Russia’s Pivot to Asia policy in the wake of western sanctions

Author: YURI M YARMOLINSKY

Yuri M Yarmolinsky is an Analyst with the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Research. He is a former Counsellor of the Embassy of the Republic Belarus to the Republic of India.

In the face of sanctions imposed by the West, Russia and Belarus look towards developing and maintaining economic and geopolitical partnerships with countries in Asia.

Russia’s Pivot to Asia policy in the wake of western sanctions

The West’s collective reflection of the events in Ukraine draws a conditional line under the 30-year era of Russia and Belarus’ search for their place in the western-centric world.

History teaches us that “all things must pass”, therefore, it is only a matter of time before a form of diplomacy and interaction rooted in pragmatism develops. However, this will be a fundamentally different reality, in which the collective West will be at the bottom of the priority list of the Russian Federation and Belarus.

Although, the “die is cast” and the current chapter of cooperation with the West is closed, it won’t lead to self-isolation. However, this aspect of Russia and Belarus’ foreign policy which focuses on ties with the West will be on pause for an indefinite period. Naturally, lifting of sanctions takes many years, even in a favorable scenario, and the re-establishment of former ties is always slow and selective. Therefore, the new “Cold War” and the “Iron Curtain” will reign for a long time.

The western sanctions only accelerate the de-dollarisation, weakening the global hegemony of the US currency. In addition, each new package of sanctions hurt not only Russia and Belarus, but also Europe and the United States (US), further damaging the global economy.

The reconfiguration of external priorities requires the introduction of a qualitatively new scheme of national development. In addition to adjusting to geopolitical settings, the consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war finally consolidate the “Pivot to Asia” strategy in Russia and Belarus’ foreign policy, which, owing to the circumstances, has become the only resource for development and a prudent response to the challenges.

It is obvious that the Russian authorities were well-aware of the possible consequences and carefully calculated them. This being the case, it is logical to assume that the challenges posed by the sanctions will be overcome sooner or later. The measures adopted to support the Russian economy are designed to help solve this problem successfully.

It is impossible to completely exclude the Russian Federation from global trade, economy, and financial systems. The western sanctions only accelerate the de-dollarisation, weakening the global hegemony of the US currency. In addition, each new package of sanctions hurt not only Russia and Belarus, but also Europe and the United States (US), further damaging the global economy.

Due to the sabotage of supplies by foreign logistics companies, farmers in different parts of the world may fail to purchase Russian and Belarusian fertilisers, owing to lack of suppliers. The disruption of the rhythm of supply logistics in the medium term can cause serious consequences such as food shortages and starvation.

Other Asian actors:

The key beneficiary of the ongoing transformations is China. Although, there are a lot of nuances in Beijing’s position on the events in Ukraine, in general, it stands in solidarity with Russia to demonstrate to the West that sanctions cannot guarantee compliance.

The balanced positions of other “Asian Tigers” also show that their national interests differ from the West’s vision of the European security model.

Due to the sabotage of supplies by foreign logistics companies, farmers in different parts of the world may fail to purchase Russian and Belarusian fertilisers, owing to lack of suppliers.

India plays a prominent role in the current dynamics. While maintaining good relations with the West and Russia, India can become a transit hub, contributing to the growth of its economy and help the parties involved in the conflict to revive severed ties. In addition, India will be able to balance China in Russia’s Asian policy. Therefore, it is important for New Delhi to remain neutral, not to succumb to pressures exerted by other players and to prioritise its own strategic considerations.

The “Pivot to Asia” strategy will not be an easy stroll for Russia in the face of unprecedented pressure from the West. The sanctions, though not catastrophic, can still prove to be damaging—this has already been witnessed   more than once.

Response to sanctions:

Clearly, Belarus being a close ally and strategic partner of Russia, suffers the consequences of almost all the sanctions. Therefore, in addition to a meticulous assessment of sanctions-risks in relations with Asian counterparts, Belarus and Russia might need to simultaneously develop joint risk management approaches.

In early February, the Secretary of State of the Union State of Belarus and Russia, Dmitry Mezentsev, proposed a joint response to West’s sanction restrictions. The response included economic integration, reconciliation of the plans of enterprises of a similar profile, avoidance of unreasonable competition, expansion and deepening of regional cooperation, and joint expansion into new markets. On 11 March, Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin confirmed these plans at a meeting in Moscow.

In September 2021, the Heads of Government of Belarus and Russia had already agreed on a joint response to sanctions, which is based on further deepening and harmonisation of the integration processes within the Union State, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), including the formation of large Eurasian Partnership, and a single economic zone from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

Taking into account the close coordination that exists between the two, the progressive synchronisation of key economic parameters of countries’ “Pivots to Asia” policy within the framework of the Union State can become a catalyst for creating a union and a tool against western sanctions.

Russia is not only building up relations with the countries of the region, but is also trying to solve the socio-economic problems of its Far East and Siberia by employing the resources extended by these countries.

It is generally believed that Russia’s “Pivot to Asia” policy took shape structurally and meaningfully in 2013, and was officially justified by the need to take advantage of the advanced development of the economies in the Asia-Pacific region. As part of this, Russia is not only building up relations with the countries of the region, but is also trying to solve the socio-economic problems of its Far East and Siberia by employing the resources extended by these countries.

To launch the joint “Pivot to Asia”, pairing the EAEU with the Chinese initiative “One Belt, One Road” could be a way forward. This idea was first proposed in May 2021, during the meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council by the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, who also urged to intensify work in this direction and implement it.

Returning to the “Mezentsev formula”, it is obvious that in the light of the proposed synergetic approach, the concentration of joint efforts and resources within the Union State, on certain geographical vectors, will certainly open up new horizons for joint development of new market niches, including in the Asia-Pacific region.

With all the nuances and ambiguity of the current situation, the optimal solution to ensure survivability is precisely through the intensification of work with other Asian countries.

It will be essential, however, that the promotion of the Asian vector of Belarus’ foreign policy, including through the Union State, will not be perceived as a final and irrevocable rejection of our traditional national interests in the western vector, which, although radically pragmatised in recent years, have been put on pause.

Thus, the emerging new “Iron Curtain” on the western frontier of the Union State of Belarus and the Russian Federation is a good opportunity for the society, state, and business of our countries to consolidate, create their own authentic vision of the future, articulate a national idea, and start building upon these foundations for a new economy and lifestyle.

With all the nuances and ambiguity of the current situation, the optimal solution to ensure survivability is precisely through the intensification of work with other Asian countries. Although, it is important to avoid sliding into another extreme—literally making up for the broken ties in the West with the same dependence on the East. The strategically optimal model is a balanced, self-reliant development supported by fraternal Russia.

In the meantime, with all the twists and turns of sanctions today, the priority for Belarus is an active assistance to the cessation of hostilities in Ukraine, followed by gradual reconciliation, crisis settlement, and stabilisation of the situation, even though it will be hard to achieve. It will take time and require political will and statesmanship of all stakeholders.

Source:  ORF

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