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Resurgence Of Russia in the 21st Century

(Talk delivered at the United Service Institute, New Delhi on January 10, 2001)

" the dreams we shared did not come true…what seemed simple to us turned out to be tormentingly difficult".
(Boris Yeltsin's lament while departing)
" He who does not regret the passing of socialism has no heart, but he who wants to bring it back has no head"
(Vladimir Putin summing up his philosophy not long after he was elected in a phrase that has become famous throughout Russia)


If historical experience is anything to go by then the speed and manner of disintegration of the Soviet Union (or the Russian Empire so to say) has no parallels. It was unique in more ways than one. Great empires of yore broke up on the death of a great leader, on account of external invasions, internal strife or the pushing back of the Empire from without. None of these factors could strictly be applied to the dismantling of the Soviet Empire. The outside world - as well as the Republics comprising the Soviet Union - were both taken by surprise at the bewildering speed of events that led to the break up. Remarkably, many of the non-Russian republics were initially reluctant to face the prospects of life outside the Soviet fold.

By hindsight there appears to have been inevitability about the outcome though not its pace. The former can be attributed to the abating vigour of a once ascendant ideology in the face of the relentless onslaught of capitalism at its naked best - or worst, for those inclined to look at it that way. The Soviet Union did not collapse due to external aggression or unmanageable internal strife. On the face of it, it was relatively as stable as any large, heterogeneous entity can hope to be in this day and age. Economic collapse and loss of faith in the system - again more perhaps at the centre rather than the periphery - helped the disembodiment.

The counter-revolution could be deemed to have commenced from the time that Mikhail Gorbachev, Secretary-General of the Communist Party, ushered in the new age of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reconstruction). Somewhere along the way he lost control of the process, which led ultimately to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Russian Federation, as part of the Commonwealth of Independent States in December 1991. Gorbachev was not spared either. He fell by the wayside; as elements more powerful than he moved in to exploit the situation.

The post-collapse phase of the Soviet Union also seems to be coming to an end. According to Yevgeny Kozhokin:

"Today, we are witnessing a gradual ideological recreation of Russia. The Soviet past and the Russian past and present are less frequently confronted, but are accepted and evaluated as parts of the whole". (Yevgeny Kozhokin, The Times of India, October 4, 2000)

This paper relates to the Resurgence of Russia. Naturally, there would be doubt in some quarters as to whether Russia could again attain super power status. While this aspect will be examined at some length it might not be out of place, at the very outset, to spell out some of the major attributes of a super power in the new century. Briefly, these could be tabulated as: ability for (rapid) force projection anywhere in the world; credible second strike capability against all comers; financial might; technical might; and last, but not least, the intellectual vigour of its academic institutions. By these criterion hardly any country besides the USA could be said to be in the super power category - not only as things stand, but in the foreseeable future as well.

There could be several ways of looking at the subject under review. The method chosen in this presentation examines the issue from the following perspectives:

-Conditions in Russia
-The Demographic Dynamic
-Russia 'in' Asia
-Russia 'in' Europe
-Russia and USA
-Concluding Remarks

There would be many more aspects that cry for inclusion in a longer narrative. These have perforce to be excluded in a short presentation.


The Russian Federation sprawls 17 million square kilometers in Europe and Asia. Notwithstanding its geographical spread the once powerful country today merits a place only at number 71 out of the 174 countries on the UN's Human Development Index which lists countries according to literacy, life expectancy, schooling, population growth and per capita GDP. The average life expectancy of Russian men is 59, fourteen years less than their counterparts in the West - a reflection of poor living conditions and widespread alcoholism. By current trends the Russian population will decline from 146 million to 124 million by 2015. As if that was not enough, Russia's massive external debt stands at 170 billion US $. It requires $1 billion a month of principal alone to be repaid. Russia needs hard cash from swift arms sales, even throwing caution to the winds in some cases.
It would be tempting, hence, to assume that the end of the twentieth century marks the lowest point in the falling trajectory of Russia's gradual rise to super power (hood) since the Russian expansion under Peter the Great nearly three centuries ago. But the realisation comes soon thereafter that Russia has stared at the abyss before; in the same century, at the very beginning. Conditions for Russia could hardly have been grimmer than at the time when Lenin took power. The country not only recovered, but went on to challenge, thereafter, the combined might of the Western powers for the best part of the century. It would indeed be a foolhardy person who would feel emboldened to right finis to the Russian tale.

