Can Russia bridge the East and West?

By Sun Xiaobo
Before setting foot on its territory, I always pictured Russia as a country with an Oriental flavor despite its geographic location and a feeling of familiarity since it neighbors China and the two have similarities in parts of history and today’s systems.

I made my first trip to Russia in mid-September. When I walked through Moscow’s streets with European-style buildings, passed by Western-style restaurants present everywhere and met people who clearly don’t have an Asian face, it suddenly occurred to me that I was in a country that has inextricable connections to the West. In some sense, Russia resembles a Western nation than an Asian one.

But that’s not the whole picture. Where is the country that sits at the intersection of Europe and Asia heading? Should it follow the Western path of development or turn to Asia? There has been continuous debate on the question for a long period – perhaps centuries – which has caused perplexity and insecurity among Russian people.

Today, veering toward the West is virtually not an option. The ongoing tensions and even confrontation between Russia and the West in recent years, as shown by the Russiagate allegations and Skripal poisoning, reveal long-existing strategic distrust between them. It would be difficult to address such distrust. Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown a tough attitude toward the US and Europe, but Russians don’t think it’s enough.

Mark Sleboda, a security analyst I met at the RT news channel, told me and media people from 10 countries that what Russians are debating about is not Putin’s toughness, but whether he should be stronger. “It’s not Putin’s Russia, but Russia’s Putin,” he said. He also sneered at Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s July suggestion that Russia be brought back into the “European family,” tweeting that “Russia is Eurasia, not European.” He is not in the minority in the country.

And during my interview with Professor Alexander Lukin, head of the Higher School of Economics’ Department of International Relations in Moscow, he modestly referred to Russia as a “small country,” as he explained, but was firm and straightforward in his criticism of the West. In fact, Russians I met during my stay in Moscow all seem to hold little hope for a thaw in Russia’s relations with the West. It would mean a daunting task for the two to bury the hatchet.

Trust between Russia and Asia may also need to be improved. But since the 21st century is projected as the Asian Century, working more with emerging Asian countries, China in particular, can be a wise choice.

China and Russia have already had extensive cooperation in a variety of fields, with a bilateral trade goal of $200 billion by 2020.

Chinese President Xi Jinping attended for the first time the Eastern Economic Forum in September in Vladivostok as a sign of China’s stepped-up effort to support Russia in boosting the development of its Far Eastern region. In May, China signed an agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) to connect its cooperation with the¬†Belt and Road¬†initiative, meeting the demands of development of both sides. It seems to be a right track to stay on.

Russia will continue to be an independent and important pole in the world. Its past struggle with where to proceed may not recur, but the country will probably strengthen its cooperation with Asian nations and seek to improve its Western ties, as its idea of new Eurasianism shows. It has to play the role of a bridge.

Courtesy: Global Times



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