Country Report: Russia (November 2023)
Favorite themes in Russian publications in the late summer and fall of 2023 were the BRICS summit—a symbol of a new world order led by Russia and China—the G20 summit from which Putin and Xi were absent, the Kim Jong-un visit to the Russian Far East where he met Putin and its impact in South Korea, Putin’s status as the “honored guest” at China’s BRI summit, the APEC summit where Xi met with Biden with uncertain motivation, Russia’s successful reorientation of trade to Asia, India’s pivotal role in the Indo-Pacific region, and, of course, the grand strategic triangle as seen through two bilateral legs: a solid Sino-Russian leg and a troubled Sino-US leg. In this coverage, Russia’s status was enhanced, while China and India loomed in the background.
In Rossiiskoe Kitaevedenie, No. 3, Amb. Igor Morgulov called Russo-Chinese relations mature and stable. He explained that tectonic leaps are occurring in the global geopolitical landscape in the transition to a new model of global architecture. In recent years Beijing has put forward a considerable range of foreign policy initiatives for global development, security, and also cross-civilizational dialogue, on the whole, consistent with Russian approaches. The US and collective West, in contrast, view China’s rise as a threat to their domination. Their attempts to contain it result in both instability and confrontation. This increases the significance of Russia and China drawing closer as a tandem. Bilateral relations experienced a stress-test over the past year and a half under pressure from the West, but the two have used the challenge to strengthen their ties in many dimensions: boosting bilateral trade, making use of national currencies, establishing a powerful trans-border transportation infrastructure, and forging bilateral production alliances.
In Rossiiskoe Kitaevedenie, No. 3, Sergey Trush analyzed Trump’s policies toward China: motivations, evolution, and results, impacted by both the need to respond to Chinese challenges (successes) and Trump’s idiosyncratic behavior. Four aspects loom large in the analysis: intensification of technological competition; the tendency to strengthen alliance and partnership ties in opposition to China; the response to the Taiwan problem; and the role of the “Ukraine crisis” in Sino-American contradictions. Trush details the escalation of the trade war and the widely shared consensus in the United States over China despite nuances. The strongest impact came from the military-security bureaucracy, which regards China as a systemic, long-term antagonist unlike Russia, with which temporary compromises are possible. BRI is seen as having geopolitical consequences with new attention in China to the Northern Sea Route as an alternative to the Pacific and Indian oceans. The greatest support for the trade war comes from small and middle business, wary of competition from China. John Bolton’s memoir reveals the dissension within the cabinet over China policy. Trump counted too much on a “grand bargain,” and when it failed turned to more pressure in 2019. In 2000 US failure in managing the COVID crisis led to pointing more blame at China. Previously restrained in its responses, China in the second half of 2020 responded in kind. Trump left a weighty legacy on China for Biden, who relied largely on the conceptual and practical carcass of Trump’s line. Shifting direction, Biden put more emphasis on technological restraints, sought more coordination from allies and partners, went further in breaking from the status quo on Taiwan, and seized on the Ukraine crisis to as China stood with Russia on “indivisible security” and Sino-US relations sank further.
In MKRU on October 19 the headline read, “The visit of Putin to China became the most important world event of this autumn.” The success of BRI caused the teeth to grind in the West, opening a new chapter in the history of humanity, argued Iury Tavrovsky. The main script was written by the host, Xi Jinping, and the principal guest, Vladimir Putin. This is not the first year they are working to forge a new world order, bilaterally and through international projects—the BRI, BRICS, and SCO. This was the 42nd meeting of Putin and Xi in ten years, many of which had global significance. The first summit in March 2013 spelled the end of China participating in the US policy of “containment” of Russia, which from 1989 Deng and his successors followed. In 2014 Xi came to the Sochi Olympics in spite of the West’s boycott. In 2015 the leaders agreed to join the BRI and EEU, putting an end to attempts to drive a wedge between them under the pretext of “China’s incursion into Russia’s sphere of influence.” In March 2023 a four-hour face-to-face meeting with staff present discussed a new stage in cooperation. The level of hostility of the West to Russia and China was almost the same, forming two fronts of the global “Cold War”—West and East. They had to work together, not to struggle on their own. With leaders in NATO countries forbidden by Washington to attend, and strong pressure exerted on others, Putin’s presence was a signal that Beijing is not alone. More than 20 other heads followed his example, and 152 countries plus 30 international organizations were represented. Other plans have failed, such as Build Back Better, and Biden’s planned trade corridor from India to Europe through the Near East undermined by another Israel-Palestine conflict.
