The influence of the Russian “pivot to the East” strategy on energy cooperation between Russia and Europe faced with the Ukrainian crisis

The pivot to the East of Russia is a Russian foreign policy strategy aimed at strengthening economic, political, and military relations and cooperation with Asia. This strategy was implemented to diversify Russia’s international partnerships and reduce its dependence on Western countries.


Pivot to the East: a geopolitical and economic diversification strategy

Under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, the pivot to the East gained momentum, partly in response to increased tensions with the West, notably after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in 2022. This strategy seeks to mitigate the impact of economic sanctions and find new economic and political opportunities for Russia.

Close cooperation with China is a key element of this strategy, with both countries developing stronger economic and diplomatic relations and geopolitical coordination, sometimes in opposition to U.S. foreign policies.

The pivot to the East has two dimensions: an internal focus on the development of Russia’s Far East and an external focus on increased cooperation with Asian countries in economic, military, and energy sectors.

This strategy aims to achieve several objectives, including expanding economic and political influence in the Asia-Pacific region, diversifying trade partners, mitigating the effects of sanctions, and seeking alternatives to Western partners with whom disagreements exist.

Regarding energy policy, Russia has consolidated its position as a global energy power, primarily due to state control of its energy resources, especially natural gas and oil. The gas crisis between Russia and Ukraine in 2006 and 2009 highlighted Europe’s dependence on Russia for energy.

Russia has sought to diversify its gas exports, including agreements with China. However, oil price fluctuations revealed vulnerabilities in the Russian economy. The need for infrastructure modernization and renewable energy sources was also recognized.

The Russian economy heavily depends on revenues from energy exports, specifically oil, natural gas, and coal, which enhances its status as a global energy power but also exposes it to economic risks.

The history of the pivot to the East

The history of the pivot to the East has deep roots, as Russia’s geographical position spans both Europe and Asia, making it a Eurasian country. This concept of Russia as a Eurasian nation has its origins in the Slavophile movement of the 19th century, opposing Westernization.

During the reign of Peter the Great in the 18th century, the Slavophile movement didn’t exist, but similar ideas were expressed. The Slavophiles emerged in the 19th century as a reaction to Westernization in Russia, emphasizing the importance of the Orthodox religion and advocating for the preservation of Russian traditions.

The Eastern Exodus, an ideological movement among Russian emigrants in the 20th century, was a reaction to the Russian Revolution and the Civil War. It emphasized Russia as a Eurasian nation and its connections with Eastern cultures, fostering economic relations with the East and spreading Russian culture.

The ideology of the Eastern Exodus was not uniform but had a significant influence on the Russian emigrant community and continues to play a crucial role in Russian history and identity debates.

During the Soviet era, the pivot to the East concept evolved from a philosophical and cultural movement into a state strategy. This strategy aimed to increase the USSR’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region, forming an opposition bloc to the West, especially the United States and its allies, during the Cold War.

The USSR’s first steps toward this strategy were taken immediately after World War II, providing financial, military, and political support to anti-colonial and national liberation movements in Asia and Africa. The USSR actively supported these countries.

The USSR also developed economic and trade ties with Asian countries, strengthened its military presence in the region, and supported communist and leftist movements in various Asian countries.

A prominent example of this strategy was the support given to Vietnam during the Vietnam War, which significantly enhanced the USSR’s influence in the region.

However, the pivot to the East strategy had its limitations, including competition with other major powers like China and India, as well as political and religious differences among the region’s countries. Additionally, the ideological interference of the USSR was criticized.

In the end, the pivot to the East strategy during the USSR era left a significant mark on world politics, with both positive and negative aspects. It continues to be a subject of discussion and research.

Under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, Russia has pursued an Eastward pivot policy to strengthen its ties with Asia-Pacific countries. This policy emerged after the dissolution of the USSR when Russia lost its position of a global superpower. The pivot to the East aimed to diversify the country’s partners and development opportunities, notably by strengthening its relations with dynamic economies in the region, such as China, India, Japan, and South Korea.

This strategy allowed Russia to access new markets, investments, and technologies in the region. It also reduced Russia’s reliance on European markets for energy resources, particularly natural gas. China became a key trade partner for Russia, significantly diversifying Russian energy export markets.

The pivot to the East has had significant geopolitical importance, bolstering Russia’s position on the international stage and enabling its involvement in addressing global issues. Russia became a member of APEC and signed strategic partnership agreements with several Asian countries.

The development of this policy was divided into several stages, with a specific focus on strengthening economic, energy, and military ties. This was accompanied by active participation in regional forums such as the SCO and APEC.

However, this policy is not without challenges, including competition from other global powers, risks associated with excessive dependence on China, and geopolitical issues. In sum, the pivot to the East has become a vital strategic initiative for Russia, promoting economic growth and geopolitical influence while requiring careful management of risks and challenges.

The evolution of the pivot to the East amid the Ukrainian crises

The Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 significantly impacted energy cooperation between Russia and Europe. Before this period, Russia was a key energy supplier to Europe, but the events of the Orange Revolution led to major changes in their energy relations.

In the 1960s, the USSR initiated energy resource exports to Europe, providing oil, gas, and electricity. This cooperation was mutually beneficial, bringing substantial revenue to the USSR and providing Europe with essential energy resources for post-World War II reconstruction.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, energy relations between Russia and Europe evolved. Russia remained a major supplier of gas and oil to Europe, but disputes arose over payments and transit contracts through Ukraine.

