Country Report: Russia (November 2018)
The extraordinary flux in the Indo-Pacific area has elicited diverse and exploratory writing in Russia. No part of the region is ignored in the search for answers as to what is taking place and what Russia’s response should be. With Sino-US relations and ties on the Korean Peninsula in transition, China rushes to improve ties in all directions, while Russia thinks anew about its “turn to the East” in the face of increasing sanctions in the fall of 2018.
The Korean Peninsula
In Mnenie on September 20, Stanislav Varivoda asked if the Pyongyang summit was just another false step or a real contribution to peace. Acknowledging that it did not attract the same level of attention as the April 27 North-South summit, Varivoda indicates that the main goal was to persuade Washington that the North is prepared to denuclearize. He is lukewarm about the results, recognizing that the North needs room to maneuver, which it could get by a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War that would justify denuclearization since the threat would have disappeared. Yet, many in the United States and South Korea are suspicious, aware that Pyongyang has broken past promises. The article concludes that the ball is in the US court to decide whether to break with its initial position in the talks, but, even if Trump and Pompeo have welcomed the summit’s results, it is too early to judge the outcome of what promises to be months of lively diplomacy.
On September 24 Konstantin Asmolov in RSMD assessed the results of the fifth inter-Korean summit. He reported on the joint statement praising the wonderful progress achieved since their first summit in 2018, including epoch-making measures to reduce military tensions. While the article observes that the progress has not actually been wonderful, he sees real movement on tension reduction. Yet, the April 27 declaration was not an agreement, despite efforts by the ruling party in Seoul to seek ratification through the National Assembly to give legal backing to it. Asmolov notes the appeal for Koreans autonomously to deal with peninsular issues and for advancing joint projects as the path to peace, not mentioning denuclearization as any sort of precondition. This meant accepting Pyongyang’s wording of treating the peninsula as a private matter for Koreans, excluding Washington. Yet, the essence of the talks and how they should proceed is subject to anyone’s interpretation, Asmolov adds, qualifying that the military agreement was a serious step forward: a 10-km buffer in which artillery firing and military exercises are banned and an 80-km zone at sea. A special military commission is being established to monitor this and conduct dialogue to prevent accidental conflict. Unlike Moscow and Beijing, however, Seoul is not moving to relax sanctions, and even attempts to inspect routes by railroad were blocked by the US veto over crossing the DMZ. Some pretty language about economic projects means little due to sanctions and the ROK position that full denuclearization precedes sanctions relief, including providing drugs and medical equipment. Equally stressed is the plan for Kim Jong-un to visit Seoul, as marking an end to the “odious” law on national security that treats the DPRK as a military foe whose leader must be arrested if possible. This stumbling block prevented a return visit by Kim Jong-il after the 2000 inter-Korean summit, and Aslomov views Moon’s position as weaker than Kim Dae-jung’s in 2000. The summit is praised for making concrete many of the decisions, but not on denuclearization, peace treaty, or the end of the Korean War, leaving Moon under criticism from the left and the right.
An RGRU September 22 interview of Andrei Lankov praised the summit results for reducing the potential for conflict through what he called a “show.” In his judgement, the process is reducing the chance of a US military action. Since, apart from Trump, the US side is dominated by hawks who will not agree to take symmetrical steps to engage the North, the summit only delays a reckoning. For Russia the plan on joining the railways and highways of the two Koreas as part of a transit plan leading to Russia and Europe is welcome, but optimism is not warranted since the transport network of North Korea faces a long road of improvement, demanding time and money even if sanctions were not to interfere. Lankov holds out scant hope for the process under way even if he views it as a positive development in light of the alternative.
