On April 4rth a two day conference entitled “China and Russia: Facing Challenges of Global shifts” was held in Moscow by the Valdai Discussion Club in cooperation with the Center for Russia Studies at the East China Normal University, in order to discuss about the challenges and opportunities that the transformation of the global political and economic order have created for Russia and China.

Among the participants were Feng Shaolai, director of the Center for Russian Studies (East China Normal University) who highly appreciated the prospect of high level cooperation between Russia and China, as well as Fu Ying, Chairperson, Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China. From the Russian side there were among others Dmitry Mezentsev, member of the Council of the Federation of the Russian Federation and former Secretary General of the Shanghai Cooperation Council (2013-15) as well as Professor Sergej Karaganov, Dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs (Russia).

As Karagnov stressed in his speech, relations between Russia and China were not “exclusively bilateral” and now global problems are on the table. In a “failing global world” Russia and China should create an alternative center of power, while at the same time it would be indispensable to regulate international strategic stability together with the US. Sergey Luzyanin, Director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Science made reference to the Russian President’s 2016 initiative of creating a broad Eurasian partnership and the leading role of Russia and China in the Eurasian Economic Union and Shanghai Cooperation Organization integration processes.

Implication of a Greater Eurasia for the Global Order

On the background of the recently held Valdai Discussion Club Conference and in light of the various studies which have been published about the subject of Eurasian development– among them Russian Professor Yuri Gromyko’s essay “Beyond the BRIC’s. New patterns of development cooperation in the Trans-Eurasian Corridor” (2015)- it is worthwhile to look at an essay which was written by Russian strategist Prof. Sergej Karaganov under the title “From the pivot to the East to Greater Eurasia” in April.

The essay identifies the problems which Russia has to face by engaging in such a project while at the same time it gives a “conceptual framework” for a Greater Eurasian Project. As Karaganov has stated in previous essays, Russia’s pivot to the East and its turn towards Eurasia, must be seen in the context of strategic developments that took place during the last decade. Russia’s pivot to the East, he noted at the beginning of his essay, “was conceived in the second half of the 2000’s as response to the rise of Asia, which opened opportunities for the development of the country and primarily its eastern regions. This rise offered a chance to turn the territory beyond the Urals and the Russian Far East from predominantly an imperial burden or confrontation with the West (rivalry with Japan and China) into a ‘springboard for the development of the whole country.”

Russia and China have built allied relations “de facto but not de jure”, which are increasingly complemented and balanced by stronger ties with Japan, Vietnam, other ASEAN countries, India, South Korea and Iran, Karaganov states. Instead of an anticipated rivalry in Central Asia, Moscow and Beijing are slowly integrating “the Silk Road initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union. Hence Russia’s policy in Asia is becoming comprehensive and strategic in nature, but there is still a long way to go.”

Several problems have emerged in Russia’s pivot to the East. This includes: the “depopulation of the Russian Far East” which according to Karaganov has however slowed down; he also refers to the problem of inertia in Russia’s economic pivot to the East; the “economic mentality, the sluggishness of the Russian government agencies, corrupt elites, but most importantly because of economic stagnation and a weak investment climate, primarily for Russian small and medium sized businesses. But “Siberia has yet to become a land of economic freedom. This is what drove its development in tsarist times. We do hope that there will be no new GULAG’s or relocation of industries there as it happened during World War II.” Another cause for Russia’s pivot to the East was what the Russian elite perceived as a turn away from the policy of a “Common European House, Karaganov notes. “Brussels’ attempt to impose new post- European values discouraged Russia’s Europe aspirations” and what convinced the Russian elite to turn away from Europe, was a “greedy and reckless neo- Weimar policy that propelled western alliances farther East into the territories which Russia considers vitally important for its security and for which the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union sacrificed millions of lives.This policy upset plans to create a sustainable system of all European security, a Common European home, or the Union of Europe.”

