Russia’s Turn to the East: Leaving the Comfort Zone and a Change of Civilizational Choice

As part of the Eastern Perspective project, Leonid Bliakher, Head of the Department of Philosophy at the Pacific National University in Khabarovsk, told about the premises and limitations of Russia’s “turn to the East.”

What is the substance of “Russia’s turn to the East”? To what extent can it be attributed to the deterioration of relations with the West? What are the natural constraints on this process?

The “turn to the East” is perceived today as an action forced on Russia by the current situation. However, I believe its significance is much greater. This is a change of civilizational choice by the country, society and culture, which is being made not for the present moment but for the ages. This choice was prompted by a crisis of enlightenment, as Europe’s foundational ideology, as well as the crisis of the Eurocentric world.

China is Russia’s main partner in Asia. What can be done and what is being done to diversify relations with Asian countries?

Unfortunately nothing so far except some isolated acts that can hardly be called systematic. What is needed is a long-term Russian policy in East Asia, one that is far from purely economic. It can find support in the Russian diasporas, which are now numerous enough in the region, including in South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, etc. In that case the status of our main partner (China), as I see it, should not raise concerns. The main thing is that Russia should not decide which project is better for it – Chinese, American, Japanese or European – but should implement its own project instead. Then the most virulent strains of Sinophobia that infected part of the country’s population and the elite would vanish. If a neighbor is going to dig a canal across your land, who is preventing you from fishing in that canal and planting a garden along it? In that case you both benefit.

Russia’s Turn to the East: Expectations and the Reality
Anton Bespalov
In recent years, the turn to the East, or pivot to Asia, has been one of the most popular topics in the Russian political and media discourse. Assessments of this process vary: some consider it a long-overdue necessity and a chance for Russia to increase its competitiveness in the 21st century. Others think this project is a product of Moscow policymakers and does not take into account the real needs of Russians residing in the Asian parts of the country. examines the turn’s nature, opportunities, and limitations in the framework of its “Eastern Perspective” project.

How is Russia regarded in the key Asian countries and regions? In which areas is its position the strongest and where does it lag behind other countries, which are also expanding ties with Asia? What can Russia give Asia?

I hate to say it, but so far Russia is not regarded in the region in any way. At best it is seen as a possible transit area and a source of some raw materials. As such, our East Asian neighbors hold extremely unfavorable views of Russia’s lack of a consistent image and an established eastern policy. Russia is still not regarded as one of them. Neither Russian business circles nor the majority of the political establishment have access to the private zones where the real deal-making occurs. This rather tough spot could be improved by using the experience of some residents Russia’s Far East, many of whom had to get integrated in the business networks of the adjacent countries in the 1990s.

What has the “turn to the East” given Russia’s Far Eastern regions? What else has to be done?

So far, the turn to the East has taken from them more that it has given: it destroyed the economy that was formed in the 1990s and deprived most of the population of its comfortable living conditions. However, it seems to me that the question should be posed a bit differently. A better question is: what kind of a region should it be to make the turn to the East possible? Then the answer is more or less clear: logistics networks and transport systems should be qualitatively improved, as should trading platforms, while preserving ties with the East Asian countries and business circles established in the 1990s. Meanwhile, the sectors that provide the region with their own export-quality goods should receive state support. Such support should be given to mineral production in the northern areas of the region, to raw materials processing, agriculture and commerce in the south, and to sea transport and fishing in the coastal areas.

Is the “turn to the East” a political project of some elites or it is a mental reorientation on a national scale?

Like any large-scale, civilizational project, the turn to the East was conceived by a relatively narrow group of politicians and experts who faced skepticism from outside the group. Now it is high time for this transition to be taken to a new level – the level of a fundamental ideological and mental reorientation in society. However, such shifts rarely happen on their own. This is why the success of the “turn to the East” project does not so much lie in politics or the economy (where there is fairly considerable activity already), but in mass outreach and raising the awareness of the population regarding Asia and Russia’s Asian prospects.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.