By Andrew KORYBKO
Russia’s vision of the Eurasian Union is one in which it sits at the center of an interconnected supercontinent, with Moscow taking the initiative in bringing all sides closer together for their joint and multivectoral benefit.
The West’s confrontation with Russia and the New Cold War may actually have been a blessing in disguise, as ever since then, Moscow has been propelled with a renewed sense of urgency to probe and clinch major deals all across Eurasia. Stretching from the coasts of Vietnam to the world’s most populous Arab country, Egypt, it feels as though Russian diplomacy is omnipresent nowadays. The purpose behind Russia’s pan-Eurasian foreign policy push is to cement an alternative political and economic arrangement to challenge Western dominance and facilitate the birth of a truly multipolar world.
From Network Diplomacy…
The underlying basis of Russia’s foreign policy successes has been that all of its strategic partners, in one way or another, understand the necessity of a multipolar world in order to safeguard their full sovereignty (cultural, political, historic, etc.). Incidentally, it was the US and its own foreign policy fumblings (especially in the post-9/11 era) that convinced most of the world that multipolarity was their only practical option for survival in the 21st century. Working with the West carries with it certain privileged benefits (as Saudi Arabia and its Gulf clients know firsthand), but a non-Western state’s existence within this system is tenuous, and once its leader’s utility inevitably expires (as Mubarak’s did) or the state refuses to follow essential unipolar dictates (like Gaddafi’s Libya did), then the country is done away with, destroyed, and redefined as a dystopia.
Even before the ‘Arab Spring’ theater-wide Color Revolutions, this nefarious objective was apparent to Russia and China, which entered into a strategic partnership in 1997 in order to help one another build the multipolar world. Shortly thereafter, they transformed the Shanghai Five into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in order to safeguard themselves and their allies against the asymmetrical Western weapons of terrorism, separatism, and extremism (political, religious, economic [sanctions], etc.). A few years later, the emerging economic reality in the non-Western world led to the bestowing of the BRICS moniker, which quickly evolved into an dynamic political and economic grouping dedicated to multipolarity.
In order to bridge any potential rivalry and divergence between its two largest members, Russia solidified its strategic partnerships with China and India, forming the geopolitical glue of trust that has kept either of them from completely falling for the tempting and Brzezinski-esque Western trap of intra-BRICS conflict. It’s not to say that this doesn’t exist to some level, but by Russia positioning itself as the mediator via its bilateral partnerships with both, it joins them closer together than if it hadn’t, and it also provides a trustful go-between intermediary in case tensions risk boiling over some time in the future. Seen from another angle, the SCO and BRICS form the institutional cores of multipolarity in the Eurasian supercontinent, while the Russian-Chinese and Russian-Indian Strategic Partnerships provide the bilateral boosts to this process. Supplementary to these Eurasian anchors’ agreement on the world’s destiny, each of their own lesser (but no less important) strategic partnerships, such as the Russian-Iranian and Chinese-Pakistani ones, add a deeper network vector to this global vision and work to erode unipolar hegemony.
…To Network Economics
Political partnerships can obviously only go so far, and it is necessary for there to be tangible benefits in order to strengthen them. Although China obviously has economic relationships with most of the world at this point, it hasn’t directed them towards any set political purpose, looking instead at mutual pragmatic interests centered on profit. Russia has taken a different approach, however, and has become the main initiator of trans-Eurasian economic relationships of a multipolar character. What is meant by this is that in the current climate of full-spectrum Russophobia (the West’s disdain for anyone or anything that politically, economically, or militarily cooperates with Russia), the countries that have decided to work with Russia are making a strong political statement that they will not be bullied by the West. They understand fully well that their cooperation with Moscow stands in stark opposition to the unipolar world that their Western ‘friends’ want to retain, much to the detriment of their own national interests. Thus, for every country currently working with Russia or even expanding its relations with it under these tense times, this represents a step forward towards the construction of the multipolar world.
To speak more specifically, it is necessary to draw attention to the major countries that fit this categorization. The following is an overview of the states currently in talks with the Eurasian Union for a Free Trade Agreement, beginning from Southeast Asia and moving westward to the Mideast:
The country is shaping out to be the pivot of Southeast Asia, and it’s working with all countries in as many ways as possible in order to reap the resultant benefits. It draws no discrimination against those that are non-Western, and considering its decades-long relationship with Moscow, it has a lot of historical ground to build upon with Russia. Vietnam is also one of the largest and fastest growing economies in the region, and closer economic ties with Russia could help the latter establish a foothold in Southeast Asia’s burgeoning market. Furthermore, an expansion of economic ties would complement the already strong military-industrial ones between the two states, which could then potentially blossom over into the political realm and potentially give Moscow leverage in moderating Hanoi’s belligerence against China over their island dispute. This would deal a heavy blow to the West’s aim at creating an ‘ASEAN NATO’ to counter China and would underscore the asymmetrical benefits of the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership for Beijing.
Putin’s visit to the South Asian powerhouse earlier this month was monumental in that it secured $100 billion in deals between the two over nuclear energy, oil and natural gas, and other trade sectors such as diamonds and defense. As explained earlier above, Russia’s relationship with India helps ‘keep the peace’ between New Delhi and Beijing and prevent the BRICS from splitting apart over geographic rivalry in the Himalayas and Southeast Asia. It also importantly serves as a connecting node for integrating Iran as the middle point on the Russian-Indian Corridor. At the beginning of the month, the Indian Ambassador to Russia gave an exclusive interview to Sputnik News where he spoke about the aforementioned as being a transit route between India’s Mumbai, Iran’s Bandar Abbas and Caspian coast, and Russia’s Astrakhan. If successful, it would literally centralize Tehran as the middleman between Moscow and New Delhi, and more than likely, this would bestow Iran with some kind of privileged economic relationship (perhaps even a Free Trade Agreement) with the Eurasian Union. Thus, India is integral not only for opening up one of the world’s largest potential markets to Russia, but also for bringing Iran in from the cold of Western sanctions and giving it a truly multipolar economic orientation.
