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In the final years of the Soviet Union, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev began orienting his foreign policy toward Asia in response to a rising Japan. Putin has also piloted a much-touted pivot to Asia, coinciding with renewed U.S. interest in the area. A good expression of intent was Russia's hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2012 in Vladivostok, near Russia's borders with China and North Korea. Although its efforts in Asia have been limited by more direct interests in Russia's periphery and in Europe, Moscow recently has been able to look more to the east.
Part of this renewed interest involves finding new export markets for Russian hydrocarbons. Russia's economy relies on energy exports, particularly crude oil and natural gas exported via pipeline to the West. However, Western Europe is diversifying its energy sources as new supplies come online out of a desire to reduce its dependence on Russian energy supplies.
This has forced Russia to look for new export markets. Because Asia is hungry for energy supplies and is less fearful than Western Europe of a reliance on Russia, Moscow is attempting to shift its energy exports eastward, first with oil and then with natural gas. With northeast Asian economies experiencing robust growth, Russia's push into Asia has concentrated on Japan and South Korea, with a strong interest in securing deals with China. But such markets make up only part of the potential Moscow sees in Asia. There are a number of growing energy consumers to the south as well.