Russian foreign policy looks East

While the world focuses intently on the US election it has largely missed an event of great  significance – the realignment of Russia’s foreign policy. Moscow, helmed by Vladimir Putin, is redefining its relationships with the EU, and the world more broadly with its relations with Beijing now firmly becoming the focal point. The realignment is in response to what Russia views as Western policies of containment and the most profoundly important geopolitical and economic development of our time: the rise of China.


On the 11th of September, Beijing and Moscow released a joint statement furnishing the world with the raison d’être for their deepening alliance, invoking the horrors of Nazim and Japanese imperial conquest: “the Soviet-Union and China were hit the hardest by Nazism and militarism and bore the brunt of the burden resisting the aggressors. At the price of enormous human losses, they stopped, routed and destroyed the occupiers, displaying unparalleled self-sacrifice and patriotism in this struggle…” Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and his Chinese counterpart continued that, “… entering a new era, the current Russia-China relations of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation have a powerful, positive feature of true comradeship…”


Invoking the horrors of the Second World War indeed echoes the current political climate in Europe: that the contagion of right-wing populism is spreading much like COVID-19, and presents an existential threat to peace, security and human life. In Germany specifically, there has been a noticeable shift in rhetoric toward Putin’s Russia. In their preoccupation with policies of containment towards Russia and China, Western powers have neglected to notice the growing militarism in the Axis powers of the Second World War. The statement of Russia and China’s foreign ministers on the other hand, hand recognises this and in accordance with the age old adage of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ they are bolstering their alliance. This is not to say that Germany, Japan, or any other Western power are their enemies per se, but that right-wing populism and militarism that is growing in these states, is. This is something that is embedded in their collective consciousness, and those memories of the past are at the forefront of their minds. This explains why the aforementioned statement was released on the eve of the signing of the Treaty of Settlement with Respect to Germany which reunified the German state after the end of the Cold War – it is entering a new phase; embarking on a new journey. Russia has shifted from Europe, and is looking east.


That Russia is embarking on this journey with China has, and will have, far-reaching implications for Europe, the Asia-Pacific and global affairs more broadly. Two titans are aligning, brought together by a shared consciousness and memory of horrors past. And a deepening disdain for the EU and the spectre of Western sanctions is unlikely to deter or contain Russia, it never has and this is a fact that we in the West should do better to remember. On the contrary, it is instead likely to galvanise Russia’s eastern gaze, and provide a catalyst for deeper cooperation between Russia and China. Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jinping are the two most dominant leaders in their countries since Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong respectively and policies of containment, and any form of belligerence will simply not deter them. Instead we in the West must search for a way in which to accommodate and cooperate – these powers exist in the international order, and are going nowhere any time soon. A way in which that could be done, would be to assuage collective Russian and Chinese concerns regarding the contagion that is as virulent as COVID-19: right-wing populism and militarism. If we do that, and seek to cooperate and accommodate, instead of contain and dominate, a great danger to world peace and human security could be averted.