Already there are tentative signs of revival. GDP rose by 8.4% in 1999, although in part due to high oil prices. The State Duma on December 8, 2000 endorsed the old Soviet anthem proposed by Yeltsin's successor. Mr. Putin balanced the anthem choice with the tricolour flag and the double-headed eagle, which date from the tsarist times and were reintroduced by Yeltsin. Both symbols were also approved by the Parliament. Putin justified the proposal by saying that he hoped the state symbols belonging to different periods of Russian history would cement the nation. Russian liberals protested against the Soviet anthem as a tune of the totalitarian regime that had been personally approved by the Communist dictator, Josef Stalin. Many read symbolic meaning into the revival of the Soviet anthem on December 8, ten years to the day after Mr. Yeltsin dismantled the Soviet Empire.
Russian resurgence, however, cannot really take place without the satisfactory resolution of the major problems confronting Russia. These include: population decline; ecological restoration; tackling Islamic terrorism; revitalisation of the economy; better harmonisation with the Republics of the erstwhile USSR; strengthening of ties with Europe; dealing with the demographic swamping that could manifest itself from the South.

Not very long back - merely three decades ago - the other superpower, USA suffered a major setback in Vietnam. It was an ignominious defeat for American arms. Along with the debacle in Southeast Asia came the demoralisation of the American armed forces, especially the army. Indiscipline, corruption and drugs added to the problem. The US army pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. Not only did they recover the US armed forces are once again in the forefront. It is to be seen whether the demoralisation that set in the Russian troops after the pullback from Afghanistan and continues with the imbroglio in Chechnya can be overcome before the country plunges into an existential gloom.

A recent leaked study, 'Forecast of the financial and economic support for the organisational development of the Russian armed forces for the period through 2010', pointed out that the promised 3.5 per cent of GDP for defence would only enable Russia to support its 1.2 million-man armed forces if economic growth reached and sustained the level of 8-10 per cent per annum. With a growth rate of only 0.5-1.5 per cent, the country would have to halve its military strength or risk collapse. Russia has already sunk to the status of a second rank power in respect of aircraft production. Even between 1991 and 1996, output fell by 50 per cent in respect of civilian aircraft and by 88-90 per cent for military. With military demand so low, the output of scientific establishments reached a critical level that led to 'the disintegration of scientific and industrial collectives whose development took decades'.

Experimental and design bureau are working at 50 per cent of the 1990 level with money shortages hindering the development of new aircraft and weapons. They no longer attract young specialists who see no future in them but only low pay (half the national average and one tenth the available in commercial enterprises). The teams that for so long in the Soviet period successfully compensated for technological backwardness by clever design have now been scattered to the winds. Their recreation would be difficult and could well prove to be impossible. Consequently, when those weapons and equipment that are already in the procurement pipeline come out at the other end (finance permitting), prospects for the development of the next generation of weapons are not overly bright.

(NVO, No.2/1999; an interview with the new Air Force Commander-in-Chief Col. Gen. A. M. Kornukov by Interfax, June 10, 1998)

One of the factors that could play a major role in any reversal would be the leadership provided by the Yeltsin's successor. The Russian Federation's Foreign Policy Concept issued on July 11, 2000 reaffirms its determination to pursue a balanced foreign policy between the East and West and seeks closer cooperation with major Asian countries like China and India. Presently, Russia is in a state of adjustment. The real policy thrusts indicating the final course adopted by Russia will emerge by about 2005 after Putin has been at the head for at least that length of time. Mid term corrections would, of course, continue.


Russia bespeaks vastness, on a scale unknown elsewhere in the world. In keeping with this bigness its leaders too assume a dimension commensurate with the country's size. The word 'great' comes naturally to mind. Not necessarily in the manner of the honorific bestowed to some of the past rulers by posterity. Peter the Great, Catherine the Great. In the twentieth century Lenin and Stalin who not only dominated their country absolutely, but who projected Russian communism onto the global canvas. Even Yeltsin was not insignificant as a leader - though possibly in the negative sense - seeing his contribution to the rapid downslide of a once proud people. He did not comprehend the survival imperative entailed in the near total dependence on social security of a populace that had been living under a communist dispensation for the best part of a century. It is not easy to switch overnight from one system to another without horrendous social costs, leading even to the ebbing of the will to live, the will to work. It has lessons for China and India, both of whom seem bent upon succumbing to external pressures to take the fast track to globalisation. The last decade has been economically devastating for Russia. According to some estimates, there are 50 million Russians below the poverty line, 20 million fully or partially unemployed. Ten million refugees are homeless.

The Yeltsin era accentuated Russia's intrinsic weaknesses: vodka, environmental decline, demographic enfeeblement and ethnic dissension. The rapid post-Soviet decline, the excesses of the past, and the Yeltsin years saw the diminishment of the country's global standing to such an extent that the world took serious note of Russia solely on account of the nuclear equation as a means to power projection. It led in turn to the drying up of future leading edge research, due to financial stringency and the initial flight of scientific talent.

