Europe will always remain the cradle of our civilization, but Russia’s modernization will be accomplished in Eurasia and Asia. This is the only road to the future.
This year may go down in history both as a massive breakthrough of Russia’s Eastern policy and a year of inadequately utilized opportunities.
On May 8, on the eve of the Victory Parade in Moscow, the Russian and Chinese leaders signed a historic statement on linking Eurasian integration (EAEU) with the Silk Route economic belt. The presence of the leaders of BRICS countries at the July summit in Ufa again reaffirmed the old truth about the benefits of alliances. The fact that the esteemed leaders of these states sat at the same table with the leaders of great powers and superpowers was a substantial symbolic achievement for Russia, and proof of its reliability as an ally. The alarm caused by these events in the Western expert community was unusual, even against the backdrop of the generally high tensions in the past few years.
However, Eurasian integration needs to be continued. It transpired recently that EAEU countries have different views on some issues. A number of Kazakh officials believe that they can well do without their EAEU allies and are attracting Chinese investment to Kazakhstan. They want to follow the so-called “road of the Sun” and derive the biggest profits from transit. They argue it is impossible to elaborate a common strategy for linking Eurasian integration and the Silk Route.
Meanwhile, elementary ideas on the nature of integration confirm that the presence of allies makes any country stronger, while their absence weakens every state.
In the remote 1950s, Western European countries decided to unite because they were not doing too well. Each of them was no longer able to achieve its foreign economic and foreign political goals single-handedly. This applied even to large countries like Germany and France, not to mention smaller states like Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, let alone tiny Luxembourg. The European elites have always been aware of the advantages of integration even at the worst times and despite complaints about Paris’s dictate in the 1960s or Berlin’s domination today.
The current debates call to mind one episode. In 1985 European integration entered its decisive phase. At a summit in Milan, the European Union leaders were deciding the future of the Single European Act, a document that became the foundation of a truly common market. It is easy to guess that Britain was the only opponent of the document. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was bargaining for special terms and threatening to block the whole process. The Iron Lady surrendered only after Italian Prime Minister Julio Andreotti told her with a typical Sicilian smile: “Madam, if you are adamantly against this, we will move forward without you.” She gave up even though at that time Britain was backed by a powerful relative – the United States – rather than separate Central Asian countries.
It is important to realize in the modern world that if a country is alone and not a superpower, its future will be a toy in the hands of the outside forces.
Let’s be clear: not a single post-Soviet country has any chance for equitable relations with other partners except Russia. The EU can only offer the humiliating formula of “integration without membership.” Great China will pragmatically take what it needs. Using its labor it will build roads and withdraw energy resources but it won’t protect its partner against outside threat, let alone develop a system of market regulation on an equitable basis. China will act in this way because it will never yield even an iota of its sovereignty. Meanwhile, under the circumstances Kazakhstan could lead the development of the transport component of the EAEU-Silk Route link.
There is a risk that Russia itself will lose the Eastern momentum it gained in the spring. An interdepartmental muddle sometimes blocks the continuation of the most brilliant diplomatic achievements. A strictly country-based approach to relations with China outside the Eurasian or Asian context may not be the best strategy.
Historically, Russia built its foreign policy on the basis of its interests in different areas, rather than its partners and their wishes. Judging by statements at the top level, Russia’s main goal now is to consolidate the entire Eastern vector of its foreign policy. Hence, these efforts could be coordinated at the top level, all the more so since a strong position in the East will encourage Western governments to respect us.
This is absolutely justified. In his address to the Federal Assembly in 2013, President Vladimir Putin declared the development of the Far East Russia’s priority in the 21st century. Russia needs to develop cooperation with China and further Eurasian integration not as a goal in itself. The aim is to channel resources – investment, labor and technology – into the development of the country beyond the Ural Mountains and to overcome Siberia’s mainland curse: its remoteness form the main markets.
This is what Russia wants to achieve. Its turn towards Asia will not only improve its relations with China and other regional partners, but will promote development for all. Therefore, losing the momentum would be a huge mistake. Europe will always remain the cradle of our civilization, but Russia’s modernization will be accomplished in Eurasia and Asia. This is the only road to the future.
This article was originally published in Russian in Izvestia newspaper.