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Poll Points to Russia's Changing Relationships
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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 percent).

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 with Belarus.

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 states.

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 asset.

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 Tajikistan.

And, in the run up to last year's Kazakh presidential election, calls grew in that country for some sort of federation with Russia.

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 bilateral ties.

The Ukrainian and Georgian authorities openly pledged that they would have closer relations with the West, join NATO and quit the CIS.

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 treated.

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 else.

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 both peoples.

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 demonstrates this.

The author is a senior research fellow of the Contemporary World Research Center.

(China Daily June 21, 2006)


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