On September 24, Lankov also wrote about the summit for Carnegie, commenting that China has begun to destroy the sanctions regime in response to the trade war with the United States. Given the probability that the United States will return to extreme military pressure that it had threatened in 2017, the two Koreas need to show that their relations are continuing to proceed in the right direction. Kim declared his readiness to close some facilities but only if the United States made corresponding concessions. There seems to be every basis to speak of a successful visit, as does the part of the South Korean media controlled by the Moon administration, but the intentions pertaining to the missile-nuclear weapons complex and economic cooperation will remain, in principle, unrealized. The December 2017 UN resolution pushed by Washington and backed by Beijing blocks almost all forms of commercial cooperation for all members of the UN with North Korea, giving the United States veto power over changes, which it promises to utilize to prevent gradual moves. Thus, the significance of the summit was to create an impression that things are moving the necessary direction more for Trump’s benefit than for their own publics. This spectacle proceeded in the face of a dangerous situation on the peninsula over the past few months—a dead-end in line with what has existed for a quarter century. Trump departs from the course taken by previous US presidents in readiness to use military force against the North, casting aside the concern of allies, and in confidence that he can personally resolve problems despite evidence to the contrary.
Lankov notes that China shifted its position in August 2017 after years of doing all it could to weaken UN sanctions, but this unusual cooperation lasted only until May 2018. Still, North Korea was facing an economic crisis, as local Chinese implementation remained tight over official trade and contraband. This drove Pyongyang to talk. However, Trump began a trade war against China, which in May-June started to relax pressure on border trade. Its half-year blockade was loosened, allowing the North to avoid an economic catastrophe and enabling it to proceed for months without concessions, made easier by Trump’s claims after Singapore that he had solved the nuclear problem. From July, Chinese unwillingness to help the United States became evident, as US hawks were growing bolder—confident that the North would make no concessions without a return to maximum pressure—which Lankov agrees had worked, but only due to China. He notes that Washington is counting on Beijing sticking to the embargo for fear of companies losing access to the US market and credit system, but he disagrees that it will work since only small Chinese firms would be dealing with the North, leading to US demands for extreme military measures and a real threat of war. North and South Korea, which now considers US hawks the bigger threat are agreed, at all costs, to prevent this. Trump is viewed as the main obstacle to the hawks, making him the target of direct diplomacy and of the latest North-South summit aiming to show the North’s reasonableness. Yet, without progress on talks, the US hawks will win. Seoul is showing understanding for Pyongyang’s position to buy time with minimal cost to the North’s threat potential, and real results were reached for preventing an accidental confrontation by the demilitarized zone and, especially, for weakening the position of the hawks in Washington. Yet, Lankov is pessimistic that their position has been gravely weakened, foreseeing trouble ahead.
Georgy Toloraya in RSMD asked what Russia should do for Korean peace, given unprecedented mutual understanding between the leaders of the two Koreas. He noted that the date of their Pyongyang Declaration, September 19, is an anniversary of the 2005 six-party agreement at a time when the DPRK was in a much weaker position, and he calls the North’s position flexible, as hopes arose that Moon could persuade Trump to take a more realistic approach to the talks. Yet, Washington maintains its “maximum pressure” line and does not value at all the peace-loving gestures of the North. In an effort to arrange a second Trump-Kim summit, Moon delivered at the UN in late September secret messages from Kim, while stressing that Kim is serious about denuclearization. Yet, Washington believes that Kim seeks to split the alliance and use a peace declaration to get the withdrawal of “UN forces,” and US strategists fear a relaxation of tensions on the peninsula would weaken the US position to counter China and Russia. Seeing this, Kim can take a soft stance, while Washington prefers the status quo to reducing sanctions and watching the North cooperate with the South and other states. Weakening the destructive US influence in the region could allow Pyongyang to reduce its nuclear potential to a minimum, but that is something one can only dream of now. Toloraya finds that things are moving in accord with the Sino-Russian “double freeze” proposal, but, given that, there is no reason rush it. Russian diplomacy should: do all it can for inter-Korean closeness; give central place to advancing trilateral projects, beginning with the Khasan-Rajin railroad route against US attempts to block it with “secondary sanctions”; maintain neutrality between the United States and North Korea; keep close consultation with China while preserving Russia’s interests; call for relaxing sanctions while not getting in front of China; activate dialogue with the DPRK backed by symbolic support without violating the sanctions; conduct dialogue with the ROK to show Russia’s concern for its interests as well as support for inter-Korean cooperation; and affirm support for the six-party format in the hope of forging a mechanism for regional peace rather than just a US-DPRK détente or a new four-party arrangement that would shun Russian interests to the side. Overall, this is cautiously hopeful.
