All Quiet on the Western Front, While Russia Turns East to China

“All has been quiet on the Western Front,” said Sergei Lavrov the other day. “Whereas the East offers a very intense agenda which becomes more intense every year.”1

You may or may not know Mr. Lavrov. But he’s an important man, the Foreign Minister of Russia, a position he’s held since 2004. Before that, Lavrov was Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations for 10 years.

In fact, Lavrov has been a Soviet/Russian diplomat since the 1970s. And he knows a few things.

F.M. Sergei Lavrov

F.M. Sergei Lavrov. Courtesy Russian Foreign Ministry.2

Indeed, Lavrov is exceptionally good at his job. He’s a close adviser and confidante of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which places him smack at the center of power within Russia.

The point is that when Lavrov speaks, people ought to listen. And lately, Lavrov is speaking loud and clear.

Lavrov said that Russia is all but finished with the European Union (E.U.). And as we’ll address in a moment, Russia doesn’t much need the U.S. either.

Right now, Russia is in a full-throttle geopolitical reboot. It’s turning away from Europe and the Atlantic Basin and uniting its 21st Century fate with Asia, particularly China.

This is a political and economic pivot unlike anything since the end of World War II and the early days of the Cold War.

Some people, such as Harvard professor Niall Ferguson, call this Cold War 2.0.3 But in many respects, even that characterization understates the case.

And as I’ll explain in a moment, what’s happening here is nothing less than a geostrategic disaster for the U.S.

Let’s dig in…

Obviously, the world has transformed greatly in the past few years: economically, militarily, culturally, Covid of course, and much else.

Still, in many respects, you may not have sensed the magnitude of it all, especially if you live inside the propaganda and partisan political echo chambers of mainstream Western media.

Here in the U.S., it’s bad enough that the federal and state governments across the land have wrecked America’s economy and bankrupted public finance.

It’s bad enough that the country has spent several decades becoming a financialized, globalized, deindustrialized hulk.

It’s bad enough that much of American culture has descended into the sewer.

It’s bad enough that much of the U.S. education complex, K through 12 plus college, graduate, and professional schools (and even U.S. military service academies) have gone full-bore, crazy level Woke. Fish rot from the head, eh?

Meanwhile, with Il Duce (aka Generalissimo Fauci) still making public health policy, we might all have to wear facemasks until the cows come home.

But now comes the really bad news…

Mr. Lavrov is banging the drum, telling us that Russia and China have partnered up.

This evolving combination of two massive powers has long been an open secret if you knew where to look and how to read the news. But now Lavrov is openly saying that it’s a fact of life.

Here’s what it means to you: With Russia and China working in tandem, things will change on a global scale and blow back to affect your life in many ways.

Broadly speaking, the American economy (and you personally, as you live your life) will have to work harder and pay much more simply to maintain the current standard of living.

It’s all related to the looming world trade reset and ongoing dollar derailment.

That’s what happens when you allow sociopath politicians to ruin your own country and set the stage for up-and-comer nations to overturn a century of geostrategy.

One way to view all of this is through the lens of a British geographer named Sir Halford Mackinder (1861-1947). He was a founding father of the modern disciplines of geopolitics and geostrategy.4

In 1904, Mackinder published a concept called the Heartland Theory. In essence, whoever controls what he called “Eastern Europe” will control Eurasia. And that level of dominance will enable such a power to dominate the world.

In retrospect Mackinder’s version of Eastern Europe was quaint. The necessary landscape is much larger. And allowing for the geographic realities of modern Russia, it’s not a long intellectual jump to realize that a Russia-China alliance creates just such a new level of geopolitical, Heartland dominance.

Russia possesses vast territory full of energy and mineral wealth, plus excellent levels of technology and smart people. While China, of course, has transformed into a manufacturing powerhouse that dominates global markets literally everywhere.

This new correlation of forces renders obsolete the three-century-long dominance of global trade and wealth based on past British/U.S. naval power.

In other words, the post-World War II, American approach to running things across the globe, which is rooted in the ideas of Alfred Thayer Mahan and his “Influence of Sea Power” thinking, is on the ropes.5

Basically, Russia-China now dominate the Heartland, with China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) tying it all together with roads, rail, telecommunications and trade. Here’s an illustration:

ALTTAG

China’s Belt & Road Initiative.6

This all goes far beyond Mackinder’s early-1900s view of the Heartland as a dominant trading bloc. Technology has put the Heartland concept onto steroids.

And while container ships and high-speed rail are one thing, there’s far more in play than whose economy will dominate the rest of this century.

Russia and China have also made notable efforts to tie together their military resources, from tactical levels in the Western Pacific up to the strategic level of space dominance and nuclear weapons.

On that last point, Russia and China have even signed an agreement to cooperate in building installations on the moon.7 In other words, they are working to counter present and future U.S. dominance in space. And I’ll offer some insight into Russian space capabilities in a moment.

By now, you probably understand why we’re discussing far-off Russia and Foreign Minister Lavrov. Let’s expand on this even more.

Russia is a technically advanced nation with a population of 145 million, quite a bit larger than, say, Japan or Germany.

Russia’s education system is superb (a long story) and delivers all manner of well-trained, useful young people into a robust and growing industrial economy.

For example, in the past year, Russia has developed its own version of a Covid vaccine, called Sputnik V which has a 91% effective rate (same as the Pfizer vaccine in the U.S.) and is being injected into people’s arms from Italy to Mexico.8 In this sense alone, Russian biochemistry matches the West.

At macroeconomic levels, per the World Bank, the gross domestic product (GDP) of Russia is about $1.7 trillion. Nominally, that’s smaller than the GDP of Japan or Germany, although it’s in the same range as that of Canada and higher than South Korea.