Over ten years BRI became one of the geo-economic axes of the world. Now its center of gravity has shifted from quantity to quality, still building infrastructure but also jointly engaged in promoting new digital technology, artificial intelligence, and “green development.” Putin announced that in European Russia an international “north-south” corridor for trade and transportation is being forged, along with another north-south corridor through the Urals and Siberia, including the Western Siberian railroad. The new railroad will link up with the Trans-Siberian and Baikal-Amur lines and extend in the direction of China from central Siberia. Also planned is a railroad from the Arctic through Yakutia. Just recently Moscow was very cautious about inviting foreign partners to participate, but not now. The level of trust between Moscow and Beijing is increasing rapidly amid “battle cohesion,” starting in March 2023, when Xi and Putin agreed to advance the grandiose transformation in the world unlike anything seen in 100 years, which immediately activated forces in both countries. In this summit and the prior one huge delegations of key figures took part. Russia’s elite is no longer oriented only to America and Europe. Chinese are making the same reorientation. At the October meeting Xi declared that China supports Russia in pursuit of its national renaissance and its defense of national sovereignty, security, and interests.
In Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn, No. 9, Mikhail Deliagin argued in an interview that Putin and Xi Jinping simply no longer have anything to discuss with the West, pointing to the G20 summit in September and the uncertainty there over how to deal with the Ukraine crisis. To a great extent, due to Russia’s initiative, the African Union was added to the group. The discussion proved transformative, Lavrov said, because it demonstrated the solidarity of the Global South, which insisted on its rights in the world econ.my and unwillingness to get embroiled in the Ukrainian agenda. Asked why Putin and Xi were absent, Deliagin responded that they now simply have nothing to discuss. Zelenskyy was denied entry as a criminal, and countries apart from the West saw no need for him. Xi had other things to do, and his absence was a gesture of solidarity with Putin—news welcomed in Russia. If Xi had to meet Biden there, it would only have led to their negative exchange. Chinese have tightly circumscribed contacts with Americans as useless. The G20 cannot be a world government. The world has fragmented into macroregions, but BRICS is a structure trying to neutralize this objectively unavoidable process. So far, BRICS is a club, not a structure, but it could create an opposition to the global, managing class. India aims to cope with China’s skill and extract America’s money and investments. Modi is a very subtle politician.
On October 30 in Kommersant Sergey Strokan focused on Moscow and Beijing forging a new belt to contain the West, pointing to a security forum in Beijing to which Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu attended along with delegations from over 90 countries. Ranking it with the Shangri-La dialogue and India’s Raisina Dialogue as one of the leading discussion platforms in the Indo-Pacific, the article noted the presence of US officials and those of its allies and its timing two weeks before the Xi-Biden summit. Recent developments sharpened the exchanges. First on the list of countries with which China intends to develop military-technical cooperation is Russia, but a Chinese official also called for developing relations with the armed forces of the US and European countries. Wang Yi, recently returned from the US, said it was necessary to strengthen cooperation with the US and jointly react to global challenges. Stress is put on the signs of close Russo-Chinese ties, and Shoigu’s accusations against the West not only in Europe but also for its conflict potential in the Asia-Pacific region in multiple directions, including by extending the role of NATO there and boosting the US-Japan-South Korea triangle to contain China and Russia. At the meeting Sergey Karaganov, who had earlier triggered discussion on the possibility Russia would use nuclear weapons, proclaimed that Russia and China will put an end to the 500-year domination of the world by Western countries, extracting blood and money from the whole world.