On October 17 Oleg Kir’ianov in Rossiiskaya Gazeta wrote about US pressure on Seoul over its desire for sanctions relief, insisting that no concessions to Pyongyang should be offered until irreversible steps are taken toward denuclearization. This has aroused charges of interference in the internal affairs of the ROK, as Seoul and Washington are diverging more and more on policy toward Pyongyang. Seoul has every right to remove its 2010 unilateral sanctions, but Trump demands that they do nothing without US approval. This is causing a strong response in Seoul, as did contentious telephone exchanges with Mike Pompeo about plans for agreements at the Pyongyang summit, where he demanded a veto. US military officers were also unhappy with steps taken to reduce tensions at the Pyongyang summit, readers were told, given that the United States controls the DMZ. South Korean banks have fielded calls from the United States about their plans for cooperation with the North, responding carefully that so far only possibilities are being discussed. Given the US tie to the international financial system, warnings are taken very seriously. The article describes sharp divergences and intensified pressures on Seoul through various channels. Distrust has risen to the point that South Koreans have been added to the list of nations needing special scrutiny to visit US bases in Japan. Also, it is said that Moon bought US restraint toward the Pyongyang summit by agreeing to the KORUS FTA revisions as part of a strategy to make small concessions to demonstrate solidarity with Washington in exchange for freedom in relations with Pyongyang, including retaining a Russian ship accused by the United States of supplying oil to North Korea until Moscow loudly protested. But now US pressure is greater against Seoul’s dealings with Pyongyang. Moon continues to try to escape from this impasse between Trump and Kim, but even a second summit between them would be unlikely to prevent a confrontation ahead, forcing Moon to have to choose between the two.
Konstantin Khudolei in Rossiya v Global’noi Politike compares the change in dealing with North Korea since 2017 with the impact of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962: the danger of nuclear war ended at the last minute, and the confrontation proceeded in strictly limited circumstances. There is little chance of a repetition of the 2017 crisis, but the international position of North Korea has been strengthened, relying on its military power and using contradictions among the other states. It will continue its new role, taking advantage of serious changes in the dialogue process in Northeast Asia, although the desired Six-Party process is unlikely. Bilateral and trilateral talks will proceed. Tensions may return—between North and South and the United States and China notably. There is little chance that Pyongyang will take the path of denuclearization sought by the United States—possible only if there were 5 versus 1 with decisive demands, but there is almost zero chance of that—or that the United States will attack, given the degree of restraint likely to be shown by the North. There may be partial denuclearization in return for massive assistance, but DPRK-US distrust makes it doubtful this could proceed on a bilateral basis, while conditions can be realized for relaxation of sanctions for concessions by Pyongyang leading to a “cold war.” Moscow is a player but not a middleman. It has shifted from a balanced policy between the two Koreas to favoring the South in the economics and humanitarian spheres and the North in politics and security. This is accompanied by preference for authoritarian capitalism, leading even to sympathy for the North or at least neutrality on internal affairs and the view that the North can be Moscow’s closest ally in East Asia. Yet, the author seeks more balance with Russia paying closer attention to the security of South Korea, taking into account the fact that the North started the 1950 war and was responsible for later aggression, and seeking a 2+2 mechanism as now exists with Japan while reflecting the concern in Russia over US missile defenses coming to South Korea. A new treaty is desirable to reflect changes since the 1992 bilateral treaty, including in security. For the North, Russia can help dissuade it of the impression it is a besieged fortress, with more workers coming to the Russian Far East despite awareness that they may be earning cash for weapons. Joint Sino-Russian initiatives on the Korean problem would be taken as just Chinese ones; so Russia needs to act more independently. Since all governments in the region are cautious to Russia in order not to complicate relations with Washington, Moscow needs to consider the interests of all. It is necessary, the article concludes, to nourish the ongoing positive tendencies in diplomacy.
