Historically, the Indo-Pacific region has been a region of exchanges in terms of culture, goods, and ideas. However, by the turn of the 21st century, the Indo-Pacific has grabbed policymakers and experts' greater attention. The Indo-Pacific is regarded as a geopolitical concept – the confluence of two oceanic systems such as the Indian and Pacific oceans (Doyle & Rumley, 2019, p. 5-6). Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that the Indo-Pacific is not merely about the two oceans. It is also about the land where countries conduct activities in terms of culture, security, and trade. In addition, the Indo-Pacific is also viewed as the 'space above' (Doyle & Rumley, 2019, p. 5-6). In the 21st century, the idea of the Indo-Pacific was brought up by a Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, in 2007. It is believed that the push for the Indo-Pacific was China's politico-military assertiveness in the region and India's rise. As a result, countries have drawn their own articulations of the region. However, it is important to note that the Indo-Pacific concept is contested and ill-defined.
However, as one of the great powers, Russia does not have an articulated and adopted Indo-Pacific strategy. The country believes that the Indo-Pacific concept tries to exclude China and disunify the region. Therefore, this paper argues that Moscow does not welcome the Indo-Pacific concept because it sees it as an echo of the Cold War and a pro-American concept that tries to contain China and Russia as well as disrupt the stability in the region. In order to examine Russia’s attitude to the Indo-Pacific, firstly, this paper takes a look at Russia’s view of the concept and what shapes such an attitude. Second, it examines Russia’s national interests in the Indo-Pacific region and how it tries to achieve them. Lastly, this paper explains the prospects of Russia’s role in the Indo-Pacific.
RUSSIA’S VIEW OF THE INDO-PACIFIC
Russia heavily opposes the Indo-Pacific as it regards the concept to be pro-American, which is directed against China and Russia. The Indo-Pacific is seen as an echo of the Cold War by the country. Russia is not welcoming the idea of the Indo-Pacific as a new geopolitical construct that would replace the Asia-Pacific. Moreover, in 2019 the Minister of Defense of Russia said that changing the construct from the Asia-Pacific to the Indo-Pacific would only create diving lines and tensions and restrain regional order (Denisov et al., 2021, p. 80). Put it differently, it is believed that IPC (Indo-Pacific Concept) tries to reconfigure the existing structures in the Asia-Pacific and move away from the ASEAN-centered interaction, thus creating divines. Most notably, Sergey Shoigu, Russia’s Minister of Defense, stated that in order to ensure security in the region, it was necessary to take into account the interest of all players (Denisov et al., 2021, p. 80). Russia argues that the 'free and open Indo-Pacific concept aims to promote the interests of the US and its allies and contain China. In other words, the Russian government regards Free-and-Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) as an effort to create a two-bloc system in Asia.
Besides, it is believed that the expansion of the sphere of cooperation aims to jeopardize the stability of the region, creating divines and tensions. The Indo-Pacific concept does not serve the interests of all players, instead only the interests of certain countries. Having this in mind, it seems like Russia is rejecting the Indo-Pacific geopolitical construct, which they believe supports the interests of the United States and its allies only.
There are a few reasons why Russia is not welcoming the Indo-Pacific concept. Firstly, the country is more concerned with the military issues happening in the western hemisphere, particularly western countries’ initiatives to expand North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Russia is afraid that so-called the QUAD grouping might develop in 'ASIAN NATO or NATO alike regional arrangement." Secondly, Russia is committed to resisting American unilateralism and the US-centric world order. Thus, Russia views the US' efforts to create the Indo-Pacific concept as a way to build an anti-China alliance and undermine Russia's number one partner. Third, the Indo-Pacific regional concept threatens Russia's goal to build diverse regional partnerships beyond China, particularly China and India. As both India and Japan are members of the QUAD security dialogue, Moscow believes that it might set them against Russia. Therefore, it weakens Moscow’s ambitions to pivot to Asia.
RUSSIA’S INTERESTS IN THE INDO-PACIFIC REGION
Despite Russia’s critical attitude to the Indo-Pacific, it is believed that the county still has to accommodate its position toward the geopolitical concept to strengthen its geo-economic and military component. As Russia is part of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the only member of the union with access to the sea, Russia needs to provide its partners with regional integration access to maritime routes to connect them to the global economy (Denisov et al., 2021, p. 81). It is important to note that Russia's pivot to Asia in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis aims to connect its EAEU partners to the Asian part. It is an important component to make the regional organization successful as it is purely seen as an isolationistic bloc, and it has all chances of collapsing. Therefore, Russia is concerned with the US’ concept of FOIP as it might be seen as anti-China and eventually undermine Russia’s plan for cooperation in the Eurasian region. Having this in mind, Russia should step up in the Indo-Pacific concept as it might contribute to its economic benefits.
Also, Russia's re-engagement in the region is driven by economic ambitions such as exploration and extortion of natural resources, export of energy resources, etc. The country aims to achieve its position as a corridor between Pacific Asia and Europe and be a major supplier of energy and agricultural produce to Asian economies (Koldunova, 2019). In order to achieve its position and gain greater access to Asia, Russia is proposing to connect the Trans-Korean railways with Russia's Trans-Siberian railway in order to create a strategic link (Koldunova, 2019).
The Indo-Pacific is of great importance to Russia, especially in terms of the energy sector. As Moscow wants to reduce dependency on China by developing new markets in Asia, it needs the countries in the Indo-Pacific to expand its partnerships. Nevertheless, it faces considerable challenges in realizing its ambitions due to American sanctions, which discouraged participation by Japanese investors.
In addition, Russia’s growing military power in Asia and the Pacific is a major shift in recent years, and Russia’s growing partnership with China cannot be underestimated. China is taking any opportunity to gain first-hand training from Russia. Most notably, following US sanctions after the annexation of Crimea even strengthened Russia’s arms sales to Asia. Russia’s technological superiority in some spheres of military procurement gives Moscow an advantage to project its influence in the Indo-Pacific. Russia embarks on being one of the most important providers of military procurement in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. For instance, in 2017-2018, over 60% of arms sales went to Asia, and Southeast Asia accounts for 43.1% of Russian arms sales (Muraviev, 2019).
RUSSIA’S FUTURE PROSPECT IN THE REGION
The Indo-Pacific has become a serious challenge to Putin’s foreign policy. As the region is vibrant and fluid, Moscow ought to take an opportunity to make a difference. However, it seems like Russia might face a challenge to contour its own Indo-Pacific vision through reconciling ‘integrations’ with the existing ASEAN-led mechanisms.
In order for Moscow to fulfil a constructive role in the Indo-Pacific, it has to rethink its position as a geopolitical spoiler or self-entitled great power. Russia is seen as a country that is keen on a hard power approach. Nevertheless, if Moscow wants to engage in the Indo-Pacific, it must change its foreign policy approach. Deploying hard power to the Indo-Pacific bears huge risks and much greater obstacles for Moscow. But playing the role of responsible and obedient great power is much more attractive; thus, Russia should rethink its approach to the region and how to earn respect in the Indo-Pacific. What is needed in order to gain status in the region is strategic patience. In other words, taking a course of a more modest and less influential power in the region for some time means being strategically patient. But it is hard to answer whether Putin is ready for it or not. It is worth mentioning that Russia's role in the Indo-Pacific region will likely impact the evolving geostrategic landscape. (Kseniia Egorova)