Russia: Greater Eurasia Scenarios


Immigrant Crisis 2.0: Target Russia

The Russian Federation is extremely vulnerable to falling victim to a large-scale influx of what Harvard researcher Kelly M. Greenhill has termed “Weapons of Mass Migration”, though not from the direction that one might commonly expect. Where Russia is most susceptible to this happening is along its Ural/Siberian borderland with Kazakhstan, which connects to the Fergana Valley and the scene of the most likely Immigrant Crisis-sparking events in the future. If the heavily populated tristate are between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan were to fall into chaos due to one or several of the scenarios that were earlier described in the forecasting listing, then one of the most immediate aftereffects would be for refugees/immigrants to flee northwards to Russia, where many of them have either previously worked or currently have family members living. 

Russia must therefore work very closely with Kazakhstan in preventing this scenario from happening, and the most practical steps that it can take is to devise ‘in-depth’ active defenses within Kazakhstan near its southern borderland regions with the other ‘-stans’. This would make a lot more sense than having to defensively protect the broad and loosely secured Russian-Kazakh frontier. Therefore, Russia’s next military intervention might not be of its own choosing, nor even to engage in direct combat or bombings, but a legitimately humanitarian one to stem the uncontrollable flow of refugees (and masquerading insurgents) across the Kazakh border from where they could then infiltrate into Russia and destabilize it (whether demographically, socially, or in terms of traditional security). Looking at the lay of the land, the most foreseeable area where this intervention could occur is in the South Kazakhstan Region right next to Uzbekistan and within close proximity to Fergana. 

The Reverse Brzezinski

The author wrote extensively about this revived vintage stratagem, but the main idea is that Ukraine, the Southern Caucasus, and the Fergana Valley are conflict-prone zones with plenty of potential to suck Russia into a quagmire, similar in essence to what happened to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Each theater of potential conflict tis replete with its own separate scenarios for how this could happen, but what’s most important at this point is for the state to be cognizant of these risks and aware of the trick being played against it. The US would like to provoke conflicts in Donbass, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Fergana Valley in order to prompt a Russian military intervention in support of its ethnic compatriots or CSTO allies, though one in which it’s in a very poor position to control the battlefield dynamics. 

This would in effect place Russia at the US and its proxies’ strategic mercy, and if a coordinated preplanned ‘Russian Rimland’ campaign were put into action where crises simultaneously erupted in each of these areas at once, then Moscow would be hard-pressed to properly respond to this and might end up making a series of fateful mistakes at the opening stages of each of these conflicts, whether intervening in an irresponsible and short-sighted manner or totally refusing to get involved and letting the situation deteriorate beyond repair. If Washington can consistently throw these sorts of dilemmas as Moscow and get its Russian target to regularly make missteps and strategic errors, then it can work on defeating its rival through this indirect method of Hybrid War as opposed to resorting to more apocalyptic measures such as nuclear brinksmanship or the specter of a Russian-NATO War in the fields of Eastern Europe. 

Iran Goes Rogue Against Russia

The greatest conventional threat to Russia’s southern periphery might one day turn out to be Iran, not necessarily the Islamic Republic as it exists in its current form, but one which is more closely aligned with the West and run by sympathetic “moderates”. The US and its allies would ideally like to transform the vector of Iran’s strategic calculus from its southern focus on the Persian Gulf to a northern one based on the post-Soviet republics. This would relieve pressure on the unipolar GCC and turn Iran’s Great Power civilizational strength against the US’ Russian rival. No matter how this might eventually come to be, it’s necessary to forecast the threats which it could create for Russia in order for decision makers to be in the best informed position to most accurately brainstorm proactive solutions. 

