Russia: A European or Eurasian Power?

10.07.2017

The former Soviet Union was a country encompassing a vast territory covering the land surface of two of the earth’s continents (Europe and Asia). During the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was divided into 15 emerging countries, including: Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Tajikistan and Moldova. Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, and the Baltic states, i.e., Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia. After this collapse and fragmentation, there were deeply unpopular politics up for debate in academia, media, and the general public, especially in the Russian Federation. One of the main questions was: is Russia a European power or a Euro-Asian, i.e., Eurasian power? 

In terms of lifestyle, the population is simultaneously oriented heavily towards Western European culture and faith to Orthodox Christianity. They refused open contact with the West in numerous battles, including battles of influence. Their targets have often focused on the Western side of the continent up to the Atlantic Ocean, while the post-Soviet space’s territory is mainly Asian land stretching to the Pacific Ocean. 

Since the first stage in the rebirth of Russia under Yeltsin, the first president of the new Russia, and then under Putin, the current president for almost 20 years, Russia has thought and behaved as a European power and expected to be recognized as an equal of the West and Europe (including the United States and Canada). But this behavior has been met with success on only one level. For example, Russia was invited to attend the G8 and meet the leaders of Western countries, but then, because of the political crisis in Ukraine and Crimea, Russia was expelled. The G8 focuses on such issues as European Union management and joining dialogue on issues of importance such as the crisis in the Middle East, the spread of nuclear weapons, and transnational crimes, especially international terrorism. 

But, at the same time, Russia is faced with the expansion of NATO’s member countries (secretly supported by the United States and Israel). NATO was founded as a military organization that opposed communism and confronted the Warsaw Pact Organization, the military organization led by the communist Soviet Union. Despite the end of the ideological and political struggle between the free world and the communist world, the end of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO still remains without a clear rival. As an organization, its existence is wrong and an anachronism. It is thus no surprise that Russia interprets this organization as a a force for containing Russia, reducing Russia’s power in Eastern and Southern Europe, and threatening Russia’s security strategy by undermining the brotherly ties of the Slavs, such as Ukraine and Belarus, and striking deep into Georgia and Armenia. 

The West (led by the US) tried to intervene in Ukrainian politics by overthrowing the elected (pro-Russian) Ukrainian government and its democracy. In addition, the West tried to shore up and support the opening of the country up to NATO and the EU for the new “pro-European” Ukrainian government. All of this constitutes a direct challenge and threat to Russia’s interests and security strategy.

With the expansion of NATO’s operations, coupled with the expansion of the European Union, the West has relentlessly and continuously penetrated and besieged Russia’s zone of influence, security, and forces. Previously, Russia expressed that it would not surrender, whether this be in Muslim Chechnya on Russian territory or in the case of Georgia, when Russia used military force and took decisive measure to prevent a Georgian catastrophe, all the while asking the West not to intervene in these events. 

The latest case was the intervention of the West in Ukraine. Russia decided to protect Crimea, which never belonged to Ukraine, and on whose territory Russia had a naval base and uniformed forces for the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and Southern Europe. Crimea, along with Eastern Ukraine, has a population of Russian descent and is Orthodox in its majority, while Western Ukraine is home to Catholics. 

After that, economic sanctions were imposed on Russia and it was branded as a villain by the Western media and “international community.” When hopes and dreams to be part of Europe and the West with honor, dignity and equality were met with disappointment and aggression, Russia was forced to turn and reconsider who it is and ask: what should we do? Meanwhile, Europe and the West threaten Russia and unceasingly distrust Russia. 

Russia's self-review has resulted in a sparking of the idea of a powerful state and power that is Euro-Asian. This is a return to the Russian idea. 

As a result, Putin and his government decided that Russia must strive to be a powerful Euro-Asian country (Eurasian Power), and that from now Russia would not give all the attention and interests to one side as previously, but will focus on its power in both Europe and Asia. After having neglected Asia for more than 20 years, this means that Russia would immediately pay more attention and interest in Asia. 

Russia established specialized agencies to develop vast areas in Siberia and the Far East (Far East) up to the North Pacific Ocean and set up budgets for this purpose and expects to improve infrastructure. Building new transport routes by land, sea (the North Pole) and natural gas pipelines, along with the establishment of economic zones encouraging foreign investment in the development of resources, are all part of trying to create a new ideology and joining the New Silk Road. In addition, Russia will also rebuild relations and ties with such Asian countries as India, Pakistan, and the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia and New Zealand. 

Attention should be paid to the fact that Russia is a member of the UN Asia-Pacific Commission (UNESCAP) whose members have discussed political stability (ASEAN Regional Forum- ARF) and hold dialogue with partners such as ASEAN and APEC members as well. In the past, Russia never took effective advantage of this membership and rarely played a prominent role. It showed no initiative and offered no contributions or content in this sphere. 

One of Russia’s problems in the Soviet period was its strict focus on selling weapon and energy products to Asia despite the fact that Russia has other major industries and technology, scientists, and research organizations to offer. The lack of promotion of these spheres left an emphasis only on aerospace and military affairs. 

Russia does not distribute and develop its potential and certain capabilities as it should. Hence why Russia’s weight and character in Asia is still so minor and very limited. Therefore, Russia must develop science and technology to create excellence in Asia. In particular, the high-tech industry should be expanded and diversified for trade.

For Thailand, I recommend that Russia focus on cooperation in science and technology, especially focusing on research and discoveries in, for example, the medical world. Russia could become a commercial center of the medical world, a “medical hub.” Thailand still imports medical products from the US, China, and Europe, but if Russia were to try to cooperate with Thailand and develop medical industries and build its integrity as a medical hub, then this would be a beneficial challenge for Russia. 

Russia can also expands its navy base in Thailand (Sattahip Port) by working on military cooperation with Thailand. This means exchanging technological, military, and intelligence support. This would help Russia be a player in the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, and Pacific Ocean, thereby enabling Russia to have more importance and weight in the eyes of the Asia-Pacific region. 

But Russia should not only focus on military cooperation. Instead, it should keep its focus on the distribution and development of its potential in both the commercial and military spheres at the same time. This would be a real “Pivot to Asia.”