Korybko Interview To Italian Media About Russia’s Evolving Geostrategic Vision
16 JUNE 2021
OneWorld is publishing the original English version of the interview that Andrew Korybko recently gave to Italy’s Mittdolcino about Russia’s evolving geostrategic vision.
1. China and Russia do not have symmetrical interests –other than the US and Western opposition– that support natural cooperation (especially since the disparity between Russia’s low economic complexity, compared to China’s diversified and modern economy, is becoming increasingly apparent. Not to mention Russia’s concern about China’s prominence in Central Asia and even the Balkans). Would the de facto alliance between the two countries hold up, therefore, in the face of an agreement of Russia with the United States, according to what would seem to be the new “Biden doctrine”, with clear reference to the green light to the North Stream 2 gas pipeline?
I don’t agree with that assessment and responded to the famous International Relations theorist John Mearsheimer’s similar claim earlier in the year in my article explaining “Why Structural Realists Are Wrong To Predict That Russia Will Help The US Against China”. To summarize, the first point to make is that Russia and China are not “allies”, and both their leaders have confirmed this. They instead regard themselves as being strategic partners with a wider scope for cooperation than conventional allies while having none of the controversial military commitments that come with the latter relationship. Secondly, despite the economic and military asymmetries between them, they have shared interests in accelerating the emergence of the multipolar world order, which explains their close cooperation in practically all spheres that’s expected to continue for the indefinite future.
To the question of what effect an improvement (however mild) in US-Russian relations would have on Russian-Chinese relations, there’s no credible reason to doubt that the latter will remain strong and enduring. Their diplomats have recently confirmed this and there’s no chance that Russia would ever be co-opted to turn against China. Rather, the most that could happen is that the US redirects some of the pressure that it’s put on Russia’s Western flank towards China’s Southern one in the event that relations between those two improve. This wouldn’t be any fault of Russia’s own though since it’s understandable why it would want to relieve such pressure along its borders with NATO, though it won’t undertake any unilateral concessions to achieve this nor jump on the US’ anti-Chinese bandwagon. The opposite is true as the US seems to be the one undertaking such unilateral concessions with respect to the decision to waive most sanctions on Nord Stream II.
The reason why America decided to do this is that its permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies (“deep state”) seemingly realized the futility of attempting to simultaneously contain Russia and China. Not only has that only pushed those two closer together, but that very outcome has served China’s grand strategic interests vis-a-vis the New Cold War that it’s in with the US. From the American strategic standpoint, China is a global competitor on the structural level whereas Russia is a trans-regional one mostly operating within its neighboring regions (Central & Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, West Asia, Central Asia), though with a growing strategic presence in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and most recently Africa. Nevertheless, Russia lacks the economic might to make meaningful changes to the international order, unlike China, ergo the American need to redirect its strategic focus from Moscow towards Beijing by de-escalating with the former.
2. Since the beginning of the Cold War, interactions between the US, China and Russia/Soviet Union have always played a predominant role in international relations. Whether in the years of Sino-Soviet alignment or the historic ‘Nixon in China’ moment, this game has always seen two sides aligned against the third. But is the game still relevant today? According to The Diplomat, it would appear that Russia very much enjoys the cross-courtship of the other two countries and is cynically thinking of exploiting the situation to gain more advantages. Are you aware of this possible development?
Officially speaking, Russia would prefer for there to be no New Cold War between the US and China, but since it’s powerless to stop it, Moscow seemingly intends to take maximum advantage of it in pursuit of its own interests. This takes the form of the Eurasian Great Power’s ambitions to serve as the supreme “balancing” force in Eurasia across the 21st century, to which end it aspires to present itself as a pragmatic alternative to those many countries that are increasingly compelled to choose between the US and China. In other words, just as Russia hopes to “balance” between the US and China (with the first-mentioned being dependent on the outcome of the upcoming Putin-Biden Summit though that event’s been preceded by some positive progress as of late), so too does it hope to help its partners across Eurasia do the same.
In practice, this can result in Russia playing a larger economic role in those countries, particularly when it comes to certain types of infrastructure such as energy and railroads. In addition, those countries that are most susceptible to certain Hybrid War threats can make use of Russia’s wide range of customized “Democratic Security” solutions just like Syria and the Central African Republic presently are doing. Moscow hopes to use these means to expand its influence within their “deep states”, thereby setting the stage for more comprehensive relations between them, especially in the political and commercial sense. Another avenue for achieving this is through its “vaccine diplomacy” of selling its effective Sputnik V to anyone who wants it, which also improves its soft power within each of the recipient societies.
