Russia's strategy in Central Asia: Moscow invites India to balance the influence of China (The Diplomat, USA)

At the end of last year, the Russian Ambassador to India, Nikolai Kudashev said that by early 2023, Moscow hopes to conclude a free trade agreement between the Eurasian economic Union (EAEC) and India. Currently, the EEU, an exclusive international organization of regional economic integration on the former Soviet Union includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. Undoubtedly, Russia plays it a leading role, leaving other members behind.

to reinforce his statement, Kudashev emphasized that over the past year in relations between Russia and India have been tremendous changes. In addition, it is expected that in 2023, the Prime Minister of India Narendra modi (Narendra Modi) and President of Russia Vladimir Putin will meet often: it is planned that modi will visit Red square in Moscow in celebration of the anniversary of the victory in the great Patriotic war that exemplifies the importance that Russia invests in the meeting.

However, the idea of India’s accession to the EEU inspire a vague sense of deja vu. As in the case with the expansion of the Shanghai cooperation organization (SCO), this situation also looks like Russia’s attempt to use India to balance the growing economic power of China in Central Asia.

In 2017, India and Pakistan officially become permanent members of the SCO. It was the first time SCO has expanded since its inception in 2001, abandoning adopted in 2008 decision temporarily unable to accept new members. Since 2008, Russia began to show more favorable attitude to the idea of expanding the list of the SCO member States, first and foremost to the idea of joining India. Russia actively pursued the admission of India into the SCO, and the second leading power within the organization, China, reluctantly agreed to Russia’s proposal on the condition that Pakistan will also receive an invitation.

Thus, we can not help but ask: what happens if India will receive an invitation to join the Union? How will you describe Russian-Chinese relations in Central Asia?

On the diplomatic level, given the increasingly close relationship between Russia and China, Moscow has never publicly confesses his desire to limit China’s influence in Central Asia. Instead, it will act strategically, that is, strengthening its economic cooperation with India.

because of pressure From the United States, China and Russia have strengthened their cooperation not only in the political sphere — it’s long been a fact recognized by the international community but also in the economic field. The experts have described Russian-Chinese relations as “hot politics, cool economy”, and “hot at the official level and cold at the level of Nations”. But now the situation has changed. China remains the largest trading partner for nine consecutive years. In 2018, the volume of bilateral trade for the first time in history exceeded $ 100 billion, and they continued to grow in 2019. In 2019, was to build a pipeline “Power of Siberia” and the first automobile bridge linking Russia and China, which has helped to strengthen bilateral economic ties. With regard to relations between the peoples of these two countries, in 2018, Russia was visited by more than 2 million Chinese, and in China went almost 2.5 million Russians.

However, the high level of political trust and extensive economic cooperation between the two countries does not mean that Russia and China there is no competition in Central Asia. In fact connection with the implementation of the initiative “One belt, one road” economic power of China in Central Asia has increased dramatically. According to Dr. Adil of Mengele (Adil Miankhel), by April 2017 China invested 304,9 billion dollars to the region, “in sectors such as transport, communication, energy infrastructure, Finance, technology exchange and trade development”. In comparison with the economic power of China, “particularly given the volume of funds invested in infrastructure in the framework of the initiative “One belt, one road”, Russia, with its rigid, protectionist and politicized Eurasian projects fades,” says Benno Zogg (Zogg Benno). Thus, over time, according to Alexander Gabuev, Central Asia “has gradually experienced an increasing impact of the initiative “One belt, one road” and become increasingly dependent on investment and trade with China, and thus the Kremlin continues to consider it part of the historical sphere of influence of Russia”.

To conduct this geopolitical game and at the same time to maintain good relations with China, the Russian government agreed on pairing the EEU and the economic belt project silk road, as Russia and China announced in a joint statement on may 8, 2015. “The projects, the EEU and the silk road can harmoniously complement each other,” said President Putin.

However, the Professor Genie Wilson (Jeanne L. Wilson) said that the agreement with China was signed only by Russia, despite the fact that at that moment in Moscow, there were also the presidents of Kazakhstan and Belarus, which are members of the EAEU. Quite possibly, these countries do not want their trade relations with China is somehow confined to inside the “Rossieccentrical” structure. According to Wilson, this explains why the first President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev “was firmly convinced that the EEU will function only as an economic and not as political structure.” To allay the suspicions of the members of the EAEC and other countries, first Vice Premier of Russian government Igor Shuvalov also said that the EEU is not a political Union.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, although the States of Central Asia retain close ties with Russia in the field of security, economy and culture, they become fully independent and enjoy their sovereignty. In order to strengthen their own national identity, some Central Asian countries have attempted to “de-Russification”: for example, the authorities of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan have limited the use of the Russian language and began to actively promote national languages, trying, however, not to cause discontent of the Russian government. In this context, the expansion of trade with China and cooperation in the framework of the initiative “One belt, one road” — in other words, the increase in China’s influence is not only consistent with the economic interests of the countries of Central Asia and interests of their political elites, but also indirectly helps them in building their statehood. This powerful motive is reflected in the attitude of the governments of Central Asia to arise from time to time, anti-Chinese protests. As written by Bradley Jardine (Jardine Bradley), “in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the rise of anti-Chinese sentiment that is associated with the oppression of the Muslim population in China”. However, the governments in both these countries of Central Asia “tried to prevent the dissemination of news about the re-education camps, arresting and fining activists and protesters”.

the Contextforum Logo people’s daily: Russian expert praised the initiative of “One belt, one road”Renmin жибао18.10.2019 Nihon Keizai Shimbun: Russia is turning into an appendage КитаяNihon Keizai19.08.2019 huanqiu shibao: China is tired of Western propagandawart шибао29.04.2019 Despite the fact that in 2019 Premier of the state Council of China Li Keqiang (Li Keqiang) and Prime Ministers of the member States made a “joint statement on the occasion of the entry into force of the Agreement on trade-economic cooperation between the EEU and China”, in practice the prospects for economic cooperation between China with its initiative of “One belt, one road” and the Eurasian economic Union is looking pretty grim. Recalling several in-depth interview, Gabuev writes that China and Russia have built “the intellectual and bureaucratic structures for the implementation of common interests in Central Asia, including ideas regarding the pairing of the initiative “one belt, One road” Eurasian economic Union”. However, there is still a lot of problems that inhibit such pairing, including the vagueness of the idea of the program “one belt, One road” differences in views regarding the decision on the principle of top-down and a low degree of involvement of business in the process of this alignment. More importantly, not only the countries of Central Asia prefer to deal with China bilaterally, but also China committed to cooperate with Central Asian States on a bilateral basis, not through the EEC. Thus, despite several multinational projects that require coordination dAsti more parties, made in 2019, the joint statement seems more like an attempt to reassure Russia and to allow her to save face.

the free trade Agreement between the EEU and India will become an effective strategic move, designed to curb the growing economic influence of China in Central Asia. However, given previous experience with the organization and implementation of the initiative “One belt, one road” in Central Asia, it is possible that Central Asian States would prefer to pass the EEU and to interact with India on a bilateral basis. Possibly, Russia already knows this. However, the invitation of India may, in the interests of Moscow, if Russia considers the competition a few players in Central Asia a more attractive prospect than a space where single-handedly dominated by China.

yuan Jiang, a doctoral student from China, currently studying at the Technological University of Queensland. His articles published in such publications as the Diplomat, South China Morning Post, Australian Institute of International Affairs and Global Times.

the new York times contain estimates of the solely foreign media and do not reflect the views of the editorial Board of the new York times.