The annual APEC summit
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leader’s Conference meeting came to an end on the 19th of November. After two days in Manila, Philippines, the meeting of the most important economies of the region came to a close. In its 27th year, the delegates face some of their most severe challenges since the summit began almost three decades earlier. Shifting geopolitics and economic circumstances are, on the whole, a positive for the APEC countries. However, the winds do not always drift eastwards to the Pacific. Hovering over the meeting, were economic tensions between the United States and China. The spectre of the soon-to-be completed and controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) haunted proceedings. The meetings in Manila ended with one conspicuous absence. Russia’s President Putin neglected to attend, sending Prime Minister Medvedev in his stead. The reason? The Asia-Pacific region is the least of Russia’s concerns at present.
War in the Middle East
A major focus of Russian policy at present is the Middle East. A key ally of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Putin’s Russia has supported the controversial regime for many years. What began as economic support and provision of arms, have morphed into ground-troops, and a full military assault on President Assad’s rivals.
[via Russia Insider]
After a Russian passenger jet was allegedly felled by an ISIS bomb over the Sinai, Russia’s efforts have intensified. Following attacks in Paris, Western nations seek to convince Putin to eschew targeting The Free Syrian Army, and focus solely on ISIS, in alliance. To date, over 2400 Russians are reported to have joined ISIS. While seeking to balance delicate alliances with countries who oppose each other, Russian foreign policy is increasingly strained and embattled.
Following the money
Russia’s economic interests in the Asia-Pacific region are declining. With the dominance of China, and a rising threat by the United States through TPP, Russia has diverted its efforts elsewhere. The new economic theatres? The Middle East and Central Asia. Russia has a long-standing relationship with Iran, which has seen the countries engage in trade long before it became acceptable among Western nations due to the nuclear deal. In an agreement to trade oil for goods with Iran, Russia cemented its commitment to be a strong economic partner for the country. However, Russia has also joined economic forces with Iran’s great regional rival, Saudi Arabia. Pledging to work together in creating nuclear energy, Russia and Saudi began a partnership which, although unexpected, will undoubtedly bring substantial financial rewards to both nations.
Bigger fish to fry
The reason why Putin did not appear as the Russian delegate to APEC is simple. With a dearth of regional economic interests, and the need to control security and strengthen its economic interests in the Middle East, APEC was simply low on the president’s priorities. Putin’s absence is a classic case of ‘bigger fish to fry’. In the multinational war in the Middle East, Russia’s priorities have now shifted. Putin and has administration have been forced to rethink their priorities. Leaving behind the Pacific, Russia’s fate may now rest in the sands of the Middle East – for better or for worse.