Russia‘s pivot to Asia
Panel organised by: Ankur Yadav (JNU New Delhi)
Russia’s relations with the West have heavily impinged upon its relations with the countries of the East. Looking back at history, it has been seen time and again how Russia’s closeness to Asia has been motivated within a particular geopolitical framework. Tracing Russia’s relations with Asia from the Tsarist period to the Post-Soviet period, one can see how Russia has turned towards Asia only when its relations with the West reached a low. As the West has emerged as the significant ‘other’ for Russia, especially in the wake of the crises in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, Russian policy makers have come to reaffirm a specificity of their country before the West by turning towards the East.
Russia’s turn towards the East in the face of its increasing resentment with the West has its roots in the scholarly works of Yuzhakov, Fyodorov, Prince Esper Ukhtomsky and others of the 19th and 20th century that differentiated between Europe and Russia, urging the latter to side with Asia. Similarities between Russia and Asia were emphasized and Russia was presented as an Eastern power through which it was said that the Orient would gradually arrive at a superior life. The Bolshevik Revolution further developed this idea of solidarity between Russia and Asia but unlike the 19th century emphasis on ‘common identity’, stress was laid on ‘ideological similarity’.
With the disintegration of the USSR, identity debate once again featured in New Russia in the form of ‘Neo Eurasianism,’ and since then it has been intimately linked with the wider debate about Russia’s foreign policy orientation. As USA reneged on its promises to bail out Russia from her economic woes, the Statist discourse within Russia once again gained momentum urging policy makers to reorient Russia’s foreign policy away from the West. This has gained further impetus in the face of Russia’s increasing estrangement with the West following the West sponsored colour revolutions in areas Russia considers to be of its ‘privileged interests,’ the economic sanctions on Russia post Crimean crisis and the recent accusations on Russia of meddling in US elections. It is within this broader context that Russia’s growing engagement with Syria, Iran, China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Asian countries, evident from the numerous multilateral conferences, economic and defence deals as well as other diplomatic exchanges, can be explained. Although the underlying factor characterizing New Russia’s attempt to reclaim a prominent position in Asia is Russia’s growing estrangement from the West, yet, at the same time, the rise of Asia as an economic powerhouse accompanied by its role in mitigating security threats emanating from Afghanistan and its neighbourhood are compelling determinants drawing Russia closer to the countries of Asia.