Russia has re-emerged as a regional power under Putin administration. In the military, economic, and political spheres, Russia is preparing to project its power across Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the North Pacific. A strong Russian military is one of the pillars of the Putin doctrine, the goal of which is to recover the economic, political, and geostrategic assets lost by the USSR in 1991. Under this doctrine, Russia captured Chechnya in 2000, liberated South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia in 2008 and annexed Crimean peninsula in March this year.
Since the breakup of the USSR, vast portions of the former Soviet Union and all of its East Bloc allies have been brought into the orbit of US and European imperialism. This kind of US and European imperialism is not acceptable for Russia and thus the on-going Ukrainian crisis has become a thorn between Russia and the west.
Fast forward to November 2013, when it seemed that the then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych would sign an agreement with the EU, which was designed to deepen Ukraine’s integration with the West and greatly reduce Moscow’s influence there. Putin offered Ukraine a better deal in response, which Yanukovych accepted. That decision led to protests in western Ukraine and eventually led to the toppling of Yanukovych. In the weeks that followed, Russia annexed Crimea and pro-Russian separatists took control of Donetsk and Luhansk, declaring independence. Following the annexation of Crimea, the western countries imposed numerous sanctions on Russia and continue to do so.
Just few days back, Russian-backed rebels were involved in intense fighting with Ukrainian soldiers over Donetsk Airport. The Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that the whole of Ukraine will be within reach of the “enemy”, if its armed forces lose control of the Donetsk airport to separatists.
The UN says more than 4,300 people have died and around 10,000 others wounded so far in the Ukrainian crisis. Almost one million have also been displaced.
Furthermore, Russia had recently scrapped the South Stream project because of Western pressure on Bulgaria, from constructing its part of the pipeline. The pipeline was expected to go across the Black Sea to central and southern Europe.
To decrease dependence on European buyers, world’s largest producer and exporter of natural gas, Russia is increasing exports of oil and gas to East Asia. Russia now ships more than 1 million barrels of oil per day to China, Japan and other regional buyers, alongside 10.8 million tonnes per year of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
On the other hand, in South Asia, India has for the past few years started to rely more on Western countries than Russia for arms purchases. In my previous article, I had mentioned how India and USA are co-operating with each other to counter Chinese interests in the Indian Ocean. Both Russia and China would never want Indian and American hegemonies over Indian Ocean.
Furthermore, Modi’s “Act East policy” wants to secure India’s economic, cultural, strategic and security interests from Southeast to Northeast Asia. However, China’s massive bilateral trade relations with ASEAN and South Asian member countries dwarf those of India.
In the wake of India’s changing alliance, Russia has re-aligned relations with former rivals – Turkey and Pakistan.
Recently, Putin visited Turkey to enhance energy ties between the two states. Russia agreed that gas prices for Turkey would be cut by six per cent. Russia is even willing to build an entirely new pipeline, to satisfy the demands of Turkish consumers.
Despite having opposing views on Syrian and Ukrainian crises, Russia is Turkey’s main energy supplier, and Turkey is their second biggest trade partner after Germany. Both countries seek to increase bilateral commerce to about $100 billion a year in 2020. The Russian company Rosatom is currently building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
Similarly, bilateral relations between Russia and Pakistan have also improved over the past few years with visits of high level officials. Both states have had frosty relations in the past, but recently signed a historic defence pact. Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying
Both states also discussed participation in military exercises, training of military staff, sharing of experience in peacekeeping, fight against terrorism and piracy, and to ensure frequent mutual visits of warships. Few days ago, Russia also made its first appearance at Pakistan’s largest arms fair (IDEAS), and showcased its helicopters and electronic-warfare equipments.
On the other hand, Russia is closely watching the down-sizing of foreign troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. If the situation in Afghanistan stabilizes, Russia might take part in rebuilding the Afghan economy within the framework of international assistance efforts. The Russian government has already compiled a list of 140 Soviet-era projects that it would like to rehabilitate in post-2014 Afghanistan.
A stable Afghanistan will be in Russia’s interest, an unstable Afghanistan would be a threat to Russian interests in the region. An unstable Afghanistan would ensure the rise of radical groups, like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which could pose a great security threat for Moscow.
Russia also wants to eliminate drug trafficking from Afghanistan to the Russian markets via Central Asian countries. Russian officials believe that economic development, along with a Russian-funded counternarcotics program, could curb the illicit trade.
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