On September 24 Vasilii Kashin in Izvestiia discussed the causes and possible effects of US sanctions on China aimed at Russian arms sales. Given that the contracts date from 2014-15 and the S-400 and SU-25S fighters have almost been completely delivered, the message to the 70 countries with Russian weapons under long-term arrangements is that just possessing the weapons is subject to punishment. This is a threat to national sovereignty where it is felt most strongly. Actually, in this case, Kashin sees the real target as China, and the fact that the arms come from Russia is just a pretext, but China has no intention of cutting back ties to Russia.
Kashin in Rossiya v Global’noi Politike wrote that the time is likely ending when China refrains from using military force, neglecting to indicate against whom it might direct its forces. He draws on Chinese military strategy in recent years to base his prediction without specifying if anything might be changing in the second half of 2018. It appears that a powerful military (China is seen as 2nd or 3rd in the world) needs combat to prepare suitably.
On October 24 in Nezavisimaya Gazeta Iuri Tavrovskii greeted the impending 40th anniversary of Deng’s reform and opening with a panegyric to unstoppable success in China. Reviewing the past and insisting that only the firing on demonstrators in 1989 preserved communist party power and, implicitly, China’s rise and that Xi Jinping provided just the new norms to overcome a host of gathering problems, he concludes that China and Russia are equal as revisionist states facing the same threats in seeking to forge a world opposed to American values and interests as well Trump’s sanctions, trade war, and strategy. Intensified party control over the economy and discipline are explained as a response to the difficulties imposed on China, as is upgrading the level of strategic partnership with Russia, as mass patriotism strengthens. The experiment in the convergence of socialism and capitalism under communist leadership has succeeded and will go forward to its dream, concludes Tavrovskii, confident that Moscow and Beijing will converge.
On November 2 Aleksandr Gabuev in Kommersant’ discussed the perspective for banking cooperation between Russia and China at a time China is preparing for a trade conflict with the United States and looking for partners. The EU and Japan are agreeable to cutting bilateral deals with the United States, as their ships become more active in the South China Sea. Mexico and Canada agreed to give the United States a veto over FTAs with China. Russia does not have much to offer China—natural gas, oil, and more soybean sales—in economics, but its role is much greater in other spheres. Chinese are now increasingly asking how to raise ties to Russia to an unprecedented level. Just recently a Russian article warned of Chinese banks not wanting to serve Russians due to the US sanctions, and Chinese are asking if Russians are worried about this—and they are. But Chinese insist that with political will the problem can be resolved, e.g., by using a regional Chinese bank not dealing with the United States, parallel to mechanisms for transactions with North Korea and Iran.
In Nezavisimaya Gazeta on November 9 Konstantin Remchukov discussed Trump’s intention to block China’s 2025 strategy to become the main economic world power. Arguing that Trump’s approach to resolve international economic problems from a position of strength and the appeal of the American market to foreign companies appear very effective, he faults them as at odds with the entire architecture of multilateral agreements based on the equality of all countries. All are yielding to Trump’s dictates, and that leaves Japan, which will eventually cave, and then the EU. Using the excuse of the murder of a journalist, the United States will press Saudi Arabia to get low oil prices useful for Trump’s reelection in 2020. Russia poses no economic threat to the United States and will be impacted by the pressure applied to Saudi Arabia, as force becomes the standard in the world. As for China’s ability and resolve to counter Trump’s pressure, the article does not say definitively.
On November 21 in Nezavisimaya Gazeta Anatolii Komrakov discussed Sino-Russian financial cooperation, preparing a new mechanism by year end to bypass the dollar, but he warned of the fear in Chinese commercial banks that the sanctions against Russia are so large that this mechanism might not suffice to serve Russian clients. This is separate from the process of using national currencies in trade, which leaders are rushing to do. The banks are refusing to deal with Russians, recognizing the high-risk profile of China in the United States, recalling the trouble they faced in 2013 over dealings with Iran and North Korea. Small and medium-sized business in Russia and China have no such difficulties. Much of the banking in Sino-Russian relations passes through Singapore. Hong Kong does not seem to be an answer. Thus, Russian firms often have to go through banks in Central Asia and Belarus or elsewhere for financial access.
