Putin's diplomacy and dream of rejuvenation

Updated: 2013-12-17 10:08


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Tug-of war gains

Another diplomatic front Moscow has been heavily engaged in is tackling Ukraine's integration into the European Union (EU), a process which at one time seemed to be irreversible.

From Russia's viewpoint, to pull Kiev back into its orbit could be called a diplomatic gain in this round of tug-of-war.

From a historical perspective, the relationship between Moscow and Kiev is more like two brothers in one family. Kievan Rus was recognized as the cradle of modern Russia, and Russia ruled a large part of today's Ukraine for 200 years.

Russia was cautious about the enlargement ambition of the 28-member bloc, which is competing with Moscow for the future of its eastern neighbors.

Putin has been eagerly advocating a Eurasian union to counter the EU, starting from the Moscow-led Customs Union, which includes Belarus and Kazakhstan, with Armenia high on the waiting list.

European partners harshly criticized Putin's anti-Western course. Putin never denies his opposition to the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as the "advance of a foreign military bloc to Russia's border posed a threat to the country." On the EU enlargement however, he adopted a milder tone.

Meanwhile, Russia has been attempting to restore its clout over the former Soviet states, sometimes using carrot-and-stick methods. After Kiev made its U-turn, Moscow was stimulated to integrate it into the Russia-dominated entity.

"Putin wants to use the momentum for confirming Russia as the 'natural' center of gravitation on the Eurasian space, to demonstrate that the ex-Soviet republics have no alternative but to gather under Moscow's umbrella," Arkady Dubnov, an expert in the Commonwealth of Independent States affairs, told Xinhua.

In the next two years, Russia will focus on stabilizing and securing the smooth development of Eurasian integration, as it is a pivot for Russia's geopolitical realignment in the long haul.

Counterbalance vs. rebalance

Despite the on-spot cooperation on the Syria and Iran issues, contradictions between Russia and the West have become more pronounced in general. This is natural under the circumstances as Russia tries to distance itself from the West and find counterbalance in the East.

Experts expect the potential of the Asia-Pacific region in the future to have a stronger impact on Russian foreign policy than it does now, as the United States has been trenching its way to the East with a rebalancing strategy.

As the world's largest oil and gas producer, Moscow vowed to diversify its heavy dependence on the European markets. It has been narrowing the Euro-Atlantic window and widening the Asia-Pacific one.

There has not been a "breakthrough" in 2013 in Putin's eastward policy, but the ongoing moves are stable and on track, experts said, citing the strategic partnership of coordination with China, the tactical success in Russia-Japan ties with two sides holding their first "two-plus-two" meeting, as well as close military-technological cooperation with India and Vietnam.

Timofei Bardachyov, director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the State University-Higher School of Economics, said Putin continued the traditions of Russian diplomacy to balance between West and East, serving as a bridge connecting Europe and Asia.

No one denies that Russia is a power of great potential. Despite a declining population and the structural weakness of economy eroding its strength, it is still an energy giant with vast landmass and nuclear weapons. It has a permanent seat and veto power at the UN Security Council.

With Putin's diplomacy, which is not aggressive or assertive, but peacemaking instead, Russia is on the way to revive its national glory and dream, define its international agenda and help construct a new world order.

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