Started6 years ago
What role is there for Russia in Asia’s security dynamic over the coming years and decades?
Russia wasn’t active in Asia during last two decades. We can identify the only two major actions, such as delimitation of the Russia-China border that eliminated potential military conflict between two countries; and establishing the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) including China, Russia and four Central Asian states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgizstan, Tadjikistan and Uzbekistan. Nevertheless, SCO hasn’t turned to active and influential actor in Asian stage in spite of its twenty years’ history of efforts.
However, taking into account current clash between Russia and West we can expect intensification of the Russian foreign policy in Asia. Putin and other officials declared many times that Russia wants to develop strategic partnership with Asian countries including security issues. Meanwhile, except very problematic agreement about export of the Russian gas to China they did almost nothing so far.
In spite of high enough level of military cooperation between Russia and India, unlikely that Russia can develop any serious new deals in security with India because of increasing negative feelings of the Indian public towards Russia (https://www.pewglobal.org/2014/07/09/russias-global-image-negative-amid-crisis-in-ukraine/).
The other direction is Vietnamese. Russia and Vietnam has agreed to develop free trade zone and launch some important projects including electric nuclear station. Arm trade is also intensified. It’s possible that some new agreements between Vietnam and Russia will be concluded in security realm.
Smart move would be return four Kuril Islands (“Northern territories”) to Japan and invitation Japan to the SCO. This move, however, will face ideological obstacles inside Russia and opposition of China.
Russia’s engagement with Asia at this point of time is rather ambivalent and assessments about the same are fraught with uncertainty, at the least
Russia (the former Soviet Republic), shares diverse strategic and security issues with many Asian countries – especially with China and India- despite US-led initiatives to the contrary. Russia also carries the burden of Afghan invasion & a long fight which galvanized the radical elements of the Muslim world. Even after the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the collapse of the Soviet Union (SU), the legacy of its Afghanistan misadventure continues to hunt the world. This involves the emergence of groups like Al Qaeda, the Taliban and others and now the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
From a geopolitical perspective, post- Soviet Union Russia demonstrated the elements of a stable – status quo- state. This has now been significantly reversed by its adventures in Ukraine. Most likely, this adventurism will continue in respect of the Artic.
While, I would avoid a detailed discussion about the reasons for current Russian revisionist posture, it is important to note that the tenure of this misadventure might not last long. In this background, I assess Russia’s engagement or involvement in Asia.
During the Cold War era, Russia was deeply engaged in Asia especially with the pro-USSR leanings of many Asian countries including India and China. Many countries in the region sought for and equipped their armed forces with Soviet military hardware and even co-produced the same, especially those that the SU developed for its own defense vis-à-vis the US-led block. The SU also intervened in or negotiated with concerned Asian governments in many key conflicts, the most important of which was the 1965 war between India and Pakistan.
As a result, many of the current generation of leaders in some of the key Asian countries are brought up with a rather favorable attitude to Russia. This runs deep among the their respective population as well, thanks to the inability of the Western Bloc to capitalize not only on the collapse of the communist ideology, but also by promoting the narrative about the ascendance of the West – like “End of History and the Last Man;” interventions in many parts of the world that have proven to be counterproductive; and most importantly failing to let multilateral institutions like the United Nations to deal with issues that are essentially collective action problems.
In sum, as Asia ascends – both in terms of economy and geo-political significance, Russia could leverage its past connections to its advantage. The bottom-line is that despite what Putin does elsewhere; Russia would remain a key player in Asia