Eurasian Economic Commission Board Chairman Tigran Sargsyan, Armenia's Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, Belarus' Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov, Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev, Kyrgyzstan's Prime Minister Temir Sariyev, and Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (L-R) pose for a group photograph after a meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council
Although following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Russia reluctantly or maybe out of pragmatism accepted mono-multipolar structure of the world after the Cold War and gave in to West’s relative superiority in that system, it never recognized it as a sustainable international system believing that it would be only a temporary one. Russian politicians and researchers believe that the existing conditions are a period of transition to the new world order in which the process of plurality in international system will be accelerated through weakening of the Western bloc and hegemony, empowerment of new actors such as the BRICS countries, and most importantly, through transfer of Power and wealth from the most to the East.
The noteworthy point is that there is no final take on the quality and nature of the new world order in Russia. Of course, the general analyses describe the future world order as a multipolar one without giving details. However, more accurate analyses, including the research conducted by Russia's Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, have described the new order as a bipolar one with more importance attached to the economic component. The research results say that the first bloc in the new world order is the United States, which will work through such international treaties as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), while the second bloc will consist of China, member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and allied countries in East Asia. At the second level other “centers” of power can emerge, including in the Greater Eurasia, around the axis of Russia with India and Iran as partner, and within framework of Such institution as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
In this division, the economic power is an important principle in determining the amount of power and international standing of countries. Therefore, although various actors, such as Russia, are good candidates to be rising-powers in the new world order, their final position will be determined by their economic power. From this viewpoint, more realistic Russian analyses admit to economic weaknesses of the country and do not consider Russia as a power “pole” in the new world order, but consider it as a “power center.” It must be noted that large-scale state documents of Russia, including paragraphs 5 and 19 of the “Concept of Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation” (February 2013) and paragraphs 7, 13, and 30 of the National Security Strategy of the country (December 2015) have used such terms as “multiple centrality,” not “multi-polarity” to describe the future world order.
In the meantime, Russia pays serious attention to changing strategy of the United States and its effort to create new economic alliances with the focus on East Asia, including within framework of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). If this project is implemented and if China fails to achieve its targeted economic development, US unilateralism will be bolstered and strategic balance will be changed to the detriment of Russia. Of course, chances for the realization of this scenario are considered low, but to prevent this altogether, Moscow believes that implementing the “turn to the East” strategy by getting closer to China is requisite for transition to the new world order in which the West will not play the dominant role.
Many projections have been made in Russia about China scaling up to the world’s first rank of power, which if true, would have its own untoward consequences for the future position that Moscow seeks to have within the international system. Under these circumstances, Russia, which is dreaming of regaining its past position as a “great power,” is trying to stay away from joining either of these two blocs and is expected to insist on preserving its independent identity at international level, though to realize this its independent identity at international level, though to realize this goal, it would need specific resources and skills.
Given scarcity of resources available to Russia, especially in the field of economy, and also in view of the high cost of any unilateral measure, this country considers bolstering Eurasianism and multilateral formats of cooperation – including the initiative for cooperation in the “Greater Eurasia,” in which Russia expects to play a managerial role – as an effective mechanism to preserve and bolster its own independent and influential role at international level and in (Central) Eurasia. This initiative, which was raised by the Russian President Vladimir Putin in June 2016, is like a big frame in which such regional institutions as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) are defined. As a result, this initiative will play a major role in helping Russia manage various affairs over a vast geographical expansion from Western Europe to the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, and East Asia through shoring up Russia's partners in these regions.
In the next stages of its development, this process is expected to expand its geographic expanse, topics, goals and members to extend into peripheral regions. The next steps will be developing interaction with such international institutions as the BRICS, ASEAN, and the European Union, as well as implementation of such projects as the New Silk Road in order to boost Moscow’s sphere of influence at an international level. In this way, by undertaking a low cost, Moscow would be able to expand its political and geopolitical influence in these regions and prevent itself from being “marginalized” from the process of making new trends in the rivalry between Eastern and Western centers of power. At the same time, Moscow will have new possibilities at its disposal in order to create a balance between those centers of power and also to deal with the effort made by regional powers to boost their influence in Central Eurasia.
With this point in mind, it is clear that the emphasis put by Moscow on neo-Eurasianism and the implementation of the “Greater Eurasia” cooperation initiative, which gives Russia an axial role, is aimed at maintaining Russia's maneuvering room in the existing competitive environment and help Moscow adapt to extremely dynamic conditions at regional and global levels. This issue is further corroborated by Article 44 of the “Concept of Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation” (February 2013), which has stipulated that the Eurasian Economic Union must play the role of a bridge between Europe and Asia-Pacific region. Therefore, this initiative can be best understood within framework of the existing world politics and as a mechanism to promote Kremlin’s independent policy in the period of transition and under the new global order.
From this viewpoint, strengthening the Eurasian vector is not only a step taken independent of the West, but is also an independent framework from the “turn to the East / China” strategy and the current cooperation between Russia and China, and is aimed to provide grounds for interactions between Moscow and various Eastern powers, including Japan and South Korea. This approach will prevent Moscow from being influenced by Beijing’s game, especially under conditions that the future map of Central Eurasia sees not the West, but China, as the main party to reduce Russia's power and influence and limit its maneuvering space. The upper hand of China lies in its economic and capital power, which will bolster this country’s political influence in Central Eurasia through such initiatives as the New Silk Road.
Therefore, the initiative for promoting cooperation in the “Greater Eurasia” will bolster dynamism and maneuvering power of Russia not only between two future power blocs, but also in other regions in the neighborhood of Central Eurasia from Eastern Europe to the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, and the Asia-Pacific region. It will also help Russia implement the principle of balance and multi-vector policy in a more optimal way in its foreign policy approach. Moscow will try to balance the Western power pole through interaction with China while balancing the Eastern pole through cooperation with the West. At the same time, it will continue to play its independent and determining role. This mechanism will strengthen Moscow’s standing as a “center” of power at a lower cost and will more effectively prevent Russia's considerations and interests from being ignored in Eurasia and at international level.
NB: This article first presented at the seminar “Iran and Central Eurasia: 25 Years after the Soviet Union” co-sponsored by The Institute for Iran-Eurasia Studies (IRAS) and Shahid Beheshti University (SBU).
Alireza Nouri, an analyst of Russian politics, is the fellow at IRAS.
To comment on this article, please contact IRAS Editorial Board