SPEAKING on May 28 at the graduation ceremony in West Point and touching upon the consequences of the crisis in Ukraine, US President Barack Obama claimed that “our ability to shape the world opinion helped isolate Russia right away”.
Does Russia’s present position in the world have anything to do with isolation? Yes it does – if only one defines this isolation as splendid.
While Obama may never acknowledge anything like that, his contribution to this turn of events is substantial.
During the last few years, his administration tried hard to cut China away from Asia on the Trans-Pacific geopolitical front and likewise, to cut Russia away from Europe on the Trans-Atlantic front.
That China and Russia, whose relations have been steadily improving through the whole post-Cold War period, might want to respond to America’s strategic pressing by getting still closer together seemed not to bother Washington decision-makers until May 20, when Vladimir Putin arrived in Shanghai for a two-day summit with Xi Jinping.
A year ago, it was fashionable to dwell on the meaning of “the new type of relations between major powers” – a term suggested by China in anticipation of improving ties with the United States.
Now, in the middle of 2014, a similar formula is officially applied not to the US-China relations but to Russia-China relations, and with good reason.
The first day of Putin’s visit saw the signing of no fewer than 46 agreements, memorandums and other documents covering practically all spheres of bilateral cooperation, from energy and infrastructure to banking, telecommunications, joint design of civilian airliners and so on and so forth.
Then the second day culminated in the striking of a major gas supply agreement between Gazprom of Russia and CNPC of China – a deal with a total worth approximating half a trillion dollars and drastically changing the rules of global energy games in Russia’s favour.
Add to it the declared intention to link China’s planned New Silk Road transport corridor to Russia’s transcontinental railroads (first and foremost the enhanced and modernised Trans-Siberian), and you have the beginnings of a joint mega-venture to integrate Eurasia and Asia Pacific.
More than ever before, Russia and China are reminding themselves and the world that as long as they cooperate the way they do, all attempts to contain, encircle or isolate either of them will be futile.
Characteristically, the “Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on a new stage in full-scale partnership and strategic relations” signed by Putin and Xi contains several passages on the need to develop trilateral dialogue and cooperation with India.
Some commentators are already noting that India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi may prove receptive to these ideas. And there are reasons to think that others may eventually want to follow suit.
No matter how much the United States has achieved in terms of spoiling the Russia-Europe and the China-Asia connections, it has failed to cut both of these altogether because they are too old, too complex and too strong for that.
What is needed to repair the damage done is, first and foremost, to let the Russia-China partnership display its full potential.
If that is the case, I wonder who will feel isolated.
> Dr Victor Sumsky is director of the Asean Centre in MGIMO University of Moscow. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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