On September 18 in Kommersant Sergey Srokhan reported on Wang Yi’s four-day visit to Russia in mid-September, participating in the 18th round of bilateral consultations on strategic security, as both are answering intensifying pressure from the US and its allies and cooperating at the UN, BRICS, the SCO, G20, APEC, and other forums. In anticipation of the General Assembly annual meetings, Wang consulted with Lavrov as the US refuses dialogue with Russia but actively seeks a pathway to draw closer to China. Wang then met in Malta for 12 hours with Jake Sullivan, where the topics were the conflict in Ukraine, the situation in the Taiwan Strait, regional and global security, and a possible Biden-Xi summit—the second Wang-Sullivan meeting of the year after one in Vienna in May. Washington does not let up on its pressure on Beijing, looking through a triangular prism at the Ukraine conflict and still trying to weaken the strategic bond between Moscow and Beijing while trying to reduce China’s support. China and Russia see danger in the new trilateral alliance of the US-Japan-ROK and a possible linkage to AUKUS. In the opinion of Aleksandr Lomanov, before our eyes Russia and China are forming an informal “G2” with autonomous weight against the background of the G7 and G20.
In RGRU on November 15 Aleksandr Gasiuk described how pressure on China intensified prior to the Xi-Biden APEC summit that day, noting many Western articles on the eve of the summit on deepening military cooperation between the US and Taiwan. Not only does this refer to arms sales, but it also points to training divisions of the Taiwan army. As a result, along with existing disagreements over trade and economic questions, a large part of the Xi-Biden talks will be devoted to the sensitive issue for Beijing, for which information has been aimed at increasing pressure on China. Talk centers on supplying F-16 fighters, HIMARS. Javelins, stingers, Harpoon antiship rockets, etc. In accord with the 2022 law on strengthening solidarity with Taiwan, the administration can spend $2 billion annually on weapons supplies to Taiwan through 2027. And suddenly on the eve of the summit, the Anglo-Saxon press is rife with details on the new level of military cooperation with Taiwan. Today, only China is a serious threat to the US in regard to economics and new technology. While China was on course to advance programs directed at reunification, in advance of Xi’s trip Chinese media lowered the temperature of anti-American rhetoric, demonstrating an openness to talks. This could prepare the ground for and create preconditions for possible trade-offs in favor of the US agenda, such as limiting mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia or refusal of China to purchase large amounts of oil from Iran.
The main question is whether China will yield to such pressure by compromising or will strictly insist on its own national interests. Aleksei Maslov is cited as warning that if Beijing fails to react to US provocations Taiwan will continually serve as a source of pressure on it, standing in the way of stabilizing economically and politically. Since China is the only serious threat to the US, Americans must tie China’s arms and legs, which it can only do by playing the China card. Yet we are far from the possibility of China and the US really drawing close. That is impossible, but they both could not put off a bilateral meeting any longer. Washington intends to drive a wedge between China and both Russia and Iran and deny it a chance to create a macro-political coalition through BRICS and the SCO. In return Beijing will be offered open access for its goods to the American market. With Biden in the pre-election cycle, why would China reach an agreement when US policies can soon change a lot?
Andrei Davydenko in Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn, No. 9, wrote about BRICS as a symbol of a new world, reporting on the Johannesburg summit and the expanded membership in BRICS. Lauding Sergey Lavrov’s temperament and this summit as transforming the world forever, Davydenko said that this historic summit exceeded even the boldest prognoses. With eleven members, the organization’s weight has risen greatly, and no less important, unlike the G7, it reflects global demographic growth, irreversibly altering the balance of forces on the international arena. Not mentioning why Putin was absent, the article stresses the friendly reception given to Lavrov. Of late, the Russia-Africa summit took place in Saint Petersburg, further evidence of countries of the Global South and East beginning to recognize their national interests reoriented to a more just world order for security and development. The activity of BRICS is said to have seriously undermined the White House’s strategy, including toward Russia, altering its earlier view of the organization as a talk shop with little influence. The expansion signifies a moral victory of the world’s majority over the collective West. Putin’s video address to the summit was met with great interest, as he referred to neocolonialism and pointed to 2024, when Russia will host in Kazan. Countries of the West had tried to interfere with the BRICs summit, arousing discord on the Ukraine question and on the question of incorporation of new members. Clearly, the focus in the article was not on challenges within the expanded BRICS to building consensus, but on the blow to the West from the summit. Mention of the Security Council pointed to the need for reform, which includes 6 members fully subordinate to the will of the United States. The voice of developed countries needs to be raised, as India and Brazil are mentioned. Were Germany and Japan to become permanent members, the injustice would deepen. The article concludes that this BRICS summit takes a giant step forward to a just world order opposed to the West.
