Monday, January 16, 2017

When It Comes to China, Putin Needs the West More than the West Needs Putin, Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Pro-Putin forces in the West, including the incoming Trump Administration, have long made two arguments for why the West needs Putin, Andrey Piontkovsky says. The first insists Russia is essential for combatting Islamic extremism; the second argues that “we need Putin for opposing the expansion of China.”

            The notion that Putin’s Russia could be the West’s ally in fighting Islamism in general and ISIS in particular is “absurd,” the Russian commentator says, given as he has pointed out earlier ( Moscow’s use of both of these phenomena against the West and Western clients in the Middle East.

            But the second is if anything even more pernicious because it turns the situation on its head: The West doesn’t need Putin to help contain a rising China: Putin desperately needs the West to oppose China’s expansion and the threat it poses to Russia’s position on the Pacific Rim (

            Western leaders must understand that, Piontkovsky argues, lest they remain as now kidnapped as it were by Putin and his supporters who are promoting the false notion that it is the West rather than Russia which needs this cooperation. Otherwise they will give away what they don’t have to and fail to secure what their position justifies their seeking.

            For Moscow, “the preservation of Russia as a Pacific Ocean state … is an existential task of the coming decades,” the Russian analyst says; and all of Russia’s foreign policy efforts should be “subordinated” to making sure that that happens, not because of the manias of those nostalgic for empire but for purely pragmatic reasons.

            In this, Piontkovsky says, Russia has obvious allies, even if it often fails to recognize them. First and foremost is Japan, for which “the swallowing of the Far East and Siberia by China would be a geopolitical catastrophe.”   The same thing could be said with equal justice about South Korea.

            For Europe, “this problem is not as sharp … but undoubtedly the prospect of having a border with the great Chinese civilization along the Urals is not inspiring.”  But at present, “the key” issue for Moscow is “the position of the US, the global superpower and the chief economic partner of China.”

            Since the middle of the last decade, the American establishment has become tired of assuming global leadership, something  that for Russia is an extremely unfavorable development at least when it comes to China, because if the US does not show leadership, the world simply drifts toward a bipolar one where the US and China dominate and Russia is marginalized.

            That attitude reached its “apogee” with the election of Barack Obama, but now the compass is beginning to swing in the opposite direction with the rise of Donald Trump, Piontkovsky says. Of course, neither he nor any other US leader is about to call China an “evil empire” – trade relations are too important – but Washington’s approach is changing.

            The US, the Russian commentator continues, “is trying to designate the limits of Chinese global expansion;” and for Russia and others, it is critically important that “this red line become above all the Russian-Chinese border.”

            Russia could “much more easily defend its positions in the Far East,” Piontkovsky says, if “a Great Northern Alliance” of Russia, the US, Europe and Japan” would take the form of a “North Pacific Treaty Organization.” And because that is so, Moscow should make this “a central task of the new Russian foreign policy.”

            Just as there is nothing anti-Russian about NATO, so too there would be nothing “anti-Chinese” about such an organization, and its formation, something Russia would need to take the lead in could be the basis of a “potential” Russian-American “union.” At the very least, it would be more important than some “petty Yalta-2 at the expense of our neighbors.”

            Unfortunately, and here Piontkovsky is directing his remarks directly to a Russian audience, “neither Trump nor Putin is the large figure that would be needed for the realization of such a strategic turn about.”

            Trump has shown himself by his accepting a call from Taiwan’s president and his incautious remarks about Chinese trade and the Chinese presence in the South China Sea to suggest that no one “will be ready to conclude with such an individual responsible strategic accords.”

            And Putin and his entourage have behaved even worse, saying things over the last decade that make it unthinkable that anyone could cooperate with them in managing the rise of China. Indeed, in many ways, “the Putin kleptocracy has not simply tried but done everything possible” to reduce Russia’s status vis-à-vis China.

            “There are thousands of reasons why the anti-national and thoroughly corrupt and pathetic Putin regime should go,” Piontkovsky concludes; “but one of them is quite sufficient.” With regard to China, it is behaving less like a government and more like “a liquidation commission” that will reduce Russia’s status ever further.

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