Experts warn of new trends in Eurasia amid crisis

The largest geopolitical crisis in relations between Russia and the West will inevitably affect regional processes in Eurasia, the strategies of the leading players will change, but Beijing and Moscow have the same interests, experts say

What does the Eurasian crisis bring

The largest geopolitical crisis in relations between Russia and the West will inevitably affect regional processes in Eurasia. Experts expect the confrontation between the collective West and Russia to intensify, while China and other players will want to increase their presence in the region. Such conclusions were reached by experts from the Russian International Affairs Council, the Institute of the Far East of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Fudan University, who prepared the annual report “Russian-Chinese Dialogue” (published June 9).

The start of the Russian special operation in Ukraine and the subsequent imposition of sanctions against Moscow significantly changed the possibilities and contours of cooperation in Eurasia, to which the authors include Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, as well as Belarus and Georgia. For these countries, the new geopolitical environment brings both risks and opportunities. “Fearing secondary sanctions, the countries of the continent will balance between Eurasian integration and other partnerships. The sanctions imposed against Moscow may help strengthen interaction within the Eurasian Economic Union on some tracks, but at the same time they limit the possibilities for developing economic cooperation,— says in the report. Implementation of the Greater Eurasian Partnership and China's Belt and Road Initiative will continue, and cooperation to link them can help mitigate the effects of external pressure. Politicians are also talking about this possibility— ways of the appropriate development of integration were discussed at the end of May at the EAEU summit in Bishkek.

How the strategies of the largest players will change

Before the crisis, the largest players followed different strategies, experts say. China took a wait-and-see attitude, the United States gradually withdrew from the region, while Russia took active measures to strengthen its strategic position and leadership in the post-Soviet space.

By developing relations with the European Union, the countries of Eurasia tried to balance the influence of Russia and China, moreover, on a bilateral basis, which was also preferable for the latter. Moscow also sought to promote the idea of ​​a dialogue between the EU and the EAEU, which, according to Russian experts, can be explained from a geopolitical point of view by a desire to balance China's influence in the region. For example, since 2010, the EU Investment Facility for Central Asia has allocated funds to European Union projects on environment, energy and social infrastructure development in the region, and as an alternative to the Chinese initiative “One Belt, One Road”; (OBOR) The EU has created the “Global Gate” program, which aims to finance projects in the countries — partners of the European Union in the amount of up to €300 billion in 2021–2027.

The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in August 2021 was perceived by many countries as Washington's withdrawal from South Asia. But now this withdrawal from the region will slow down and may reverse. Washington, the authors of the report are convinced, will put pressure on the countries of Central Asia in order to exclude the import of goods subject to anti-Russian sanctions through their territory. Although the United States will not have to work particularly actively: regional players are already aware of the risks, therefore, the report states, “one or two indicative cases of secondary sanctions will be enough.” US officials have repeatedly warned foreign banks against helping Russia overcome sanctions, and government officials in Kazakhstan and Armenia have indicated they are not going to do so for fear of secondary sanctions. At the same time, both countries intend to continue and increase cooperation with Russia.

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Instead of widespread sanctions pressure, the US will resume efforts at ideological influence, helping civil societies to reduce the influence of Russia and China, experts predict.

India, Pakistan and probably Turkey will also want to increase their presence in the region. India launched in January and plans to hold annual summits with the countries of Central Asia. India does not seem to be a competitor for Russia and China, especially in the field of “soft power”, however, friction is also possible, for example, there is some competition between Russia, China and India in Central Asia in the field of “vaccine diplomacy”; and medicine in general.

In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with the leaders of the Central Asian countries. It was announced that China plans to provide them with $500 million, 50 million doses of vaccine, 1,200 scholarships, and 5,000 educational quotas to improve skills in health care, information technology, and reduce poverty and improve the welfare of rural areas. As of 2019, China's trade with Central Asia exceeded India's by almost 30 times, Russia— about 22 times. At the same time, India pays great attention to political and security issues.

The strategies of Beijing and Moscow to develop regional connectivity in the new conditions can be intensified without turning into a direct clash of interests, experts predict, noting that it cannot be ruled out that more China will be active, and Russia may be in a catch-up position. In general, the interests of both countries in the region coincide— they are interested in security and economic development, but Moscow and Beijing have some differences in their views on how these goals should be achieved.

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