10.01.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On developments in the IPR over the past year and Russia’s place there

This article offers the author’s perspective on some of the past year’s outcomes with regard to developments in the Indo-Pacific region (IPR). It is where the focus of the current phase of the “Great World Game” shifts irreversibly.

But first, a few words about the term itself. The public introduction of its shortened version is attributed to R. Kipling. The author has, however, come across some statements to the effect that the expression “Great Game” itself was used in the British Foreign Office 50 years earlier, i.e., before the “Crimean War”. In the author’s view, this term can be used to describe the entire period of Russian-British relations over the last three centuries, including the present one.

Most likely its current highly significant manifestation in 2022 was the bombing of gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, well within the definition of the “Terrorist Act of the Century”. Its purpose is quite clear and, moreover, it fits into the general scenario of that very Russian-British “Great Game”.

Today, one of its most important subjects is driven by the (also relatively old) problem of preventing economic cooperation between Russia and “Old Europe”, led by Germany, which is extremely beneficial to both sides. The list of measures to tackle this task also includes incorporating anti-German agents into the German leadership, building an anti-Russian barrier out of the East European limitrophe public, and provoking an armed conflict in Ukraine.

The latter has already led to the very traditional consequences of today’s wars in the form of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees and destroyed infrastructure. In addition to all the hardships endured by the population of this unfortunate country, a large part of them also seems to have lost basic common sense. Already deprived of a fifth of its territory, totally dependent on external “sponsors”, living in the cold and waste of its own life and regularly receiving portions of “reparations”, it argues about “freedom-democracy”, the fate of “Putin” and also about “victory”, which is either already achieved, or will “soon” be.

But the lapse of reason is becoming almost universal (which is troubling). Once again, it should be expressed again in bewilderment at the shameful clownery regularly reproduced on television, directed at the country most affected by the same “Terrorist Act of the Century” (with the West almost completely ignoring the fact itself).

The conflict in Ukraine is in direct correlation with the theme stated in the title. With it, one of the now two major world players (the US) is trying to solve intermediate (tactical level) but crucially important tasks in the unfolding “Great World Game” in the IPR. The format of this latter, of course, goes far beyond the centuries-old Russian-British disputes.

At the heart of what is happening in the IPR today is a complex relationship between the US and another global player, which is already modern China. One of those very “intermediate-tactical” tasks boils down to the attempts by the US to prevent China’s rapprochement with Russia. The current positioning of the two countries “back-to-back” provides Beijing with a reliable rear to counter Washington.

 In turn, the “pivot to the East” of the Russian state machine, which includes the process of rapprochement with China, is primarily due to the objective process of shifting the center of world political and economic life to the IPR. This “pivot” has only accelerated due to those “external” efforts to break the cooperation of the Russian Federation (which originated in the days of the USSR) with the “old Europe”. In other words, the provocation of the conflict in Ukraine has already had the opposite effect to that anticipated by the initiators of the conflict.

Incidentally, contrary to the popular view that the breakdown in EU-Russia relations is final, the possibility of a certain restoration of relations in the future cannot be ruled out. A prerequisite for this should be the “flushing out” of the elites of the “old Europe” of anti-national elements. In this way, the recovering organism is freed from the contagion that was once introduced into it, as well as from the outside (including that associated with the “new normality”). It simply cannot be otherwise, unless the “old Europe” wishes to fade into oblivion once and for all.

And it clearly does not want that and is already making efforts to get out of the narrow rut into which the overseas “big brother” is trying to push it (with the help of the Ukrainian conflict). This is particularly evidenced by efforts to maintain and further build on the positive momentum that Europeans have accumulated in their relations with the PRC. The recent increase in Chinese-European contacts, including the recent visit to Beijing by German Chancellor O. Scholz should be seen in this light. Incidentally, contacts of this kind can play a role in the process of restoring EU-Russia relations.

The author does not rule out the possibility of positive developments in US-Russian relations. It should be stressed that this is not to the detriment of the development of Russia’s relations with China. This prospect may arise, first, as Washington realizes the counterproductive nature of the whole Ukrainian adventure, which, as it turns out, does not solve the problem of “forming-up” not only Russia, but also European (still) allies, and is not worth the associated costs.

The second factor, which is becoming global (in contrast to the first, local and intermediate level of significance), is thus driven by the process of shifting the “Great World Game” to the IPR.  The US (quite justifiably) considers itself an integral part of the IPR, which “cares” about everything that goes on here. However, there may well be ways in which this “care” will be realized.

The current strategy of “sticking its nose into everything” related to the activities of a global opponent of the US in the region (especially under the pretext of China’s “violation” of certain “international rules” as well as “human rights”) seems to stem from the specificity of the current Washington administration. Meanwhile, respected US political scientists have long proposed an “Offshore Balancing Strategy”, involving a shift from “failed” positioning as a hegemon to “strategic restraint and maintaining the balance of power in the world”.

The adoption of such a strategy by the (naturally, not the current) authorities in Washington would be well in line with the real weight of the US in the world. But it does involve a dramatic increase in the role of other significant regional players, most notably Japan and India. In fact, this is already being observed, and the state of relations in the Japan-PRC-India triangle is becoming critical for developments in the IPR. So far, the picture that shows the real state of affairs in this triangle does not inspire optimism, to put it mildly.

This is especially true of its Japan-PRC side. Tokyo’s adoption of the new National Security Strategy, whose changes to the previous 2013 version are defined by the term “radical” in Japan itself, and the special attention paid in the document to the situation in Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait, have caused an understandable reaction in Beijing. The visit to China by Japan’s Foreign Minister, which had been repeatedly postponed, did not take place at the end of the year. For the third year in a row, a summit in the PRC-Japan-South Korea configuration (envisaged as an annual event) did not take place.

Compared to Japanese-Chinese relations, whose current state can be described as “very poor”, relations between India and China look bleak as well, but not as bad. After their deep collapse in the famous Ladakh incident of summer 2020, they are gradually recovering. This positive process does not seem to have been affected in any appreciable way by the recent incident in Tawang, which was followed by another meeting of the military high ranks of both sides.

But of course, so far there is nothing like the “spirit of Wuhan” in China-India relations, which seemed to have been established in bilateral relations since the informal meeting of the two leaders in that Chinese city in April 2018. The development of a long-standing trend towards India’s rapprochement with Japan is also a cause for caution in Beijing.

The Russian Federation’s role in “turning East” is seen as helping to reduce the level of negativity in Beijing’s relations with Tokyo and New Delhi. This seems an almost impossible task (especially in the format of the first pair), but this should not mean that attempts are abandoned.

It makes sense to conclude this article with the story that started it, namely the current state of the “Great (Russian-British) Game”. The author in no way shares the definition of Russia’s eternal opponent with the (popular) term “insidious Anglo-Saxons”. The very use of the word “game” is only meant to reflect more or less closely the realities of the transformation of Russian-British relations, with its ups and downs. The word contains no answer to the (nonsensical) question, “Who is right and who is wrong”, and the current failed state of said relations need not be eternal at all.

But it would be useful to hear a reasonably clear answer to the traditional question, “Who did it, gentlemen?” in order to rectify them. One would have to look for a whipping boy (or a girl, or even both together). So that the parties will consider the incident (in the Baltic Sea) to be more or less over. Although, of course, there will still be some “technical” issues, e.g., about compensation. A sea of blood is not required, but a birching on the “teaching place” (a discontinued method of education in British schools, but a useful one) would be appropriate.

There remains, however, the issue of the “Skripals” (and the “Novichok”), which started another aggravation of the same (centuries-old, to repeat) Russian-British “Great Game”. But these are relative trivialities.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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