Working Paper

Russia's "Pivot to Asia"
The Multilateral Dimensions

by Stephen J. Blank
June 28, 2017

This paper explores the opportunities and challenges that Russia has faced in its economic pivot to Asia and examines the potential roadblocks to its future integration with the region with special regard to multilateral Asian institutions.



Despite the challenges Russia faces, many Russian writers and officials continue to insist that the country is making visible strides forward in its so-called pivot to Asia. Russia’s ability to influence the many multilateral projects that pervade Asia from the Arctic to Southeast Asia and increase its role in them represents an “acid test” of whether or not proclamations of the correctness of Russian policy can stand up to scrutiny. Such scrutiny shows that Russia is failing to benefit from or participate in these projects. The one exception, the Eurasian Union, has become an economic disappointment to both Russia and its other members. Russia is actually steadily losing ground to China in the Arctic, Central Asia, and North Korea. Likewise, in Southeast Asia Moscow has promoted and signed many agreements with members of ASEAN, only to fail to implement them practically. Since Asia, as Moscow well knows, is the most dynamic sector of the global economy, this failure to reform at home and implement the developmental steps needed to compete in Asia can only presage negative geoeconomic and geopolitical consequences for Russia as it steadily becomes increasingly marginalized in the region despite its rhetoric and diplomatic activity.


  • Despite a barrage of optimistic positive rhetoric claiming that Russia is pursuing a successful Asian policy, the truth is exactly the opposite: Russia is failing to realize the multilateral projects in which it claims to be participating.
  • China is minimizing Russia’s role in multilateral projects in Central and East Asia and the Arctic, while maximizing its own leverage. Thus, Russia is becoming a raw materials appendage and very junior partner to China.
  • The main reason for this failure lies in Russia’s political system, which is suffocating the growth of Russian economic power, which alone would allow it to play a major role in Asia’s multilateral projects and security agendas.