Staunton, September 29 – The underlying cause of the conflicts that have been roiling Buryatia since the elections is not the conflict between the authorities and the communists as many suppose but rather between those in the Buryat regime who are counting on ties with China and those in the Far Eastern FD who are looking toward Japan, according to Ruslan Gorevoy.
Indeed, for Far Eastern Federal District head Yury Trutnev, the outcome of this conflict is so important that he has involved involve shamans, directly financing some of them against Moscow, to shake things up and get his way, the Versiya commentator says (versia.ru/na-mitingax-reshaetsya-chej-resursnoj-bazoj-stanet-nash-dalnij-vostok-yaponii-ili-kitaya).
According to Gorevoy, experts and officials have long debated which country – China or Japan – can do the most good for and inflict the least harm on Russia. Some see China as predatory, taking resources but doing little for Russia besides paying for them and think Japanese investment will be of greater benefit.
(On that debate and the reasons many in the Far Eastern FD view Japan as the preferential partner, see most prominently Vladislav Inozemtsev’s 2017 article on “China or Japan – Which Choice will Russia Make” at mk.ru/economics/2017/04/24/rossiya-nachala-peresmatrivat-otnosheniya-s-kitaem-sotrudnichestvo-dokazyvaet-odnostoronnost.html.)
Buryatia is the place where this debate has taken the most concrete and political form, the Versiya commentator says. On the one hand, it is where Chinese investment has been very high; but on the other, its governor Aleksey Tsydenov of United Russia has been overseeing its shift from the Siberian FD to the Far Eastern one where he is opposing the Japanese “vector.”
Whether Tsydenov was behind the decision to shift Buryatia or whether Moscow was is immaterial, Gorevoy says, and whether he really wants to fight Japan in favor of China is as well. That is what is opponents say, and that is what underlies the conflict now on public view there.
If the protests in Buryatia drive Tsydenov from office, the Far Eastern FD and its Japanese choice will continue unabated, the commentator suggests; and that means this: “In essence at these meeting is being deciding whose resource base the Russian Far East will be, Japan’s or China’s.”
According to Gorevoy, the Far Eastern FD has taken the lead in talking about “the Chinese threat” in order to convince people in the region that they should turn away from Beijing and toward Tokyo. As a result, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this summer has been speaking out against the idea that China is a threat.
Nonetheless, “the leaders of the Buryat protests have been spreading the myth that in Siberia and the Far East 14 million Chinese have come in,” scaring many about what cooperation with Beijing will mean. (In the past, Moscow used this meme to keep the region in line, but now it views China as an ally and source of profit.)
It is said, Gorevoy continues, that Moscow has “more than once” sent messages to Trutnev that he must treat all foreign investors equally. “But nothing has changed.” Instead, because of his attitudes, the Chinese have been cutting back on investments while Japan has been increasing its, even though the latter’s remain far smaller.
And that is where the shamans come in. Gabyshev who has now been arrested and sent back to Sakha by Moscow collected money from people along the way, but those who have come after him, it is reported, are being funded from Vladivostok, that is, by the Far Eastern FD, which views such marches as a means to get its way by distracting the center.
Gorevoy concludes with what he sees as the crowning piece of evidence for his argument. Rumors are swirling in Ulan-Ude, he says, that “the campaign against the head of the republic has been ordered up by Vladivostok.” The Far Eastern FD is using the communists in Buryatia as “a useful instrument, like a pliers to pull out a rusty nail.”
This conspiratorial version of events may be too clever by half – Gorevoy has sometimes been guilty of offering such “versions” on other subjects in the past – but in the murky world of Russian politics and given the stakes of the competition between China and Japan in Russia east of the Urals, it would likely be wrong to dismiss it altogether.