By Matthew Ehret
The best partnerships occur when all participants have special talents to bring to the relationship which makes a whole more powerful than the sum of its parts. This is the beauty of the multi-polar alliance formed by Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and a growing array of Asian, African and South American statesmen in recent years.
While certain Asian nations had been positioned to be anti-China, other nations took an anti-Russia policy. With the surprise Russia-China partnership, moves to unwind impossible knots of conflict threatening conflict have begun to come unwound. Xi’s current visit to India is just one of many examples made possible by the flanking maneuvers created by the great alliance.
India Joins the Polar Silk Road
The importance of India and Japan’s participation in the 5th Eastern Economic Forum from September 4-6 in Vladivostok Russia can only be appreciated by recognizing this cooperative strategy between Russia and China. Both nations have recently transformed the ambitious development plans of Russia’s Far East and Arctic region into a Polar Silk Road – bringing the BRI into Russia’s Arctic.
The fact that India was able to integrate its destiny into this emerging Polar Silk Road is vitally important for the future of international affairs, as President Modi was welcomed as Russia’s guest of honor. This visit ended with a historic 81 point joint statement with President Putin, solidifying cooperation in nuclear development, space technology, telecommunications, AI, nanotechnology, as well as Russia’s participation in major Indian infrastructure and India’s investment into Russia’s Far East and Arctic infrastructure. The International North-South Transport Corridor was high on the agenda as was an increased building up of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as “an equal and indivisible security architecture in Asia and the Pacific region”. Putin beautifully stated that both nations have “similar civilizational values” and similar approaches to the “fundamental issues of development and economic progress”.
Echoing Putin’s message of multipolar cooperation, Modi said “by declaring the development of the Russian Far East a ‘national priority for the 21st century’, President Putin has taken a holistic approach towards improving everything ranging from economy, education, health to sports, culture and communication”.
As the Indian president spoke these words, a $1 billion USD line of credit was offered by India for Russia’s Far East development, adding to the $7 billion USD currently invested by Indian firms in Russian oil and gas.
This incredible unification of interests between Russia and India on the Polar Silk Road have flanked many voices in India who are ideologically committed to an enemy relationship with China due to the latter’s partnership with Pakistan on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
While not as dramatic in effect, the Vladivostok meeting was also highlighted by participation by the leaders of Malaysia, Mongolia, and Japan- all of which have increased their commitments in the Polar Silk Road.
Putin’s Far East Vision Diffuses Japan-Chinese Tension
For years, fuel has been poured on the flames of conflict with China over the disputed East China Sea (known in Japan as the Senkakus and Diaoyus). Similarly, a Japan-Russian conflict has been kept hot over decades due to Japan’s claims over ownership of its “Northern Territories” which in Russia are dubbed the “Kuril Islands”. Of course Russia has made clear that it is willing to give those territories to Japan in accord with a 1956 Joint Declaration, but due to Japan’s hosting of a vast array of U.S. military infrastructure, it cannot do so, nor can it accept Japan’s request to formerly end WWII with Russia. These obstacles aside, progress has been made.
While Japan did not make the dramatic commitments into Russia’s Far East as India did, PM Shinzo Abe did make headlines when he stated Russia should be re-introduced in the G8, joining in similar statements recently made by both Emmanuel Macron and President Trump in France. President Putin took the opportunity to advance on the theme by saying that not only would Russia accept being re-introduced into the group, but that China, India and Turkey must also become members!
Just two months earlier, Abe applauded the signing of a deal “that facilitates Russia’s efforts to develop the Arctic and ensures stable energy supply to our country”– referring to the Mitsui and JOGMEC oil giant’s participation in the 2nd LNG project in Novatek. Commenting on the LNG-2 deal, Energy Security expert Professor Francesco Sassi of Pisa University recently said that the project “will see an unprecedented level of cooperation between Japanese and Chinese energy companies in one of the most important Russian energy projects of the next decade”.
Lastly, the 9300 km Trans-Siberian Railroad has increasingly become a part of the BRI carrying goods between the East and West. On July 3rd Russian Railways announced a 100-fold increase in Cargo volume from 3000 twenty ft units to 300 000 by upgrading and doubling the rail, making this the “main artery for Europe-Japan trade”.
Malaysia Solidifies its Relations with Russia and China
While Malaysia has participated in war games with the United States while confronting China over disputed territory in the South China Sea, the current President Mahathir Mohammed has begun calling for increased cooperation on China’s BRI. President Mahathir’s visit to Vladivostok resulted in the creation of a Russian-sponsored Aerospace University in Malaysia and Mahathir happily announced that the Russian Far East will open up new markets for his nation.
On the Aerospace University, Dr. Mahatir stated: “we are very interested in aerospace and engineering. I am confident that the proposal by Russia to set up an aerospace university would not only boost investment but also promote transfer of technology in the sector.”
Mongolia and the New Silk Road
Up until just a few years ago, Mongolia was seriously being courted to join NATO.
Luckily, the nation’s leaders recognized the sea change and made the decision to drop the offer (though still hasn’t managed to join the SCO beyond its current Observer Status). The creation of the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor in 2016 was a watershed moment which expands heavily upon the Trans-Mongolian Railway and AH-3 Highway Route creating vital links between Russia and China. These projects play heavily into China’s BRI.
The days before the Vladivostok summit, Putin visited Mongolia where the two nations signed a “Treaty of Friendly Relations and Comprehensive Partnership” to bring “strategic partnership to a whole new level.” Putin announced a joint investment fund and $1.5 billion USD loan which President Battulga announced would be used to build more rail to the Chinese border for coal and mineral exports and the upgrade of the Ulan Bator Railway which Putin stated “is an important transportation artery for Mongolia”. Since 2017, Russian-Mongolian trade grew by 22%.
The Welfare of Humanity is at the Heart of Everything
Re-stating his concept of the global importance of the new paradigm emerging in Russia’s Far East and its connection with the broader BRI as an international affair for all mankind, President Putin stated “I believe that our brainstorming today at this forum will not only strengthen the efforts of human welfare in the Far East, but also the entire mankind.”
This parting thought represents one of the most powerful concepts and sources of creative energy which both fuels the growth of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Polar Silk Road. It is also the core reason why western game theory logicians cannot understand how to beat it (except using the temper tantrum strategy of a toddler wielding nuclear weapons). It is creative and premised on a care for all mankind, whereas narrowing minds too often at the helm of international policy making can only operate on the principle of selfishness never generating anything truly creative.
Adapted from a report on Strategic Culture