A hostile Iran would compete with Russia in the European energy trade, pumping oil and LNG to the continent in a bid to offset Russia’s existing market dominance. Iranian gas exports could prove to be especially troublesome, like the author analyzed for the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, with Ukraine, Greece, Croatia, and Poland service as terminal points for these imports and disrupting Russia’s energy presence in each of these countries. Moving along, the Caucasus would naturally become the focal point of intense rivalry, with both sides trying to outmaneuver the other in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Yerevan and Baku could skillfully play both Great Powers off against one another for maximum effect if they have the diplomatic mastery to do so, since Russia and Iran have certain strategic characteristics that both attract and repel each of these countries. Ultimately, though, the determining factor in this theater might be which of the two Great Powers is able to establish a more pragmatic working relationship with Turkey, since Ankara’s moves could prove to be the most decisive in settling any strategic stalemate between the two. 

The other area of competition that could explode between Russia and Iran is Central Asia, with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan figuring most prominently into play. The first one neighbors Iran and could be courted by it to construct a trans-Persian pipeline to the Persian Gulf or across the border to Turkey and the EU’s TANAP/TAP projects, while the second one is tied to Iran via the Ashgabat Agreement that was spoken about earlier. Tajikistan, for its part, shares very close cultural and historical ties with Iran, and these could predictably be leveraged to increase Tehran’s appeal to Dushanbe in comparison to Moscow. Moreover, Iran is cooperating with India on the North-South Corridor, which has on track aiming directly for Central Asia with the goal of expanding New Delhi’s multidimensional (commercial, political, military, strategic, etc.) influence in the region, which could pose a long-term threat for Russia and China by displacing these existing leaders from the shared borderland between them and aiding Iran in replacing their presence in joint coordination with India. Just like Turkey’s role might prove to be the most decisive in the Southern Caucasus, so too might China’s be in Central Asia, with all bets being that Beijing will side with Moscow much more than the New Delhi-abetting Tehran  if push came to shove. 

Comparatively, the conclusion can be reached that Russia and Iran would be heated energy rivals in Europe (with the consequence being that price are floored and likely never fully recover), while Turkey and China end up being the game-changing third-party partners in the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia respectively. Since China will assuredly side with Russia in any potential competition with Iran in Central Asia, this means that it’s imperative for Russia to maintain solid and progressively improving strategic relations with Turkey in order to preempt any tempting pro-Tehran pivots that Iran might pitch to Ankara in the event that the Islamic Republic ‘goes rogue’ and starts disrupting the situation all across Russia’s southern strategic periphery. 

The Russian-Iranian Strategic Partnership Manages Western And Eastern Eurasia

From the totally opposite perspective to the one outlined above, it would be ideal for Moscow and Tehran to strengthen their ties to the level of a strategic partnership on par with the unprecedented one that Russia presently enjoys with China. There is still a far ways to go in achieving this, but if it can actualized, then both countries would be all the better for it and the emerging Multipolar World Order would be even more confidently assured. Both Great Powers and civilizational anchors need to recognize that there are unpatriotic elements within both of their camps (“sixth columnists”) that are trying to divide the two from cooperating with one another, and that the outcome of mutual distrust and suspicion is exactly what the US wants to produce. 

Instead, Russia and Iran need to recognize that they both lay at the intersection of China and India’s transnational connective infrastructure projects of the New Silk Road (the Eurasian Land Bridge with Eurasia and unnamed high-speed rail project from Xinjiang to Iran) and North-South Corridor respectively, and that they can handsomely profit from this envied geostrategic position if they cooperate even closer together. This is because no two other countries can lay claim to being the crucial transit states for both of these initiatives, meaning that if Russia and Iran reached a strategic partnership with one another, then they could coordinate their moves in order to reaffirm the strength of these two corridors and not destabilize them through their artificial US-provoked competition like Washington wants. 

The implicit idea being suggested here is that Russia and Iran, being situated as crucial and irreplaceable mainland transit states between Western Europe and South/East Asia, are in a unique position to pool their collective strategic resources and balance the two corners of Eurasia through their middleman statuses. Even though the prevailing trend is for commentators to speak about how the globe’s center of gravity is shifting eastward, it might actually remain in the central latitudinal reaches of Eurasia (Russia-Iran) if Moscow and Tehran work hard enough to make it happen by becoming a powerful East-West balancing force in Central Eurasia.  

