Friday, June 29, 2018

‘Has the Disintegration of Russia Already Begun -- and with China’s Help?’ Nemets Asks

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – Twenty-two years ago, Aleksandr Nemets, then a Russian scholar at the University of Minnesota, published a book, The Growth of China and the Prospects of the Eastern Regions of the Former USSR (New York, 1996), in which he predicted that a rapidly growing China would soon dominate Russia’s weakening eastern regions.

            In a commentary on the Kasparov portal today, the economist who now lives and works in New York says that for most of the last two decades events haven’t moved as quickly as he thought but that now they are accelerating in exactly the directions that he suggested long ago (

            After making significant inroads economically in Siberia and the Russian Far East in the 1990s, Nemets says, Russia’s oil-price-driven recovery in the first years of this century allowed Moscow to restrain and even restrict Chinese penetration of those regions and Chinese companies pulled back. But with the economic crisis of 2008, that retreat was reversed.

            And China’s position became even stronger after February 2014 when the West imposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. In May of that year, the analyst says, Russia even signed an agreement with China – “after 20 years of talks which began in 1994!” – on the construction of a gas pipeline from Eastern Siberia to China.

            Simultaneously, he continues, talks began on giving China various concessions, including logging, in the region. Moreover, Chinese tourists began flooding the region because the collapse of the ruble made prices there is especially attractive. And Russian firms began to export even bottled “Baikal Water” to China.

            As oil prices continued to fall and Western sanctions to intensify over the next few years, Nemets says, “the Chinese received a completely free hand in the eastern regions of China.” At first, Russians there asked Putin to defend them; but by 2017, these calls were replaced by cries of “save us!”

            The economist says that the results are there for all to see: “the Putin ‘power vertical’ already doesn’t work in Buryatia, Transbaikal Kray, Amur Oblast, the southern part of Khabarovsk Kray, and Primorsky kray,” all regions which China lost to Russia between 1650 and 1861.

            In these places, the centers of real power are major Chinese firms because businesses in the Putin system dominate the local political regimes. Anger among local Russians is rising because the Chinese are being allowed to cut down forests in Russia massively and almost for nothing at a time when Beijing has banned that practice in China itself. (For details, see

            To put it in lapidary fashion, the US-based Russian economist says, “the Chinese have eaten the tail of the Putin monster crocodile.”  And that prompts the question: “Is it not the case that in the Putin economy, everything is so rotten that the disintegration of Russia already has begun” in of course the best “hybrid” manner?

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