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Mon. May 27, 2024
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Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

What Does the Future Hold for Russia?

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Since the early hours of 24 February 2022, the Russian Federation has been engrossed in a war of aggression against Ukraine. Since then, it has been met with waves of sanctions from various countries, particularly pertaining to the energy and banking sectors, with debatable levels of success. While a majority of countries have condemned this military intervention, there have been quite a few using it as an opportunity to gain an economic and diplomatic advantage, largely removed from any feeling of moral obligation. China and Türkiye have used it to bolster their image as mediators, while countries such as India have made use of the sanctions placed upon Russia by other powers to buy commodities at discounted prices. This shift in India’s imports has been monumental, with Reuters estimating that OPEC’s share of India’s oil market has slid to 59%, down 13% year-on-year, following its increase of Russian oil imports by 2,100% after the outbreak of the war. With this, India has become the second largest importer of Russian crude oil (only lagging behind China).

In 1843, the French noble-born traveler Marquis de Custine claimed the following about Russia:

A monstrous compound of the petty refinements of Byzantium, and the ferocity of the desert horde, a struggle between the etiquette of the Lower [Byzantine] Empire, and the savage virtues of Asia, have produced the mighty state which Europe now beholds, and the influence of which she will probably feel hereafter, without being able to understand its operation.

Nearly two centuries later, the echoes of this sentiment still hold weight. It is difficult for European countries, especially those in Western Europe, to understand the burden of its geography. After all, Russia spans a landmass of 17m km2 — more than four times that of the entire European Union combined. While European nations remain relatively removed from the struggles of the rest of the world, Russia has to contend with a multitude of countries seeking to spread their influence across the many countries it borders and former soviet republics. If Russia is unable to maintain its strongman image, many nations will simply look elsewhere for support, which would be a gamble considering the emergence of India and China over the past few decades. To let up its image as an alternative to other great powers would be a hole from which Russia would not be able to dig itself out.

It is clear that Russian ascension into the European Union is impossible. Their population is nearly 33% that of the EU. Its land borders are the second longest of any single country. It would annihilate the EU budget with the subsidies it would require, and the European Parliament would be dominated by Russian interests. The EU therefore cannot try to tame it with the promise of one day accepting their ascension like they have with Serbia and Türkiye.

To the east, China has taken over Russia’s role as regional superpower and has been putting great effort into dragging former soviet republics into its sphere of influence with projects such as the Belt and Road initiative. Syria and Iran, Russia’s allies to the south, are riddled with instability themselves as they battle for regional dominance against the likes of Saudi Arabia and Türkiye. In particular, Syria’s rapprochement with the Arab world could signal that they will not so heavily depend on Russian support in the future.

If Russia seeks to maintain its relevance in the future, it must look within and carry out both administrative and military reforms to fix its international image, as Peter the Great had done to propel the nation forward in the 17th century. It must make sure that it offers a viable alternative to the USA, the EU, and China for countries in need of assistance, while also immediately beginning to make an effort to improve ties with and cease committing acts of aggression against its many neighbors. Being at odds with other states does not exclude the possibility of cooperation in other areas, as seen with in Libya, where France has chosen to side with Russia instead of fellow EU member state Italy. Going forward, Russia must leverage clashes in foreign policy between EU member states, along with those of other regional alliances, to prevent its isolation on the world stage while ensuring that it itself remains indivisible. In time, it is possible that relations could thaw between the West and Russia to the point of forming mutually beneficial partnerships against rising powers such as China, as the United States once did with China against the Soviet Union. In the end, it should be remembered that no state pursues policy solely out of a feeling of moral duty or kindness, but to further their objectives of achieving hegemony.

Alp Kiziltan is a student at KU Leuven’s Brussels campus, pursuing a Master of Science in Business Administration with a specialization in International and European relations. 

References

Badi, E. (2020, April 21). Russia Isn’t the Only One Getting Its Hands Dirty in Libya. Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/04/21/libyan-civil-war-france-uae-khalifa-haftar/

India is acting as a hub for Russian oil. (2023, May 6). Le Monde.Fr. https://www.lemonde.fr/en/international/article/2023/05/06/india-is-acting-as-a-hub-for-russian-oil_6025598_4.html

Verma, N. (2023, April 24). Russian oil slashes OPEC’s share of Indian market to 22-year low. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/russian-oil-slashes-opecs-share-indian-market-22-year-low-2023-04-24/

 

 

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