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The second "Asian turn" of Russia
Chris Miller A graduate student at Yale University, a researcher at the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies
“Many analysts predicted that, due to Western sanctions imposed by the Ukrainian crisis, Russia was reorienting its economy from the West, with which it profitably traded its energy resources in exchange for investment and consumer goods, to the East, primarily towards China.
Nevertheless, there is reason to doubt that the two countries are starting a new era of closer economic relations. As recently noted by Sergei Tsyplakov (representative of the Savings Bank of Russia in the PRC - Approx. Per.), Trade relations between the two countries "stand on one leg" - oil and gas. This explains why, despite the notable transactions mentioned above, the dollar value in Russian-Chinese trade has plummeted in recent months. Since oil and gas make up the bulk of Russian exports to China, trade volumes are very sensitive to energy prices. And since oil prices have fallen by 2014% compared to 50, the dollar (and yuan) value of Russian exports to China has also declined.
So, what kind of analysts see Russia's economic relations with China? This is not the first "turn to Asia" for Moscow. In the 1980-s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sought to improve political and economic ties with Asian countries, including China, South Korea and Japan. For several years at the end of the 1980, it seemed that the "turn" was making great strides, but Gorbachev's policy failed and led to the economic collapse of the country in 1990-1991. Understanding of the "Asian turn" of the Kremlin in the 1980-X sheds light on the possibilities of today's politics and on the serious problems that it faces.
In 1980, many Soviet analysts believed that the West was in decline, and Asia was on the rise. The United States tried to recover from 1970's “stagflation”, and manufacturing enterprises that spur economic growth were subject to the competitive pressure of more efficient Asian firms.
After coming to power in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev was impressed by the surge in economic activity in Asia and made economic ties with Asian countries a priority. Many influential Soviet institutions paid more attention to Asia at the end of the 1980-ies. The Institute of World Economy and International Relations, one of the most influential Soviet research institutes, established the "Department of the Pacific Studies" in 1985 to more fully explore it. The Institute also became the basis for the USSR National Committee for Asia-Pacific Cooperation, headed by Yevgeny Primakov, who promoted commercial links between the USSR and the growing Asian economies. The USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs followed its institutional changes-the creation of a department covering the countries of the Pacific and South-East Asia, which united Japan with the rapidly growing countries of Southeast Asia.
Realizing that many others - both in the Soviet Union and abroad - did not see the real Asian player in the USSR, Gorbachev consistently asserted Moscow's role in East Asia. In 1986, the first days of perestroika, he delivered a speech in Vladivostok - the territory that Russia acquired from the Qing Empire as a result of a combination of diplomacy and coercion - to confirm the position of the Soviet Union in Asia and to state a policy that would help to quickly connect the USSR with the fast Growing Asian economies.
Moreover, Gorbachev argued that Asia was experiencing a new wave of dynamism, perhaps even replacing the Atlantic as the center of economic and political activity. Asia "woke to a new life in the XX century"And now is catching up with Europe. Gorbachev referred to the "A whirlwind of changes - social, scientific and technological ... Renaissance of world history". As a result, the USSR needed closer economic ties. «Laws of growing interdependence", Gorbachev explained,"And the need for economic integration lead to the search for ways leading to agreement and the creation of open ties between states».
Much of this rhetoric reflects the challenges of modern Russia in establishing closer ties with China. The logical grounds are also similar: then, as now, closer ties with the Chinese economy were not only seen as economic opportunities, but were also perceived as a way to strengthen the Kremlin's geopolitical positions.
Nevertheless, the "Asian turn" of the Soviet Union failed, which is perfectly illustrated by the last book of Sergei Radchenko. The Kremlin succeeded in improving relations with South Korea and China, but relations with other Asian countries, in particular Japan, remained tense because of the dispute over the ownership of the Kuril Islands. The collapse of the Soviet economy meant that few Asian companies were interested in investing in the country. At the same time, the Russian elite remained firmly focused on Europe, and only a few of the country's leaders studied Asian languages or studied in Asian countries.
Russia’s current Asian reversal faces many of the same obstacles. If the volume of the Russian economy shrinks by about 5% next year, as many analysts believe, it is likely to be less attractive to Asian investors and exporters. Similarly, while diplomatic relations with China are increasing, Russia's positions in Asia remain suspended due to the ongoing territorial dispute with Japan, Asia’s second largest economy and countries with growing geopolitical ambitions. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the interest in Asia declared by the Russian authorities was not accompanied by a serious attempt to build relationships, maintaining, for example, a deeper acquaintance with the culture of Asian countries. Until the Russian elite begins to show bоmore interest in Asian states, analysts will be right in their skepticism, arguing whether the current turn of Moscow to Asia will be more successful than the previous one.
Translation: Ilya Sinenko, graduate student of the Department of International Relations, School of Regional and International Studies, FEFU