Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia Are Leaving For The EU, While Kazakhstan Is Quitting Russosphere For Sinosphere: So Who Is Russia Left With? – OpEd


In his oral presentations and articles in the press since Russia launched its war in Ukraine a year and a half ago, John J Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, has been offering the following view of the situation between Russia and the West:

“Given the myth that Putin is committed to open-ended expansion, one might think NATO enlargement, too, was based on realist logic: the US and its allies were aiming to contain Russia. But that view would also be wrong. The decision to enlarge NATO was made in the mid-1990s, when Russia was militarily weak, and the US was well-positioned to force expansion on Moscow. Again, we see the perils of being weak in the international system. Nor did Russia pose a threat to Europe in 2008, when the decision was made to bring Ukraine into the alliance. So, there was no need to contain it then or now. Indeed, the US has a deep interest in pivoting out of Europe to East Asia, and enlisting Russia in the balancing coalition against China, not getting bogged down in a war in eastern Europe and driving the Russians into the arms of the Chinese.

Europe would be in far better shape today if realist logic had carried the day and NATO had not expanded eastward, and especially not committed itself to eventually including Ukraine. But the die is now cast: unipolarity has given way to multipolarity and the US and its allies are now engaged in serious geopolitical rivalries with both China and Russia. These new cold wars are at least as dangerous as the original one, and maybe more so”.

This point of view falls somewhat out of the prevailing Western system of ideas about how things are shaping up in the relationship between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance countries. But on the other hand, there is no denying the fact that Professor John Mearsheimer has long – since 2014, anyway – been seen by some in the West as a pro-Russian political scientist. That must be why the Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman says the following about him: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made an unlikely celebrity of Professor John Mearsheimer. His 2015 lecture – “Why is Ukraine the West’s fault? – has now racked up 28mn views on YouTube… Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year has made Mearsheimer look prophetic. But he is more popular in Moscow and Beijing than in the corridors of power in Washington or Brussels, where he is often labelled as an apologist for Putin. Mearsheimer’s liberal critics accuse him of playing footsie with the world’s strongman leaders. His articles have been tweeted out by the Russian foreign ministry”.

The comment above says a lot in the present case. But anyway, a person, any person, who closely monitors developments in Russia, cannot fail to see that those words by Professor John Mearsheimer look much in line not only with the true inwardness of the so-called deep state in Russia but also with the feelings of the majority of ordinary Russians who see themselves as an integral part of the European family of nations and are proud of this and who therefore are by no means delighted with Russia’s turn to the East and with the Kremlin distancing from Western capitals and fraternizing with the East Asian States. 

Here is a clear example of just how common ethnic Russians feel about even those [East] Asians who came from Russia’s Siberia to Donetsk as part of the Russian army to protect it from Ukrainian armed forces that, according to Russia’s UN Envoy, shelled this city over 25,000 times since February 2022: “Natalya Apukhtina, а resident of Donetsk, racially insulted Russian army servicemen from Buryatia in one of the local restaurants. Addressing the men at the next table, she called them “stinking, narrow-eyed beasts” and “round-nose animals” who “had come to fight for money”.

“When our guys return from the war, I will help them kill you all”, she added. Natalya Apukhtina, according to her own words, owns two stores and six homes in Donetsk. Those Buryats as part of the Russian Army came, according to official propaganda, to protect, among other things, her properties from the Ukrainian artillery attacks. Not even that couldn’t restrain Natalya Apukhtina from this egregious display of racial hatred toward Buryats and [East] Asian people in general. This incident received wide publicity thanks to social networks. Nevertheless, no significant action by the Russian authorities was taken against Natalya Apukhtina. 

This is a very ordinary instance of the widespread escalation of anti-Asian racism in nowadays Russia. Such a country applies for turning its back to the West and its face to the East?! Something seems wrong here. 

All that makes the picture where Professor John Mearsheimer is probably right when he gives to understand, that Russia would have joined the US-led coalition if it wasn’t for the West’s ‘driving the Russians into the arms of the Chinese’. Russia, the way it is, isn’t ready for a long-term union with [East] Asia, as the majority of the country’s population has been and still is intent on integration with the West – if not now then sometime in the future. In the meantime, Russia, while being neither here, nor there, is rapidly losing its position in post-Soviet countries in both Europe and Asia.

Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia are moving forward in their quests to join the European Union. On November 8, the European Commission recommended starting accession negotiations with Ukraine, Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and candidate status for Georgia.

We’ve adopted our 2023 Enlargement Package recommending to open negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, to grant candidate status to Georgia, and to open accession negotiations with Bosnia-Herzegovina, once the necessary degree of compliance is achieved”, the commission said.

“Completing our union is the natural horizon”, it added. It just so happens that three of the six EaP states (Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) have finally started to leave their geographic position of ‘in-betweenness’ and integrate into the EU, as well as into NATO.  Armenia and Azerbaijan would reasonably be expected to follow them after the signing of the peace agreement and the normalization of relations between them. Russia has so far managed to keep only one of these six EaP states, Belarus, in its orbit, and even then with great difficulty, and uncertain for how long.

At about this time, on November 10, the Kazakh-Chinese agreement on visa-free travel, signed in May, took force. According to it, citizens of both countries are exempt from visa requirements for tourism, medical treatment, and business trips. The document grants Kazakh and Chinese citizens visa-free access for up to 30 days with a cumulative total of 90 calendar days within 180 days. The Kazakh Civil Aviation Committee said on November 10 that it had increased the number of flights from Almaty and Astana to Beijing and Urumqi, adding that new flights connecting Kazakhstan with Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu will be added.

From now on, China is accessible to the Kazakhs to the same extent as Russia has been and is. Yet in that capacity, China can be considerably more attractive to them, than Russia. The visa-free access to China for Kazakh citizens is a kind of replacement for what Moldovans and Ukrainians have got from Brussels – the visa-free regime for trips to EU countries and the Schengen zone. It might be considered the actual beginning of Kazakhstan’s shift away from the Russosphere to the Sinosphere.

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analyst from Kazakhstan.

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