RSIS Seminar by Dr Bhavna Davé, Visiting Senior Fellow, RSIS; and Senior Lecturer in Central Asian Politics, Department of Politics and International Studies, and Chair of the Centre of Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus, SOAS, University of London
Russia’s ‘Pivot to the East’ and the Changing Geopolitical Scene in Eurasia: EEU, SCO and the Implications for South and Southeast Asia
About the Lecture:
Russia’s troubled relationship with the West (though there are signals of a ‘reset’ of US-Russia relations sent by the US president-elect Donald Trump) since Moscow’s take-over of Crimea in 2014 and waging of a low-intensity war with Ukraine have accelerated its ‘pivot to the East or turn to Asia’ policy, which had already been set in motion much earlier by President Putin.
The turn to the East is a renewed assertion by Russia of its geopolitical status as a Euro-Pacific as well as Asia-Pacific power, and a pragmatic response to the shifting of global power to Asia. Putin has also cultivated close bilateral and multilateral ties with China and a strategic partnership through the membership of SCO and participation in China’s new Silk Road initiatives (OBOR). In addition, Russia’s efforts to recast itself as a global power in Asia also rely on its close ties with traditional allies such as India, Vietnam, as well as forging of new defense cooperation with several other states in South and Southeast Asia. Russia has also bolstered its engagement with international fora and regional multilateral organizations (from BRICS, APEC to SCO, ASEAN), drawing support from its Asian allies to challenge Western hegemony.
Russia is also reclaiming its former sphere of influence by bringing the Central Asian region back under its geopolitical and security umbrella, and prevailing upon them to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). An informal pact between Russia and China has allowed China to expand its economic power and Russia to control the security and geopolitical spheres in the Central Asian region. The expansion of the SCO with India and Pakistan assuming full membership from next year – Russia had actively lobbied for prioritizing India’s membership – affirms Russia’s geopolitical status. However, as China’s OBOR initiatives bring in greater investments, also enhancing its security-provision role, new questions have emerged about the nature of Russian-China strategic partnership in the region, the role and functions of EEU and SCO, and their inter-relationship. The growing asymmetry in the economic and trade relations between Russia and China, and the growing dependence of Russia’s ‘Asian’ regions – Siberia and the Far-East – on Chinese investments for infrastructural development, raise questions about Russia’s medium and long-term status as a global power in Asia, which depend significantly on its ability to maintain an equitable strategic partnership with China.
About the Speaker:
Bhavna Davé (PhD in Political Science from Syracuse University, NY) is Senior Lecturer in Central Asian Politics in the Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS, University of London where she also holds the position of Chair of the Centre of Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus. She is the author of the book Kazakhstan: Ethnicity, Language and Power (Routledge: London, 2007). She is editor of Modern Central Asia (London: Routledge, 2009), a four-volume reference collection Modern Central Asia (London: Routledge, 2009), part of Routledge’s series on Critical Issues in Modern Politics. She has published works on issues of language and ethnic identities, minorities, elections and patronage in Kazakhstan, and EU-Central Asia relations, labour migration in Kazakhstan and Russia, and the role of the Russian Far East in Russia’s ‘turn to Asia’ policy. Her current research and writing focus on two separate projects: 1) the shadow political economy of labour migration, migrant and diaspora networks in cities in Russia; and 2) the implications of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative for economic development of the Russian Far East and social, political and security consequences for Central Asian states.