In Rossiya v Global’noi Politike, No. 6, Vasilii Molodiakov wrote about the “Japanese Monroe Doctrine,” arguing that Japan’s quest for a sphere of influence was more traumatic than was the US quest. He argues that Japan’s expansionist inclinations from the late 19th century came from the West. Talk of helping or modernizing Taiwan and Korea was linked to establishing a sphere of influence and gaining status with the powers, i.e., colonies and maritime islands were seen as an attribute of a great power. From there, the next example followed was to call for exclusive, pan-Asianism with a messianic mission rooted in the state’s origin linked to the gods. Defeat in the Pacific War finally put an end to Japan’s Monroe Doctrine.
In Izvestiya November 15 Sof’ia Snirnova wrote about Russian trade with Asia in 2023. For the first ten months of the year, trade reached $530billion, as exports declined to $317 billion from $449 billion (after earlier very high energy prices and new price discounts took effect, but recently the situation improved) and imports rose 20% to $213 billion. Exports to Europe dropped from 48 to 20% of Russia’s total exports. Exports to Asia jumped from 46 to 72%, and imports from Asia rose from 55 to 65%, often serving as a transit point for imports originating outside Asia. There is no problem in using the Chinese yuan, but the Indian rupee is causing discomfort due to its limited use outside of the country, requiring investment inside India.
In Kommersant on September 25 Sergey Strokhan warned that Russian-North Korean contacts were scaring South Korea, looking back to the Putin-Kim Jong-un summit and ahead to Lavrov’s October trip to North Korea—a possible prelude to Putin taking up Kim’s invitation to visit Pyongyang. North Korea has rejected Yoon Suk-yeol’s accusations at the General Assembly that its relations with Russia are a threat to peace and security in the region as just repeating the impotent chatter of its master—the US. This was a response to warnings that Seoul would regard it as a direct provocation if Moscow provided military technology to the North in return for arms from North Korea. No such agreements were announced during Kim’s September 12-17 visit, although in light of Kim’s stops Seoul had precedent for thinking this way. Yoon’s speech had led Moscow to charge him with joining in Washington’s propaganda campaign directed at discrediting Russo-North Korean cooperation and to accuse him causing a serious loss in bilateral relations. Although Putin’s return visit to the DPRK is not yet planned, he accepted Kim’s invitation to make the visit, the article concludes.
In Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn, No. 9, Evgenii Burman and Aleksandr Rybas examined the new international trade policy of India. Praising its rapidly growing economy (7% in 2022, reaching $3.4 trillion and closing in on Germany at 4.0 and Japan at 4.2 trillion), it is predicted to grow 6-9% per year over the next five years, reaching $9 trillion in 2030 and $40 trillion in 2040. Foreign trade is a key direction for the country’s development, and a new policy took effect on April 1, 2023. Exports equaled $760 billion in the 2022-23 financial year, and the goal for 2030 is $2 trillion, capitalizing on the development of infrastructure for the organization of production and services, the application of new technologies, support for local export activity, and the accent on advanced sectors, including export hubs. By 2047 India should advance into the category of developed countries, a reliable trade partner integrated into the global market. As for Russo-Indian trade, local trade with subjects of the RF has promise, and India’s priority for small and medium enterprises should be noted. Given the geopolitical situation and the dependence of big, Indian companies on the markets of Western countries, it is positive that the small and medium firms are flexible and very interested in forging ties with Russian colleagues. Simplified procedures for export licensing of high-tech production can ease the flow of this category of goods to Russia and close a possible budget deficit linked to trade restrictions.
In Rossiya i ATR, No. 3, articles examined India as a rising regional power in a changing world, pointing to a radical transformation of the country in recent decades. The result has been an increase in India’s international presence, argue S.K. Pestsov and V.E. Boldyrev in the opening piece. They explain that India participates in the transformation of the international architecture with the help of its membership in BRICS and the Quad, among other activities, and as a result it is increasingly at the center of the political attention of other powers. Including of Russia seeking a reliable partner in transformation. A defining marker of India’s significance is wide use of the Indo-Pacific Region (IPR) as a new political construction in place of the Asia-Pacific Region (APR), which puts India at the center. Failure of its development model in the 1990s led to a shift in foreign policy, notably to East Asia. A second transformative moment came with the 2014 election of Modi, seeking an alternative to BRI in his neighborhood. Researchers on security agreed that the key danger to India came from China, leaving talk of a US threat on the sidelines, as the US turned to the Indo-Pacific an attracted Indian interest in its technology. As Obama in 2015-16 soured on China, the US needed new partners.