The Russian people expect that President Putin would be able to curb the free for all nature of the post-Soviet politics, discipline the new capitalist brigands who have accumulated unacceptable levels of power and wealth, and impose what he calls a dictatorship of laws on Russia. There is a growing feeling among the people that the darkest period could be behind them. A recent report by the consulting firm, McKinsey, mentions that Russia has the real and human capital for a growth rate of 8 per cent. Barely two years ago, the Russian economy was in ruins. It had defaulted on its foreign loans, and inflation had risen from 5.5 per cent in the first half of the year (1998) to 84 per cent in December. Moscow's control over its 89 regions was slipping. But since then Russia has experienced a turnaround. Many in Russia feel that the years 1992 to 1999 are beginning to fade like a bad dream. Most wage arrears have reportedly been paid off. Real incomes are rising and possibly the pensions as well. There appears to have been an improvement in the investment outlook, with some companies reporting plans to expand investment in the coming year.

Having quoted from the Mckinsey study it would be worthwhile to look at global oil trends because of Russia's over-dependence on the oil revenues. Without the rise in oil prices the rosy tint of the report may have had a different colouring. Some experts feel that the soaring oil prices are bound to decline considerably by spring. A comparison that comes to mind was the 'unprecedented prosperity and social stability' in the 1970s. It was attributed by some to the Middle East crisis and the formation of OPEC in 1973. It is worth reproducing here an article by Valentina Feodorova that appeared recently in The Statesman entitled, 'Where Ho, Mr. Putin': "Russia tends to be radical. This is its main disease. We chose the most radical — communist — of all-possible variants of socialism. We also chose the most radical, neo-liberal, variant of capitalism, which is a kind of Western fundamentalism. The political pendulum of Russia moved from communist radicalism to a neo-liberal one. We could expect it to move back, for this is what pendulums do. But a part of the older and the bulk of the middle-aged generations that experienced both variants are not ready for extremes today. They preferred Putin to Zyuganov at the 2000 elections. The people want to live in the new way, but in conditions of order. The pendulum has stopped a little left of the centre, but not in the far left corner. That Putin has kept back the movement of the pendulum is the main and new factor of Russian politics".

(Valentina Fedorova, The Statesman, September 25, 2000)

President Putin is very much a product of the Marxist ideology that flourished so long in Russia. Hence it might not be out of place to quote George Lucak on Lenin:

"The Leninist theory and tactic of compromise is, therefore, only the objective, logical corollary of the Marxist dialectical - historical recognition that, although men make their own history, they cannot do so in circumstances chosen by themselves but in circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past". (Emphasis added).

-George Lucack, Lenin, A study on the Unity of his Thoughts.

The Russian leader has been moving fast to tighten his grip on power. He has pushed through legislation to remove powerful regional governors from the upper house of Parliament and turn it into a subservient instrument of his policy. He is also attempting to rein in Russia's freewheeling regions by taking away from them control over courts and law-enforcement agencies. The same zealousness is manifest in his control of television that is by far the most influential source of information in a country that spans 11 times zones. The Putin dispensation has spelled out its security and foreign policy doctrines. Moscow recognises that many of its security challenges are internal, acknowledging in the process that its economic difficulties have led to terrorism, organised crime and narcotics. Mr. Putin believes that the entire Central Asian Region could be destabilised if the Taliban reach the Tajikistan border. On the economic front realisation may have come that for global competitiveness Russia needs to revive its capital goods base. In this regard Europe and especially Germany could play a big role. Good governance could help in ensuring return of capital stashed abroad.

The world and, more importantly, the Russian people themselves would be anxious to take a peek behind the KGB-like mask for there is a mystery and mystique attaching to the persona of the Russian President. Is it greater than the substance? The judo black belt does add to the carefully nurtured - strong and silent - macho image. It assists in a manner of speaking to reinforce the arm-twisting being resorted to bring a semblance of order into the free for all that had developed in the Yeltsin years. However, the Russian leader lest he again provide legitimacy to the earlier methods of governance in the Soviet Union should keep in mind a saying attributed to Talleyrand:

'It is possible' he said, 'to do many things with a bayonet, but one cannot sit on one.'


As distinct from India, which suffers from a so-called population explosion, Russia is beset by what might be described as a demographic implosion — that is there are fewer and fewer of them every year. Over the past decade the population of Russia has shrunk by nearly 5 million people, or half a million annually. Not only has the vast country got fewer people, the balance between young and old is shifting disastrously. By the year 2003 there will be only two working age Russians for each pensioner and within 20 years the ratio will become one-to-one - the point of economic non-viability would have been reached. The growing mass of pensioners will gobble up any economic growth.

The demographic crisis has come about because post-Soviet Russia, in many ways, is afflicted with many problems of the advanced countries combined with growing problems that beset developing countries. For over two decades birthrates have been plunging as well-educated, urbanised young Russians put off having children well into their 30s. The current birth rate is about 1.3 children per woman, well below the 2.3 children per woman that would be required to sustain the population - a phenomenon not unlike that in Western Europe and North America. The difference being that over the past decade death rates among productive adults in their 30s and 40s have risen dramatically. This is due to a post-Soviet mix of bad news, including mass impoverishment, deteriorating environmental conditions, skyrocketing rates of alcoholism, the return of formerly — eradicated diseases like cholera and tuberculosis, more industrial accidents and two bloody civil wars against the separatist republic of Chechnya. A recent UNDP study shows that under mass privatisation, nearly one-third of Russia's population has slipped under the poverty line.

