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[Opinion] Putin’s Silk Road gamble

2018-02-09 10:31:05       source:The Washington Post

February 8, 2018

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia — In September 2013, when Chinese President Xi Jinping rolled out the concept of the Silk Road Economic Belt, Moscow reacted with apprehension. The Kremlin was concerned that China’s grand initiative would compete with its own project, the Eurasian Economic Union, which sought to reintegrate the post-Soviet space under Moscow’s aegis. The fact that Xi gave his Silk Road speech in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, made Moscow even more uncomfortable — Kazakhstan is the biggest and richest country in Central Asia, it shares a long border with Russia and is viewed by Moscow as a key ally.

For a while, Moscow seemed undecided on how to respond to the new Silk Road narrative. But the 2014 Ukraine crisis changed the Kremlin’s calculus. Confrontation with the West and Russia’s deteriorating economy due to U.S.-led sanctions and falling oil prices left Moscow little choice.

Another blow was the loss of Ukraine as a potential participant in Russian-led integration arrangements. Without Ukraine, the second-largest post-Soviet economy and a market of about 44 million people, Moscow’s hopes to create an integrated bloc that would be on par with the European Union and other centers of global economic power were essentially dashed. Lacking a market of sufficient size to create its own viable geo-economic area, Russia was left with the only option of moving into another nation’s economic orbit.

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