Asia Times | Far from quiet on the US vs Russia-China front - By PEPE ESCOBAR
Kazakhs fear impacts of new ‘cold war’, but Putin is
adamant Eurasian integration will go ahead
Let’s start in mid-May, when
Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana, hosted the third Russia-Kazakhstan Expert Forum, jointly
organized by premier think tank Valdai Club and the Kazakhstan Council on
The ongoing, laborious and
crucial interconnection of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative and
the Eurasia Economic Union was at the center of the debates. Kazakhstan is a
pivotal member of both the BRI and EAEU.
As Valdai Club top analyst
Yaroslav Lissovolik told me, there was much discussion “on the state of play in
emerging markets in light of the developments associated with the US-China
trade stand-off.” What emerged was the necessity of embracing “open
regionalism” as a factor to neutralize “the negative protectionist trends in
the global economy.”
This translates as regional
blocks along a vast South-South axis harnessing their huge potential “to
counter protections pressures”, with “different forms of economic integration
other than trade liberalization” having preeminence. Enter “connectivity” – BRI’s
The EAEU, celebrating its
fifth anniversary this year, is fully into the open regionalism paradigm,
according to Lissovolik, with memoranda of understanding signed with Mercosur,
ASEAN, and more free-trade agreements coming up later this year, including
Serbia and Singapore.
Sessions at the Russia-Kazakhstan forum
produced wonderful insights on the triangular Russia-China-Central Asia
relationship and further South-South collaboration. Special attention should
focus on the concept of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) 2.0. If a new bipolarity
is emerging, pitting the US against China, NAM 2.0 rules that vast sectors of
the Global South should profit by remaining neutral.
On the complex Russia-China
strategic partnership, featuring myriad layers, by now it’s established that
Beijing considers Moscow a sort of strategic rearguard in its ascent to
superpower status. Yet doubts persist across sectors of “pivot to the East”
Moscow elites on how to handle Beijing.
It’s fascinating to watch how
neutral Kazakh analysts see it. They tend to interpret negative perceptions
about a possible “Chinese threat” as impressed upon Russia, including Russia
media, by its notorious Western “partners” – and “from there proceed to
Kazakhstan and other post-Soviet countries.”
Kazakhs stress that the
development of the EAEU is always under tremendous pressure by the West, and
are very worried that the US-China trade war will have serious consequences for
the development of Eurasian integration. They dread the possibility of another
front of the US-China fight opening in strategically positioned Kazakhstan.
Still, they hope the EAEU will expand, mostly because of Russia.
Andrei Sushentsov, program
director of the Valdai Discussion Club, had a more lenientexplanation. He reads the current chaos
not as a Cold War, but rather a “Phony Cold War” – with no pronounced
aggressor, no ideological component in the confrontation, and even “a desire to
2.0 or Eurasia integration?
In a crucial speech to the Valdai Club, President
Putin made it clear, once again, that the BRI-EAEU interconnection is an
absolute priority. And the only road map ahead is for Eurasian integration.
That interlinks with the
advance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose annual summit is next
month, in Kyrgyzstan. One of the key goals of the SCO, since it was founded in
2001, is to create an evolving Russia-China-Central Asia synergy.
It’s not far-fetched to
consider that what happens next may include a clash between the inbuilt logic
of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) 2.0 and the massive Eurasian integration
drive. Moscow, for instance, would be in an intractable position if it came to
either align with Beijing or NAM 2.0.
Putin has had a crack on how to
solve the problem. “Historical experience shows that the Soviet Union had quite
trust-based and constructive relations with many countries of the Non-Aligned
Movement. It is also clear that if pursued in a too radical and uncompromising
way, the logic of the ‘new non-aligned movement’ can become a challenge to the
consolidation and unity of Eurasia, which is the top priority for the SCO and
Putin has arguably dedicated a
lot of thought to “the case of a new rupture in Russia-China relations, toward
which many are pushing us.” He recognizes that “quite a large part of Russian
society will receive it as a quite natural and even positive development.
Therefore, to avoid this scenario (to reiterate, consolidation and unity of
Greater Eurasia is the key value of the SCO and the EAEU-BRI association), not
only diplomatic work outside of Russia is required… but also a lot of work
inside the country. In this case, the work needs to be done less with elites by
way of expert papers, than directly with the people in entirely different media
formats (which, by the way, not all traditional experts can do).”
The ultimate target though
remains set in stone – to “achieve the purported goal of consolidating Greater
US three-war front
Maximum pressure from
‘Exceptionalistan’ won’t relent. For instance, CAATSA – the Countering
America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act – now in overdrive after the
adoption of a European Recapitalization Incentive Program, will continue to
economically punish nations that purchase Russian and Chinese weapons.
The logic of this extreme
“military diplomacy” is stark; if you don’t weaponize the American way, you
will suffer. Key targets feature, among others, India and Turkey, two still
theoretical poles of Eurasian integration.
In parallel, from US Think
Tankland, comes the latest RAND Corporation reporton – what else – how to wage
Cold War 2.0 against Russia, complete with scores of strategic bombers and new
intermediate-range nuclear missiles stationed in Europe to counter “Russian
aggression”. Santa Monica’s RAND arguably qualifies as the top Deep State think
So, it’s no wonder the road
ahead is fraught with Desperation Row scenarios. The US economic war on China –
at least for now – is not as hardcore as the US economic war on Russia, which
is not as hardcore as the US economic siege or blockade of Iran. Yet all three
wars carry the potential to degenerate in a flash. And we’re not even counting
the strong possibility of an extra Trump administration economic war on the EU.
It’s no accident that the
current economic wars target the three key nodes of Eurasian integration. The
war against the EU may not happen because the main beneficiaries would be the
Obviously, no illusions remain
in Beijing, Moscow and Tehran’s corridors of power. Frantic diplomacy prevails.
After the BRI forum in Beijing, Presidents Putin and Xi meet again in early
June at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum – where discussion of
BRI-EAEU interconnection will be paramount, alongside containment of the US in
Then Russia and China meet
again at the SCO summit in Bishkek. The head of Russia’s Federal Security
Service (FSB), Alexander Bortnikov, went on the record stating that as many as
5,000 ISIS/Daesh-linked jihadis fresh from their “moderate rebel” Syrian stint
are now massed in Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with the
possibility of crossing to Pakistan and China.
That’s a major security threat
to all SCO members – and it will be discussed in detail in Bishkek, alongside
the necessity of including Iran as a new permanent member.
Wang Qishan is visiting Pakistan, which is a key BRI member with the CPEC
corridor, and after will visit the Netherlands and Germany. Beijing wants to
diversify its complex global investment strategy.
Meanwhile, from Istanbul to
Vladivostok, the key question remains: how to make NAM 2.0 work to the benefit
of Eurasian integration.