The Northern Islands Socio-Economic Condominium 

The author extensively described how this creative suggestion would function in an article about Russia’s balancing policy in Asia, so it’s recommended that the reader check it out for more details and a visual cartographic representation of this proposal, but the basic idea is that Russia and Japan should reach an agreement with one another to allow both sides extensive socio-economic privileges in the Kuril Islands, Sakhalin, and Hokkaido in exchange for putting their territorial dispute behind themselves and instead focusing on their mutual non-military interests in the Sea of Okhotsk. This could be the type of breakthrough for bilateral relations that both sides need, since Russia could benefit from Japanese investment in the region and the Far East in general while Japan desperately needs reliable energy supplies unaffected by the geostrategic uncertainties in the South China Sea, Strait of Malacca, and the Indian Ocean. 

Buddha: God Of Peace Or God Of War?

Buddhism is almost universally acclaimed as being the ‘most peaceful’ religion, but the vast majority of people aren’t aware of violent inclinations prevalent in some of its Vajrayana practices, the religious school that’s popular among Buddhists in Siberia, Mongolia, and Tibet. Buddhism has already been experimented with as a weapon of asymmetrical Hybrid War in organizing aggressive (and even suicidal self-inflammatory) monks in Tibet and Myanmar (with the Southeast Asian Theravada-practicing state producing the so-called ‘Buddhist Bin Laden’ monk-politician), and while the author isn’t by any means an expert on this religion-ideology, it seems patently obvious that attempts are being made to craft a ‘Wahhabi-like’ form of Buddhism as the next viral strain of militant destruction. This will probably be directed mostly against China (with a central focus on Tibet) and the nations of mainland ASEAN that practice this religion, but if ‘successful’ in demonstrating its ‘proof of concept’ (which the author believes it already has), then extreme Buddhism could also be used to destabilize the situation in Russia’s Buddhist regions of the Far East, particularly Tuva and Buryatia. 

In connection with this, Mongolia could also fall victim to the militant ideology of aggressive Buddhism, whether parts of its sparsely populated territory become controlled by a religious group inspired by the historical figure whom The Atlantic has called the’ Buddhist ISIS’ or the government suddenly shifts towards the China Containment Coalition countries of the US, Japan, and India in basing these sorts of militants in its territory for use against its two multipolar neighbors. One should remember that Mongolia is only an observer member of the SCO and has no intention in joining the organization, and moreover, it regularly engages with these three aforementioned countries plus NATO as part of its ‘third neighbor policy’ aimed at lessening the strategic overdependence that it has on Russia and China. Under these external conditions – whether it’s coopted by the unipolar world or taken advantage of by it – Mongolia might end up becoming the scene of the US’ experiments in the geopolitical manifestation of radical Buddhism (“Buddhism meets Daesh”) in seeking to conquer and administer peripheral territory in a strategic borderland region. 

All Roads Lead Through Russia

The global trend of Eurasian connectivity is highly advantageous for Russia since the country’s political geography endows it with the potential to take maximum advantage of the future trade routes being planned. There are multiple projects being discussed or actively worked towards completing, and the author also suggests several of his own in order to demonstrate that Russia is the irreplaceable conduit to supercontinental trade. The below map roughly outlines each of the transnational connective infrastructure projects that Russia already is or could be a part of and then briefly describes them afterwards:

 Eurasia infrastructure projects

Grey: Piraeus To Petersburg

The Chinese-planned Balkan Silk Road is a high-speed railroad that only thus far plans to connect Budapest with the Greek port of Piraeus, but it could realistically be expanded northwards to Warsaw, Riga, and Saint Petersburg with time by using Beijing’s China-CEE format to generate enough goodwill to see the project through to its ultimate completion. 

Lavender: Levantine Line

Russia is has established three very strategic Sea Lines Of Communication (SLOC) in Crimea, Tartus, and Sinai (the Russian industrial zone at Port Said), with the potential to bridge them all together and even expand the Levantine Line all the way to Djibouti, from where Russian entrepreneurs could utilize China’s recently constructed Djibouti-Addis Ababa railroad to penetrate the nearby marketplace of 100 million people. 

