In the world in the making, Russia cannot belong to Europe and Asia at the same time, at least not in the years to come. The US is skilfully taking advantage of the Ukraine war to tighten the grip on the EU, hence Russia has no choice but to redirect its agenda on three directions: domestically, Asia, the Global South (Africa plus Latin America), writes geopolitical analyst Emanuel Pietrobon.
The Western reaction to Russia’s so-called special military operation has been as harsh as predictable. The Biden administration was actually waiting for Putin presidency to make the mistake of setting foot in Ukraine. Mistake made, long-planned sanctions implemented. The Nord Stream 2, whose indefinite hibernation was dreamed of by the Trump administration, was the first pawn to fall. Predictable, again: Biden passed the previous months to threaten Russia (and Germany) to shut down the 10-billion-euro pipeline. The same with the partial disconnection from the SWIFT: nothing but a long-threatened sanction. Unpredictable has been, however, the extent of the so-called “McSanctions”, nay the mass escape of the big brands from the Russian market – more than 400 in first three weeks of conflict.
Russia might have its reasons for such a military operation, but those reasons will have significant political costs: the “detente party” is dead, or in a coma at best, and long-standing potential partners like Germany and France can’t do anything to revive the ambition of the “European strategic autonomy” for long. Accordingly, EU-Russia relations are likely to worsen in the next few years, with the US exploiting the renewed Cold War climate to economically, energetically and politically decouple the two Europes.
However, all is not lost. There is nothing more permanent than transience. Diplomacy will find a way to re-emerge sooner or later because if history teaches something, it’s that geography matters. The evergreen law of “Remember who you border with” will oblige the EU and Russia to try a new reset. But it will take years, if not a decade – or more, to start an effective normalisation process. At the same time, the great power competition will get worse. A number of variables will affect the health status of EU-Russia relations. Economy is one of them.
The West-staged “total economic warfare” against Russia is the self-proving evidence that the old globalization is dying and a new model is emerging. It started with Donald Trump and his first steps towards the so-called decoupling from China. It proceeded with the COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed the need to rethink the global supply chains, especially when it comes to the production and export of strategic goods, and with the Ever Given incident, which led many analysts to endorse the development of new and/or alternative routes.
A multi-speed, region-based globalization is taking form. In such a context, the West is unlikely to keep being the world economy’s beating heart. Conversely, it is likely to be one of the many blocs – although a major one – of a multipolar system. Major blocs will have peculiar eco-systems: their brands, their technology, their fashion, their social networks, etc. Minor blocs will be influenced by the major ones, striving to import their goods and their “way of life”. Russia’s decision to build its own Internet, to replace Western business chains and to deepen its world of social networks has to be framed in this context of reglobalization on regional lines.
In the world in the making, Russia cannot belong to Europe and Asia at the same time, at least not in the years to come. The US is skilfully taking advantage of the Ukraine war to tighten the grip on the EU, hence Russia has no choice but to redirect its agenda on three directions: domestically, Asia, the Global South (Africa plus Latin America).
The ongoing total economic warfare against the Russian economy can be coped with only by speeding up the path to self-sufficiency and diversification. Self-sufficiency to produce domestically what cannot be bought abroad. Diversification to critically reduce the reliance on the Western markets. The building of a sanctions-proof semi-autarkic economy as the final destination.
Russia has the potential and the resources to be the laboratory of an unprecedented experiment, at least for a power of its size, that is to develop the world-first resistance economy. Western analysts argue that the Ukraine war will isolate Russia, turning it eventually into a China colony or in a “huge North Korea”. The first scenario is unlikely, the second one is even more unlikely. But a third scenario does exist: a Soviet-style collapse. Everything depends on what Russia will do in the short-term.
The Eurasian Economic Union can be Asia’s response to the EU but a lot of work must be done in order to make it truly efficient and to unleash its potential: from the harmonisation of law to the signing of free trade deals with new partners – ones having goods the EAEU doesn’t have and looking for goods the EAEU can sell at cheap prices, against the background of a more equal wealth-creation among its members and of a greater degree of coordination and integration. The strategic partnership with China is important, but much more space should be given to the other BRICS in terms of import-export, intersectoral cooperation and de-dollarisation agenda. The deeper the diversification, the higher the impact.
Speaking about self-sufficiency and sanctions-proof economy, there is a lot to say. Russian might and should learn from the past, from the experiences of major and minor powers which found themselves hostages of large-scale economic wars. North Korea and Iran are interesting cases of decades-long survival, but they cannot be considered as guiding examples: it should be better to focus on less studied but surprisingly useful case studies of recent history, notably United Kingdom’s resistance against Napoleon’s Continental Blockade, fascist Italy’s reply to Western Europe’s economic siege and Cuba’s several attempts to circumvent the American-led embargo. Together, we will study in-depth each of afore-mentioned historical cases of “economic resistance”, understanding why they matter and what can they actually offer to Russia's policy-makers.