The Orange Revolution brought significant changes to energy cooperation. Gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine resulted in gas supply interruptions to Europe, undermining confidence in Russia as a reliable supplier and highlighting the need to diversify energy sources. Ukraine aimed to reduce its dependence on Russian gas by diversifying energy sources, while Europe increased investments in renewable energy to enhance energy security. Projects like the “Southern Gas Corridor” were initiated to reduce dependence on Russian gas by transporting Caspian Sea gas to Europe, bypassing Russia.

European countries also took steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and invest in renewable energies. Germany, Spain, and Denmark adopted pro-renewable energy policies, fostering the growth of their domestic renewable energy industries.

Russia responded by developing partnerships with emerging Asian markets, especially China, as part of its “pivot to the East” policy. This strategy aimed to diversify Russia’s economic partners and offset potential losses due to tensions with Ukraine and the West.

In the 2000s, Russia-European Union relations were marked by tensions over gas supplies, leading the EU to take measures to reduce its dependence on Russian gas. These measures included transitioning to spot gas trading to mitigate the impact of oil price fluctuations. Additionally, the EU adopted legislation to liberalize energy markets, stripping Gazprom of pipeline ownership and subjecting it to antitrust measures to level the playing field.

In 2021, Russian gas accounted for approximately 40% of European consumption, and despite ongoing tensions, Russia played a significant role in the EU’s long-term energy strategy. However, everything changed dramatically in 2022 when Russia launched a large-scale offensive against Ukraine, resulting in massive international sanctions. These sanctions targeted various Russian sectors, including energy.

In response to these sanctions, Russia started demanding payments in rubles for gas and oil, while Asian and Middle Eastern countries increased their purchases of Russian oil. This helped Russia maintain its oil exports despite the sanctions. However, long-term forecasts suggested that Russian oil and gas production would be compromised due to depleting reserves, sanctions, lack of investment, and limited access to technology.

Additionally, Russia sought to expand its energy partnerships to Asia, especially with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and other countries in the region. Russian oil exports to India and China increased significantly, allowing Russia to diversify its markets. This situation had complex economic consequences for the European Union, leading to higher energy prices and uncertainties about energy supplies.

Overall, the war in Ukraine and international sanctions drastically altered the Russian energy and trade landscape, leading to a shift toward Asia and presenting economic and geopolitical challenges for the European Union.

The pivot to the East strategy, officially announced by Russia in 2012 at the APEC forum in Vladivostok, aims to enhance Russia’s economic development by leveraging the dynamic growth of the Asia-Pacific region. China remains a key partner in this strategy, but Russia also cooperates with other regional countries. This approach has allowed Russia to make significant progress in areas like economics, energy, transportation, and international cooperation between 2012 and 2022.

Strategic agreements have been made with China, encompassing trade, energy, transportation, and finance. Joint projects such as the “Power of Siberia” and “Power of Siberia 2” pipelines have been developed. Russia has also been actively engaged in political and economic agreements within the SCO and has promoted commercial and economic cooperation within APEC. Additionally, transport agreements, such as the construction of a railway bridge over the Amur River, have been concluded with China.

The pivot to the East has enabled Russia to reduce its dependence on energy exports to EU states and instead focus on China and other Asia-Pacific partners. This helped alleviate the impact of European sanctions.

Challenges and Current Issues

However, despite the advantages of this strategy, challenges persist.

Since the 1990s, Russia prioritized the development of its western regions, particularly Moscow and Saint Petersburg, at the expense of its Eastern regions, such as Siberia and the Far East. This policy created a significant development and infrastructure gap between the West and East of the country.

These Eastern regions, despite their geographical proximity to Asia-Pacific countries, face several challenges for Russia’s pivot to the East. One of the major obstacles is the lack of modern transportation infrastructure, hindering the flow of goods, services, and people to and from the region. Furthermore, underdeveloped logistics infrastructure makes transportation difficult and increases associated costs, reducing the region’s competitiveness.

Eastern regions like Siberia and the Far East also lack adequate energy and digital infrastructures, limiting their access to energy, information technology, and innovation. Moreover, economic inequality between Russian regions, with more development in central areas than in the East, creates uneven opportunities for business development, investment, and employment.

These Eastern regions, despite their rich natural resources, suffer from excessive dependence on raw material exports, making them vulnerable to global price fluctuations. This dependence limits economic diversification and innovation, impeding sustainable growth.

The lack of economic diversity and investment in these regions, beyond raw material sectors, contributes to population migration toward more developed regions, resulting in demographic and socio-economic imbalances. These issues represent significant obstacles to the successful development of Russia’s pivot to the East.

Russia is facing major geopolitical challenges in its pivot to the East, particularly in terms of competition with China. While both countries maintain close cooperation, they are also economic competitors on the world stage. Russia and China’s economic rivalry is expressed in several areas, including energy resource exports, information technology, manufacturing, construction, etc. Chinese companies like Huawei, Xiaomi, Alibaba, and Tencent compete with Russian companies such as Yandex, Svyaznoy, Group, and Kaspersky Lab in global markets. This competition can influence Russia’s export opportunities and its position in the region.

Vous devez souscrire à un abonnement EurasiaPeace pour avoir accès au contenu - Prendre votre abonnement
Previous Article

Situation in Karabakh – Update as of 27/10/23

Next Article

Chinese military and the Taiwan Strait – Update up to 28/10/2023