Staunton, October 10 – Despite Vladimir Putin’s repeated insistence that the former Soviet republics are the focus of Russian foreign policy, when things get tough for the Russian Federation Russians as is now the case, ever more Russians look to China as an ally than they do to any of the CIS countries, including Belarus.
Yesterday, VTsIOM released the results of a poll which found that 51 percent of Russians say China is Russia’s closest friend, twice as many as did so six years ago. Only 32 percent said Belarus was Russia’s best friend, 20 percent saying that of Kazakhstan, followed by nine percent naming India, four percent Brazil, four percent Cuba and three percent Argentina.
Boris Shmelyov of the Russian foreign ministry’s Diplomatic Academy told Svobodnaya pressa’s Aleksey Polubota that he was “not surprised” by these figures. “The new cold war” between Russia and the West is causing Russians to look to those countries like China that can provide Russia with real support.
But the diplomat said that one should pay attention to the fact that “despite the impact of the media, only half of our fell citizens are ready to see in China our ally. The rest are cautious or indifferent to China or even concerned about its role in the Russian Far East. If China’s economy continues to grow and Russia’s stagnates, those concerns will only grow.
And he suggested that “if we do not leave the raw materials model of economy [that Russia has adopted now], then in the end we will be converted into ‘the younger brother’ of the Heavenly Kingdom,” something he said few Russians were prepared to accept whatever they might gain from the relationship.
Sergey Vasiltsov, a Duma deputy and director of the Moscow Center for Research on the Political Culture of Russia, offered Polubota an additional explanation for the poll results. He said that he “would compare international relations with our ordinary human ones. We have childhood friends whom we rarely see but continue to consider close.”
And then, Vasiltsov continued, there are those whom we find common ground at work or play. “In present-day politics, the very term ‘friendly country’ means more often than not a useful country.” Seen from that perspective, he said, China, given its size, power and independent stand “seems to us closer and more reliable than Belarus or Kazakhstan.”