(This is a new fun category of posts where I imagine a scenario where foreign policy news leads to a 100% shift in international politics. I am not arguing that my scenario should or will happen; I am arguing that if this one piece of news went to an extreme, that we could expect the following changes in global politics.)
Just imagine, Russian policy makers give 100% to all their talk about shifting their developmental, foreign policy, and security focus to the Russian Far East and East Asia.
In another decade or two, the Russian Federation could have potentially achieved the following foreign policy milestones:
1) Deepened relations with China. True, Russian-Chinese relations aren’t all that bad now, but if the Russian Federation really devoted its diplomatic energies and expertise to East Asia, Moscow might be more willing to cooperate with China. China likewise would have to treat Russia as an Asian great power, incentivizing Beijing to cooperate at Russia’s bequest.
2) Solved its territorial disputes with Japan. If Russia is serious about becoming an Asia-Pacific power, it will have to solve its territorial dispute with Japan over the Sakhalin Islands. Moving east will not mitigate the U.S. encirclement of Russia, and Russia would be wise to court Tokyo instead of working against Japan as it likes to do with U.S. and NATO allies in Eastern Europe. This way, it could make room for itself in the region as a new player.
3) Turned itself into a stabilizing force on the Korean Peninsula. Russia will have to take an active role in stabilizing the Korean Peninsula. Russia might begin to partner with China to control Pyongyang, while simultaneously seeking to increase its standing in South Korea, to balance the U.S. presence in its new backdoor.
4) Become a balancing force against China in Mongolia. Certainly, Mongolia is focused on balancing the economic and political influence of its two giant neighbors, but currently China is really the only neighbor that needs to be balanced. A bit more interest from Russia coupled with continued third neighbor involvement might be just the thing to counter the obvious threat posed by the Chinese vasselization of the Mongolian economy.
For Russia’s neighbors, we could expect the following benefits:
1) Russia would treat the South Caucasus, Eastern Europe, and the Baltics as secondary concern. That is not to say the Russia would stop behaving like an imperialist state towards these regions, but they would become a lesser concern if the Kremlin was focusing on Vladivostok instead of St. Petersburg. Georgia and Armenia would be freed up for integration into European institutions, the Baltics would face less pressure from Russia concerning Russian minorities in these countries, and Eastern Europe might not be bullied around with energy politics quite as much.
2) Central Asia would become slightly more relevant. Central Asia is pivotal to Russian-Chinese relations as a main point of competition AND cooperation, mainly through the SCO. As such, Central Asia would become more important than it already is to Russian and Chinese grand strategy. Getting the region right will be paramount to achieving strong relations with China, and ensuring the stability of the region.
3) The E.U. would feel less pressure. With Russia’s move away from Eastern Europe, E.U. expansion into the Caucasus would be simplified (still difficult and far away, to be sure). Furthermore, European sponsored pipelines would face less competition from Gazprom, furthering E.U. security and economic interests.
4) The U.S. would feel more pressure. If Russia was successful at turning itself into a recognizably Asia Pacific country, the U.S. would have to deal with another pole in the region, making its own pivot more complicated and delicate. A Russian-Chinese partnership could also give both countries the upper hand in denying the U.S. access to important regions, diplomatically and economically. If Russia was successful in courting Japan and South Korea, the U.S. could find its own alliances weakened by Russian influence. Also, a stronger Russian military presence in the Pacific would be a direct security threat to the United States (and Canada, for that matter).
Domestically, an Asia-Pacific Russian Federation would experience the following changes:
1) Eastern Demographic movement. Moscow and St. Petersburg would not loose their political and cultural significance, but an eastward moving Russia would mean that Irkutsk and Vladivostok, etc. would suddenly become the pillars of the Russian economy and key point of interaction with the Asia-Pacific.
2) More interference in Sakha and Tuva. The Sakha and Tuvan Republics are 2 of three more “independent” republics of the Federation, with Moscow decidedly less involved in their domestic affairs (Tatarstan being the 3rd of such republics). Our imaginary Russia would probably start interfering much more in these republics. In Tuva, one of the few republics with a majority titular demographic, the eastward move could also lead to an influx of Russians, potentially causing social unrest.
3) More balanced relations with North Caucasus and other more western ethnic republics. With less interest in Western affairs, the Western republics might get a bit more flexibility to pursue their own interests. Obviously, this will stop short of any real policy change, but with less interest Mother Russia might not notice key developments in regional agency.
This list is far from complete and a far cry from well researched, but I think I have touched on several important possibilities from the scenario.
In reality, I find it hard to imagine that Russia could successfully mould itself into a real player in Asia-Pacific affairs for one simple reason: Russia rarely displays foreign policy behavior that would attract other countries to welcome its presence. In order for this move to work, Russia would have successfully interact with South Korea and Japan; however, Russia has not shown itself particularly adept at working with U.S. allies in the past. While Putin might consider Russia already to be an Asia-Pacific country, I do not believe that the rest of the region would agree. In order to make political room for itself, Russia will have to charm, something the state has never been particularly gifted at.
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.