Looking forward, it’s expected that Russia will double down on educating its policymaking elite about the significance of China, India, Iran, and Turkiye for their country’s grand strategy in the context of the Greater Eurasian Partnership. From there, focus will gradually evolve to Southeast and West Asia as well as Africa and Latin America, with the first pair preceding the second in terms of priority.
Dmitry Trenin is one of Russia’s key policy influencers as proven by his position on the prestigious Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, which contributes to formulating his country’s approach towards those two interconnected issues. Despite being considered a Western-friendly liberal for most of his career, this member of the elite decisively shifted his worldview in response to Russia’s ongoing special military operation in Ukraine that was commenced in order to defend the integrity of its national security red lines from US-led NATO’s latent threats. His transformation from a foreign policy liberal to a conservative isn’t an outlier but increasingly representative of the rest of his country’s elite as well.
He shared some crucial insight into his country’s grand strategy in May in remarks during his Council’s 30th Assembly that were republished by RT at the time and analyzed at length by the author here. Russia’s flagship international media outlet once again published his latest thoughts last weekend in a piece titled “Dmitri Trenin: Russia has made a decisive break with the West and is ready to help shape a new world order”. Just like his prior one for that platform, this one also deserves to be analyzed in detail since it confirms the new worldview of the Russian elite that’s responsible for formulating its foreign and defense policies just like he partially is.
According to Trenin, this decisive break with the West is both necessary and difficult for three reasons. First, past inertia serves as a major obstacle, though the current conditions of the Collective West united against Russia make this a necessity. Second, Russia’s economic relations have historically been tied with those same Western countries that are now united against it despite having previously fed this Great Power’s growth over the past three decades, which is all the more reason to urgently pioneer viable replacements as soon as possible. And lastly, the Russian elite culturally regard themselves as part of Western Civilization, yet the latter’s latest “woke” trend is contrary to traditional Russian culture.
The respected Russian expert then shared some frank commentary on the matter. In his words, “With the West shunning Russia, trying to isolate and sometimes ‘cancel’ it, Moscow has no choice but to kick its old habits and reach out to the wider world beyond Western Europe and North America. In fact, this is something that successive Russian leaders vowed to do repeatedly, even when relations with the West were much less adversarial, but the Europe-oriented mindset, the apparent ease of trading resources for Western goods and technologies, and the ambition to be accepted into Western elite circles prevented that intention from turning into reality.”
Trenin added, however, “that people start doing the right thing only when there are no other options. And certainly, capitulating to the West is no option for Russia, at this point. Things have gone too far.” From there, he shared some facts that imbue the reader with a sense of cautious optimism that not only will things change for the better, but that they’re already well on their way there. The Global South has “risen spectacularly” since the end of the Old Cold War, with China conducting more trade with Russia than Germany did even prior to the US-led West’s sanctions against it and countries like India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkiye, and Iran emerging as independently minded close partners too.
In order to maximally capitalize off of this trend and thus advance Russia’s grand strategic interests as they objectively exist under these new circumstances of the New Cold War, Trenin suggests that his policymaking elites’ new worldview must be taken even further. He proposes that they “need to give relations with non-Western countries priority over the de facto firmly frozen ties with the West. Being an ambassador to Indonesia should be more prestigious than an ambassadorship in Rome, and a post in Tashkent should be viewed as more important than one in Vienna.” A comprehensive audit of economic opportunities with the BRICS countries should also be conducted without delay, he said.
Moreover, “student exchange programs should be expanded, and Russian tourism encouraged to move east, and south.” The most important proposal, though, is the last sentence with which he concluded his article: “The Russian media would be right to increase coverage of developments in the key non-Western nations, educating the Russian elite and the broader public about the economic realities, politics, and culture of those nations.” This is certainly the most significant step that must be taken in order for all others that he suggested to truly bear fruit. Without educating the Russian elite and the broader public about the Global South, they’ll always leave such opportunities partially untapped.
That’s unacceptable in the newfound conditions that Russia found itself in light of recent events since any further delay in maximizing its engagement with Global South countries can have latent national security implications, especially when considering that the economic-financial dimension thereof is increasingly just as – if not more – important as its traditional military one. Without having directly said it, Trenin seems to be implying that the solution rests with comprehensively formulating Russia’s Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP), both in general and with respect to each primary bilateral axis therein with particular attention paid to the Chinese, Indian, Iranian, and Turkish ones in that order.
The Russian-Chinese Axis functions as the most significant for Moscow due to the massive market potential of the People’s Republic for replacing the lost European one, while the Russian-Indian Axis preemptively averts that Eurasian Great Power’s potentially disproportionate dependence on Beijing and thus enables the Kremlin to retain its strategic autonomy in the present bi-multipolar intermediary phase of the global systemic transition to multipolarity. The Russian-Iranian Axis serves as the first-mentioned’s gateway to India via the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) while also providing the opportunity for those three to collectively create a third pole of influence in the evolving world order.
As for the Russian-Turkish Axis, this final one of Moscow’s four most important axes helps manage military-strategic tensions along that Eurasian Great Power’s southern periphery in the Black Sea (Crimea), South Caucasus (Armenia), and the Levant (Syria). Turkiye is also a rising Great Power in its own right and one that’s sovereign enough not to have capitulated to its NATO allies’ pressure to sanction Russia, instead preferring to retain their strategic agricultural, commercial, energy, and tourist trades. While Turkiye might comparatively be the least reliable of Russia’s top four Eurasian Axes, it’s arguably the one that deserves the most careful attention due to the consequences if relations sour.
The Russian policymaking elite, however, remains largely ignorant of these four Great Powers except for those handful of experts who specialize in them. The last-mentioned cadre are the reason why Russia has already achieved success with those states thus far, which crucially laid the basis for comprehensively formulating the GEP on both the collective and bilateral axes that represent the most sustainable solution to the challenges that Trenin accurately identified in his article. Nevertheless, more work must be done, and at an accelerated pace with an even greater quality of education in order to make up for literally three decades of lost time since the end of the Old Cold War.
The evolution of Russia’s “strategic culture” as it can be described will therefore take time, though everything is already proceeding along a positive trajectory as evidenced by recent events. China, India, Iran, and Turkiye retain close relations with Russia in spite of considerable Western pressure upon them to break ranks with the Kremlin. Each of these four is fiercely sovereign and doesn’t capitulate to foreign pressure, instead always pursing their objective national interests as their leaderships sincerely understand them to be even in those instances where they occasionally contradict Russia’s such as is the case with Turkiye.
Looking forward, it’s expected that Russia will double down on educating its policymaking elite about the significance of China, India, Iran, and Turkiye for their country’s grand strategy in the context of the GEP. From there, focus will gradually evolve to Southeast and West Asia as well as Africa and Latin America, with the first pair preceding the second in terms of priority. The trappings of a global strategy are becoming discernable, though it’s still too early to precisely pinpoint exactly what it’ll look like other than to predict that the strengthening of state sovereignty and strategic autonomy will form the ideological foundation of the Russian elite’s new worldview.