Brown: North-South Corridor

This intermodal corridor will see Mumbai-originating cargo heading to Moscow by means of the southeast Iranian port of Chabahar and Azerbaijan, after which they will then advance further westward into the EU, and vice-versa. 

Pink: Eurasian Land Bridge

China’s high-speed rail project to connect itself the port of Lianyungang with Saint Petersburg and Western Europe by means of Xinjiang and Kazakhstan is what most people think of when they hear the word “New Silk Road”, and this archetypical project is the cornerstone of Russia’s geo-economic future. 

Orange: Central Asian Corridor

Russia already has existing rail and trade corridors linking Kazan and Novosibirsk with Tashkent, the economic capital of Central Asia, but these need to be modernized and reinvigorated in order to fully take advantage of the region’s promising potential in the future. 

Black: Trans-Siberian Railroad

The over 100-year-old route connecting Europe with Asia was pioneered by the Russian Empire and stood out as the first-ever reliable overland trade route between West and East since the days of the Old Silk Road, with contemporary geopolitics once more making it a vital link between both reaches of Eurasia. 

Green: Altai Energy/Hydro Corridor (Altai Alley)

There’s substantiated talk about creating both energy and water pipelines from Altai to Xinjiang, and these could form the basis of future corridor that would thenceforth connect Siberia to CPEC and the Arabian Sea via the regional hub of Urumqi. 

Purple: Baikal To Bohai

The planned corridor connecting the Siberian city of Ulan Ude (the capital of the traditionally Buddhist and Mongol Republic of Buryatia) to the Chinese port of Tianjin near Beijing essentially links Lake Baikal to the Bohai Sea by means of Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaatar.  

Blue: Asian Sea Arc

Just as Russia is creating SLOC in Western Eurasia, it can also do the same in its Eastern half as well, using newly enhanced maritime connections between Vladivostok and Vietnam to initialize a wider trading network between the Far East and the rest of ASEAN. 

Red: Korean Corridor

It might not seem likely in the near term, but in the event that the two Koreas are reunited or Russia can reach a breakthrough infrastructure deal with both of them, then it would be to all parties’ benefits if a railroad were constructed between them in assisting with the cheap unimodal overland transport of South Korean goods to the European marketplace (as well as facilitate Russian coal exports to the Asian Tiger). 

Yellow: Northern Sea Route

The melting of Arctic ice will open up a vital maritime trade route between East Asia and Western Europe, with Vladivostok and the earlier proposed Northern Islands Socio-Economic Condominium with Japan figuring prominently in this new global passageway as important transshipment points and geostrategic nodes of control. 

Lime Green: Tikhi To Tiksi

The Northern Sea Route will recreate a Strait of Malacca-like chokepoint through the Bering Straits and thus be interminably vulnerable to geopolitical manipulations and asymmetrical threats, but if Russia can convince the Northeast Asian powers of China, South Korea, and Japan to help it build a railroad from the Pacific (“Tikhiy” in Russian) Ocean to the Arctic Sakha port of Tiksi, then all three leading economies could circumnavigate this danger and the Russian Far East would profit as a result. 

Critical Crossroads

The map contains three red circles to denote the most critical infrastructure junctures for Russia’s economic future. Unsurprisingly, the Moscow-Saint Petersburg core of the country is listed because of its key role in connecting the Piraeus To Petersburg, North-South Corridor, Eurasian Land Bridge, Central Asian Corridor, and Trans-Siberian projects. Vladivostok is also a major infrastructure node because of the central role that it plays for the Trans-Siberian, Korean Corridor, Asian Sea Arc, Northern Sea Route, and Tikhi To Tiksi initiatives. While these two areas could naturally be expected to be areas of focus for Russia, it might catch many off guard to see that the subregion of “Balochistan” between southern Iran and Pakistan is also included, but this is because Chabahar in the first is the terminal point for the North-South Corridor while Gwadar in the second is its equivalent for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which might one day link with Altai Alley in order to give Siberia a trade route to the southern seas.