Russia realizes that it lacks the economic capabilities to compete with China and the US, hence why it must carve out certain niches for itself, all of which enhance its partners’ “balancing” capabilities too. This is a very unique role that only Russia is poised to fulfill since its other Great Power peers like some of the EU nations or Japan don’t have the reputation for independent decision-making that Moscow does. Their attempts to replicate Russia’s model would only be superficial in the sense of de facto advancing American strategic interests vis-a-vis China without improving their partners’ “balancing” capabilities. Since Russia and China enjoy very close relations like was previously explained, Beijing isn’t expected to react negatively to Moscow’s moves since they advance their shared vision of multipolarity, unlike whatever Washington and its allies might do.
3. Will the China-European links, whether by sea through the Bering Strait or by rail through Russia, significantly alter the Silk and Belt Road by sea, i.e. the route through the Suez Canal? If so, what are the repercussions for Mediterranean Europe and the balance in the Middle East?
Most Chinese-EU trade is carried out through the high seas, though Beijing wants to increase the amount that occurs through overland routes for reasons of strategic security related to countering any scenario wherein the powerful US Navy could cut off its trade lines in the event of a crisis. There are presently several alternative East-West corridors that are either presently in service and are expected to scale up in the coming future or are seriously planned. From north to south, these are the “Polar Silk Road” through the Arctic, the Eurasian Land Bridge across Russia, the “Middle Corridor” with Turkey via Central Asia-Caspian Sea-South Caucasus, the China-Central Asia-West Asia economic corridor (“Central Asian Silk Road”), and the western expansion of the Belt & Road Initiative’s (BRI) flagship project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (W-CPEC+) through Iran, Turkey, and thenceforth to the EU.
The consequences of these various Silk Roads on the Suez Canal won’t be felt for some time since that choke point will remain important for at least the next decade or two. Furthermore, Israel is considering something called the “Red-Med Corridor”, which is a high-speed railway connecting those two seas. It could function as a complement, if not alternative, to the Suez Canal considering the unexpected blockage that occurred earlier this year. Either way, Mediterranean Europe doesn’t have much to worry about because China will always continue to use that maritime route. This is proven by its hefty investments in the Greek port of Pireaus, as well as its plans to build a high-speed railway from there to Budapest and potentially as far north as Warsaw and maybe even Helsinki. China’s investment in north-south connectivity within Central & Eastern Europe (CEE) speaks to how seriously committed it is to continuing maritime trade with the EU via the Suez Canal.
4. In Israel, a considerable portion of the population is of Russian origin and, after all, there have always been talks between the leaders of the two countries. Considering that the United States, to use Tom Luongo’s words, has left Israel twisting in the wind, could new spaces open up for some form of cooperation between Russians and Israelis?
New spaces for cooperation have already opened up, this isn’t anything new, but is purposely ignored by most of the Mainstream and Alternative Media though for different reasons. I hyperlinked to 15 of my relevant analyses on this topic from the past few years in my article earlier this year asking, “Why Isn’t Alt-Media Asking About The S-300s After Biden’s Latest Strike in Syria?”, that should be reviewed by any readers that are interested in learning more about the reality of their de facto alliance that I describe through the portmanteau of “Rusrael”. In fact, it’s arguably one of the most consequential factors in contemporary West Asian geopolitics. The Mainstream Media doesn’t talk about it because Russia is seen as the ultimate evil whereas Israel is the ultimate good in their eyes, while the reverse is true for Alt-Media. Reporting the facts about their very close strategic coordination in West Asia would therefore undermine both of their narratives.
Russia “passively facilitated” literally hundreds of Israeli strikes against the IRGC and Hezbollah since the onset of its anti-terrorist intervention in the Arab Republic in September 2015. Just days prior to its commencement, former Prime Minister Netanyahu met President Putin in Moscow where they agreed to a so-called “deconfliction agreement” for coordinating these strikes. Furthermore, Russia acknowledged after the September 2018 mid-air incident that it pushed Iran and its allied forces away from the occupied Golan Heights at Israel’s request. It also revealed that its special forces are searching for the long-lost IDF remains in Syria, including in the middle of firefights between the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and ISIS according to RT. In fact, it was through these efforts that Russia found Zachary Baumel’s remains a few years ago and gave them back to Israel.
Bilateral trade and investment is also on the rise, as are people-to-people ties, the latter of which President Putin regularly praises whenever discussing Russia’s ties with Israel. Earlier this year, the two sides also agreed to cooperate on a wide range of internal security matters according to The Times Of Israel, which importantly includes anti-terrorism as well. None of this is a secret either but is openly reported upon in both Russian and Israeli media, yet most Mainstream and Alternative Media still refuse to draw much attention to this for the earlier mentioned reasons of what essentially boil down to their respective “politically correct” narratives that they push on their audiences. The former can’t afford to present Russia in a positive light, the same as the latter can’t do the same for Israel, but curious folks can do their own research to confirm what I’ve just shared.