Don’t focus on a simple, raw GDP number, though. Russia has a very “real” economy, focused on producing real things, from mines and minerals to advanced machinery and equipment.

Here’s an example. Not long ago, I participated in a Zoom call with a Russian company that manufactures specialty metals for the high tech and aerospace industries. At one point, the presenter showed a video of a vacuum-furnace flash-melting a titanium ingot.

In one memorable line, he said, “Watch our real, Russian economy at work, as compared to that over-hyped digital economy you have in the West.”

It was a good-natured jibe; but think about that. A “real” economy versus a “digital” one. I’ve discussed this before.

And think in terms of what comprises GDP in general. Unlike most Western nations, Russia’s economy lacks a large financial sector built on banking, securities trading, and in general what many economists call “rent seeking,” such as flipping houses.

Russia has a stock market, of course. But it’s relatively small in the country’s overall economy. That Russian stock market is definitely not an economic tail that wags the dog, so to speak.

Another way to say it is that Russia is not a financialized economy like that of the U.S. Russian managers don’t run their companies with quarterly results in mind or fiddle the numbers to please Russia’s equivalent of Wall Street.

Russian corporate finance is not like what we saw in the U.S. with Boeing, for example, which for several years spent much of its cash flow playing financial games that nearly ruined the company.

Another measure of Russia’s national wealth is electricity production. In a global rank of gross kilowatt hours produced, Russia comes in number four behind China, the U.S. and India in that order.

In terms of kilowatt hours per capita, Russia ranks alongside developed countries like France, and is ahead of other advanced nations like Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and far ahead of Great Britain.9

With all that energy, Russia produces much of what its own economy and people need. Russia is self-sufficient in most food products, while being the world’s largest grain exporter.

Russian industry produces what the nation needs. From shoes and socks, to cars, trucks, buses, railway equipment, medical equipment, and myriad other products up to advanced electronics and aerospace equipment.

Compare that with the U.S., which has spent several decades deindustrializing.

Russian space technology is also superb, it’s worth noting. This goes back to the Soviet legacy in rocketry.

Mosaic of Soviet cosmonauts

Mosaic of Soviet cosmonauts, Dom Kulturi, Lisichansk, Ukraine.

For example, for over 10 years, U.S. astronauts have launched to the International Space Station on Russian rockets blasted from a Russian cosmodrome.

Closer to home, many (most, in fact) U.S. space launches from American soil use Russian-made rocket engines.10

Say what you will about Russia. But for all the troubles the country had post-Soviet Union, 1991 to the present, the place remained industrialized.

Along the way, it’s also fair to say that the U.S. never lost factories and jobs to Russia, as was distinctly the case with the relationship with China.

I’ve never met Lavrov, but I’ve followed him over many years. As I see it, he’s a total professional, a diplomat’s diplomat.

Lavrov speaks carefully and in measured tones, reflective of the tight, deliberative process by which major decisions are made within Russia’s government.

And lately, Lavrov has been telling the world that Russia has little use for what it sees in the West and is strengthening relations to the East, namely with China.

Not long ago he said that Russia has “no relations with the EU as an organization. The entire infrastructure of these relations has been destroyed by unilateral decisions made from Brussels.”11

Basically, Lavrov is saying that the E.U. is irrelevant. Russia doesn’t need the E.U. for trade, and definitely not for the bizarre, descending, train wreck of culture that it sees to the West.

As for the U.S., it’s not hard to understand what Lavrov is saying; meaning he as the senior Russian diplomat, and via much else that comes out of Russia at the state policy level.

For Russia, the challenge ahead is to defend Russian national interests. And for Russia to protect itself and its new arrangement with China against the evident cultural, social, economic, political and military decline of the U.S., up to and including the eventual implosion process of governance across North America.

Russia experienced its own geopolitical catastrophe when the Soviet Union broke apart. Lavrov and many other Russians see the same process playing out in the U.S., with likely impacts on Canada and Mexico. (I’ve discussed it here.)

The supreme point of self-defense, in Russia’s view, is to ensure that U.S. nuclear weapons don’t get loose, much as that issue was a profound U.S. concern about Russia in the 1990s.

Along those lines, Russians have a saying that “you can speak with Sergei Lavrov about diplomacy, or you might hear from Dmitri Shoigu, the Minister of Defense.”

Call it Russian humor. But it’s more like Russian realism.

Russia has seen enough. It’s now washing its hands of the West and turning East. Good luck to us all.

On that note, I rest my case.

That’s all for now… Thank you for subscribing and reading.

Best wishes,

Byron King

Byron King
Managing Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder
WhiskeyAndGunpowderFeedback@StPaulResearch.com

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1 Lavrov: Russia – China Relations Developing Faster Now Though We Do Not Ally Against Anyone!, YouTube

2 Photogallery of S.V.Lavrov, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

3 Niall Ferguson – Cold War 2.0?, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

4 Halford Mackinder, Wikipedia

5 Alfred Thayer Mahan, Wikipedia

6 One-belt-one-road, Wikimedia Commons

7 The Strategic Implications of the China-Russia Lunar Base Cooperation Agreement, The Diplomat

8 Russia to Make Sputnik V Vaccine in Italy, a First in EU, ABC News

9 Countries by Electricity Consumption, Wikipedia

10 Can SpaceX and Blue Origin Best a Decades-Old Russian Rocket Engine Design?, Technology Review

11 Moscow Now Has ‘No Relations’ With EU Because Brussels Has ‘Destroyed’ Once Friendly Ties, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov Claims, RT.com

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