Russia as an Asia Pacific Power: The Perspective of Dr. Elizabeth Buchanan


By Robbin Laird

In the shifting narrative of Vladimir Putin as the leader of Russia, over time he has downplayed Russia’s modernization engaged with the West to shaping a Euro-Asian perspective and promoting the concept of Russia as a unique Eur-Asian power.

Although the Obama Administration referred to Russia as a “regional power,” with 11 time zones reaching from Europe to Asia, Russia is clearly geographically a unique Eur-Asian entity.

What Putin has done through his years in power has been to leverage the geography of Russia and its population’s historical memory to shape a narrative that is focused on the Russian destiny to be a great power, this time as a player shaping the next phase of the 21st century.

During my recent visit to Australia, I had a chance to sit down with Dr Elizabeth Buchanan, research fellow at the Australian National University’s Centre for European Studies, and a Russian expert, to discuss Russia as a Pacific power.

We focused largely upon how Russian energy resources have been tapped to expand Russia’s reach into the Pacific.

Her work is focused upon Russia’s energy interests in the region, which she noted were focusing in particular, on the ASEAN nations.

She highlighted two key aspects of their approach.

The first involves Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) and the second involves the export of modular light weight nuclear reactors.

With regard to LNG, she underscored that analysts were originally skeptical of the ability of Russia to leverage its energy deposits in the Arctic. But Russia has been successful with its LNG Arctic assets and has utilized the Northern Sea Route to be able to rapidly become a major LNG exporter to the Asia Pacific Region.

“In spite of Western sanctions, the Russians have been able to build LNG Arctic platforms, and to get significant Japanese, Chinese, Saudi and Indian funding to build out their capabilities and their market.”

She noted that this has significant impact on Australia, as Australia is a key LNG exporter, and relies on profits from this sector as a key part of their export earnings. She argued that the Russians were undercutting the Australian market in the region.

Dr. Buchanan highlighted that the Asia Pacific market was key for LNG exports, but that in addition Russia was offering nuclear reactor capabilities as well. They are working with small modular nuclear reactors which can operate off of offshore platforms in the region.

“They are offering a complete package: the reactor, servicing, and waste disposal.”

In short, what Dr. Buchanan highlighted was how the Arctic opening, and Russian ability to leverage its resources as well as the new Northern route, can add them in expanding their Pacific reach.

This is a key but largely neglected development in building out a reality underlying Putin’s focus on Russia as a Eur-Asian power.

The featured graphic above was taken from the following article:

See also the following:

And for a recent Japanese report on another aspect of Russian Pacific power, namely military power in the region of considerable interest to Japan, see the following: