Friday, August 7, 2015

China, Not Russia, Beneficiary of Moscow’s Turn to the East, Russian Commentators Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 7 – As the dust settles from Vladimir Putin’s hoopla about the enormous benefits that Russia will supposedly reap by its “turn to the east,” ever more Russian analysts are pointing out what should have been obvious from the start: the East can’t make up for the loss of the West; and China, not Russia, is the big beneficiary of Putin’s choice.

            In an essay in “Novaya gazeta” today, Aleksey Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center, says that the four integration projects with the east that Putin has pushed either are ones that will place new burdens on Russia or consist of countries that are not animated by the ideas of opposing the West that he is (

            The turn to the east was comparatively easy for Russia to make, the Moscow analyst says, and “after the annexation of Crimea it became irreversible, in any case in the visible Putin future.”  But that does not mean that it will have the benefits he hopes for or has told others that Russia can expect.

            The Eurasian Economic Community is a Russian project but even it creates problems for Russia and these have intensified as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, Malashenko says, with the members other than Russia opposing what Moscow has done.  The Organization of the Collective Security treaty also has problems: it can’t act in many cases because one or more of the members are involved.

            The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is de facto led by China not Russia and it “was and remains an extremely inert” body, one which “plans rather than takes actions.” The new Silk Road project has been hijacked by the Chinese who now are running it past Russia rather than through it, much as the West hoped to do with TRACECA in the early 1990s.

            And “the fourth level of integration,” BRICS, the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, combines countries each of which has its own agenda rather than Russia’s and none of which is very much interested in setting itself up as an anti-Western bloc as Putin had suggested it should. Indeed, all the members except Russia show Crimea as part of Ukraine.

            Thus, he concludes, “the political benefit for Russia from these integration projects is relative. Its hopes for movement toward the reincarnation of a bipolar world –West versus Non-West – are not being realized.” BRICS isn’t interested in taking responsibility for the world, and its unwillingness to do so raises the “interesting” question of what would happen in the Middle East if the West left the scene.

            “The Kremlin gives the impression that it doesn’t notice this. Apparently,” Malashenko says, “it doesn’t want to notice.”

            Other Russian analysts have focused on the way that China has taken over the Silk Road program and sidelined both the West and Russia as well.  And some analysts have pointed out that Russia can do little or nothing about this because its own infrastructure is in such terrible shape (, and

            Related to the Silk Road issue is something that may be even less welcome in Moscow: Chinese business and political penetration into the non-Russian periphery of the Russian Federation.  Chinese firms and the Chinese government are investing heavily not only in Ukraine but in the North Caucasus.

            If Moscow is angry at China’s involvement in Ukraine, although quite incapable of saying so in public, it may be more worried about what China is doing in the North Caucasus. There Beijing’s moves have been so large that they have generated headlines like “Ingushetia is Becoming Chinese” (

            China is interested in that republic’s oil and agricultural production, it has made investments in both, it has encouraged Chinese language training, and it has put its own economic agency in Magas.  And the republic leadership is delighted because Chinese money is making up for the departure of Russian funds.

            Indeed, so delighted are the leaders of Ingushetia about the Chinese presence that they have announced that they want to rename one of the squares in the republic capital, “China Square.” The appearance of such a toponym will only highlight the way power is shifting away from Moscow even as Moscow tries to shift to the east.

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