Greg Torode writes in the South China Morning Post (subscription only) how a changing Russia, having turned its attention away from Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is looking east again.
According to one strategic security analyst, “Russia’s far-east coast was once viewed in Moscow as very much the rear window during the cold war. That has changed. Russia now realizes it was a mistake to withdraw so much from the region and the Pacific must be a new focus. The Russian far east will become a front window.”
The habitually prickly Sino-Soviet relationship is enjoying a period of sustained warmth, helped by military co-operation under the banner of the six-member Shanghai Co-operation Organisation. The grouping links the states of former Soviet Central Asia with Beijing and Moscow in what is seen as an unstated challenge to the dominance of the US. High-profile military exercises in August in the Russian Urals and Xinjiang were on an unprecedented scale, involving more than 6,000 members of the military.
In a host of less visible ways, however, an even broader picture is emerging.
Those “less visible ways” include the fact that Russia is rebuilding its Pacific naval fleet, developing the neglected far east and positioning itself as Asia’s biggest arms dealer.
Last December, Dmitry Shlapentokh, an associate professor of history at Indiana University South Bend, reported in the Asia Times that an increasing number of Russians in Eastern Russia are buying houses in China.
While some are purchasing vacation homes, others are planning for retirement. The desire to move to China permanently has been shared…by hundreds of thousands of residents of the Russian Far East. They would have moved to China immediately…if they could find good jobs…
China, in the end, appears poised to radically influence the Russian Far East, but not in the way Moscow fears. It won’t come from a massive influx of Chinese immigrants, but rather a from the unforeseen “Sino-ization” of ethnic Russians themselves.