This was followed by a dramatic escalation of the crisis, culminating in events of 2013-2014( crisis in Ukraine); a dramatic deterioration of relations, followed by sanctions against Russia. This was accompanied by the attempt to stop the disintegration of Europe by creating an external enemy ( Russia), which in turn pushed Russia towards new markets in the East. Russia’s new geopolitical and geo-economic self- identity means “liberation from the moral and political dependence on the West” and a qualitative strengthening of positions in the dialogue with the West. On the other side Karaganov underlines that “Russia has no plans to give up cooperation with European countries where it can be beneficial, for this would be not only economically harmful but actually impossible and ideologically dangerous, threatening the identity of most Russian people who consider themselves Europeans even if they do not like many of the things in modern Europe which is turning into post-Europe by giving up a considerable part of its core values that were believed by Russian as their own.”

The key concept of a Greater Eurasia Policy

Greater Eurasia is qualified by Karaganov as an “emerging geo-economic space” engendered by the ‘Asia for Asia’ tendency, China’s westward turn and integration with the Eurasian Economic Union, and Russia’s pivot to the East. A key factor in the development of Greater Eurasia is an “accelerated creation of transcontinental transport Infrastructure”, including East-West routes and more and more of the North-South ones which for the most part remain underdeveloped and hinder full growth. It’s an area of “civilizational cooperation” reemerging after a century’s long hiatus symbolized by the Great Silk Road that embraced the great civilization of China, India, Persia and the Arab Near East and connected them with Europe via the Eastern Roman Empire Byzantium, Venice and Spain.

Karagnov repeatedly states in his essay that “Greater Eurasia“ is a conceptual framework for Russia’s forward looking geostrategic and geo-economic self –identification as the center and the north of the rising continent, one of its transport and economic hubs and a key security provider. Given Russia’s historical experience and cooperation with West and East, he sees that Russia could play a central role in “forging and restoring cultural interaction in Eurasia. But Russia will not give up its precious European cultural roots and will keep cultivating them.”

Key elements of a future Greater Eurasian partnership include dialogue between the SCO and the European Union and between the Eurasian Economic Union and the EU. The initial work could from Karaganov’s point of view start on an expert level and continue in an expert political forum for Eurasian development.

The pivot to Asia should be tied in with a currently nonexistent strategy of Russia’s economic recovery and development,” Karaganov states at one point in his essay, which illustrates one of the problems that Russia has to confront in the future, if the Greater Eurasian Project were to succeed. The author presents a “road map” for the partnership of Greater Eurasia. Key aspects of such a road map are: Developing a coordinated transport strategy for Greater Eurasia; creating a system of rating agencies; supporting the developments of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and other regional banks, and a system operating in parallel with S.W.I.F.T and excluding the use of the latter as an economic weapon in order to make the global financial system more stable; expanding trade in national currencies, creating independent payment systems; creating an economic information center operating alongside and in cooperation with OECD.

He also speaks in favor of creating a mega agency (like BBC or Stratfor), called “Eurasia News”, which should be based on a new notion of international relations – interaction and interpenetration of civilizations instead of conflicts. This should go along with the necessity to “restore the historical and cultural narrative shared by all Eurasian states”- from the history of Genghis Khan and Mongol Empire to the economic and cultural phenomena of the Great Silk Road and the Byzantine Empire that fused Asian and European cultural patterns and preserved European culture during its decline, to which the role of Venice as a gateway to Asia, should be added. While advancing its own pivot to Asia, Russia should relaunch cooperation with its traditional partner Europe on a new political, economic and conceptual basis. “There is no clarity at this point how Russia should reset its European policy as the situation in the west of Eurasia remains ambiguous. But there is clearly an objective need for such a reset.”

The essay outlines an interesting conceptual framework. As Karaganov emphasizes, there should be initially a discussion conducted by “an expert political forum for cooperation and security in Greater Eurasia.” The vision is clearly there, yet there are also many “ifs” i.e. “conditional clauses“, given the different “interests of power” that need to be solved politically by all sides involved. The Greater Eurasia project could be the means to overcome these conflicts and turn this project into a huge historical success.

Wiesbaden, May 2017

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