Staunton, October 14 – The creation by the United States of the Trans-Pacific Partnership signals both the continuing American role as the key pole in international affairs and the declining importance of Europe, developments that “paradoxically” have more serious consequences for Russia than any other country, Vadim Shtepa says.
On the one hand, it highlights the inability of Russia to function as the other pole of international relations. The country lacks the economic power, and its military strength may win it some short term victories but over the longer term by itself is a “negative” factor that drives others away, the regionalist argues (rufabula.com/articles/2015/10/14/without-the-west
Tsarist Russia felt itself to be the successor of Byzantium and conducted two wars in the 19th century in failed efforts to “liberate Constantinople.” Indeed, even “Dostoyevsky’s ‘Diary of a Writer’ in places looks like a collection of slogan resembling ‘Tsargrad is ours.’” Now, even if Russia took Istanbul, it would not have access to the world ocean because of British Gibralter.
Russia had another opportunity at that time to break out of the cage it had kept itself in at the other end of the earth, “but because of the dominance of Euro-centrism in Russian politics, this was not given great attention.” That possibility was to develop Alaska, but the tsarist authorities feared what that might mean for them and sold it to the US.
There are many theories about why the tsars did this “but one of the probable ones is that the Russian government wanted to prevent a mass resettlement there of the recently liberated peasants,” who would create a new kind of society with a civic worldview and would ultimately break away from the empire the way the US did from Britain.
“The Pacific Ocean space has always been considered by Russia as a distant periphery,” Shtepa says, pointing out that its ports there came into existence as military outposts while the ports in the west coast of the United States developed as trading centers. That difference, military versus economic, is one reason why Russia couldn’t be part of the TransPacific Partnership.
There is one chance for Russia to overcome this alienation and reorient itself toward the Pacific. That would involve the construction of a railroad linking Eurasia and America via a bridge across the Bering Straits. That idea circulated after the construction of the TransSiberian, and it had the backing of the last tsar and his government before they were overthrown.
Some Russians talked about this idea in the 1990s, but all too soon, “these global-integration ideas in Russia again yield to customary opposition to the West. Although in reality,” Shtepa notes, “Alaska is to the east of Chukotka: Russian geopoliticians have simply forgotten that the Earth is round…”