In recent decades, Russia’s policy in Asia has defied the “Asian Paradox” that characterizes the continent’s state-level interactions. This paradox refers to the phenomenon where political relations between countries are often cold, while trade, economic, and investment cooperation remain strong. Russia has played a unique role in Asia due to two key factors.
Firstly, Russia did not consider Asia’s largest subregions, such as South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Northeast Asia, as critically important as other European countries and the post-Soviet space did. As a result, Russia was not as deeply involved in the political and economic processes in Asia as it was in its traditional hinterland.
Secondly, Russia’s relations with Asia have been relatively free from major contradictions, historical trauma, and territorial disputes (except with Japan). This strategic advantage distinguishes Russia from other major players like the United States and China.
Unlike the classic “Asian paradox” formula, Moscow has chosen to promote alternative models of interaction in its policy towards Asia. While the “hot economy, cold politics” model applied to relations with Japan, economic ties with Tokyo have always been less significant compared to its links with the US, China, or ASEAN.
In recent years, China-Russia relations have established a “hot economy, hot politics” model, characterized by increasing trade turnover, economic interdependence, and close political dialogue. Both countries actively participate in key multilateral formats such as BRICS and the SCO.
However, when it comes to South Asia and Southeast Asia, there has been a trend of “cold economy, hot politics.” Close political ties have not translated into substantial achievements in trade and economics. Bilateral trade with these countries has been limited, heavily dependent on external market factors and world energy prices. Despite positive political relations, trade turnover with India remained low until recently.
Since Russia launched its military operation in Ukraine in 2014, the “hot economy” model with Japan has experienced a setback, resulting in a decline in trade turnover. Relations with South Korea and Singapore also deteriorated after the Ukraine conflict, despite not implementing anti-Russia sanctions. On the other hand, Moscow’s political and economic relations with China have continued to deepen, forming an unprecedented level of cooperation in Asia.
There has also been a rapid growth of trade and economic ties with South Asia, particularly India. Trade turnover has surpassed $40 billion and is expected to increase further. This relationship is crucial for diversifying trade, economic, and investment ties for Russia and preventing excessive economic dependence on China.
These dynamics show that the classic “Asian paradox” model does not entirely apply to Russia’s interactions with major Asian countries. In addition, Asia itself has undergone significant changes, with the rise of China, India, and other regional and global trends. It is important to recognize the diversity within Asia’s subregions in terms of politics, demographics, and socio-economics.
Russia’s approach towards Asia is not monolithic, as it takes on diverse roles. Moscow serves as a leading supplier of weapons, a major food source for Southeast Asian countries, and provides arms and energy security to India. For China, Russia is a comprehensive partner and a like-minded nation, working towards promoting a “new multipolarity.” As a result, Asian countries perceive Russia differently and have varying demands and expectations.
In such a fragmented landscape, Russia aims to maximize the benefits of political and economic diversification in Asia. This allows Moscow to build individual relationships with each partner and leverage its competitive advantage in the region.