Look East, Russia

MOSCOW – Over the past 18 months, Russia’s relations with Asia have begun to improve. Both President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have repeatedly pointed to the need for an economic turn to Asia. Dozens of protocols and agreements on new projects have been signed with China. Some are already up and running.

Nevertheless, Russia has yet to devise a long-term and comprehensive Asian strategy. The main force holding Russia back is, to put it bluntly, ignorance. Indeed, for some Russians, any economic movement towards Asia is tantamount to a departure from a European path of development.

There is, of course, no Asian alternative to Russia’s cultural and political orientation towards Europe. But a partial economic reorientation towards Asia does not pose any real risk of disengagement from Europe; on the contrary, over the past two years, Russia has officially made a decisive turn in favor of closer integration with the European Union.

Europe currently accounts for more than 50% of Russia’s trade turnover. But the European market will not grow to any significant extent for the foreseeable future. Europe’s retained wealth and accrued cultural resources will allow the old continent to live in relative comfort in the decades ahead, even if it gradually cedes its position in the production of goods and services. Indeed, Europe is likely to become a tourist and leisure destination for hardworking Asians.