Read more at: Putin, Asia-Pacific, Pacific Rim
Last November, could be called Asian Month in Russian foreign policy. The first Russian-Japanese negotiations in 2 +2 format were held in November 1-2. On November 12, President Putin visited Vietnam, where several inter-institutional cooperation projects and individual economic agreements were signed, including military and technological cooperation. Vietnam, Russia's president, went to South Korea, where he signed several innovative document: beyond economic cooperation agreements, the parties agreed to visa-free entry in both directions.
These visits were crucial as Putin determined priorities of Russia's foreign policy in the Asia Pacific region. In his interview with South Korean KBS TV, he supported the initiative of Eurasia advanced by South Korean President Park Geun Hye. The initiative concerns a Eurasian economic union, part of which includes connecting the Korean railway system with the Trans-Siberian Railway. According to Putin, the next steps should include standardized between the DPRK and South Korea relations, and the construction of a Trans-Korean gas pipeline. American experts were quick to see an 'Asian offensive by the Kremlin "in the declaration of Putin. Historic with the early 20th century parallel, when the Russian Empire pursued a "great Asian strategy" as he tried to gain a foothold in Korea and ice-free port in the Pacific are becoming increasingly popular.
Three turning points
Indeed, the goals of Russia in the Pacific is not that ambitious. The search for a new Asian strategy is not proactive but rather a reaction to the weakening of its position in the Asia-Pacific region, which occurred around 2011-2012.
Over the past twenty years, the Russian policy in the Asia-Pacific region has experienced decisive moments on three occasions. The first was during the visit of President Boris Yeltsin to Beijing in December 1992, when the leaders of Russia and China announced plans to build a strategic partnership. The next 10 years were an attempt to implement this objective and included the launch of Shanghai, demilitarization of the border process, signing the Joint Declaration on a Multipolar World (1997), and the Russian-Chinese Treaty (2001). The last mutual commitments in a similar matter to forge an alliance and cooperation included consultations on international issues, the development of common foreign policy strategies and mutual diplomatic support.
The second turning point in Russia's Pacific policy came in the fall of 2002. By that time, the Kremlin realized that a strategic partnership with China was not enough. In order to build a more comprehensive policy, the Kremlin initiated dialogues with Vietnam, Japan, South Korea and ASEAN. These hopes were not realized, and Russia failed to sign a single free trade area agreement, much less a consultative pact with any of these countries. Moscow did sign several joint declarations with ASEAN however. But still, Russia was not invited to attend the East Asia Summit (EAS) in the ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur in 2005, which meant that he was not recognized as a full member of the integration processes in the region Asia-Pacific. Efforts for the preferential partnership between Russia and ASEAN fell through.
The third turning point came around in 2009, when the Kremlin introduced the concept of a pivot to Asia. This thesis was made public by President Dmitry Medvedev at the APEC Summit in Singapore in 2009. It has become very popular as various integration projects were becoming available. Moscow not only got accession East Asia Summit (2010), but she was assigned the chairmanship of APEC (2012). The idea of investing in the modernization of the Russian Far East and to promote integration initiatives has been gaining popularity. Was extensively discussed the possibility of Russian participation in integration projects trans-Pacific APEC ranging from a hypothetical northern alternative to ASEAN. Notably, in 2012, the Presidential Council on Defense and Foreign Policy initiated discussions about the potential relocation of the Russian capital for a city in Siberia and the Russian Far East.
The third stage of Russia's Pacific policy was ended in early 2012. The United States lost interest in APEC as a mechanism for building a free trade zone blocking trans-Pacific and China's economic initiatives. Washington has since accelerated the implementation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is based on the integration of the Pacific without China Association. Initially, the TPP was supported by small South Pacific nations. However, in late 2011, the United States began negotiations with Vietnam, Japan and South Korea on the TPP accession to turn it into a viable alternative to the approach China with ASEAN.
However, Russia has little presence in regional integration. Whatever the outcome of discussions on the TPP, Russia is unlikely to become a member of the association for the foreseeable future. A consultation mechanism favored between Russia and ASEAN also failed to materialize. Russia has only been a member of APEC since 1995 and that due to U.S. support. However, the role of APEC is decreasing. The development of Russian-Chinese relations is becoming a real alternative to Moscow, something that is being promoted as part of the treaty of 2001. But the political priority of building relations with someone other than China has so far been unsuccessful.
Taken together, these predetermined circumstances underperformance of Russia in Vladivostok APEC Summit in September 2012. The real agenda was not energy initiatives from Moscow, but the establishment of the TPP. Russia filed its ambitious projects in the Asia-Pacific region immediately after the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin in the spring of 2012. An ambitious advancement in Asia has not been done.
Window for dialogue
Putin visits to Hanoi and Seoul revealed the foundations for a new strategy. Russia wants to maximize the window to a dialogue with other Pacific nations. The major economic projects of the early 2010s were postponed indefinitely. Instead, Moscow is building an economic dialogue with the countries of Asia-Pacific, without having to connect to all rigid mutual commitments. This approach allows four sets to solve the problems. Firstly, dialogue with the Pacific countries must demonstrate that Russia has an alternative to its relations with China in Asia. Of course, Beijing will be the next priority partner for Russia's future. But Moscow is seeking to create economic relationships that can compensate for the excessive dependence on the Russian Far East economic ties with China.
Secondly, the Kremlin is using this dialogue to prove its foreign policy in Asia has been successful over the last 10 years. Moscow has a good chance to return to previously unrealized economic projects in the Pacific region.
Thirdly, the fact that Moscow has more than one potential partner will ask China to pay more attention to the interests of Russia.
Fourth, Russia is expanding its economic relations as a platform to attract investments. China imports raw materials and high-tech Russian (military and aerospace). However, Russia is seeking new partners who will be willing to invest in developing its infrastructure of transport and logistics in the Russian Far East.
However, the polarization of the Asia-Pacific region is on track to a new Asian strategy of Russia. The policy of the Obama administration to contain China will lead to a division in the region. This puts Russia in a difficult situation in which he will have to choose between a strategic partnership with China and advance its relations with the countries of Southeast Asia. Russian diplomacy has a lot of leeway here. The countries of Southeast Asia are beginning to realize Russia as an ally of China, cooperating with Beijing on military-technical programs and energy resources. China sees Russia's contacts with U.S. allies as a violation of the spirit of the treaty of 2001 (we recall that the contacts between the Russian Space Agency and Australia and New Zealand, in December 2010, were deprecated in Beijing).
These variables raise doubts about the ability of the Kremlin to pursue a multi-vector policy in Asia. Sooner or later, Moscow will have to decide if its relations with U.S. allies are harmful to the Russian-Chinese Treaty of 2001.
Alexei Fenenko leader is Research Fellow, Institute of International Security Studies of RAS, Russian Academy of Sciences. The opinions expressed are those of individual members and Contributors, rather than the club, unless otherwise indicated.