I am also frightened by the hypothetical “mating” of the Russian Federation with the PRC. However, no one in the whole world expects anything good from it. Perhaps Putin himself, who is trying to make the mighty PRC his ally, understands the danger of inevitable falling into dependence on the prudent and ruthless Hans. Putin’s field of maneuver has long been permanently shrinking, so you should not be surprised at his “love” for Comrade Xi.
It has long been no secret that all Chinese authorities (the National People’s Congress (NPC), the President of the People’s Republic of China, the State Council, the Central Military Council of the People’s Republic of China) are acting in a coordinated, rigid manner, according to a pre-approved program. They are absolutely alien to sentiment and any empathy like the altruistic “proletarian internationalism” with which the USSR sinned. And the goal of Beijing has long been clear to any reasonable person. This is world economic domination. The cult of the communist (and in fact professing state communism, gradually turning into economic imperialism) great power is clearly visible in the scheme of economic relations of Beijing with African states. Started in the 90s last century movement to Africa with beautiful slogans and promises of investment, Chinese representatives soon showed their true colors. Coming to any African country, they bought up everything that was more or less promising commercially – in production, in agriculture, in mining, among infrastructure facilities. They gained access to the country’s strategic assets in the form of its brands, technologies, distribution networks, and captured markets. Businessmen from the Celestial Empire imported Chinese goods in huge quantities, killing even the rudiments of local production. The economic potential of a developing African country was used mainly as a resource base and a market for selling Chinese goods.
Over the past 20 years, trade between China and Africa has grown steadily, reaching an all-time high of US$282 billion in 2022. At the 8th Ministerial Conference of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum in 2021, China announced the establishment of a “green corridor” for the import of African agricultural products. It has been Africa’s largest trading partner for 14 consecutive years, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce.
An example of cooperation can be illustrated with anchovies caught in the Indian Ocean and then processed, dried and packaged at Huawen Food (Kenya) Export Processing Zone Limited, a Chinese company based in Kenya. Are there many benefits for Kenya? I think not very much, but this country cannot afford to miss even such an opportunity to develop the economy. They have to accept what there is. Here is such a mutually beneficial economic exchange in the Chinese way. At the same time, the Chinese do not disdain such ungentlemanly ways to achieve their goals in the African “partner” countries, such as bribery of officials, industrial (and non-industrial) espionage, barbaric exploitation of subsoil and agricultural land, etc. One of the main factors of China’s interest in the African continent is, of course, access to natural resources. However, regardless of the availability of resources, infrastructure, financial and telecommunications sectors also play an important role in China’s cooperation with African countries, while only Chinese state-owned companies enter these markets. As you can see, this is ordinary economic imperialism, albeit under the red banner of China.
If the Chinese bravura reports from the economic front are to be believed, the picture seems to show the mutual success and benefits of such an economy. But if we trace the Chinese model of penetration on the example of the Russian Federation and recall our Far East, then the price of such expansion will become more understandable. Indeed, in some places, after the fruitful work of Chinese agricultural and forestry organizations, there remains a lunar landscape and poisoned water and soil, which, according to Russian sanitary and environmental standards, is subject to labor-intensive reclamation, or even to be completely withdrawn from agricultural circulation.
Large Chinese companies operate in the Far East of the Russian Federation, that cut down and export forests, develop and extract the necessary minerals, and conduct agricultural activities. Small handfuls of local “patriots” are trying to resist them, but their protest is too marginal – the influence of Chinese investments on the local economy is becoming more and more powerful. Most of the residents depend on this money in one way or another, so the protests do not become massive.
Residents of the Far East notice that the human flow to Russia from China is growing exponentially. Irkutsk, in particular, has become an outpost for the penetration of Chinese tourism, and then economic expansion into Siberia. Tourists are followed by businessmen who build shops and hotels in the borderlands, buy up land and cut down the Siberian taiga. Increasingly, it is not the citizens of Russia who feel like the real owners of these lands.