5. Are Russia and China in favour of the Iranian atomic bomb? What would be their reaction to an Israeli attack on Iran?
Neither of them are in favor of an Iranian atomic bomb, nor of an Israeli attack on Iran, though they don’t have much influence over either of these two scenarios. They won’t take any meaningful action to prevent either except for perhaps agreeing to UNSC sanctions against the Islamic Republic in the worst-case scenario like they previously did around a decade ago. Even so, they’re very unlikely to do so again, let alone anytime soon, since they each have plans to invest more in the Islamic Republic and therefore won’t proverbially “cut their nose to spite their face” so to speak. As for the second scenario about an Israeli strike on Iran, the most that they might do is sell air-defense systems to Tehran, but they won’t consider any sanctions against the self-professed “Jewish State”. Simply put, they intend to “balance” between those two regional rivals.
6. The American Conservative, among many others, wrote that Putin’s nightmare is called Erdogan. How will he deal with his brazen activism in the Caucasus, Turkic-speaking Asia, Ukraine and even Poland? In this sense, is an agreement with the United States, resulting from a possible appeasement between the two countries, conceivable in order to punish President Erdogan and his neo-Ottomanism?
The Russian and Turkish leaders are doing their utmost to responsibly manage their “friendly competition” with one another but this will inevitably require more than just personal diplomacy at the highest level. Part of the solution rests in strengthening trade and connectivity between them in order to serve as a deterrent to either side undertaking any unilateral action that could seriously harm the other’s interests. In practice, it can already be observed that this is occurring, which also includes Russia’s construction of Turkish nuclear reactors. Azerbaijan’s victory in last year’s Karabakh War could turn the South Caucasus into a platform for expanding connectivity between them and Iran as well per President Aliyev’s proposal for a six-country regional integration platform.
The long-term solution is for Russia and Turkey to coordinate their bilateral relations and each of their ties with the countries within their overlapping “spheres of influence” in the South Caucasus and Central Asia through the establishment of a new institutional framework or the inclusion of Ankara into existing ones that include those regions. The former could involve some sort of symbolic synergy between the “Russian World” and the “Turkic World”, while the latter might lead to Turkey joining the Eurasian Economic Union and/or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO, which is much more multilateral though and therefore less capable of focusing on those two Great Powers’ most pressing needs). Either way, the basis for sustainably regulating their “friendly competition” across this broad space must be more than just personal diplomacy and trade.
As for the US potentially co-opting Turkey in order to encourage it to disrupt the situation in the regions where it’s engaged in a now-manageable “friendly competition” with Russia, that’s always possible in theory but it’s unclear whether Ankara would agree to behave in such an irresponsible way. After all, it too benefits from stability in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. Russia also doesn’t serve as an obstacle to the expansion of Turkey’s soft power and economic influence there. Moscow might feel somewhat uncomfortable with the long-term strategic consequences if Ankara’s influence uncontrollably spreads through those strategic spaces, but it’s unlikely to result in any zero-sum outcome since most of the Central Asian states are in a mutual defense pact with Russia through the CSTO. Turkey is therefore unlikely to pose any latent security threat to Russia there.
7. Despite the fact that Russia’s assertive policy is expanding all over the world, including in the so-called backyard of the United States, in your opinion its greatest political interest will continue to be Europe, not just Eastern Europe?
I’d like to clarify any potential innuendo contained in the present question which might imply that Russia’s expansion of influence across the world and especially in Europe is somewhat aggressive or destabilizing. All of Russia’s partners there, which include EU and NATO states like Hungary, voluntarily cooperate with it and aren’t doing so under any sort of duress or due to corruption. They recognize the benefits inherent in cooperating with Moscow since they rightly regard relations with Russia as a means for enhancing their respective “balancing” acts. The same is true for Germany vis-a-vis Nord Stream II since it has a shared interest with Russia in this megaproject. Unlike the US, Russia doesn’t make ultimatums of its partners nor meddles in their relations with others such as America. This is a crucial difference which explains Russia’s recent appeal to them.
To address the question after having clarified any misunderstanding that readers might have from the question that was asked, Europe as a whole will always remain very important for Russia since the country is an historical part of that civilization which is also its top trade partner. Furthermore, its economies are comparatively more developed than in most other parts of the world except North America and East Asia so there will always be an interest in expanding relations with them regardless of however dismal their current ties might be as a result of external (American) pressure on their governments. Nevertheless, Russia has begun to broaden its strategic horizons ever since 2014 in response to the sanctions that the EU imposed against it at the US’ behest. This has seen Russia diversifying its strategic focus to the Global South.