Aleksander Lukin on November 19 in Nezavisimaya Gazeta declared that China stands before a serious strategic choice. Trump’s trade war has upset the monolithic faith in China behind Xi Jinping’s pursuit of his dream, dividing the Chinese society and raising doubt in his course, having failed to predict the world situation by being too optimistic about dealing with Trump. Both the BRI and “Made in China 2025” face reconsideration as does the decision to break from Deng’s path. The goal is not in question, but the tactics of proceeding so boldly are. Attacks are being mounted against Hu Angang, an advisor to Xi who in 2013 concluded that China has surpassed the United States and could act accordingly. Chinese bankers are cited as doubting BRI financing and repayments. Triumphalism in the media and on the Internet has been conspicuous since the second half of the 2000s, spurred by the security and military analysts seeking a new, hawkish foreign and defense policy and ideology and spreading to the intellectual elite and beyond. Talk spread of fighting for core interests, as the hawks saw many of their suggestions come to fruit such as unofficially applying economic sanctions to Mongolia in 2016 and South Korea in 2017. Territorial disputes heated up with Japan, India, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Reassuring Chinese rhetoric was often contradicted. BRI critiques abroad resemble those long directed at reviled corporations of other countries. China had miscalculated that the US would not dare to take decisive measures to contain China, causing harm to its own economy. Trump is just a symbol of the objective situation of a hegemon eying its rising competition and responding before it is too late—the style can change, but not the perspective. China has not provoked Washington; its rise has, and Washington is demanding fundamental change in its entire course, which China cannot do. A serious confrontation is unavoidable and would have been even if Xi had not adopted his policies.
China has no allies. It has good relations with only a few states, e.g., Russia and Pakistan. Most developing states are looking only for credits and investments. Ties to many neighbors have seriously deteriorated with Beijing’s intentions suspect, as it is accused of using Chinese in their states as a second column. Now China is starting to make corrections—to Japan, India, and South Korea. Reverting more to Deng’s modesty would be positive. Russia has great interest in what China does. Can China establish an alternative path for effective economic development without adopting the western political model is key to a political multipolar world. Practically, a less self-assured China could be much more convenient for Russia, downplaying the perceived territorial debt owed to China and making China more aware it cannot get by without partners. Lukin sees China as changing and more amenable to a relationship beneficial to Russian interests.
Nikolai Tebin on November 12 in Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote about the Sino-Japanese search for a partnership after seven meetings of Abe and Xi Jinping on the sidelines of international gatherings with a real summit in Beijing. Although Abe’s foreign policy is quite hawkish on the whole, Tebin sees a pragmatic direction to raise Japan’s role in world politics with increased autonomy. In 2006 and since returning to the top post in 2012, Abe has sought to boost ties to China, especially economic ones, while worrying about its growing military prowess and being careful not to damage US interests. Now the US sanctions on China threaten Japan too since its exports to China are used in production destined for the United States and other countries. At the summit thorny issues were set aside to focus attention on a “new era” in bilateral relations befitting the 40th anniversary of their treaty, showcasing new cooperation of Japanese and Chinese companies in third countries, including infrastructure. Japan over 40 years gave more than 3.65 trillion yen of ODA, and Abe declared that this “historical mission has ended.” Tebin quotes Yomiuri’s view of how China has changed to Xi’s path of a “strong nation” arousing alarm in other countries, a matter not addressed at the summit, although Abe cited progress in turning the East China Sea into a sea of peace, cooperation, and friendship. Establishment of a clearing bank in yuan lowers somewhat dependence on the volatile course of the dollar, readers were informed. The two sides committed themselves to supporting free trade and seeking a regional trade agreement as well as a trade zone of China-Japan-Korea. Japanese media saw the visit as an historical turning point.
In Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn’ Oleg Paramonov and Olga Puzanova covered Russo-Japanese ties, observing two long-standing contradictory tendencies: interest especially in business circles in broadening economic cooperation; and political restrictions explained primarily by problems of border demarcation. Despite the impossibility of resolving the problems, Abe decided to broaden cooperation, in effect accepting Russia’s approach to start with economic projects and deepen mutual trust to seek new paths to resolve the territorial dispute. However, from 2014 he was under the influence of worse Russian-US relations. Obama applied pressure to freeze the political dialogue and refused to broaden economic cooperation, but Trump today gives Tokyo more freedom with Moscow. Russia also grew more interested in cooperation with Tokyo after its turn to Asia in light of worsening relations with the West, seeking to escape extreme dependence on Beijing. Tokyo, too, is looking for a counterweight to growing Chinese influence. However, despite Trump’s attitude to allies, Washington’s bureaucracy and part of the political establishment seek to continue the way the United States deals with them, working against Russo-Japanese ties.
In these circumstances do preconditions exist for improved bilateral relations? First, Japan has come to view Russia as an important partner in the maintenance of peace and stability in East Asia, although in March 2014 it supported its Western partners in not recognizing the reunification of Crimea and Russia coupled with sanctions. However, these were delicately balanced between obligations to G7 partners and national interests tied to Russia, as Japan showed less and less solidarity with its partners, as seen in the response to the case of Skripal. Abe saw growing grey zone trouble at sea and a vacuum in the region due to US politics and looked more to Russia, noticing its ability to adapt to sanctions pressure. Approaches to India and Australia for security have not yet brought the desired results in part because Australia was concerned about the reaction of China. Similarly, the joint strategy with Washington for infrastructure and military engagement with ASEAN states has not met Tokyo’s desires. Thus, Japan is now looking to Russia on questions of security, recognizing the significant rise in Russia’s defense potential. After Putin’s reelection in March 2018, he met with Abe twice (a third time in November after this article appeared) and Abe has secured his political position, allowing Putin an opportunity to change his posture.
In Vladivostok Abe appealed for Putin to join him to conclude a peace treaty and fulfill their responsibility to future generations, and Putin surprised Abe by proposing concluding the treaty by year end without preconditions, discussing disputed questions later, as opposed to Japan’s position. Moscow does not need a deal, if Japanese business is interested in broad cooperation, it could get that without a deal; if not, a deal would not help. The main Japanese newspapers found the unexpected Putin proposal unwelcome, with progressive papers faulting Abe for not reacting quickly to it and defending Japan’s position, while Sankei and Nikkei reacted by calling for serious reexamination of the government’s approach to this relationship. Yet, after the shock passes, Japanese politicians may see new possibilities in Putin’s proposal, e.g., to escape from the increasing difficulty in receiving support from Washington for Abe’s position and to employ the remaining three years of his term in office to realize his plans to improve relations with Russia in significantly changed conditions. After all, Abe energetically continues to seek closer ties to Russia in accord with Japan’s strategic interests to strengthen its position in the Asia-Pacific region, as Washington withdraws internationally, and strives to prevent a Moscow-Beijing axis by hedging with Russia to avoid it yielding to China’s efforts to get its support in the territorial dispute with Japan and on other regional matters. The article points to growing calls in Japan for foreign policy not dictated by Washington and talks with Moscow on North Korea that show Japan’s intention to go beyond the alliance framework. The article is rather optimistic.
Since 2016 Washington has applied less pressure as Abe has pursued the “new approach” he promised, at first rushing to beat Hillary Clinton’s expected election and hard line toward Russia. Thus, a new sense of importance is being given to the bilateral relationship on both sides, but that does not mean Russia is ready to compromise on the islands. There are constraining factors: the majority of Japan’s political elite buys the prevailing view in the West that Russia is challenging the world order headed by the United States, as seen in a July 2018 Diet decision to reaffirm the 1982 resolution on the Northern Territories; and Japan’s participation in the global WMD system of the United States. While Japan feels challenged in East Asia, Russia does not; it looks to Japan mainly for economic cooperation and for help against the sanctions war against Russia, and its over-dependence on China and the disappointment since 2016 that followed excessive expectations for economic ties with it. Yet, barriers to investment on the Russian side are clearly noted in the article, which concludes that Tokyo cannot overtake Beijing for Moscow due to its US alliance and the territorial issue, but it can be a principal target of economic diversification in Asia. Why those Russian barriers will not be dropped is left unclear.
