Sunday, July 1, 2018

Russia has Become China’s ‘Near Abroad,’ Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – Many continue to use the Moscow term “near abroad” to designate the former Soviet republics, implicitly recognizing a greater Russian role in those now independent countries than it has any right to expect and completely forgetting that other countries have neighbors that they may consider as part of their rather own “near abroad.”

            In an Ekho Rossii commentary, Russian analyst Andrey Piontkovsky says that with little fanfare and almost without notice, the entire Russian state is becoming part of China’s “near abroad,” something few in Moscow can be happy about but a development that reflects the changing power balance in Eurasia (

            This process began, the analyst says, in 1949, when the newly victorious Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong visited Russia, refused to get off at a station near Lake Baikal (once an inland sea of China’s) and boldly declared that the Soviet leadership was good because it had annulled the unequal treaties the Russian Empire had imposed on his country.

            During his time in Moscow, Mao challenged the treaty Stalin had signed with Chang Kai-Shek in 1945 and raised the question of the status of Mongolia, clearly underlining what for him was Beijing’s “minimum program” and challenging the Kremlin in ways that no other leader ever dared to or did without the most serious negative consequences.

            By so doing, Piontkovsky continues, “Mao clearly indicated that he did not intend to recognize Stalin as the leader of the world communism movement nor as ‘an elder brother.’” Instead, the Beijing leader made it clear that he considered himself at least co-equal as the leader of a civilization extending back several millenia.

            Stalin couldn’t use the tactics against Mao that he used successfully against the West because Mao was just as much a bandit as he was and because Mao was creating a new political religion that challenged his own.  Mao understood that and made his own position crystal clear from the very beginning.

            First, Mao in effect declared, “we are absolutely independent of you;” and second, “in the 19th century your imperialist rulers took from China enormous territories. We remember this and we will always remember this.” The ensuring 70 years have seen the working out of these principles in China’s relationship to Russia, Piontkovsky argues.

            Over this period, he says, China’s advantages have only grown. On the one hand, its economy has far surpassed that of Russia. And on the other, Russia’s pursuit of respect from others has not worked in the case of China. Beijing is deaf to appeals on that basis and will be increasingly so.

            In recent years, Piontkovsky says, “the confrontation with the West and the course toward ‘strategic partnership’ with China has led inevitably not only to the marginalization of Russia but to its subordination to the strategic interests of China and to the loss of control over the Far East and Siberia, initially de facto but eventually de jure.”

            Russians “simply haven’t noticed” how China has treated them like “some vassals in ‘the near abroad’” and how “Russia itself is already being transformed into the near abroad of China,” to the point that now Beijing doesn’t feel any need to hide what its goals are and what is going on.

            China’s “maximum program,” which Mao only hinted at in 1949, is “practically fulfilled.” The Kremlin kleptocrats in their pursuit of money have handed over control of much of the economy east of the Urals, and the Chinese have treated that region much as they treat African countries in which they invest.

                Indeed, Piontkovsky says, the Chinese treat the Africans better than they do the Russians because in African countries, Chinese firms hire more locals than they do in Siberia and the Russian Far East.  This reflects the fact, he suggests, that from now on, “the game will be played exclusively according to Chinese rules.”

            “The secret of China’s success is to understand the psychology of the Other, to subordinate him to your will, to use in your interests his complexes, and to operate on the basis of the absolute cynicism and irresponsibility of the Putin kleptocracy, the last generation of the Soviet communism nomenklatura and the final product of the process of its degeneration.”

                That China has far-reaching plans for Russia east of the Urals is suggested by its military games in recent years, its build up of conventional arms, and its tolerance for far greater losses as a result of any strike including a nuclear one than are Western countries or than is – and that is critical in this case – Russia as well, Piontkovsky argues.

            All this allows for the conclusion, he suggests, that “the 70-year Chinese-Russian war which began on December 19, 1949, has ended. Russia has suffered a defeat even though Beijig has not yet insisted on a formal capitulation because the current Russian administration is actively and effectively cooperating with the victorious power.”
            After the Putin regime disappears one way or another, Piontkovsky continues, “certain fundamental results of this past war will be legally fixed.” Lands that used to belong to China will be reunited with it; “the remaining territories in the zone of China’s vital interests, will be institutionalized as its fraternal subjects.”

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