Why Russia and China are besties
The Kremlin has been eying China for a very long time.
PARAG KHANNA: One of the misconceptions about Russia is that it's always driven to become a European power, because we identify that mentality with the reign of Tsar Peter the Great. However, if you look further back into Russian history, it has a long exposure to Asian powers. It skirmished, of course, with the Mongols and was sacked by the Mongols. It also skirmished with the Ming Dynasty of China, as well. So there is really a Eurasian history to Russia. And today, Russia again identifies itself very much as a Eurasian power.
It's not that Russia necessarily understands Asia better. Let's remember that in many ways, they are very much a junior partner to China a much, much junior partner. If we go back to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Russia was considered a transition economy, but still with a lot of potential. But its population has shrunk tremendously. Very few countries have as rapid population decline. Meanwhile, it borders China, the country with the most people in the world. And its economy is countless times larger than Russia's is at this point. So it's very much a junior partner. It does have to deal with Asia more, and I think we would benefit from understanding Russia better if we understood it not just in terms of its relations with the West, but rather also the fact that it is spending as much, or more, time these days focused on its relations with the East.
When President Obama declared his pivot to Asia in about the year 2014, the response in the Kremlin was, we already pivoted to Asia. Because Russia has been reorienting itself economically, and even strategically, towards Asia, especially China, for about 10 years now. Certainly, as it overlaps with the reign of Vladimir Putin. Now, because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea, the sanctions on Russia made them that much more likely to tilt and turn towards Asia. But at the same time, it also has to do with Asia's economic rise. Because whereas in the past, Russia aspired to be part of Europe and had stronger trade relations with Europe than with Asia, especially Germany. Today, Russia's largest trading partner is China. Now, when it comes to foreign investment, Europeans still invest more in Russia than Asians do but there also is catching up. But one thing is for sure, the further you look into the future, especially with the Belt and Road Initiative of transportation linkages across all of Eurasia, most all of which pass through Russia and originate in East Asia, there's no doubt that Russia is very much Asian-izing.
- Russia is not a European power, nor does it strive to be, says Parag Khanna. It is a Eurasian power.
- Western sanctions on Russia, coupled with Asian's economic rise, has inspired Russia to pivot toward China – its largest trading partner.
- The West would understand Russia better if it fully considered Russia's economic reorientation toward Asia, and especially China.
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