Russia, according to a recent caustic headline in Bloomberg, is facing “reverse industrialization” due to the US-led sanctions regime that has been imposed upon Russia for its illegal invasion of its neighbor, Ukraine.
Certainly, the American sanctions have done much harm in the near term to Russia’s economy (and, therefore, its political stability at home and its long-term ability to conduct wide-ranging military operations).
In the long term, however, the sanctions have merely hardened Russian resistance to the West and intransigence on the Ukraine issue. More important, the regime of President Vladimir Putin appears unwilling to abandon its present course of action in Ukraine, no matter how tightly Washington and Brussels squeeze Moscow economically.
In fact, Western sanctions have forced Moscow to begin employing new, dynamic strategies for surviving the economic assault Russia is being subjected to.
For example, as the West has enacted its partial, self-imposed moratorium on the importation of cheap, important Russian natural gas as punishment for the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has merely shifted its energy flows away from Europe to thirsty markets in the Far East (notably those in India and China).
Plus, Beijing has become more amenable to serving as a financial backstop for Moscow the harder the West pushes Russia economically.
While neither China’s nor India’s economic assistance may be enough to offset the losses from the Western sanctions in the near term, in the medium to long term, Western sanctions may be empowering Russia to create the pathways for actual financial and economic independence from the West in ways that the Kremlin would ordinarily not entertain.
On top of Moscow turning more toward China to assist Russia in its hour of financial and economic need, both Germany and France – the strongest economy in Europe and the most powerful indigenous military on the continent, respectively – have created ingenious ways to circumvent the Western sanctions that both nations claim they support.
In fact, while Germany, which is disproportionately reliant on Russian natural gas, may have canceled its recently completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline, it has yet to cancel its long-standing Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
For that to occur, E.ON, the German company that manages Nord Stream 1, would have to cancel its pipeline with Russia. And the chief executive of E.ON has publicly stated that his company will never cut off its flow of Russian natural gas.
As this happens, Moscow has turned to demanding that all payments for Russian natural gas and oil be made in the ruble, as a way of propping up and enhancing Russia’s flagging currency (thanks to the Western sanctions).
Meanwhile, a delegation from Russia attended the Bengal Global Business Summit (BGBS) in the final weeks of April. Despite the Western sanctions and the hectoring from Western governments, the organizers of BGBS 2022 insisted that Russia be included. This, as Russian warships operated alongside Chinese warships in the Pacific during a recent US Navy exercise there.
So, what we are witnessing is not the total defeat of Russia (though Ukraine has, with help from the Western alliance, held its own against the Russian invader). Instead, what one is witnessing today is the death of Western Russia and the birth of an Asian Russia.
Old habits die hard
Such an outcome, while it will create difficult burdens for Russia in the near term, is not necessarily damaging to Russia’s leaders in the long term – especially the siloviki who purport to rule Russia.
After all, the siloviki are former Soviet KGB and Red Army types who witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union and believed it to be the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” This faction of hardliners then spent the 1990s watching in horror as Boris Yeltsin and his cadre attempted to liberalize Russia and make it part of the West.
But for the siloviki, old habits die hard; the West was always the enemy.
The economic instability that dominated Russia in the 1990s, as well as the various challenges to Russia’s diminished geopolitical standing in the international system (in places like the Balkans, the former Eastern European Soviet-bloc states that had been accepted into NATO over Russian objections, or in Chechnya) were seen by this group as further proof that Russia had been given a raw deal at the end of the Cold War.
Russian political theorist Aleksandr Dugin of Moscow State University then began publishing his works elaborating on his theory of “Neo-Eurasianism.” According to Dugin, Russia was not a part of the West at all. It was something else entirely. While it had some similarities, such as Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the Mongol invasions that had occurred a thousand years earlier fundamentally changed Russia; it became an entity that was only partly a component of the West but also part of Asia.
Yet since Peter the Great was czar, Russian leaders have obsessed over their Western periphery. The unjust Russian invasion of Ukraine, however, is forcing changes in the make-up of Russian policy. Having been closed off to the West, rather than admit it erred in their invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s regime is pivoting to the East.
This is something that both the Neo-Eurasianists and the siloviki have long favored. The Russian elite today have no choice any longer. They must pivot away from the West or be destroyed by the Western sanctions and increased hostilities.
Thus Russia is becoming an Asian nation – fulfilling the long-delayed dreams of Czar Alexander III, who had built the Trans-Siberian Railroad linking Russia’s more developed “European” side with Russia’s “Wild East” along the underdeveloped Pacific coastline.
Rather than surrender to the overwhelming economic and political pressure that the West is subjecting the Russians to; instead of overthrowing the would-be czar, Vladimir Putin, the Russians are becoming more pro-Putin. They are entering the classic Russian pattern of resisting the dreaded outsider at all costs – even if it means enhancing the power of the dreaded dictator at home.
No going back
For those Western elites under the false assumption that there is an end in sight to the current standoff with Russia (one that ends with the end of Putin’s reign and either the democratization of Russia or the breaking down of the unitary Russian state), be prepared to be proved wrong.
What’s needed, therefore, is a recognition that there is no going back to the way things were between the West and Russia before 2022. Moscow has reached the point of no return. So, too, has the Western alliance.
For all the great hope that there was in 2017-18 of flipping Russia to use against China, those brief days of hope are over. Washington’s leaders, Democratic and Republican alike, must accept the new painful reality of a Eurasia that houses an increasingly aligned Russia and Chinese anti-American axis of autocrats.
Strategies must now be developed accordingly – and those strategies must recognize that real and severe limitations will be placed upon American power projection into Eurasia henceforth.
As the great Russian poet Alexander Blok once mused in “Are We Scythians? – Are We Asiatics?”:
Oh yes – we are Scythians! Yes – we are Asiatics,
With slanting, rapacious eyes… Like obedient slaves,
We held up a shield between two enemy races –
The Mongols and Europe!
Rejoicing, grieving, and drenched in blood,
Russia is a sphinx that gazes at you
With hatred and with love.
We can recall the streets of Paris
And shady Venice,
The aroma of lemon groves
And the hazy monuments of Cologne.
… But now through the woods and thickets
We’ll stand aside
Before the comeliness of Europe –
And turn on you with our Asiatic faces.
American leaders will now have to come to grips with the sad fact that Russia is becoming an Asian nation … and that will likely end America’s world-spanning hegemony in our lifetimes, as it deprives America of easy access to Eurasia.