Russia between East and West: Russian Foreign Policy on the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century

By Gabriel Gorodetsky | Go to book overview

16

Putin's Foreign Policy: Transforming 'the East'

RICHARD SAKWA


INTRODUCTION

The debate over Russian foreign policy in the 1990s tended to focus on a single stark polarity: Atlanticism versus Eurasianism. This in turn was a debate over the attitude towards and meaning of 'West' and 'East'. The West was susceptible to a number of geographical and ideological interpretations: geographically, there was a tension between the American and the European versions; while the ideological ambiguity of the West was reflected above all in the tension between perceptions of the West as a military (primarily NATO) identity or as a zone of capitalist prosperity.

The identity and perception of the East was no less multilayered. At least three Easts can be identified. The first saw the East as a zone of geopolitical contestation and affirmation. While the West may have been dominated by America, in the East, Russia could reaffirm itself as a great power. The main actor here was China, and the rhetoric of a Sino-Russian 'strategic partnership' was an attempt to establish a counter-balance to an increasingly fraught relationship with the West. A second interpretation of the East focused more on geo-economics, with recognition that the Pacific Rim had overtaken the Atlantic basin as the centre of global economic activity and increasing prosperity. Despite the economic crisis in the region in the late 1990s, the economic success of the 'Asian tigers' stood in stark contrast to Russia's continued struggle to come to terms with modernity and modernization. The chronic under-development of the Russian Far East would require investment from Asian countries, above all Japan, as would the effective exploitation of the energy reserves on Sakhalin. 1 The third East is a geo-ideological one in which the East represents not only a spiritual alternative to Western

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