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December 24, 2014

Russia's Pivot to Asia: Is It Good for Russia and Is It Successful?

(This article was originally posted on Carnegie Moscow Center's site "Eurasian Outlook" on December 16, 2014)

For the Russians, Asia has always been a legendary "El Dorado," but only a few actually went there. Even today the Russian Far East has a population of six million, slightly larger than Norway and a mere one twentieth of the Chinese population in neighboring (former) Manchuria.

Now that the West has closed its door, Russia looks for a route to El Dorado. But the things in this region are not rosy, not only for its own inhabitants, but also for the Russians. China, which is poised to soon become the world's largest economy, will provide Russia with money and goods, but only in such a way which would serve its own interest. China has already acquired 10 percent of the Vankor oil field and built formidable squadrons of advanced fighter planes copied from the imported S-27.

Russia may use India as a balance with China and the United States, but India is not strong enough for such a role. What is more, Modi's India has pivoted its foreign policy to close collaboration with the United States, Japan, and Australia. President Obama is invited to India's Republic Day anniversary this coming January as the only foreign guest, which demonstrates the current priority in Modi's mind.

Japan has been cordial to Russia, because it wants to conclude a peace treaty with the latter and because it values Russia as a balance vis-à-vis China. However, the United States is telling Japan to wait for further rapprochement with Russia because of Ukraine, and Japan heeds them. For Japan, the U.S. Navy and Air Force presence in the country are indispensable deterrences against China's possible offensive on the disputed Senkaku islands.

Therefore, Asia remains a fairy tale for Russia. For real gains, Russia has to address the Ukraine question in earnest.

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