By Yu Sui
Ordinary Russians were recently asked which countries they think
are Russia's friends and which are its foes.
According to the poll, Russia's "friends" are Belarus (47
percent), Kazakhstan (33 percent), China (24 percent), Germany (22
percent) and India (15 percent). Russia's "foes" are Latvia (46
percent), Georgia (44 percent), Lithuania (42 percent), the United
States (37 percent), Estonia (28 percent) and Ukraine (27
Although the results do not offer a complete picture, they are
still quite revealing.
People appear to be aware of the diplomatic relationships that
the Kremlin attaches the greatest importance to. Top of the list
are ties with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS),
consisting of 12 former Soviet republics. In terms of relations
with CIS member states, particular importance is attached to ties
Relations with the CIS are followed by those with Europe, the
United States, Asia (especially China, India and Japan), the Middle
East, Africa, Central America and South America.
The United States once came second in the ranking, but later
yielded this position to the European Union as Moscow's "Europe
complex" became increasingly assertive.
One explanation given for this "diplomatic ranking" is that it
was dictated by Russia's geopolitical position as a big power
sitting between Europe and Asia.
However, the outcome of this recent poll deviates distinctly
from the Russian Government's original concept. This shows that the
changing international situation has brought about changes in the
Russian public's attitudes.
It is obvious that the Russians' "Soviet Union" complex is
fading away and that relations have changed with some CIS member
Relations between Russia and other CIS member states had always
been the top priority of Russian foreign policy during the
administrations of Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. Historical and
geopolitical factors loomed large behind this.
The landscape has, however, changed since "color revolutions"
took place in some CIS member states. Some are getting closer to
Russia, while others are becoming estranged.
Belarus and Kazakhstan remain Russia's best friends in the eyes
of the public.
In the face of the NATO's eastward expansion, Belarus is now the
only buffer between Russia and the Western military alliance.
Belarus is therefore regarded by Moscow as an invaluable strategic
The two countries are considering a merger, with a Russian
president and the vice-president from Belarus. The drafting of the
federation's constitution has already been completed, and is
awaiting approval in a referendum.
Kazakhstan has been a close partner of Russia ever since the
collapse of the Soviet Union, trumpeting Russia's status as the
first among the equals in the CIS.
Furthermore, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev first
proposed that the European Union should be the top diplomatic
priority of the CIS, rather than the United States. Kazakhstan and
Russia are both members of the collective security treaty
organization and the Eurasian Economic Community, which brings
together Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and
And, in the run up to last year's Kazakh presidential election,
calls grew in that country for some sort of federation with
In contrast, many Russians view Georgia and Ukraine as
adversaries. Frictions with Russia have been frequent since the
"color revolutions" in Georgia and Ukraine, greatly straining
The Ukrainian and Georgian authorities openly pledged that they
would have closer relations with the West, join NATO and quit the
The summit of the GUAM organization, which brings together
Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova, decided on May 23 that
the organization should be renamed "the GUAM Organization of
Democracy and Economic Development," turning it from a regional
organization into an international one. GUAM also plans to recruit
Romania and Bulgaria as members.
The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have never
been members of the CIS and have strained ties with Russia. Some
Russians consider these countries foes because they were the first
Soviet republics to start pushing for independence. They also
adopted pro-US and pro-Western policies once becoming NATO members.
But most important of all, ethnic Russians in these countries, who
make up, for example, 30 percent and 25 percent of the Latvian and
Estonian populations respectively, are allegedly unfairly
As for Russo-US relations, Russia has always been willing to
have good ties with Uncle Sam. President Putin's goodwill gestures
towards the United States have even been described by the Russian
media as throwing himself into Washington's "bosom." However, the
United States, harboring misgivings about Russia, tries to keep
Moscow weak and squeeze its strategic room for maneuver.
Putin's Russian version of democracy is regarded by the United
States as a slide towards totalitarianism.
Americans therefore believe that Russo-US relations are starting
to lose steam.
In spite of all this, co-operation will continue between Russia
and the United States. Too much is at stake to do anything
Facing US pressure, Russia is trying to improve the security
situations around its eastern regions by establishing and
strengthening a number of bilateral and multilateral partnerships,
including strengthening Russo-Chinese strategic co-operative
partnership, developing Russo-Indian ties and improving
Russo-Japanese relations. Moreover, a Russian-Chinese-Indian
triangular framework has been suggested.
The fact that Russian people regard China as a "friendly
country" mirrors the progress of the friendly and co-operative ties
between the two countries, which is the fruit of the long-standing
efforts by the leaders of both countries.
What is worth special mention here is that China and Russia
trust each other politically, complement each other economically,
conduct cultural exchanges, take much the same approach to
important international affairs, consult each other over thorny
issues and help each other when caught in difficult situations.
The interests of the two countries naturally diverge in many
ways and sometimes conflict with each other. But this does not
impact on the overall relationship between the two nations.
In a nutshell, healthy Sino-Russian ties have been maintained by
sticking to the following principles: Achieving strategic
co-operation without becoming allies, maintaining close ties
without becoming heavily interdependent, harboring no subversive
intentions, resolving disputes through negotiations and handling
international affairs free from double standards.
The principle of remaining friends generation after generation
and never becoming foes is at the core of the China-Russia
Friendship and Co-operation Treaty, something which is cherished by
Deepening understanding and trust between the peoples of Russia
and China means that fewer and fewer will buy into the theories
that somehow there is a "China threat" or "Russia cannot be
trusted." The outcome of this important opinion poll clearly
The author is a senior research fellow of the Contemporary
World Research Center.
(China Daily June 21, 2006)