Pepe Escobar: Russia, North Korea Stage 'Strategic Coup' Against Western Hegemony, 09.19.2023.
It will take ages to unpack the silos of information inbuilt in the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok last week, coupled with the – armored - train-keeps-a-rollin’ conducted by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un straddling every nook and cranny of Primorsky Krai.
The key themes all reflect the four main vectors of the New Great Game as it’s being played across the Global South: energy and energy resources; manufacturing and labor; market and trade rules; and logistics. But they go way beyond – exploring the subtle nuances of the current civilizational war.
So Vladivostok presented…
- A serious debate on the surge of anti-neocolonialism, presented for instance by the Myanmar delegation; geostrategically, Burma/Myanmar, as a privileged gateway to Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, was always an object of Divide and Rule games, with the British Empire only caring about extracting natural resources. This is what “scientific colonialism” is all about.
- A serious debate on the concept of the civilization-state, as already developed by Chinese and Russian scholars, applied to China, Russia, India and Iran.
- The interconnection of transport/connectivity corridors. That includes the upgrading of the Trans-Siberian in the near future; a boost for the Trans-Baikal – the world’s busiest rail line – connecting the Urals to the Far East; a renewed drive for the Northern Sea Route (last month two Russian oil tankers sailed from Murmansk across the Arctic to China for the first time; ten days shorter than the Suez Canal route); and the coming of the Chennai-Vladivostok channel, which will be connected to the International North South Transportation Corridor (INTSC).
- The common Eurasia payment system, discussed in detail in one of the key panels: Greater Eurasia: Drivers for the Formation of an Alternative International and Monetary and Financial System. The immense challenge to set up a new payment settlement currency against “toxic currencies” instrumentalized amid relentless Hybrid War. In another panel, the possibility of a timely BRICS and EAEU joint summit next year has been evoked.
All Aboard The Kim Train
The genesis of Kim Jong Un’s train journey to the Russian Far East - coinciding with the Forum, no less - is a masterful strategic coup that was in the works since 2014, at the time of the Maidan.
Xi Jinping was still in the beginning of his first mandate; he had announced the New Silk Road exactly ten years ago, first in Astana and then in Jakarta. The DPRK was not supposed to be integrated into this vast pan-Eurasian project that would soon become China’s overarching foreign policy concept.
The DPRK then was on a roll against the Hegemon, under Obama, and Beijing was no more than a worried spectator. Moscow, of course, was always focused on peace in the Korean Peninsula, especially because its geopolitical priorities in 2014 were Donbass and Syria/Iran. The last thing Moscow could afford was a war in Asia-Pacific.
Putin’s strategy was to send Defence Minister Shoigu to Beijing and Islamabad to calm it all down. Pakistan at the time was helping Pyongyang to weaponize their nuclear arsenal. Simultaneously, Putin himself approached Kim, offering serious guarantees: we’ve got your back if ever there is an attack by the Hegemon supported by Seoul. Even better: Putin got Xi himself to double down on the guarantees.
The categorical imperative was simple: as long as Pyongyang did not start any trouble, Moscow and Beijing would be by its side.
A sort of calm before any possible storm then set in – even if Pyongyang continued to test their missiles. So over the years, Kim’s mindset changed; he became convinced that Russia and China were his allies.
The DPRK's geoeconomic integration into Eurasia was seriously discussed in previous, pre-Covid editions of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. That included the tantalizing possibility of a Trans-Korean Railway linking both North and South to the Far East, Siberia and the wider Eurasia.
So Kim started to see the Big Eurasia Picture, and how Pyongyang could finally start to benefit geoeconomically from a closer association with the EAEU, SCO and BRI.
This is how strategic diplomacy works: you invest during a decade, and then all the pieces fall into place when an armored train keeps-a-rollin’ across Primorsky Krai.
From the perspective of a Russia-China-DPRK triangle, it’s no wonder the collective West has been reduced to the status of crying toddlers in a sandbox. The Hegemon’s puny US-Japan-South Korea axis to counter, simultaneously, China and the DPRK, is a joke compared to the DPRK’s brand-new role as a sort of Asia-Pacific Military District, adjacent to their immediate neighbor, the Russian Far East.
There will be military integration, of course, in missile defense, radars, ports, airfields. But the key vector, along the way, will be geoeconomic integration. Sanctions from now on are meaningless.
No one in 2014 was seeing this all play out, except for a very sharp analyst who coined the precious Double Helix concept to define the still evolving, at the time, Russia-China comprehensive strategic partnership.
The Double Helix perfectly explains the full-spectrum geostrategic symbiosis between two civilization-states which happen to be former empires but since the middle of the previous decade willfully decided to accelerate their mutual drive to lead the Global Majority in the path towards multipolarity.
The Road to Polycentricity
All of the above finely coalesced in the last panel in Vladivostok - informally known even to the Japanese and Koreans as “the European capital of Asia”, in the heart of Asia-Pacific. The debate was on a “global alternative to Western dominance”. The West, incidentally, was absolutely invisible at the Forum.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova summed it all up: the recent G20 and BRICS summits had set the stage for President Putin’s remarkable address to the plenary session in Vladivostok.
Zakharova alluded to “fantastic strategic patience”. That applies to the whole “pivot to Asia” policy and boosting the development of the Far East, initiated in 2012, and now implying a full turn of the Russian economy towards Asia-Pacific geoeconomics. But at the same time, that also applies to integrating the DPRK into the geoeconomic Eurasian high-speed train.
Zakharova stressed how Russia “never supported isolation”; always “advocated partnership” – which the Forum graphically displayed for dozens of Global South delegations. And now, under the conditions of a “dirty fight, unlawful and with no rules”, a serious stand-off, the Russian position remains easily recognizable for the Global Majority: “Not to accept dictatorship”.
Andrey Denisov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, made a point to mention crack political analyst Sergey Karaganov as one of the key drivers of the concept of Greater Eurasia. More than “multipolarity”, Denisov argued, what is being built is “polycentricity”: a series of concentric circles, involving plenty of dialogue partners.
Former Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl now heads a new think tank in St. Petersburg, G.O.R.K.I. As a European who ended up being ostracized by her own peers under the blatant toxicity of cancel culture, she stressed how freedom and rule of law have disappeared in Europe.
Kneissl referred to the Battle of Actium as the key passage of power from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Western Mediterranean: “That’s when the dominance of the West started”, complete with all the mythology built around the Roman Empire which obsesses the Anglosphere to this day.
With sanctions dementia and irrational Russophobia installed at the head of the EU and the European Commission, Kneissl stressed, the notion that “treaties must be preserved” disappeared while “the rule of law has been destroyed. This is the worst that could have happened to Europe”.
Alexander Dugin, online, called for understanding “the depth of Western domination”, expressed via hyper-liberalism. And he proposed a key breakthrough: the Western modus operandi should become an object of research, in a sort of Gramscian attempt to define what distinguishes Western ideology, and thus act towards “deep decolonization”.
In a sense this is what is being attempted by current actors in West Africa – Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger. That poses the question of who is a real Sovereign in a new world. The West, argues Dugin, is a Total Sovereign; Russia, as a nuclear power and prime military power defined as an existential threat by the Hegemon, is also a Sovereign.
Then there’s China, India, Iran, Turkey. These are key poles in a dialogue of civilizations; actually what was proposed by former Iranian President Khatami way back in the late 1990s, and then dismissed by the Hegemon.
Dugin remarked how China “has moved far away in building a civilizational state”. Russia, Iran, India are not far behind. These will be the essential actors steering the world towards polycentricity.