Ties with the Turks have always been pragmatic (even if politically divergent, as the Syrian Crisis illustrates), but they received a surprising stimulus at the end of November when the decision was made to reroute the South Stream pipeline through the country instead of the Balkans. Taken together with the EU’s neglect of the country’s membership aspirations and the US’ betrayal of Ankara’s territorial sovereignty by playing the card of Kurdish nationalism, Ankara decided to partake in a geo-energy pivot and become Russia’s gas gateway to the Mediterranean, essentially giving Moscow the warm-water port that it had desired for centuries. This opens up exciting possibilities for the multipolar world and shows that the ultimate Eurasian pivot is no longer satisfied being the West’s Mideast lackey. Not only that, but by working on a Free Trade Agreement with the Eurasian Union, it provides a huge and nearby market for goods and services along Russia’s southern Black Sea periphery, making it a convenient and natural economic partner for the future.
Coming up next is Syria, which has had brotherly relations with Russia ever since the 1970s and remained Moscow’s only communist-era strategic ally to remain consistently loyal after the Cold War. The fruits of this friendship are on full global display, as Moscow and Syria are best friends in the fight against terror. The country has unfortunately been destroyed by the external war that the US and its allies have been waging against its people and their democratically elected leadership for nearly four years already, and it is in need of serious repair after the conflict ends. This is where the tentative Free Trade Agreement with the Eurasian Union comes in, as it could provide an easy avenue for external goods and services to enter Syria to aid with its reconstruction efforts. Russia is already assisting Syria with this, but an agreement between the two via the Eurasian Union (especially after the conflict’s resolution) would bring a deeper and more robust level of economic partnership to their relations and provide the necessary mechanism for accelerating this process. After all, the country’s economy experienced consistent and rapid growth in the years leading up to the Western War on Syria, thereby proving its endemic vitality, and it’s not impossible to one day recreate the recipes for success that were unfortunately ripped up in the name of regime change back in 2011.
Rounding out Russia’s list of potential Eurasian Union partners is Egypt, the most populous Arab country and the gravitational center of the Mideast. By connecting the Russian and Egyptian economies via the Free Trade Agreement with the Eurasian Union, Moscow can also gain valuable ground in another major market, potentially giving it access to other countries further upstream the Nile’s path and eventually linking to East Africa. This may be possible since Egypt’s current leader, al-Sisi, feels spurred by the West (especially the US) for supporting Muslim Brotherhood affiliate Mohammed Morsi during his brief, violent, and controversial tenure as the country’s President. Although the US and Egypt still share privileged relations, the state of the game has changed, and Cairo is now trying to carve out a niche for itself as the ‘Arab Yugoslavia’. Whether or not this can ever be fully actualized is a matter of debate, but what is uncontestable is that Egypt sent is highest level delegations to Russia in years after al-Sisi assumed power in the summer of 2013, showing that it is serious about diversifying its political relations and possibly restoring some level of its lost Soviet-era ties with Moscow. The implications of a successful movement towards the Eurasian vector of Egypt’s foreign policy could be paradigm-shattering and complete the collapse of the US’ Mideast dominance, which has already been in slow decline since the 2003 Iraq War and was the major impetus for the ‘Arab Spring’ Color Revolutions’ final attempt at a Western-orchestrated regional power play.
Russia’s dual policies of network diplomacy and network economics are complementary in forging the forthcoming multipolar world. Whereas the diplomatic/political vector provides the rationale and justification for such movements, the economic one gives each participant the satisfying and tangible benefits needed to keep the cooperation moving. Russia is truly using the Eurasian Union to position itself as the center of supercontinental economic policies, bridging together such geographically and culturally disparate partners as Egypt and Vietnam in the name of non-Western asymmetrical integration.
The Union itself unites Russia and its Belarussian and Armenian partners with most of geographic Central Asia, while the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership makes the country a literal bridge between
East Asia and Western Europe via Beijing’s participation in the Eurasian Land Bridge, New Silk Road, and Northern Sea Route projects. The countries contemplating Free Trade Agreements with the Eurasian Union are situated on the southern reaches of Eurasia and span the landmass from east to west. Interestingly enough, most of them are Muslim states (even India, which has more adherents of the faith than Pakistan does), showing that multipolarity also has a valuable cultural/religious dimension to it outside of its better-known political and economic manifestations. This observation also perfectly meshes with Russia’s domestic policy of peaceful and harmonious coexistence between the country’s four historic faiths of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism, showing that cultural/religious multipolarity in practice can most certainly be applied within one country’s borders (as it also was in Syria prior to the externally driven destabilization) as well as it can be abroad.
Finally, all of this demonstrates the seriousness that Russia places in constructing the multipolar world and fulfilling the role of the primary locomotive of pan-Eurasian integration. From standing up to the West politically and showing others how to diversify away from it economically, Russia has become the archetype multipolar state. It preaches a policy of unity and solidarity that transcends identity differences, which is fully in accordance with how it manages itself internally. By both walking the walk and talking the talk, Russia has given palpable proof to the world that multipolarity is a real phenomenon that is capable of being achieved if the proper diplomatic and economic network alliances can be created and retained.
Andrew Korybko is the political analyst and journalist for Sputnik who currently lives and studies in Moscow, exclusively for ORIENTAL REVIEW.