The Future of Eurasia

Will Eurasia be led by a resurgent Russia, making a comeback as a great power? No, but Russia's role as a regional power will strengthen, and its role on the global stage is likely to remain.

 Will Eurasia be led by a resurgent Russia, making a comeback as a great power? No, but Russia's role as a regional power will strengthen, and its role on the global stage is likely to remain.

 

Russia maintains some of the trappings of great power status-vast natural resource wealth, a large arsenal of nuclear weapons and a territory that covers much of the Eurasian landmass. But the Russian economy remains roughly the size of that of Belgium, and Russian social stability indicators (life expectancy, unemployment and health care) show that the country is far from fully developed. Russia is decades away from considering whether "great power" status is an appealing and worthwhile strategy.

 

Russia is most likely to try to insert itself in areas where it can play a profitable role (for itself) on the global stage. Examples include Putin's efforts this year to facilitate negotiations between Pakistan and India; and the strong diplomatic role Foreign Minister Ivanov has played in the Iraq UN Resolution debate. Russia will not be a key driver of international policy, and will have little global economic influence whatsoever, but will be one of many significant voices on most issues of global strategic importance.

 

Russia's diminished global role does not preclude a diminution of its influence in its "backyard." Quite the contrary, President Putin's consolidation of power has been accompanied by Russia's consolidation of regional power status. Growing influence over strategically significant countries viewed as inextricably bound in

Russia's orbit-particularly Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan-has been reflected in Putin's increasing willingness to use economic levers of power to keep a Russia-led bloc of countries together.

 

The ongoing development of Russian-American relations has also enhanced Russia's position as a regional power in Eurasia. Washington has benefited strongly from Russian partnership since September 11, particularly on issues of intelligence and military coordination. The level of cooperation between the intelligence agencies is difficult to overstate, with FSB and CIA agents literally working side by side in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia. The United States lacks intelligence assets on the ground in these regions-both the manpower, historical experience and language skills are sorely missing. Working-level relationships have developed throughout the intelligence communities of both sides-analytical and operational - and intelligence sharing continues to be important to the leadership of both countries.

 

Russian military support and coordination was significant in the American-led military operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan. President Putin's political support also facilitated America's use of Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic as staging grounds for military operations, and enabled the United States to set up long-term bases there.

 

The security advantages of U.S.-Russian partnership have been of benefit to Russia as well. The Taliban had been a significant problem for Russia, and maintaining security in Afghanistan post-Taliban is a more immediate threat to Russia than it is to the United States. The same is true for curtailing the role of the IMU in Central Asia, extremist movements in northwest China (including the ETIM, now on the U.S. Department of State's list of terrorist organizations) and limiting the role of Chechen militants in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. Similarly, American implicit (and potentially explicit) recognition that Russia's fight in Chechnya is part of the war on terror-particularly following the hostage taking in Moscow's Palace of Culture this October-is of importance to the Putin Administration.

 

Finally, the United States is looking for alternate oil suppliers, particularly with the long-term uncertainties surrounding Saudi Arabia. Russia is the world's leading oil producer, and is far more important in diversifying American suppliers than Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan-especially with Russia's likely capacity to increase production by an additional 10-15 percent per year for the coming 3-5 years. The Putin Administration has welcomed American movement towards financing a Russian strategic petroleum reserve, providing technical assistance for Russian deepwater ports in the Far East and developing new pipelines to bring oil and gas in West and East Siberia to market. Strong support exists throughout the Bush Administration and in Congress for bringing these projects to fruition, and U.S.-Russia energy cooperation is likely to occupy a priority spot on the national agendas of both sets of leaders for the foreseeable future.

 

Nor does Russia appear to be threatened by the American presence "on the ground" across the Eurasian landmass. The American presence in Central Asia is based almost exclusively on two factors-the region's security importance in the war on terror and the exploitation of energy reserves in the Caspian.

For both factors, the first part of 2002 was in many ways the pinnacle of Central Asia's global importance. As 2002 comes to a close, both factors have already become markedly less important. Following the successful ouster of the Taliban regime (and, admittedly, the less successful curtailment of Al-Qaeda activity within Afghanistan's borders), U. S. attention has turned decisively to Iraq and, more broadly, the Middle East. Even a complete breakdown of governance in Karzai's Afghanistan is unlikely to bring U.S. attention or commitments anywhere near the level experienced at the beginning of the year. U.S. bases will remain for at least the medium term, and economic commitments accompanying them are unlikely to dry up, but the level of U.S. engagement in the region is likely to fall-unless, of course, the Taliban-with Al-Qaeda in tow-attempt to return to power.

 

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