Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

What awaits Russia in 2020?

Amid the emerging “new Cold War” between Russia and the West, scholarly attention is turning to Russian fundamentals going forward, writes Al-Sayed Amin Shalaby

Al-Ahram Weekly

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the US and the West declared “victory” over their main adversary and competitor for influence worldwide.

In the immediate aftermath of the disintegration of the Soviet Union as a regime, state and empire, the US and the West turned on the Russian Federation that inherited what was left of the Soviet system. New leader Boris Yeltsin was very responsive. In his foreign policy he tried to prove that the Cold War was over and that the US and the West could regard Russia as a reliable partner.

The United States continued to expand its spheres of influence, although all successive Russian presidents expressed readiness for rapprochement with the West, even not ruling out discussion of Russia’s admission to NATO.

However, no one was going to discuss in earnest a strategic partnership with Moscow, partly because the West felt euphoric over its “victory” in the Cold War and did not take Russia seriously, presuming that it would not be able to restore its potential anytime soon. At the same time, it openly courted Moscow’s former allies, which kept speaking of military threats coming from Russia. The US sought to spread its influence across the entire post-Soviet space, assuming that the traditional Russian presence could be ignored.

The signals of a new Cold War came in the wake of US and European behaviour in the immediate sphere of Russia. Russia’s military action in Georgia in 2008 and annexation of Crimea in 2014 ushered in a new era of tension between Russia and the West. Scholars on Russia now begin to reflect on Russia’s future and its foreign policy. They believe that since Russia has great potential for development, the main goal of its foreign policy until 2020 should be to block negative external influences and avoid involvement in long-term confrontation with its rivals.

In this view, the sources of external threats to Russia will remain the same: Islamism from Syria and Iraq, drug trafficking from Afghanistan, a possible escalation of conflicts involving Nagorno-Karabakh, North Korea or Iran, and the civil war in Ukraine. The priority of maintaining strategic stability with the US requires that Russia modernise its armed forces, military-industrial complex, and global navigation and space communication systems. The need to respond to external threats will divert resources, and Russia’s weakened ability to project power and exert influence in neighbouring countries will affect its national development.

Although scholars expect that by 2020 Russia will not be a leading world power, alongside the US and China, the future of international competition will depend on its choice of partners. Russia will become a strategic balancer interested in preserving the independence of its policy and international assessments. Reluctant to alienate Russia in the future, the West will be more attentive to Russia’s interests.

While strengthening its international position, Russia will seek to expand membership of the Eurasian free trade zone by engaging neighbours and other friendly countries, such as Turkey, Iran, Ukraine, Vietnam, India and countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus. If the BRICS association maintains consensus on the principles of global development, it will gradually become a centre of power comparable to the G7, because of the slow erosion of the latter’s unity on international and economic issues.

Cooperation with China will become an important external source of Russia’s development. China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, covering territory from China across Central Asia and Russia, will be key to both countries. Simultaneously, Russia will seek to complete the European-Far Eastern transit project based on the trans-Siberian and Baikal-Amur railways.

These two transport projects can generate revenues comparable to those from the sale of energy resources. Predictions of Chinese demographic expansion into Siberia and the Russian Far East will not materialise, and the number of Russians crossing the Chinese border in 2020 will remain larger than the number of Chinese crossing the Russian border.

As for Russian-American relations, scholars advise that Moscow and Washington should tone down their rhetoric and stop accusing each other of all manner of sins. Russia’s policy should overcome elements of “reactiveness” in its dialogue with the West, and Moscow should declare its goals and long-term programme of action, including a vision of the peace process in Ukraine and its relations with the future world in general.

This school of thought concludes that a better future for Russia in 2020 might mean the following: no international conflicts, political stability, population growth of 0.5-1 per cent per year, employment at over 60 per cent of the working-age population, annual economic growth of 3-5 per cent, and exports accounting for 20 per cent of GDP. Achieving these targets would help Russia safely make it through the crucial years of 2015-2020 and firmly secure its future.

Other scholars see that the solution for Russia is to more deeply integrate itself into the emerging Asian economy. A first step in that direction would be to foster greater openness towards the Far East. Only diversified economic development will provide the jobs and human capital Russia needs to maintain its position in Asia and its influence in the world.

The writer is former ambassador and member of the Egyptian Council of Foreign Affairs.

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