Russia: Medvedev's Looks East, Not West, On First Foreign Visit

May, 2008

When Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's plane touches down in Kazakhstan on May 22, he will be sending a message to the European Union and the United States that Russia's interests lie East as well as West. Medvedev, who took over as president from mentor Vladimir Putin in early May, appears to want to keep Western governments waiting while he courts major players to the east. "He's going east, not west, thereby sending a signal that the East is more important than the West for Russia," Masha Lipman, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center, says. "I would say we're in no rush to send signals to the West that we are interested. I think, in fact, the current government is quite eager to improve Russia's image [to the east], at least as far as the investment climate is concerned." Traditionally, Russia and Kazakhstan have enjoyed friendly relations. Kazakhstan's well-entrenched president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, has always cultivated good ties with its vast neighbor to the north.

Nazarbaev "made the relationship with Russia, as a state, work, and he did that by engaging with presidents one after another," John MacLeod, a senior editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, tells RFE/RL. "He worked with Yeltsin very successfully and then he smoothly went on to work with Putin, who was quite a different character; but he made that relationship work." MacLeod says that "there's no doubt really" that Nazarbaev will work effectively "with President Medvedev and any future Russian leader." But Kazakhstan's abundant energy reserves have turned the Central Asian republic into a battleground between East and West, says Lipman, and Russia is keen to maintain its influence in the region. "I think Kazakhstan's leadership feels very confident in its position where both Russia and the West are interested in good relations," Lipman says. "The West has demonstrated that it's ready to look the other way at human rights issues and the decline of democracy." Lipman draws a contrast between Nazarbaev's approach to Moscow and the policies of his CIS colleagues.

"I think that unlike many other ex-republics of the USSR, with Kazakhstan, the relations are not bad at all," he says, "it's just that there is a competition, and a serious competition, with the West in the energy sphere." A member of the Kazakh parliament, Kamal Burkhanov, insists that Medvedev's decision to travel to Kazakhstan for his first foreign visit sends a powerful message. With this trip, "he is demonstrating the Russian Federation's geopolitical priorities," says Burkhanov. "Particularly that his first official visit will be to Kazakhstan, with which Russia has always had friendly relations, in Medvedev's words -- it's a very symbolic event." Similarly, in China Medvedev will want to cultivate relations in order to secure potential deals for the energy-hungry Chinese market. In the past, the two governments have discussed possible oil pipelines between China and Russia, but they have yet to agree on any specific route. Next week, Medvedev will continue his foreign tour with a visit to Germany, where he is due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But the significance of traveling to Kazakhstan and China first is unlikely to have been lost on Merkel and other EU leaders. "I think, talking symbolically, it is Kazakhstan and China where Russian interests are," Lipman says, "and we're not in a rush to go West to begin Medvedev's presidency as a foreign-policy maker."


In first foreign visit, Medvedev spotlights China

Russia's new President Dmitry Medvedev travels to powerful neighbour China this week in the centrepiece of his first trip abroad since taking office. The 42-year-old president, who took office in place of Vladimir Putin on May 7, will visit energy-rich ex-Soviet Kazakhstan on Thursday before travelling to Beijing on Friday, the Kremlin said. Analysts doubt China and Russia will hammer out specific deals during Medvedev's symbolic maiden voyage as president -- China has for example long wanted a Russian commitment to extend a far eastern oil pipeline to its territory. But the visit underscores that today Russia takes account of its populous and resource-hungry neighbour in numerous spheres -- a major change for a country used to measuring itself against the West. "This is a signal that Russia has other friends, not only the West," said analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs. Another analyst, Yevgeny Volk, of the US Heritage Foundation's Moscow office, said that "these destinations reflect the new priorities of Russia's foreign policy, while relations with the United States and the European Union are cooling." With its huge population and appetite for natural resources, China looms large for Russia, both as a friend and -- though they tend not to admit it -- as a rival.