According to local authorities, in 2018 Baikal Lake, located on the border of the Irkutsk region and the Republic of Buryatia, was visited by about one and a half million tourists. The vast majority are from China. Today in Irkutsk you can go to any supermarket and see a crowd of Chinese tourists there. The Chinese are buying up confectionery, they are very fond of chocolate, marshmallows and nuts.
Siberia, from the Far East to the Urals, is home to 37 million people—78 percent of the country’s area is home to 25 percent of its population. This is about two or three not very large Chinese cities. So in Siberia, the fear of the “yellow threat” is quite justified. Economic expansion is taking place, that is a fact. The Chinese have money, and Russian law allows anyone who wants to buy land here. The Chinese are actively using this right – the locals complain that land prices have increased significantly over several years, and it is the Chinese who buy it. Hotels, shops, restaurants have appeared, in which Russians are simply not allowed.
Official Moscow, finding itself in international isolation, is simply forced to cooperate with Beijing. And the conditions in this game are dictated by the latter. Therefore, there is no particular hope for the federal center – the locals understand who dominates the region. In addition, amid the Chinese expansion in the Far East and Siberia, national liberation movements are beginning to intensify and separatist sentiments are growing.
And every day national contradictions are growing, and detachment from Moscow is becoming more acute. Instead of taking into account the real state of affairs and carrying out decentralization, Moscow is increasingly limiting the autonomy of its subjects. An example is the law on language, which actually forcibly russifies the indigenous peoples of Russia. This extremely unpopular russification policy is superimposed by dissatisfaction with the distribution of resources provided by the regions. For example, Yakutia, other republics of the Russian Federation that feel the interest of China, and the whole of Siberia, could completely do without Moscow. The indigenous peoples inhabiting these territories believe that Moscow is simply stealing from them and does not offer anything, therefore the political elite of the republics is probably thinking about their future destiny. Opposition politicians have similar thoughts, but the coordination of the actions of the first and the second for joint defense against the Chinese imperialist dragon is unlikely, although this possibility should not be completely excluded.
The Muslim republics of the Volga region, using the example of the Uighurs of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous district of the PRC, are well acquainted with the methods of forcible unification of national culture and the Muslim religion. And few of the citizens of the national republics of the Russian Federation will like to be in the Chinese concentration camp for “re-education”. Therefore, not only in Siberia, but also in the Volga region, “economic friendship” with the Chinese dragon is treated with a careful eye, if not with caution. But this issue is not decided by local business executives, and even more so not by national elites (legal and illegal), but by the federal center, which has its own views.
It would seem that Kazakhstan lies on the map between Tatarstan and Bashkortostan with China, which, firstly, is friends with the PRC, and secondly, the Chinese cannot swallow it “for nothing”. But who knows how China will behave if Putin manages to annex Ukrainian lands for a long time, creating an unfavorable precedent for the expansion of territories for democratic states. In this case, would not Beijing want to move from economic expansion to pulling other states under its strict political control? At first, acting with soft power, and then…remember how Putin said, “If you like it or you do not like it…” And will Kazakhstan not become such a victim?
No one wants to live next to an aggressive neighbor. But there will be no normal life in totalitarian Russia either. Even if it remains unchanged, then it will wage wars constantly, deeper and deeper plunging into the imperial-fascist swamp habitual to Russia. Imperial Moloch will demand sacrifices in the form of young men of military age, will suck out billions in taxes and fees from the budgets of the same Republic of Tatarstan, Republic of Bashkortostan, depleting the vitality of the indigenous peoples.
Salvation from such a dull prospect is possible on the way to the creation of the Confederation of the Free Idel-Urals – a union of the states of the Volga region similar to the European Union. This model will allow its subjects to get the support of the world community, create collegial government bodies in the economic, financial, cultural and other areas. It will help find ways to negotiate with neighbors on the creation of an economic corridor to external international borders. Today, this idea has opponents both among the official authorities in the republics of the Russian Federation and among opposition politicians of national democratic views, so there is still a lot of work to be done to promote the project. The main thing here is not to pull anyone to the Idel-Ural by force. The pressing problems of state building in the new free republics will lead their elites to an understanding of the rationality of such an alliance that will allow them to defend their interests in confrontation with both Moscow and Beijing.