February 1, 2010｜Russia
Senior Research Fellow, The National Institute for Defense Studies
Chinese researchers of Russia have represented Russia with the phrase “head in Europe, body in Asia”. Certainly from the fact that geographically to the west of the Urals is the European part and to the east the Asian part, Russia’s brain is in the European part. The political and economic center is Moscow. In terms of area, however, as the Asian part is far larger, the body is Asia. Russia’s national emblem, the double-headed eagle, also illustrates the fact that Russia is a Eurasian nation which straddles Europe and Asia.
According to Japanese trading company employees, who have continued business with the Soviet Union and Russia for over half a century, the interesting thing after long interaction with Russians was that the latter combined elements of both Europe and Asia. Indeed, although in the Russians way of thinking there are also elements of European rationalism and individualism, it also has an Asian sociability. Meeting Russians for the first time you get the feeling they are abrupt and cold, yet once they’ve opened up after a drink, say of vodka, a solid human relationship will be maintained. This dual nature is also characteristic of Russia (and the Russians).
In Russia, there is the eternal philosophical battle between Occidentalism and Slavism. The debate is whether Russia will achieve the same development as the West or follow its own independent form of development. When Occidentalism rises Russia grows closer to the West, and when Slavism rises Russia follows its own path. As long as Russia vacillates between Occidentalism and Slavism, Russia will not completely become the same as Europe. This is all the more so if there is an Asian element to Russia.
In Russia today Slavist thinking is rising, and Russia’s sights are focused on Asia.
First are the geopolitical reasons. Russia has repeatedly voiced its objections regarding the expansion of the European Union and NATO in the direction of Russia. While Georgia and Ukraine, which Russia regards as within its sphere of influence, also have ambitions to become part of Europe, the possibility of Russia itself joining NATO is practically zero. In the future the room for relations between Europe and Russia to improve greatly is also limited.
Second are the pragmatic reasons. The necessity of diversifying Russia’s resource-dependent economic structure has been acknowledged via the impact of the financial and economic crises, yet even so for the time being it can only restore economic growth through exports of resources. In the future Russia must expand into the promising Asian resource market. Japan also has finally commenced the import of fossil fuels produced in Sakhalin, and has chosen the path of energy dependence on Russia. Moreover, by entering proactively into the economic activity of the Asia-Pacific region, I think that Russia wants to also develop Siberia and the Far Eastern region, which have been lagging behind.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit which is scheduled to be held in Vladivostok in 2012 will be Russia’s true “Asia-Pacific debut.” Russia with its “head in Europe, body in Asia” has begun to be aware of its own feet.