By Kester Kenn Klomegah*
MOSCOW (IDN) — Russian policy experts and academic researchers have been upbeat with heated reactions, especially in the local media on the current state of affairs between the United States, Europe and Russia, and the prospects of moving forward. The focus has been on the key questions dealing with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its eastward expansion, security in the former Soviet republics and the much-speculated Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Some of the experts have tried to juxtapose the strategies pursued by the United States and Russia, offered a critical assessment and the opportunities for setting the United States-Russia relations. The positions presented in the media reports, apparently reflect the different experiences of the United States and Russia in the former Soviet region and further in entire Eastern Europe.
Russian Foreign Ministry has published a draft agreement on guarantees of security between Russia and the United States on its website titled the Treaty between the US and Russia on Security Guarantees and On Measures to Ensure the Security of the Russian Federation and the Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The document includes eight articles and covers the main aspects of mutual guarantees of security between Moscow and Washington.
What is really at stake, in the summary are Russia’s demands including the following legal commitments from the United States and NATO:
- No eastward expansion of NATO.
- No military cooperation with former Soviet states, including Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia.
- Withdrawal of forces to positions NATO occupied in 1997, before the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia were members
- No deploying armed forces, heavy bombers, surface warships, or intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles outside of NATO territory.
In between various high-level official meetings, such as President Vladimir Putin’s video summit with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that also focused partly on the United States. The talks were the culmination of the diplomatic year for Moscow and Beijing, continuing the rapprochement in response to the West’s containment policy. Each side views the other as a pillar of support in counteracting external threats. For Moscow, these threats constitute US-NATO activity in the post-Soviet space and in Europe, while for Beijing, it is the anti-Chinese alliances in the Indo-Pacific Region.
Professor Vladimir Batyuk, Head of the Political and Military Research Center at the Institute for the US and Canadian Studies, told Kommersant daily newspaper that from the previous format of non-binding strategic partnership, Russia and China, under Western pressure, are moving towards a new stage of—a de facto military alliance which, however, was not executed in an international legal format.
According to him, the evolution of military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing was determined by two key factors: efforts on bringing NATO infrastructure to Russia’s western border and the formation of an anti-Chinese “sanitary cordon” along China’s southern and eastern borders.
In a similar argument, Vasily Kashin, who heads the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, told the newspaper: “In 2021, the parties significantly increased political, military and economic cooperation. At the same time, tension was growing both in Eastern Europe and in Eastern Asia. And each side separately was conducting its complicated dialogue with the US. In recent months, this dialogue appeared more successful for Russia than for China.”
He concluded: “Meanwhile, Moscow and Beijing constantly suspect the US of efforts at undermining Russian-Chinese relations and strive to inform each other of their dialogue with the Americans. Despite the long journey travelled in bolstering the trust, certain doubts about each other’s positions in the context of a new confrontation of great powers will remain for a long time.”
According to reports, Russian and Chinese bilateral trade figures grew by 34 per cent in the past 11 months, amounting to US$130.4 billion, and provided an encouraging background for the December 15 conversation between the Russian and Chinese leaders. Some Russian experts are upbeat about the volumes of bilateral investment flows indicating mutual trust between the two countries and further use it as a geopolitical factor against the Western global domination.
“Russian-Chinese relations are built on the finest nuances and reflect the situation around each country,” Director of the Institute of Asian and African Studies Alexey Maslov says. According to him, Russian conflicts with the West are much less explosive and, for the most part, are controlled by Russia itself. Thus, according to the expert, not only is China Russia’s most important trade partner but, above all, Russia is the only absolute reliable partner for China.
Andrey Ostrovsky, who heads the Center for Economic Research at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the best way Moscow and Beijing could respond to international pressure is to strengthen their trade and economic relations and bolster military cooperation.
“Russia and China, however, have said that they are not going to create a military bloc. Yet the good neighbour agreement on friendship and cooperation originally signed in 2001, has been extended for five years. I think that it has to be made clear to the US that if they continue to step up the pressure, then the agreement on military cooperation will be signed,” Ostrovsky said.
He added that the two countries would be able to resist outside pressure if they are more involved in economic and trade relations. “Last year, the volume of Russian-Chinese trade amounted to US$107.5 billion. And the volume of trade between China and the US is nearly US$600 billion. In terms of investments, the comparison is also not in our favor. About US$8 billion per year goes into Russia from China, while Russia barely invests anything into China. Hopefully, when the gas supplies from Yamal and Sakhalin to China begin, it will be possible to increase the volume of trade to US$200 billion,” said Ostrovsky.
Andrey Karneev who heads the School of Oriental Studies at the Higher School of Economics told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that it is complicated to predict how the parties will go about resisting the pressure. However, he agrees with Ostrovsky that increasing economic cooperation will serve both countries well.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta writing under the headline “Russia and China unite against the West” quoted Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russian and Chinese leaders’ discussion about Washington’s and NATO’s “aggressive rhetoric” called for a concerted reciprocal response.
The West has been insinuating that Putin is setting the stage to invade Ukraine, while Putin is asking for NATO guarantees. At the same time, Xi Jinping has to deal with a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics declared by the United States and other Western-allied countries, along with US sanctions for the alleged persecution of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
On the other hand, European and Western politicians are advocating for sanctions and drastic steps to contain Russia and China alliance. For instance, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has reiterated that the United States would not hold talks on European security without its European partners.
“There will be no talks on European security without our European allies and partners,” Psaki said, commenting on the publication by the Russian Foreign Ministry of draft agreements between Russia, the US and NATO on security guarantees in Europe. “We will not compromise the key principles on which European security is built, including that all countries have the right to decide their own future and foreign policy, free from outside interference.”
Russian Foreign Ministry has published a draft agreement on guarantees of security between Russia and the United States on its website titled the Treaty between the US and Russia on Security Guarantees and On Measures to Ensure the Security of the Russian Federation and the Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The document includes eight articles and covers the main aspects of mutual guarantees of security between Moscow and Washington. [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 December 2021]
* Kester Kenn Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to IDN. During his professional career as a researcher specialising in Russia-Africa policy, which spans nearly two decades, he has been detained and questioned several times by federal security services for reporting facts. Most of his well-resourced articles are reprinted in several reputable foreign media. [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 December 2021]
Illustration: Liu Rui/Global Times
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