Russia’s Rebound: Breaking Up with the United States, Getting Together with China
Late this October, Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled the commencement of yet another rough patch in U.S.-Russian relations. In a speech he made at the Valdai Club, an annual gathering of international officials and foreign media representatives, Putin accused the United States of trying to “reshape the whole world.” Referring to United States involvement in the conflict over Ukraine, the Russian president added that Russia “is not asking anyone for permission” in its conduct of world affairs.
As Russian estrangement with the West has worsened since the Ukrainian crisis, the nation seems to have begun engaging in its own pivot toward Asia. According to his statement to the New York Times, the Russian ambassador to Washington eluded to the possibility that Russia may seek to challenge U.S diplomatic efforts in Asia: “You are pivoting to Asia, but we are already there.” At the Valdai Club, President Putin reasoned that given China’s geographic proximity and growing importance in the world economy, not cooperating with the new world power would be simply “shortsighted.”
As part of the two countries’ new effort to strengthen diplomatic ties, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with his Chinese counterpart Defense Minister Chang Wanquan last week to discuss their interest in “pragmatic cooperation.” The Russians and Chinese have already agreed to hold multiple joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean and the Pacific by 2015. According to Shoigu, the Sino-Russian relationship will be key to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region: “Amid a highly volatile world situation, it becomes particularly important to strengthen reliable good-neighborly relations between our countries.”
Despite warnings by Russian leaders against this notion, the Russian pivot to Asia is a direct response to deteriorating relations with the West following the Ukrainian crisis. Growing economic and diplomatic pressures imposed by Europe and the U.S. have made Russia look toward Asia to fill the economic void that Europe once did. According to The Diplomat, China’s National Petroleum Corp. and Russia’s’ Gazprom have already signed an energy deal which will make China a major importer of Russian natural gas for the next 30 years. With sanctions deterring activity between Russian and European markets, Russia has turned it’s head from West to East and found an even larger market in a more hospitable diplomatic climate.
Russia’s sudden pivot to Asia begs the question of whether imposing economic sanctions was the most apt choice in reacting to the Ukrainian crisis. Although the public may have cried for action to be taken in response to Russian aggression, and imposing sanctions may have seemed like the least costly response, the situation must be considered from more of a analytical perspective. Given Putin’s willingness to bear the costs of economic sanctions, logically, he must have known that complying with Western mandates would have proved even more costly. Russia chose to bare the cost of sanctions imposed by Europe and the West by using an alternative: Asia.
- Konstantine Tettonis