China is a welcome consumer of Russian resources such as metals and oil, but is also vying for influence in energy-rich Central Asian states such as Kazakhstan, which were Moscow's exclusive preserve in Soviet times. While most Russian energy exports still go to Europe, China has been pursuing its own pipeline projects in Central Asia and an oil pipeline already runs from Kazakhstan, symbolising a loss of control for Moscow. Nonetheless as it battles what it views as Western expansionism on its western borders, Russia has sought to make friends with China. At the United Nations, Russia and China have been coordinating their positions on controversial issues such as Iran's nuclear programme and Kosovan independence. Russia has also refused to join international criticism of China's human rights record in the run-up to this summer's Beijing Olympics. It was one of the first countries permitted by Beijing to send rescue workers to help the ongoing earthquake relief effort in China. And in the security sphere the two countries are increasingly cooperating through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Comprised of China, Russia and four Central Asian states, this organisation focuses on defence and counter-terrorism but is expanding into economic cooperation. Some analysts detect an anti-Western agenda in its activities, particularly as it has given Iran observer status at its meetings. Since taking office, Medvedev has refrained from openly assailing US global dominance in the style of his mentor and predecessor Putin, who remains highly influential in the prime minister's post. But this week's visit subtly underscores Russia's readiness to shrug off Western criticism by giving pride of place to a country that is also criticised on issues such as democracy, human rights and media freedom. "Russia is turning more and more to the countries of the East, which unlike Western countries don't criticise Moscow for a lack of democracy and support the idea of a multi-polar world," said Volk.


In related news:

A Challenge for the U.S.: Sun Rising on the East

What a difference five years — and one war — make!

In a 2003 article in Newsweek, written on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Fareed Zakaria — a columnist for the magazine and the editor of its international edition — wrote: “It is now clear that the current era can really have only one name, the unipolar world — an age with only one global power. America’s position today is unprecedented.” He went on to declare that “American dominance is not simply military. The U.S. economy is as large as the next three — Japan, Germany and Britain — put together,” adding that “it is more dynamic economically, more youthful demographically and more flexible culturally than any other part of the world.” What worries people around the world above all else, he wrote, “is living in a world shaped and dominated by one country — the United States.” In his new book, “The Post-American World,” Mr. Zakaria writes that America remains a politico-military superpower, but “in every other dimension — industrial, financial, educational, social, cultural — the distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance.” With the rise of China, India and other emerging markets, with economic growth sweeping much of the planet, and the world becoming increasingly decentralized and interconnected, he contends, “we are moving into a post-American world, one defined and directed from many places and by many people.”

For that matter, Mr. Zakaria argues that we are now in the midst of the third great tectonic power shift to occur over the last 500 years: the first was the rise of the West, which produced “modernity as we know it: science and technology, commerce and capitalism, the agricultural and industrial revolutions”; the second was the rise of the United States in the 20th century; and the third is what he calls “the rise of the rest,” with China and India “becoming bigger players in their neighborhoods and beyond,” Russia becoming more aggressive, and Europe acting with “immense strength and purpose” on matters of trade and economics. Many of this volume’s more acute arguments echo those that have been made by other analysts and writers, most notably, the New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman on globalization, and Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, on America’s growing isolation in an increasingly adversarial world. But Mr. Zakaria uses his wide-ranging fluency in economics, foreign policy and cultural politics to give the lay reader a lucid picture of a globalized world (and America’s role in it) that is changing at light speed, even as he provides a host of historical analogies to examine the possible fallout of these changes.

The irony of the “rise of the rest,” Mr. Zakaria notes, is that it is largely a result of American ideas and actions: “For 60 years, American politicians and diplomats have traveled around the world pushing countries to open their markets, free up their politics, and embrace trade and technology. We have urged peoples in distant lands to take up the challenge of competing in the global economy, freeing up their currencies, and developing new industries. We counseled them to be unafraid of change and learn the secrets of our success. And it worked: the natives have gotten good at capitalism.” But at the same time, he goes on, America is “becoming suspicious of the very things we have long celebrated — free markets, trade, immigration and technological change”: witness Democratic candidates’ dissing of Nafta, Republican calls for tighter immigration control, and studies showing that American students are falling behind students from other developed countries in science and math.