President Putin has warned that if the Far Eastern region is not economically developed and integrated with the rest of the country, then it is likely that the Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages may overtake the Russian language there. Maritime province governor, Yevgeny Nazdarenko has made a call for moving about 15 million people from the Central regions to be settled in Amur, Khabarovsk and Primorsky (Maritime) areas in order to create some balance with the population in the adjoining Chinese regions.

The extract reproduced from a famous book written at the beginning of the twentieth century does not leave room for doubt:

" In those (coming) days all the people of the earth will rush forth from their dwelling places. Great will be the strife, strife the like of which has never been seen in this world. The yellow hordes of Asians will set forth from their age-old abodes and will encrimson the fields of Europe in oceans of blood. There will be, oh yes, there will-Tsushima! There will be-a new Kalka! Kulikovo Field, I await you!

And on that day the final sun will rise in radiance over my native land. Oh Sun, if you do not rise, then, oh Sun, the shores of Europe will sink beneath the heavy Mongol heel, and the foam will curl over those shores. Earthborn creatures once more will sink to the depths of the oceans, into chaos, primordial and long-forgotten.
Arise, oh Sun! " -(Andrei Bely, Petersburg p.65)

It is estimated that vast numbers of Chinese settlers could already have pushed across the far-eastern border with Russia and the erstwhile Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. The exodus commenced after the break up of the Soviet Union on account of the sparseness of the population and to meet the requirement of cheap labour. What the population profile would be in that part of Russia in thirty, fifty or seventy years from now could be anybody's guess. The demographic threat from the South, linked to Islamic terrorism could ultimately become a bigger disaster for Russia than any threat faced by the country in the last century. The urge for quick economic gains is making the Russian planners abandon prudence by supplying the most modern technology to those who would be likely to develop into the most potent threat for Russia in the coming decades.


To begin with it would be interesting to list the countries that were the greatest beneficiaries of the fall of the Soviet Union: USA, East Europe, Western European countries, China, Pakistan, (in that order). Central Asian Republics? The question mark denotes a Yes - No condition. It is important to keep this aspect at the back of the mind. It is not only relevant to Russia's strategic posture in the short and medium term, but also for the inter se accommodations that might or might not take place as Russia again starts groping for a more balanced relationship with yesterday's adversaries as well as the potential adversaries of tomorrow.

Russia as is well known straddles both continents, Asia and Europe. Till Peter the Great turned his attention westwards and forced the Westernisation of his country, Russia could be said to have been more deeply involved with Asia than Europe for more reasons than one. It was this attraction for the Orient that prompted Dostoievski to say in the latter half of the nineteenth century:

"Give us Asia and we shall create no difficulties for Europe"

The novelist also said: It would be useful for Russia to forget Petersburg for some time and to turn her soul toward the East". (RK Dasgupta in The Statesman referring to A Aronson, 'Europe Looks at India'. 1946)
With this background it is intended to examine Russia's relationship with some of the countries in Asia that could be deemed to be important for Russia geo-politically in the foreseeable future. Due to several constraints only those aspects will be highlighted that in the writer's opinion have a direct bearing on the subject under review.


In the past the former Soviet Union had a 7500km border with China (in comparison India's frontier with China after the latter's occupation of Tibet measures 4700 km. Together they constituted 80% of China's external borders). Today Russia's borders have come down to 4300 km, less than that of China and India. The Russian/Soviet border with China was determined by the Treaty of Aigun (1858); the Treaty of Peking 1860; the Treaty of St. Petersburg 1881; and subsequent borders protocols. However, the Chinese regarded only the much earlier 1689 Treaty of Nerchinsk as equal, which placed Russia's border in the Far East as far North as the Sea of Okhotsk.

There has been talk of a Russia-China-India axis. It does not appear to be feasible unless three conditions obtain from the point of view of Russia. The first condition would be for Russia to become as economically strong as China. Secondly, the demographic threat from China should have virtually disappeared from the horizon - a near impossibility going by the present demographic trends obtaining in the region. The third aspect relates to the maintenance of technical and quantitative superiority in the very advanced weapons systems category. The situation could change fast for the worse should Russia continue to throw caution to the winds by transferring advanced technologies to China for short-term gains. China has been ably tapping the cash-and-carry opportunities in the Russian market, picking up a number of sensitive technologies. (Even the United States was quick to buy advanced Russian space and rocket technologies cheaply in the early nineties). Ironically, because of these transfers and sales China might end up replacing Russia as the second power sometime in the future.

