Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Malaysia: Russia Insures against the PRC

Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Malaysia: Russia Insures against the PRC


Moscow's Indo-Pacific strategy has been consistent since the 19th Century, and crossed ideological boundaries from Tsarist and Soviet to Russian Federation times. It has been basic geopolitics, but the delay in re-booting it after the collapse of the USSR made many Western analysts forget the links Moscow had built with India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and North Korea (DPRK).

The current resurgence of Russian interest in the Indo-Pacific - a phrase Moscow has discouraged, perhaps because Beijing sees it as a sign that the US and its allies now view it as a unitary strategic zone to contain the People's Republic of China (PRC) - has been handled carefully by Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin in order not to disturb Russia's vital economic relations with the PRC. But Moscow's self-perception of Russia as a global power does, in fact, mean having a necessary balancing capability vis-ă-vis the PRC.

Moscow's re I at ionships in the Indo-Pacific, in fact, complement those of the "Quad": the quadrilateral and informal strategic alliance between the US, Australia, Japan, and India. Moreover, the complementary relationship highlights the discussion that, if the US or West is ever to balance the PRC in terms of global strat egic power, then the West would need to ally with Russia. In the meantime, all the players need to work with the PRC, and vice-versa, given their mutual strategic weaknesses.

The PRC is existentially dependent on Russia, the US, Australia, and others for raw materials and food, a dependency which is expected to accelerate over the coming decade. It has a dependency - which it is attempting to mini mize - on Indo-Pacific states as well as Russian-dominated Central Asia to facilitate its Silk Route networks to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

The framework, however, is also hallmarked by competitiveness and a lack of trust among all players. Within this, however, the growing Russian pattern of economic and def ense indust rial linkages in the Indo- Pacific is emerging as a challenge to the PRC, even though Beijing is quiet on the subject while Western states - particularly the US and Australia - have expressed concern. And there is some suggestion that the concerns in the US strategic establishment and the Australian political establishment reflect holdover fears from the Cold War.

Russia and India have long had a fractious relationship in terms of defense industrial cooperation. India, in post-Cold War years, has attempted to diversify its defense supply relationships away from Russia and toward European and US suppliers. And yet India remains a favored co-development partner with Russia for very significant advanced weapons systems, such as the BrahMos supersonic theater missile system (anti-ship as well as anti-land target) and the very advanced PAK FA Sukhoi Su-57 (T-50), due to become operational in the Russian Air Force in 2019. The Indian Air Force is likely to be the first export customer for the Su-57, and the Vietnamese Air Force the second. …

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