In the article by Vitaliy Boldyrev on India’s Indo-Pacific policy in the eyes of Indian researchers, mention is made of the duality of cooperation with the US, which on the one hand is the only country able to serve as a counterbalance to China (perceived as the main threat) and on the other advances directions for cooperation at odds with India’s political tradition. On security, critical remarks about the US threat to Indian interests are a rare exception. A powerful current has been to look to Hindu roots and those who value them, replacing the British-trained officials and their thinking. In one perspective, India needs in the sphere close to home to deny any outsider, in a wider regional sphere to join with others to prevent a single power becoming dominant, and on the world stage to make its case as a great power. The collapse of the bipolar system and the Soviet Union made the prior course of non-involvement meaningless. Instead, economic liberalization and integration in the world market economy reliant on cooperation with Western partners became necessary. India failed to resolve territorial problems with Pakistan and China and in integration initiatives with South Asia. As Chinese foreign policy grew more active, backed by stronger armed forces, disputes over the South China Sea intensified, and the BRI exacerbated competition with India in South Asia, and America determined to strengthen ties with India. India faced the complexity of how to oppose China without falling into the orbit of American influence. It needed many partners as part of soft balancing. Unlike the US, India does not consider violations of human rights a pretext for intervention without UN sanctions, is hesitant about military cooperation to contain China that could provoke more aggressive Chinese moves against India, and fears loss of strategic autonomy. Yet, India fears that China will use force to become the center of the Indo-Pacific. Chinese views of the international law of the sea hark back to an earlier Sinocentric system of relations in East Asia. This situation exists in the South China Sea and, hypothetically, could be extended to the region of the Indian Ocean. As the US and Australia do not hide their intention to undermine ASEAN unity, India’s closer ties to countries of Southeast Asia allows it to construct a counterbalance to the Quad, while these partners in ASEAN see India as a partner in constraining China, which uses Pakistan and the South China Sea to weaken India and Vietnam. Vietnam is becoming a leading partner of India in Southeast Asia.
Relying on citations of Indian sources, Boldyrev paints a picture of China’s provocative activity that is rarely seen in Russian publications. He notes that Indians are fearful of Chinese control over the South China Sea and closing the Strait of Malacca to the effect of isolating India and others, as well as Chinese support for Pakistan, squeezing India in the west. In this context, naval cooperation of Iran, China, and Russia could prove ominous, Boldyrev suggests.
Larisa Garusova also wrote on India, noting its $3.5 trillion GDP, poised by 2030 to overtake Germany and Japan. She takes exception to the proposition that Indo-US military cooperation always is rooted in opposition to China. In foreign and defense policy it is, to a great degree, seeking a balance, and there is overlap in how India and the US conceive of their roles in the Indo-Pacific Region, including over China. The rise in China’s economic and military power has worried its real and potential competitors in the region, including the US and India, readers are told. Distinct from the direct, open anti-Chinese statements of Washington, however, India is officially rather neutral, lacking an official doctrine on foreign policy and national security. At the level of politicians and academics, anti-Chinese sentiments and accusations are expressed. The caution of India not to exacerbate relations with China or the United States is reflected in Modi’s views of the anti-Chinese Quad alliance, called by China the “Asiatic NATO.” Modi treats it more as a humanitarian organization than a military structure. This shows India’s interest in balancing Beijing and Washington, while gaining access to US arms and defense technology. For the US the critical significance of the China factor occurred relatively recently in the context of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy. Military cooperation with India was based instead on shared democratic values and complex ideas about challenges in the region such as piracy. The first stage of military partnership was not anti-Chinese, as the US compensated for its own diminished regional possibilities. The second stage is dominated by coordination of military technology, the export of American weapons, and sharing of intelligence. Reducing the burden by sharing it with India, the US has a mutually beneficial if asymmetric relationship. Giving widespread access to advanced arms technology to India, the US seeks to draw it closer.