At the moment there is talk of multi-polarity. In actual fact multi-polarity is a staging point towards just two poles; that could re-emerge after China has narrowed the military technology gap with USA - with Russian help, so to say. Then the relationship will subtly change. That will be the stage when Russia starts crying over spilt milk. China aspires to super power status at par with USA at some point in time. This is unlikely to happen unless China is able to marginalise Russia and Japan and to a lesser extent India. All these countries have geographic contiguity with China. In the case of Japan, the sea between China and Japan makes them contiguous. All three nations have the potential to challenge China in various fields. Their respective spheres of economic and geopolitical influence in and around the region impinge upon each other. Recent efforts by the Russian leader to establish a more direct relationship with North Korea and the Koreas in general could conceivably make China uncomfortable. Japan and the two Koreas would look at the development differently, perhaps more benignly. Additionally, China will emerge as a world power only after it has been able to incorporate Taiwan. Lee Kuan Yew the elder statesman of Singapore put it succinctly in an interview reported in Asiaweek Sep 22, 2000:

"If China does not disintegrate reunification is inevitable. If China disintegrates all bets are off".


Russia apparently is quietly building a strategic relationship with Iran. Russia has made an agreement with Iran to supply about 4 billion US dollars worth of materiel in the next few years to the Iranian armed forces. These include: military aircraft, tanks, air defence systems and diesel submarines. In early February 2000 Russia turned down an offer of $100 million in aid from the US Department of Energy if it promised to end the reprocessing of nuclear fuel and cancel the Bushehr project. (Middle East International, no.629, March 10, 2000) The Bushehr project would give a much-needed boost to Russian industry. It is estimated at US$ 800 million.

At one point the US seemed to be persisting with its efforts to prevent Russia, China and Iran from coming closer in any combination between these countries. The Russia-China-Iran axis cannot really emerge as a durable axis for more reasons than one. It was developing primarily on account of the feeling in Iran and Russia that they were being pushed into a corner by the Americans. Should the moderates in Iran led by President Khatami succeed in their thrust towards liberalisation and should the US, in turn, moderate its stance the outcome could turn out differently. Initially the US strategic goal of total control of Central Asian gas and oil aimed at excluding Russia and Iran by any combination that would side step these countries. At that point the Afghan-Pakistan corridor was being looked at favourably.

Major changes have taken place since then. China's geo-strategic planning now aims - in the long-term, if not immediately - at being the dominant power in Central Asia. The early occupation of Tibet - and now an enfeebled Russia - will permit China to do so through physical dominance of the region, directly or by proxy. That proxy certainly cannot be Iran. It is the Pakistan-Afghanistan axis that China seeks to exploit to the hilt in the coming years to checkmate the other major powers having interests in the region. The strategy seems to be working.

Iran's efforts to stem the Taliban tide were impelled by geo-strategic and ideological imperatives. Russia too must be feeling uncomfortable at China's backing Pakistan with such vigour, and by extension the Taliban, with nuclear and longer range missile technologies. While ostensibly these transfers were meant to keep India engaged strategic thinkers in Russia, Turkey and Israel have reportedly started feeling uncomfortable at the thought that they too could become vulnerable to the same weapons systems under a more militant Islamic dispensation.


On taking over as President of the Russian Federation, Mr. Putin began to play a more active role in the sphere of foreign policy. In May 2000, he had meetings with most of the CIS leaders. Russia desisted from setting forth any global or ideological agenda - in the manner of a superpower. The new concept was one of multipolar system of international relations, which objectively reflected the reality at the dawn of the new century. Russia then embarked on a sweeping reshaping of its relations with the former Soviet states, abandoning attempts to resuscitate the Commonwealth of Independent States and preferring instead to build alliances with its closest allies on the basis of shared interests. The new strategy could aggravate splits in the CIS. On the other hand it could start economic integration among at least some of the CIS members.

Meeting in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan in October last year the Presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus, set up a new economic trade zone, the Eurasian Economic Community. The five countries agreed to gradually pull down economic barriers and encourage free movement of goods, capital and workforce. Russia showed willingness to put up with certain economic losses resulting from the opening of the domestic market to its partners. Moscow also forfeited the right to dominate the grouping, although it will control 40 per cent of the votes in the new union.

Soon after they formed the Eurasian Economic Community the five former Soviet states, joined by Armenia, met in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, to resuscitate the 1992 Collective Security Treaty. The six nations resolved to set up a rapid deployment military force to repulse both external aggression and internal insurgency. What is more important, Moscow agreed to supply weapons to its allies at highly concessional rates. These new attempts at economic and military integration are based on the growing threat of Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia. The Taliban's recent military gains in Afghanistan and incursions into post-Soviet Central Asia convinced Moscow that the states in the region had to be made strong enough to stand up to the threat of religious extremism and terrorism.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 Ukraine had been drifting away from Russia and opposed any CIS accords that could hamper this process. In 1999 Ukraine set up a NATO-oriented security arrangement with Georgia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, which refused to prolong the Collective Security Treaty with Russia, as well as Moldova. The new alliance, GUUAM, which drew its abbreviation from the first letter of its member-states' names, was formally established in Washington in May 1999 where its leaders attended celebrations of the 50th anniversary of NATO. From the start it favoured closer economic, political and military cooperation with the West.

