Greater Eurasia is under the influence of challenges and threats of both internal and external origin, therefore peace and stability there are not guaranteed. However, one should not lose sight of the objective factors that make Greater Eurasia a more stable region in modern circumstances than would be predicted by an established view of the nature of international politics in its regional dimension, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.
It is believed that one of the most important consequences of the fundamental restructuring of the international order may be a general decline in the institutions of cooperation between states and an increase in the number of conflicts. Moreover, in the 30 years that have passed since the Cold War, a significant proportion of views on the nature of relations between states was based on the fact that beyond the limits of the “ideal” Liberal world order reinforced by institutions, there is chaos and the “shedding” of all norms, which leads to a hypothetical catastrophe. Fear of such a catastrophe has, in fact, turned out to be almost as common a tool of international governance (as Edward Carr sees it), as the brute violence meted out by a privileged group of states.
However, experience confirms that this is an exclusively theoretical, abstract idea, which invariably fails to take into account the factors associated with a particular region and the importance of individual participants in international relations. In the new conditions, which do not fit well with the patterns of academic ideas of the past era, comparative stability is maintained by no means at the expense of those forces that looked like its guarantors quite recently. Conversely, those forces that were seen as enhancing security and cooperation could turn out to be destabilising.
Third, the international institutions created in the region turned out to be not subject to the destructive factors that operate in Europe. Organisations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) or the Eurasian Economic Union look less well-groomed than their ancient European counterparts. However, they have turned out to be more stable, which is undoubtedly good news for their participants. It is bad news for the academic ideas about the nature of international organisations that have arisen in the intellectual environment of the West, which are always focusing on the power of confrontation between their participants. And, finally, one should not underestimate the effect of market factors, which, when not constrained by political circumstances, help states to be guided by their own interests. All these features deserve the most careful study and can provide us with factual material for significant progress in the science of international politics.
In fact, even the least stable region of the South Caucasus is much less dependent on the consequences of the struggle of the great powers in Europe, or, as it used to be, in the Middle East. We see that the US and the European Union are trying to influence the negotiation process between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Obviously, the only purpose of these attempts is to create inconvenience for Russia, where many still believe that the Transcaucasus has value for it, or are guided by moral considerations. However, even here the influence of regional powers — Turkey and Iran — is comparable to what Western countries are doing. Moreover, neighbouring Georgia, due to internal factors, is showing much less willingness to be drawn into the feuds of the great powers than one might assume based on its previous experience.
All other regions of Greater Eurasia are even less involved in the global processes of struggle between the old and new international orders, simply because of their geographical remoteness. Even in terms of military logistics, the US and Europe are much less likely to create instability along the Russian-Chinese borders in Central Asia, compared to how it turned out to be possible in Europe. There is even some reason to think that in the case of this region, the desire of the EU and the US to harm Russia will lead to positive consequences for development. Even a slight increase in investment, which is demanded from the West in Tashkent or Astana, can solve some of the problems of internal stability there. It may also increase the potential of these markets from the point of view of the Russian economy, with which they are best connected logistically.
International organisations in Greater Eurasia arose amid fundamentally different conditions than in Europe, and the closest analogue can only be the cooperation of the Southeast Asian countries within ASEAN. A distinctive feature of the European institutions for security and cooperation is their forceful nature. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe was created on the basis of agreements between East and West during the Cold War. This means that its central task was to formalise the balance of power between the major powers, first as of 1975 and then after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. The SCO, in turn, was created without taking into account the balance of forces among the participants. Moreover, they were not in opposition to each other, which would have to be regulated. The OSCE crisis begins with the end of the Cold War, when the balance of power shifted. The SCO demonstrates stability because there is no balance of power in it at all. The development of this organisation is subject to other principles of interstate interaction than those that were formed on European soil.
The Eurasian Economic Union is also radically different from the European Union. Despite the fact that the experience of the EU was taken into account in its creation, the main institutions of the EAEU are far from what exists to the west of Russia’s borders. In reality, the EU is also a product of the balance of power, where the interaction between Germany and France is of central importance. Therefore, a change in the ratio of the combined power capabilities between these powers leads to a crisis and the need for the internal restructuring of the entire organisation, which is what we are seeing now. Such a restructuring becomes especially difficult under pressure from the common hegemon for all EU countries — the United States, which has its own views on the future of Europe. The EAEU does not contain a balance of power — even the combined capabilities of its 4 smaller countries (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) are not enough to resist Russia. But Russia itself, in realising its vulnerabilities, is forced to pursue a policy in which there is no room for dictate. This is especially true amid the current circumstances, when for Moscow the EAEU is becoming not an auxiliary, but an important way of connecting with those markets from which the West seeks to alienate it.
These countries operate under market economic principles and so far depend little on external political factors. We see that feeble attempts to force the countries of Eurasia to reconsider their economic relations with Russia face obstacles that are not necessarily of a formal nature. This does not mean that relations between the economies of Greater Eurasia are immune to external shocks. But so far, they demonstrate a high degree of flexibility and adaptability to harsh international conditions.
All that has been said here does not mean, of course, that peace and stability in Greater Eurasia is guaranteed. It is under the influence of challenges and threats of both internal and external origin. Nor should we underestimate the determination of the adversaries of Russia and China in their efforts to undermine the stability of countries which share the “common neighbourhood” of Moscow and Beijing. However, one should not lose sight of the objective factors that make Greater Eurasia a more stable region in modern circumstances than would be predicted by an established view of the nature of international politics in its regional dimension.