While readers might take recent signs like recession at home, a falling dollar abroad and a huge trade deficit as suggesting that the American economy is in trouble, Mr. Zakaria asserts that the United States (unlike Britain, which was undone as a world power because of “irreversible economic deterioration”) can maintain “a vital, vibrant economy, at the forefront of the next revolutions in science, technology, and industry — as long as it can embrace and adjust to the challenges confronting it.” As Mr. Zakaria sees it, the “economic dysfunctions in America today” are the product not of “deep inefficiencies within the American economy,” but of specific government policies — which could be reformed “quickly and relatively easily” to put the country on a more stable footing. “A set of sensible reforms could be enacted tomorrow,” he says, “to trim wasteful spending and subsidies, increase savings, expand training in science and technology, secure pensions, create a workable immigration process and achieve significant efficiencies in the use of energy” — if only the current political process weren’t crippled by partisanship, special-interest agendas, a sensation-driven media, ideological attack groups and legislative gridlock.

As for the United States’ role in a world that is rapidly shifting from unipolarity into a far messier and more dynamic system, Mr. Zakaria suggests that it should become a kind of “global broker,” forging close relationships with other major countries, while exchanging the peremptory, directive-issuing role of a superpower for “consultation, cooperation, and even compromise” — in short, repudiating the sort of cowboy unilateralism favored by the current Bush administration and embracing a behind-the-scenes power derived from “setting the agenda, defining the issues and mobilizing coalitions.” The central strategic challenge for American diplomacy in the years to come, Mr. Zakaria says, concerns China: how to deter its aggression and expansionism, while at the same time accommodating its legitimate growth. He suggests that in a world in which “the United States is seen as an overbearing hegemon,” China might well seek to position itself as “the alternative to a hectoring and arrogant America,” gradually expanding its economic ties and enlarging its sphere of influence.

“How will America,” he asks, “cope with such a scenario — a kind of cold war but this time with a vibrant market society, with the world’s largest population, a nation that is not showcasing a hopeless model of state socialism or squandering its power in pointless military interventions? This is a new challenge for the United States, one it has not tackled before, and for which it is largely unprepared.” There are some curious gaps and questionable assertions in this book. While President Bush’s controversial No Child Left Behind program has put increased emphasis on test-taking, and college applicants worry about their SAT scores in what Forbes magazine calls “a test-crazed era,” Mr. Zakaria writes: “Other educational systems teach you to take tests; the American system teaches you to think,” adding that “American culture celebrates and reinforces problem solving, questioning authority, and thinking heretically.”

He skims lightly over the critical role that the Iraq war played in shaping America’s current problems on the world stage (he himself supported the effort to oust Saddam Hussein and wrote in March of 2003 that the war “will look better when it is over” and weapons of mass destruction are found). And in sharp contrast to Qaeda experts like the former C.I.A. officer Michael Scheuer (who argue that the Iraq war has served as a recruitment tool for Osama bin Laden) and a new State Department report (which notes the growth of Qaeda affiliates in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, and the growing ability of al Qaeda itself to plot attacks from Pakistan), Mr. Zakaria contends that “over the last six years, support for bin Laden and his goals has fallen steadily throughout the Muslim world.” Such dubious assertions distract attention from the many more convincing arguments in this book and the volume’s overall take on the United States’ place in a rapidly changing global landscape — a provocative and often shrewd take that opens a big picture window on the closing of the first American century and the advent of a new world in which “the rest rise, and the West wanes.”


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Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relaxation, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that Armenians are collectively recognizing the strategic importance of Armenia's ties with Russia. Moreover, I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal. Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say something if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important. I will however continue moderating the blog's comments section on a regular basis; ultimately because I'm interested in what my readers have to say and also because it's through readers here that I am at times made aware of interesting developments.

To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several anonymous visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention extremely annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what.Therefore, if you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or simply attack me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself. Moreover, please appreciate the fact that I have put an enormous amount of information into this blog. In my opinion, most of my blog commentaries and articles, some going back ten-plus years, are in varying degrees relevant to this day and will remain so for a long time to come. Articles in this blog can therefore be revisited by longtime readers and new comers alike. I therefore ask the reader to treat this blog as a depository of important information relating to Eurasian geopolitics, Russian-Armenian relations and humanity's historic fight against the evils of Globalism and Westernization.

Thank you as always for reading.