The establishment of the Eurasian Economic Community and rekindling of the Collective Security Treaty highlighted the split in the CIS into pro-Russia and pro-NATO camps. The President of Uzbekistan, Mr. Islam Karimov, refused to attend the Moscow-led summits in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and played host instead to the Ukrainian President. At about the same time Russia's Lukoil pulled out of a consortium of Western-led companies that were planning to build oil and gas pipelines from Azerbaijan to Turkey. The Russian natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, drew up plans to build a pipeline to Europe bypassing Ukraine. This would cost Ukraine may millions of dollars in lost gas transit revenues. Oil politics continue to dominate the region. The European and US investments in Central Asia have grown substantially in the past decade. However, due to its geographic location and linguistic affinities, Russia is better placed to assist existing regimes in matters of defence and internal order.

An important indicator of changing attitudes towards Russia in the region is the position of President Karimov of Uzbekistan. In 1999 Karimov distanced himself from the CIS by becoming a member of the NATO-sponsored GUUAM Pact which united former Soviet Southern republics in a loose alliance. He also refused to sign the CIS defence pact. Following major terrorist activity in his territory, however and an attempt on his life, Karimov has sought greater cooperation with Russia in dealing with fundamentalist organisations. While stressing the need to build up Uzbek military forces, he agreed to send Uzbek officers for training at the military academy of the Russian Federation, and ensured refurbishing of Uzbek hardware from Russia.

Russia cannot really shed its Soviet legacy. It cannot opt out unilaterally. If it does, the vacuum created in the CAR would, in all probability, be filled by forces inimical to Russia. Putin's quandary is that he cannot afford to leave them alone. Some of the CAR apparently feel obliged to seek accommodation with the Taliban. Not because they welcome the Taliban, but owing to their successes in Afghanistan. Hence unless Russia acts resolutely to reassure them of its capability to safeguard the CARs territorial integrity it will oblige them to look elsewhere.


The US was able to get out of Vietnam after the defeat at the hands of the Vietcong, practically abandoning all military and non-military assets in situ. Whatever the mess, it turned out to be a 'clean break'. No such luxury was available to Russia on account of geographical contiguity and a host of other factors that have already been touched upon earlier on in the paper. Russia is now in the forefront of the global efforts to contain the Taliban and the potential for terrorism emanating from that country. For the time being the US backs Russia in its efforts. The US being far away cannot experience the immediacy of the threat. At the moment its short-term interest appears to be limited to the extradition of Bin Laden. Not realising that thousands and possibly tens of thousands of die-hard jehadis coming out of the madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan are potential Bin Laden clones.

Russia really does not have much of a choice in the matter. Either it is successful in containing the militant Islamic threat or it watches as more and more regions in Central Asia and Russia itself go the Chechnya way. The dilemma is very real. It has been amply demonstrated in Vietnam and Afghanistan that advanced military technology - of itself - while it can flatten a country and destroy its infrastructure by the use of aircraft and missiles cannot adequately deal with small, well-motivated guerrilla bands. More so, in mountainous and jungle terrain, should capture of territory be the real objective. Radical groups bent upon mayhem require well-trained troops to flush them out in close quarter combat where body count matters. Casualties in men can be high. This is where Russia has to take a firm decision since it cannot afford to expend manpower. The strategy of the opponents is to make the battle manpower heavy, which hurts Russia with a declining population much more than it does the adversary. The Russians cannot sustain more and more manpower losses. Therefore, that country would be left with no option but to strike at source by delineating a line, which if breached by the jehadis in Afghanistan, or their backers, would automatically invite massive high tech precision retaliation. The retaliation would be limited to training camps and such assets that allow the other side to pursue its northward thrust into the CAR or territory held by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.


The defence relationship between Japan and Russia is likely to grow, driven by a wariness of China. This could be greatly strengthened by increased economic cooperation. Raw fossil fuels and the resources locked up in the coldness of Siberia have long beckoned Japan's hungry industry. Japanese businessmen continue to show reluctance on account of the complicated political relations between the two countries. Japan is anxious to see tangible progress towards the return of the four islands known to the world as the Kuriles: more precisely the islands of Shikotan, the Habomai cluster, Kunashiri and Etorofu. In 1855, towards the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan and Russia signed a treaty of friendship, drawing a border between the northern most of the four islands, Etorofu, and Russia's Urup Island. During the period leading to the Japanese surrender in September 1945, the Soviets grabbed all four islands. In 1956, during the establishment of diplomatic relations, Japan and Russia signed the Moscow Declaration. It calls for Russia returning Habomai and Shikotan when the peace treaty is signed. The fate of the other two islands was not mentioned.

