to others outside the West and in the Global South. Yet, BRICS is informal without political solidarity, even more so given its new members. Judging from votes on UN resolutions concerning Iran and Russia, Iran and China in roughly half the cases voted in solidarity with Russia, while India and Ethiopia voted slightly more for Russia than against it, although these states abstained most of all. Egypt and Brazil three-quarters of the time were with Russia, and one-quarter against it. Argentina and Saudi Arabia mostly voted against Russia. As for Iran-related resolutions, Russia, China, and India have been 99-100 percent with Iran, while Argentina has taken a categorically anti-Iran position. Countries of the West speak with one voice with bloc discipline, but there is no solidarity on the other side, even in the EEU, let alone in BRICS, with little basis to expect a qualitative change in a mid-term perspective. The non-West is not unified, as expansion of BRICS is again in the air. In 2008-23, the General Assembly adopted 40 more or less anti-Russian resolutions. Iran was against 19 times and in favor once. China was against 16 times and in favor twice. India was in favor five times, but against eight times. Saudi Arabia was in favor 17 times, Argentina 12 times. Such votes are not strictly coordinated with cooperation with Russia. BRICS is developing constructively. More than 20 states seek entry. However, in the context among the old and new BRICS states, multiple groups of states can be discerned along the two vectors of consolidation and expansion for developing BRICS, similar to the state of the EU at the beginning of the 2000s.

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