Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson
#18 - JRL 2006-124 - JRL Home
Date: Tue, 30 May 2006
From: Andrei Tsygankov <andrei@sfsu.edu>
Subject: Euro-Asia, Kremlin's Style: Russia's Interests and Objectives in Northeast Asia

To understand Russia's interests in Northeast Asia, one must take into consideration both ideas and material power dimensions of the nation's foreign policy. The Kremlin has moved away from Russia's early post-communist orientations toward the West or Asia, associated with Foreign Ministers Andrei Kozyrev and Yevgeni Primakov, respectively. Rather than emphasizing either one or the other cultural poles, Russia has been developing a cultural perspective, which synthesizes from both of the above-mentioned traditions. Moscow's contemporary conceptualization of its interests and objectives is informed by the latest intellectual efforts to present Russia as transcending both Western and Asian influences. Pro-Kremlin intellectuals coined the concept of "Euro-East" (Yevrovostok) which seeks to position Russia as culturally European, yet poised to preserve a special influence in Asia and former Soviet region. In practical terms, the new perspective implies understanding that today a greater engagement in Asia cannot be achieved without a greater engagement in Europe/West, and vice versa.

As far as power capabilities are concerned, Russia is recovering from the economic depression of the 1990s and rebuilding its status of a world player. While this process may take a generation time, Russia has turned an important corner and is actively engaging the world in all geographical directions. Increasingly, its behavior demonstrates a forward-looking vision and a good grasp of new international opportunities. After years of searching, Russia has found a firm ground from which to proceeda successful economic modernization. New realities of growing energy prices, recovering economy, pragmatic leadership, and relative salience of major threats from outside create favorable conditions for Russia's advanced engagement with Asia and the world.

These realities and imperatives of internal development prompted President Putin to formulate Russia's objectives in the following way: "The main aim of our policies is not to achieve favorable external conditions for the development of Russia. We will form a multi-vector foreign policy, we will work with the United States, with the European Union, and with other countries of Europe. We will work with our Asian partners, with China, with India, and countries of Asia-Pacific region." In an increasingly globalized world, pursuing mutually advantageous economic and security projects with both East and West is a far more appropriate strategy than seeking economic blocs or firm security commitments (alliances).

Russia's foreign policy interests in the world include greater involvement in solving vital security issues, improvement of conditions for domestic economic modernization, and preservation of political stability. First, Russia is interested to increase it role in solving vital security issues in East Asia. For years, Russia's officials have argued for development of multilateral security framework in the region and outside. Moscow has advocated multilateral solutions to the nuclear crisis with North Korea, and contributed considerably to creating the 6-party format for dealing with the crisis.

Second, Russia's key priority remains economic modernization, and that requires determination to win markets in arms and energy. These are commercially-driven objectives, and Asia buys more than 90 percent of Russia's $5 billion annual arms exports. Characteristically, while promoting weapons sales in Asia, at no point did Putin raise the issue of balancing the United States or creating some new strategic "axis" to serve this purpose. Rather he views Russia and Asia as connected into an economically open region, in which Russia, due to richness of natural resources, occupies an appropriately important role and rips considerable economic, as well as political, benefits.

In the area of economic modernization, Russia has closely cooperated with India, China, and other East Asian nations. Although its energy markets are primarily in Europe and accounted for about 50% of foreign trade, Russia has aggressively moved to position itself as an energy pipeline hub connecting Asia, Europe, and North America. In the South, one key idea had been to build the so-called North-South transport corridor that would pave the way for goods from India and the Arabian Peninsula through Iran and the Caspian region to Russia and Europe, and vice versa. Russia has also made clear its plans to capitalize on Siberian rich oil reserves by building pipelines to the neighboring countries. During his recent visit to China, President Putin confirmed Russia's determination to build additional energy pipelines with Asian nations. Two of them will connect Russia and China andthrough ChinaSouth Korea. An additional project plans to connect East Siberia to Nakhodka and, from there, to Japan and the United States.

The third foreign policy interest is to enhance nuclear security in the region, and that translates into Russia's commitment to non-nuclear status of North Korea. Russia has revived much of its special relations with the North, which had suffered greatly during the early years of Westernist transformation under leadership of Boris Yelstin and Andrei Kozyrev. Close relationships with the North helped Russia to increase its participation in security negotiations, and it was ultimately Pyongyang that demanded that Moscow join the six-party format.

Last but not least, it is critical for Russia that the region remain politically stable and that changes, such as reunification of the two Koreas, are orderly and not destabilizing in nature. On several occasions, Putin extended his support for unification of the two Koreas if it takes place in orderly fashion and on the basis of inter-Korean dialogue. Russian analysts consider a unified Korea a potential strategic partner provided that a shape of unification is not overly determined by the United States. For these reasons, Russia insists on preserving special and even-handed relations with both Koreas. Although Moscow has restored much of its old ties with Pyongyang, this in no way impeded relationships with Seoul. For instance, Russia worked particularly closely with Seoul and Beijing in resolving the nuclear stalemate, and it was ultimately a similar RussiaSouth KoreaChina position on a denuclearizing North Korea that helped to negotiate a settlement.

Russia stands to gain further from its involvement in the East Asian region partly because the nation is still in process of domestic recovery and partly because of continued external economic opportunities. Major modernizing nations facing the greatest shortages in energy supply are located in East Asia, and that makes the region especially important to Russia. With half the world's population and a fifth of global trade, it is in Russia's interests to become an important player in the region. Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko estimated that by 2020, 30% of the country's oil exports would go to Asia, compared with the current 3%.

All said, of course, does not mean that Russia faces no constraints on advancing its greater influence in the region. One such constraint has to do with progressive power differentials. As Russia continues to supply China with energy and weapons and China continues to grow at a considerably higher rate than its northern neighbor, a risk for Moscow to become a junior partner in a Beijing-led coalition increases. Given Russia's expressed interests in Korea's unification and China's preferences for the status quo, that might present a serious problem for the Kremlin. A way out of this dilemma is not to reduce bilateral interactions, but rather to continue strengthening economic ties and multilateral security institutions in the region.

Andrei P. Tsygankov Program Chair, International Studies Association 2006-07 Associate Professor, International Relations / Political Science San Francisco State University 1600 Holloway Ave. HSS 336 San Francisco, CA 94132

Tel: (415)-338-7493
E-mail: andrei@sfsu.edu