After many ups and downs Japan coaxed Russia in 1993 to again formally acknowledge the existence of a territorial dispute. Later during the Hashimoto visit to Russia he mooted the idea of 'land for money'. Japan would invest in infrastructure in the Russian Far East and could buy natural gas at cheaper prices, and improve Russia's ports, harbours and other facilities on the disputed islands. In return, Mr. Yeltsin agreed to sign a document saying both leaders would do their best in order to conclude a peace treaty by 2000. There were further talks during Mr. Yeltsin's visit to Japan in 1998. In spite of all the parleys there really has not been any satisfactory forward movement in this issue from the Japanese viewpoint.

In the coming years these countries will have to shed their past antipathy and take a fresh look at the emerging geopolitical scene in Asia and the world. Both countries are global players. They might have to make fresh assessments about their global role. Although the possibility may appear remote at the moment, China through tacit support to the Pakistan-Taliban axis as well as its direct investments in Kazakhstan, especially in the oil sector, is getting poised to dominate the Central Asian region at some future date. They have already consolidated their hold over Tibet. Neither Japan nor Russia would view this development with equanimity. For both countries China appears to be the bigger worry in the future rather than any misgivings about each other.


The Russian relationship with India would be seen by many as a near perfect relationship on account of the absence of dissonance on almost any count, be it trade, geopolitical interests or any other sphere that is included in relations between countries. Not being geographically contiguous cross border irritants also get excluded. To add to this, at the present time both countries are threatened by militant Islamic groups sallying forth from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. There appears to be a national consensus in both countries on closer cooperation.

To quote Professor Sergei Lunyov, a leading specialist at the Institute of Oriental Studies:

"We must never forget that Russia and India are natural geopolitical allies. There is a lot of momentum in the relationship."

The Russian proposal for a North-South Transport Corridor on establishing a railroad-cum-ferry link between Russia and India through several other countries has been well received. The Indian Transport Minister has recently signed an agreement in St Petersburg pledging Indian cooperation in implementing the project, estimated to cost nearly $2 billion. It will cut delivery time from India to Russia by 10 to 15 days and save about 30 per cent in shipping costs. Originating in Helsinki and proceeding via St Petersburg, Moscow, Astharkhan, the Caspian Sea, Iran, UAE to India – the Corridor will also open up markets for Indian goods in eastern Europe.


The Russian soul, if it could be examined closely, would in all probability be composed of a European half and an Asian half. Over the centuries there have been various pulls and pressures from both halves. After the advent of Peter the Great the European half predominated for a long time. In the new century the pulls and pressures could become even more exaggerated. According to George Lucas, "Emergent capitalism appeared as an important factor in the formation of European nations. After profound revolutionary struggles, it transformed the chaos of small medieval feudal governments into great nations in the most capitalistically developed part of Europe". (George Lucas, Lenin) Individual countries of Europe- those who had the means that is- expanded across the world in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The second half of the twentieth century saw the retraction of the European powers by stages. Therefore, the retraction of Russia from Asia nearly forty years after the European colonial powers felt it prudent to pull out - some were forced out - follows a pattern, except that Russia happens geographically to embrace both continents. The stakes for Russia in Asia remain enormous as an existential imperative.

In the late fifties, American researcher Harold R Isaacs wrote, "The European age has ended. The centre of gravity in world affairs has shifted, Europe has to be seen as a peninsula at one end of the great Eurasian continent". Surprisingly - perhaps not so surprisingly - while the importance of Asia could continue to grow it would be wrong to presume therefrom that Asian growth ipso facto denotes a downsizing of European importance. It would have been the case had the cold war continued. The demise of the Soviet Union confers upon Europe a whole range of exciting options provided the Old Continent breaks away from the deeply ingrained habit of looking at the world from an American perspective, as a US appendage. It need no longer be the case.

It is time for Europe to get out of the shadow of America. It was America's pushing of its own agenda for world dominance that has prevented Europe from having a European worldview for the 21st century. A historical turning point has now been reached. Several new vistas open up on Europe's geopolitical horizon at the end of the cold war. Most military experts concede that Europe does not face any real military threat in the foreseeable future. While this does not mean that Europe should lower its military guard it does mean that Europe should feel free to have an independent strategic vision based on what is good for Europe and the European neighbourhood, which is basically Asia and Africa. NATO, after all, came into being because of the Soviet menace. Russia by itself cannot possibly regain the same geographic, demographic or military mass.

Russia has to be co-opted into the European strategic vision. Going a step further, its leaders should envision a Europe stretching from Calais to Vladivostok. Europe would then stretch not from the Atlantic to the Urals, but in a grand sweep from Atlantic to the Pacific. Examined dispassionately, freed from the cold war mindset, the proposal envisages a pivotal role for the extended European Union as one of the most significant pillars of the global equipoise of the new millennium. Any number of difficulties can be conjured up by skeptics and naysayers. European statesman should seize the initiative to usher in a new era. The Russian leadership can hardly be averse to the idea once it sinks in. The Russian people would be enthusiastic to it. As possibly would be the average European citizen.

