Staunton, February 21 – Russia is not now China’s “older brother,” someone the younger ones have to listen to, but rather “an older sister,” something “you respect, whose advice you listen to, but who you are not required to follow,” according to Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian Council on International Affairs.
A major problem for relations between Russia and China is that neither has been prepared to be the junior partner to the other, and that has meant that in both Moscow and Beijing many have long struggled to come up with an image that each can accept, especially as the balance of power shifts from one to the other.
Now, in an interview on Lenta.ru, Kortunov has offered his notion of how the relationship might be described, one that acknowledges Russia doesn’t have the preponderant position it had in the past but that insists that Russia is still the “older” and more “respected” half (lenta.ru/articles/2015/02/19/riac/).
For China, relations with Russia are “very important,” the Moscow analyst says, but “in fact and of course, for [Beijing], the US is more important.” They are pragmatists and always look after their own interests. And “no one must think that China will be drafted into the conflict of Russia and the US in order to annoy the Americans.”
More generally, he observed, there are “significant differences” between the current situation in the world and that of the period of the Cold War. Then, there was an ideological competition and not simply a contest of “equally powerful states,” although there is a certain ideological component of the contest now given Vladimir Putin’s conservatism.
But there is yet another “important distinction” between then and now: “Then there existed elaborate mechanisms for regulating relations between the USSR and the United States.” Each side understood what it could do and what it must not. “Today, there is nothing of the kind, and therefore, unfortunately, the risk of escalation of conflicts is significantly higher.”
“Until recently,” Kortunov argues, this didn’t bother the West as much as it bothered Russia. From the West’s point of view, Russia acted “strangely and not as they should but what they were doing was not so terrible given everything else going on. Now, however, “now the situation has changed.”
Polls show that Americans once again view Russia as “the main source of threats” to themselves, a “wake-up” call that reflects the fact that Americans aren’t sure about how to deal with other challenges but they have not forgotten how they dealt with the Soviet Union – those dealing with Moscow now were trained during the Cold War – and thus revert to that.
Kortunov complained about the way in which Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was received at the recent Munich Security Conference and noted that the meeting had been all about whether or not to arm Ukraine. But that question, he suggested is “a tactical problem,” and there are “much more serious questions” that need to be addressed about the future of Ukraine and the world.
Unfortunately, Kortunov concluded, up to the present, Western discussions of this follow a “fixed matric: Ukraine is the victim, Russia is the aggressor, and if it weren’t for Moscow’s actions, then Ukraine would be flourishing.” But he argued, what has happened over the last decade since the Orange Revolution shows that the situation is more complicated than that.