Vladimir Yakunin: Russia will not be a pawn for Trump

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At the end of 2016, when the new American president “played the Taiwan card”, as everybody was waiting for “reboot” in Russian-American relations, plenty of international analysts decided that Trump will make the “Nixon’s move,” but this time he will choose a different partner, Russia, in order to suppress China. At the beginning of 2017 Trump clarified his position on the Taiwan issue, and the trade war between China and America did not come to pass. Thus, Chinese-American relations did not undergo any significant deterioration, while at the same time more variables appeared in the American-Russian relations. In this case, the “Nixon’s move with a new partner” concept seemed to have lost its relish. However, following the great uncertainty in the recent political situation one cannot ignore the possibility of such a move.

The FT newspaper in Beijing had a meeting with Vladimir Yakunin and asked him to clarify this matter. They also asked him to comment on issues related to Russian-American relations, the Russian political situation, issues in Central Asia and the “One Belt – One Road” initiative. Vladimir Yakunin (1948) is a famous politician, businessman and scientist who is close to President Vladimir Putin. Previously Vladimir Yakunin was the president of Russian Railways. After his resignation he became involved in an international expert-analytical centre where he facilitates “civilizational dialogue” and participates in initiatives to resolve international conflicts.

It should be stated that the interview took place before America’s bombing of Syria and before the visit of Xi Jinping to the United States. No doubt, these events influenced Russian-American and Chinese-American relations. But since this interview was taken before the events mentioned above, the consequences of those events are not discussed here. However, thoughts and ideas of Vladimir Yakunin regarding certain matters related to Russia’s plac in the global structure of international relations are worthy of attention.

How would you assess the impact of western sanctions imposed on Russia following the Ukrainian crisis?

They influenced the opportunities for Russian companies to borrow on the international financial market. But if we take a look at some figures we can see some growth in the Russian economy, not decline. Besides, following the western sanctions the government sped up the reform process. For example: basic infrastructure is being created, the volume of investments in agriculture has grown. The sanctions made politicians and businessmen reconsider the investment policy, which has positive impact on the social-economic structure of the country.

For 20 years, Russia has been implementing system reforms. And today the country can take a “project management” approach and define the specific goals of reforms. And using the relevant resources this can be implemented – just as has been done in China. Putin’s desire to carry out a stable policy can guarantee the goals are realized.

But sometimes realizing goals does not depend on what people want. What exactly can be done in this case?

The economy is quite a complicated thing. It can’t be explained with one overarching scientific theory. “Openness reforms” in China didn’t only follow the economic theory of liberalization, although they were rather successful. Currently, if Russia follows “pure theory”, that is if it accepts all the recommendations from the IMF, the country will end up in a deadlock. It is also possible to choose a more pragmatic path: to change according to the situation, with some deviations to the left and to the right. I think this is the correct course of action. That is what Russia is doing at the moment. That is why I am positive about the future of the country.
There is an opinion in the international community that democracy in Russia is fading. What do you think about it and about political stability in the country?

Democracy guarantees freedom for citizens, the government protects citizens, provides them with education and medical support. Democracy is not only about rights, but also about responsibilities. There are certain problems in Russia, but which country is without problems?  Putin guarantees the fundamentals of democracy.

Putin prevented Russia’s dissolution and acted in favour of the people. He established a stable system. This policy is implemented for the benefit of the Russian population. If people say the system only benefits Putin they are not telling the truth. Russia’s stability and development have a favourable impact on the whole world, including China.

Trump is considered a “pro-Russian” American president. What do you think about further relations between the US and Russia after his election?

In the modern world it is hard for one country to manage public opinion in other countries. Some Americans believe that Russia is behind all events, but that is ridiculous. It is absurd to say that Russia “influenced” the results of American elections. Some Russian people romanticize Trump’s image, including some members of the State Duma. When the election results were announced, most people burst into applause to welcome Trump’s victory. I think this behaviour is unacceptable. The Duma is not a theatre. People should take matters seriously. And of course it’s time to understand that this victory has not been achieved by one person alone. I believe Trump represents not only the ongoing crisis in America but also the crisis of political order in the world. Trump’s victory cannot be explained by his personality alone. What is important is that he expresses the hopes and expectations of most Americans.

I don’t think we can really say that Trump is a “pro-Russian” president. He is a completely “pro-American” president and he does everything in favour of America. Trump didn’t blame Russia, but after the elections he didn’t speak about it positively either. Of course, primarily Trump is a realist.

Some analysts used to say that Trump might make “Nixon’s move” but this time Russia will be America’s partner.

Theoretically, one country can use another country to have certain influence on a third one. But we should understand Putin. He is a very responsible person in politics. I know his character, his features as a leader and the policy he implements. Therefore I assume he will never let anyone use Russia as a pawn to influence a third country. Some representatives of the political elite in China may be worried about this but I do not believe there is any reason for that.

What is Russia’s attitude to China’s “One Belt – One Road” initiative?

Russia has always aspired to unite Europe and Asia. In this respect, the Trans-Siberian Railway is a crucial element of infrastructure. The “One Belt-One Road” initiative that China developed, is not just an economic project but a political idea. I think China should continue its cooperation with Russia on building the fundamental infrastructure. It would also facilitate the development of China’s North. It could benefit both countries to use the existing infrastructure: it would be an oversight not to make use of what we already have.

I would like to add: whether it is the “One Belt – One Road” initiative or Eurasian Economic Union, they all are connected with one significant idea: the idea of developing relations based on strategic partnership between the two countries. The projects’ goals complement each other.

Is Russia worried that China’s influence in Central Asia is growing?

Russia and former USSR republics have always lived together. We share a common historical and cultural heritage. Today we all should preserve it. It would be very good, and absolutely natural, given the current situation for these countries to get involved in closer cultural and partnership interaction with China. But I don’t think they will turn their backs on their former friend, betray our common cultural heritage, because of a new, stronger and more powerful friend. If that were to be the case, it would be their political drawback. Russia maintains friendly relationships with countries of Central Asia and it has a positive impact on China.

After the Ukrainian crisis the western world was criticizing Russia a lot and called it “a revisionist” who tried to change the world order. What do you think about it and what is your idea of the future world order?

Russia had a passive response when they called the country “a revisionist” who tried to change the world order. These accusations disagree with the facts. It was not Russia who was bombing Yugoslavia; it was not Russia that was keen to invade Iraq; and it was not Russia who violated the international order.

In due course there were changes in the international situation and it was necessary to create new tools to protect global stability. As a winner in WWII, the USSR was one of the pillars of the new world order. Thanks to its history, its potential, Russia has this role today. China is also developing its power, it is also changing the world. The modern world cannot be managed by individual countries. We should develop international collaboration, no country should be discriminated against.