At some stage the Russian nuclear arsenal could be integrated into a common European defence as a measure of global stability. Thereafter, the process of nuclear disarmament would gather momentum. The P5 negotiating entities could, through a process of give and take, become just three major negotiating entities, namely, USA, the enlarged European Union and China. In anticipation of the possible turn of events in the direction indicated, Russia and Europe should join hands to prevent another cold war from descending on the world. The more menacing cold war that is sought to be imposed unilaterally by the USA on a world that has barely begun to recover from the aftermath of the previous one. Europe occupies a unique position in the East-West dialogue. It should encourage Russia to resist acceding to American blandishments for diluting the 1972 ABM Treaty, a cornerstone of the global equipoise that nearly came into being before the US started once again flexing its military muscle. Should Europe decide to resolutely oppose the American NMD and TMD deployments - as it is instinctively inclined to do - the US would hardly be in a position to initiate a new arms race, one more terrifying in some ways than the earlier one after the second world war. Europe must remember that should a free for all take place on account of the nuclear and missile proliferation that would surely follow a NMD deployment decision the battle-ground for any conflagration would be the Eurasian landmass. America is smug and secure beyond the oceans. Europe's vulnerability was during the cold war - and will remain in any future war - an order of magnitude higher than that of USA. The Americans are aware of that. So, for that matter, are the Europeans. And yet the 'conditioned' inertia.

To quote from the 'Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation which was approved by the President, Mr. Putin on June 28, 2000:

"The Russian Federation views the EU as one of its main political and economic partners and will strive to develop with it an intensive, stable and long-term cooperation devoid of expediency fluctuations".


"If President Bill Clinton had all his wits about him he would challenge the toughest hard liners on the Republican right to posit a plausible scenario for modern day Russia wanting to go to war with the West. Can anyone really make a case that if the USA dropped its guard — and its nuclear allies Britain and France did too — that Russia would move into western Europe and bomb America's industrial heart-lands? It is simply intellectually outrageous, which is why no one spells it out". So wrote Jonathan Power in an article in The Statesman, June 2, 2000.

Russia was down - and almost out - at the end of the cold war. The US obviously wanted at that stage to give a coup de grace to the rump Russia; not satisfied even after the break up of the Soviet Union. Had it sat back to consider its future course of action with wisdom and maturity it would have realised that the course that it adopted for dealing with Russia was not the one to take. Once again the American military industrial complex forced the issue. Many in Europe voiced their misgivings. As had been its wont in the past the US brushed aside all objections - which in any case were put forward only tentatively, such being the status of the once proud Europeans now herded into collective submission.

The quote that follows is from the Russell Einstein Manifesto, the credo of Pugwash that was issued in July 1955 and was signed by 11 distinguished scientists most of them Nobel Prize winners. They drew attention to mankind's predicament in language that was, in a way, prophetic:

" We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species man, whose continued existence is in doubt…"
and called upon scientists to:
"remember your humanity and forget the rest"

The US government failed to respond to this sane piece of advice and went on instead to usher in a global arms race that brought the planet to the brink of disaster more than once in one of the most tense periods of world history. It ended with the end of the cold war, or so it seemed at that time. Now, after fifty years, the American government seems bent upon starting another arms spiral, far more menacing than the earlier one, by its insistence on going ahead unilaterally with the deployment of National and Theatre Missile Defence.

Zbigniew, Brzezinski, National Security Adviser to President Carter, in a recent article, has remarked:

" The US has never followed a genuinely universal and non-discriminatory policy of halting proliferation. In fact, US policy all along has been that of selective and preferential proliferation…"


In the 43rd session of the UN General Assembly, a typical year, the US voted against all of the 25 resolutions to enhance international security and for disarmament. The western democracies in general and the US establishment in particular have yet not grasped the real import of the altered global reality. That the USA and Russia need no longer look at each other as adversaries but as partners in bringing about an end to all types of threats hanging over the viability of the Planet. What is being witnessed is the latent effect of the cold war era continuing to manifest itself in the military-industrial complex of the former adversaries. As things stand now, and projecting the same template well into the future, it is difficult to see as to how Russia can again match the might of the United States. Russia can become a strong medium to high ranking power, but not a super power in the 21st century. China could, at some stage reach fairly close to the super power status. It will still not be able to match the might of the United States if one goes by the criterion of a super power described at the beginning of the presentation. The only grouping that could surpass - not challenge - the United States by the same criteria would be a European Union stretching from the Atlantic to Vladivostok. Such an entity if it does come about could be the harbinger of the equipoise of the third millennium.

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