While most observers tend to concentrate on its ties with China, there’s much more to it than just that. Russia retains excellent relations with India, which it regards as a “friendly” means for “balancing” China, especially within the BRICS and SCO groups that all three of them participate in. Turkey is another important partner for Russia, especially in recent years as Ankara has sought to take advantage of its newfound ties with Moscow in order to enhance its own “balancing” act vis-a-vis the US following very serious disagreements with its NATO ally over Washington’s arming of Kurdish fighters in Syria that Turkey regards as terrorists. What’s most worthwhile paying attention to isn’t Russia’s so-called “Pivot to Asia” (or “Turn to Asia” as many in Russia describe it as), but what I’ve previously claimed is its “Ummah Pivot” of comprehensively engaging with the Muslim-majority countries along its southern periphery and beyond.
As part of its 21st-century grand strategic ambition to become the supreme “balancing” force in Eurasia, Russia has recently sought to cultivate strategic relations with non-traditional partners such as Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE as well as Turkey of course. These rapidly expanding partnerships have sometimes caused concern among some of Russia’s traditional partners such as Armenia, India, and Syria, but Moscow continues to do its utmost to “balance” between various pairs of rivals by ensuring that none of its moves towards one of them occurs at the other’s actual expense (even if it’s perceived otherwise by some). Altogether, the international Muslim community (“Ummah”), especially those countries located within West and South Asia, has suddenly emerged as an important focus of Russian strategy.
For instance, the earlier mentioned six-nation regional integration platform in the South Caucasus will serve to expand Russia’s connectivity with Turkey and Iran. The North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) with Azerbaijan, Iran, and India will place the Islamic Republic smack dab in the middle of this transregional trade route. The plans for de facto expanding CPEC northwards (N-CPEC+) through the recently agreed trilateral railway between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) will complement the NSTC by giving Russia another route to the Indian Ocean that it’s historically wanted to reach. These three north-south corridors will facilitate Russia’s economic outreaches with Africa, which has also recently emerged as a strategic focus, albeit nowhere near as important as the Ummah is. The ASEAN states are also promising partners as well, which Russia plans to engage with more through the Vladivostok-Chennai Maritime Corridor (VCMC) that it announced in 2019 with India.
What all of this means is that while Europe might remain Russia’s preferred partner for economic, geographic, and historical reasons, it’s no longer Moscow’s primary focus ever since 2014. China, India, and the Ummah are increasingly important to its grand strategic calculus, with each of these three now occupying complementary roles within its envisioned Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP). In fact, successful integration with those Global South states could help compensate for the recent worsening of Russian-EU relations as well as provide Moscow with the leverage needed to perhaps broker a breakthrough in relations with Europe. After all, the EU previously thought that Russia needs it more than the reverse, but actually neither “needs” the other anymore. This might inspire more pragmatic policies by the European countries towards Russia with time, especially in the possible context of gradually improving Russian-American relations.
8. Can you give us your opinion on the abolition of the Open Skies Treaty, and your prediction on the outcome of the forthcoming meeting between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin?
The Treaty’s abolition is an unfortunate casualty of worsened Russian-American relations, and international security will undoubtedly be adversely affected by it. As for the outcome of the forthcoming meeting between the Russian and American leaders, I predict that there won’t be any dramatic outcome but that it’ll nevertheless be a pragmatic step in the direction of responsibly regulating their comprehensive competition. This will in turn relieve pressure upon Russia’s Western flank while simultaneously freeing up the US to devote more of its resources towards “containing” China. I elaborated more on the strategic consequences of this prediction in my latest expert column for the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) titled “Towards Increasingly Complex Multipolarity: Scenario For The Future”.
In a nutshell, I foresee Russia, Turkey, India, and China continuing to expand their influence across Eurasia, both cooperating with and “balancing” against one another in various ways, most of them “friendly”. Nevertheless, these strategic dynamics are ripe for external exploitation by the US in advance of its ambition to divide and rule the supercontinent, though they also present plenty of opportunities for those countries to more sustainably stabilize it provided that they have the political will to do so, including by making some tough mutual compromises where needed. The so-called “Age of Complexity” is upon us wherein everything is evolving at an unprecedented pace, accelerated by the full-spectrum paradigm-changing processes catalyzed by the world’s uncoordinated attempts to contain COVID-19, or World War C as I call it.
Three of my most relevant analyses on this concept are about how “The Connection Between World War C & Psychological Processes Is Seriously Concerning”, “Russia’s Five Most Important Tasks For Surviving World War C”, and how “President Putin’s Davos Speech Defined The World War C Era”. It’s within this transformative context that all of the previously described processes are unfolding, which makes everything all the more uncertain and therefore complex. In my view, it’s only by obtaining a deeper understanding of everything that World War C entails that one can produce an accurate forecast nowadays considering how radically everything is changing, to say nothing about how fast the said changes are occurring. I therefore encourage everyone to publish their own thoughts about World War C in order to contribute to the literature and enrich our insight.
The interview was originally published in Italian at Mittdolcino.
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