While Obama’s “pivot” to Asia has gathered most of the headlines in the past few months, he isn’t the only world leader looking East. In an intriguing piece in The Diplomat, Richard Weitz claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be planning an Asian pivot of his own, looking to boost his country’s profile in East Asia. While Putin has yet to explicitly name this new policy, statements about Russian-Chinese “joint research activities” as well as a familiar call for a “Eurasian Union” certainly lend credence to this take:
Putin’s push for a Eurasian Union would, if realized, allow Moscow to again lead a multinational bloc of tightly bound, former Soviet republics. Having a ruble currency zone would boost Moscow’s claims to great power status despite its lagging economic potential compared with China. The plan would also serve to limit China’s influence in the former Soviet republics that joined. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), now chaired by China, has been seeking to expand its economic, security, and other activities in the same functional areas as the proposed Eurasian Union. Russia has led the opposition to Beijing’s proposals to establish a free-trade zone and other economic integration within the SCO framework, which would enhance Chinese economic expansion in Eurasia.Perhaps the one change Putin might undertake is to relent and agree to sell China some of Russia’s top-of-the-line weapons, which would help reduce the quantitative and qualitative trade imbalances between the two countries. Until now, Russian leaders had hesitated to permit such transfers for fear that China could steal their expensive sophisticated military technologies to build cheaper systems that would undercut Russian sales on third party arms markets in developing countries. But recent press reports indicate that Russia might be readying to sell China 48 Su-35 warplanes for $4 billion if the conditions included enhanced property right protection for Sukhoi.
The biggest surprise, however, concerns Russia’s strategic interest in a closer relationship with Pakistan:
Another Putin surprise might entail upgrading ties with Pakistan. Moscow’s ties with Islamabad have been strained for decades due to Pakistan’s support for Islamist terrorism, support for U.S. and Chinese measures against Russia, and confrontational policies towards India, a Russian ally. But Putin has now agreed to make a formal visit to Islamabad in September. Strengthening ties with Pakistan would give Moscow greater influence in post-NATO Afghanistan, including a means of communication with the Taliban, as well as enhance Russia’s leverage with India.
While many of the points in this article are speculative, as is necessary with any exercise of this nature, speculation about Putin’s goals with his foreign policy can be a very useful exercise. If you want to understand the way the international system works, you need to develop the habit of seeing the world the way people in other countries see it, and start thinking from their point of view about what moves might make sense.Read the whole thing.