On October 13 Kommersant’ reported on the activity of the SCO to block the impact of sanctions with a plan for cooperation in the bloc of “eight” free from economic barriers. Medvedev made clear at the Dushanbe meeting that Moscow seeks help to oppose protectionist measures, one-sided sanctions, and political blackmail from the West, the main targets of which have been Russia, China, and Iran. The SCO platform needs to include shifting to national currencies. In his appeal, Medvedev sought to turn the SCO into a vehicle for countering growing economic risks and security threats, but others warned that with India and Pakistan on board the SCO has now entered a stage of uncertainty and turbulence with no end in sight. The tone was quite pessimistic.
The Turn to the East
On September 20 Sergei Karaganov in Kommersant’ wrote of the necessity of the “Turn to the East,” the foundation for which was established a decade ago and which really began in 2012-13. Now the Russian Far East’s economy is growing twice as fast as the Russian average, as tens of enterprises are built. The mentality of the highest elite has noticeably changed from looking to Europe as the center to seeing “Greater Eurasia” as it. This process can no longer be stopped, but Karaganov sees the absence of tens of thousands of specialists on the East as catastrophic. Some in the Russian elite are not ready to grasp that a “Western specialist” today is a person of the past. Almost everything that Russia could and needed to get from the West it has received, enabling it to become a great power. Karaganov asserts that Russia is an authoritarian power in its “genes,” which can be a competitive advantage. Asia is developing quickly not in small part due to Russia having opened it up militarily, while Europe stagnates, he says, adding that Russia won in Syria and is serving as middleman between India and China and in other Asian conflicts, indicative of its role in security. He disputes the cliché of Western pragmatism, finding that exists more in the East, and says that Russia has a choice in the polarizing world to be part of “Greater America” or “Greater Eurasia” led by China, and it must choose the latter. As China, it is heir to the empire of Genghis Khan, concludes Karaganov, affirming that Russian and Chinese interests overlap.
On November 22 Aleksei Kuptiianov assessed what is new in the Sino-Indian relationship, arguing that big changes lie in store for South Asia with implications for Russia. The April Modi visit to Wuhan marked the beginning of a dialogue, not just a tactical maneuver to remind Trump of the area, leading to sustained talks and a planned Xi visit to India in 2019. Instead of an India-US alliance, which some had forecast after Modi accelerated the process of drawing closer, Trump lost interest in India, pressuring it to join in sanctions against Russia, obliging Modi to turn to China, which would have occurred anyways for objective economic and geopolitical reasons. Already 15 percent of Indian start-ups are financed by China as trade reaches $90 billion. Modi’s economic goals depend on China, while in the trade war with the United States, China can find insurance in India. In geopolitics India is losing on the Maldives and can best respond by making a deal with China on demarcating spheres of influence—good for both instead of fighting over the BRI and in accord with India’s strategic autonomy at a time of Sino-US discord. This would give Russia more room to maneuver before India draws too close to the United States. The Indian elite has turned away from Russia due to pro-American propaganda and reactions to Russia’s moves toward China and Pakistan (arms sales and military exercises). Somehow, Russia needs to demonstrate to India that it is independent of China and will not become its junior partner, perhaps through its ties to Vietnam (the most appealing triangle where Russian military ties remain close), Indonesia, and Japan (where India could bring the other two closer). There is a need to consult with China on all of these formats, which will recognize the benefits in more space for maneuvering at the expense of the United States. For Russia, India represents an independent pole along with China and the United States, justifying pursuit of it along these lines.