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Russia Looks to the East

from the September 03, 2013 eNews issue

One of the more interesting international developments that has come out of the Syrian War is that Russia is looking to the East for an alliance against the United States and the West.

Not only have both countries condemned recent U.S. actions, but they seem to be doing it in concert with each other.

Recent actions by the United States have been taken by the Russians to be an overt diplomatic snub, leaving Moscow to play their own “China Card” in the world’s poker game.

At the G20 meeting set to be held in St. Petersburg this week, host Vladimir Putin will be presiding over a very chilly summit. Both Washington and Moscow are nursing some real and imagined hurts incurred over the last few years. Recently, American president Barak Obama compared the Russian leader’s body language to that of a “bored kid in the back of the classroom.”

The final straw in breaking relations between the United States and Russia came when Obama abandoned a summit meeting with Putin amid rage in Washington over Moscow’s decision to grant asylum to the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, choosing to visit Sweden instead.

In a statement, the White House said that it had concluded there was “not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda” to hold a U.S.-Russia summit. It cited a lack of progress on arms control, trade, missile defense and human rights, and added: “Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship. Our cooperation on these issues remains a priority for the United States.”

Cancelling the meeting was the last step in a process that began in 2012 when Mr. Putin returned to the Kremlin after a meeting with the U.S. President, that the “reset,” launched with much fanfare in 2009, is now dead.

That death ended a 25-year cycle in U.S.–Soviet relations which started in heyday of Mikhail Gorbachev and the Reagan-Bush Administrations. The cycle that began with the premise of shared goals and values is now over.

Russia no longer pretends to be trying to move toward closer relations to the West. Rather than responding to Western criticism with irritated pleas for patience and understanding of national specifics, it simply ignores it.

The first strain in relations between the two countries began in 2008 in the midst of the Russia-Georgia war. But President Obama revived the relationship, taking seriously Dmitry Medvedev, who stood in for Putin for four years.

Relations grew even colder over Libya. Russia backed a UN resolution to protect civilian lives, but felt it had been used by the international community when operations in Libya resulted in the military overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi.

The image of Gaddafi’s “revolting slaughter—not just medieval but primeval,” stayed with President Putin. “No one should be allowed to employ the Libyan scenario in Syria,” he wrote in 2012.

Already convinced that an American Hand was behind the revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, Moscow also blamed America for a wave of Moscow protests in December 2011.

Putin felt that the West was providing an existential threat to his country.

In response, Mr. Putin has started to emphasize nationalism and anti-Americanism in his rhetoric. He is trying to depict the West in economic decline, international jingoism and moral depravity. He narrative is that Russian needs to protect itself—and its allies from this Western Rot.

Russia’s recent law against gay “propaganda” is one manifestation of this new talking point.

Moscow is looking now to the East, to China as a counterweight to the West. Russia is hoping that this new, revived Russian-Sino alliance will prove to be a geopolitical and economic alternative to the West.

Both nations keep a blind eye toward each other on human rights and concentrate on their mutual economic and geopolitical interests.

In March the Chinese state media reported that China has concluded a large-scale weapons purchase agreement with Russia. Beijing has long been thought to be interested in the advanced Russian submarines and fighter aircraft included in the weapons package, and the media report is the strongest confirmation yet that a deal has been struck.

Also in the mix is China’s quest to build a three-carrier navy. The U.S. has made it clear that it will not provide technical help on carrier operations, so Beijing is looking to the West to Moscow to technical assistance.

One thing to watch is for a continued cooperation and coordination between Moscow and Beijing on the world stage.


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