In Russia’s foreign policy, the central direction after 11 September 2001 was a close cooperative relationship with both the United States and Europe. However, President Vladimir Putin’s second term in office continues to be fraught with Western complaints about his neoauthoritarianism and the declining significance of democratic institutions in Russia. U.S.-based organizations are leading this chorus of multifarious voices. Freedom House, for example, singles out Russia as a country that has become less democratic and more authoritarian during George W. Bush’s presidency in the United States.
Fortunately for President Putin, pragmatic overtones in his relationships with the West prevail. In addition to Russia’s efforts in combating international terrorism, political leaders in Europe and, increasingly, the United States are concentrating their attention on Russia’s role as a supplier of energy to world markets. On 1 January 2006, Russia will assume the rotating presidency of the Group of Eight (G-8). The next G-8 summit, in St. Petersburg, will focus on energy security. The focus on energy is in Russia’s interests because it is indeed positioning itself as an energy superpower or, at the very least, an indispensable supplier of oil and natural gas to Europe.
Moscow has also begun pursuing an active policy toward Asia, rapidly expanding its economic links with China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea (ROK; South Korea). The purpose of this brief overview is not so much to clarify the prospects for Russia’s energy links with Asia but instead to raise the following questions: Why is this shift important for Russia’s economic interests? How may these links affect Russia’s development prospects? What are the problems that could hinder Russia’s drive to become a global supplier of energy with a new access to the huge markets in the Asia-Pacific region?