Russia at a crossroads: an alliance for its own good or a junior partner of China?

By – Radomir Romanov

The creation of AUKUS poses a question for Moscow: what should Russia do? A new geopolitical configuration is emerging. 

The United States is regrouping its forces. It is not easy for them to do this: they are running out of sources of popular energy that feeds retention of world domination. But Western civilization cannot afford to lose it – for it is tantamount to geopolitical demotion in rank. Therefore, the West is preparing for a decisive battle for world leadership.

China, for its part, is preparing to confront and contest. However, even now, without taking into account the countries of the EU and Southeast Asia (Japan, Taiwan, Philippines and, most likely, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and India will take an anti-Chinese position), NATO and AUKUS are militarily stronger than the PRC. Beijing urgently needs a strong ally. The Russian-Chinese military alliance could counterbalance the Western alliance, and, creating a stalemate, return the world to the era of global confrontation during the Cold War, when the sides, avoiding a direct frontal clash, are fighting each other on the periphery in third countries.

However, the West is not satisfied with this alignment. Its resources are running out, and in the long run it risks losing another Cold War. Therefore, it is necessary either to drag Russia over to its side, or, in the worst case, to ensure its neutrality (preferably friendly towards the West). hence, the struggle for influence over Russia is already under way.

Will there be an analogue of NATO in the Asia-Pacific region?

The speed at which the Quad’s dialogue was institutionalized, its level raised and the scope of the issues discussed expanded is impressive. At the last summit, the leaders decided to meet annually, and the list of areas of interaction was replenished with infrastructure development, cybersecurity, space, production chains, education (in addition to combating the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, cooperation in the field of new technologies and, in fact, ensuring maritime security, with which it all began) being added. The ideological component has also strengthened – Quad, as it is repeatedly noted in a joint statement, upholds “free, open and rule-based order”, as well as “democratic values” in the engineering and technical development.

Behind most of the topics mentioned, with varying degrees of evidence, there is an anti-Chinese (and latently anti-Russian) subtext. “Safe, effective and quality” vaccines are a counterbalance to the vaccines distributed by Beijing (and Moscow) in the region and the world, doubts about the safety and effectiveness of which are regularly heard in the Western media. Climate change is a criticism of the “contribution” of the PRC (and Russia) to global carbon dioxide emissions. 

Assisting states in creating “quality” infrastructure (a synthesis of the Japanese initiative of the same name called Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (EPQI)) the US led Blue Dot Network (BDN) and Build Back Better World as well as the corresponding plans of the G7 and the EU have been created as a response to the Chinese Belt and Road. Value chains and 5G technologies – relocation of sensitive semiconductor industries from the PRC and doubts about the transparency of the products of Chinese telecommunications giants have been raised. With threats to cybersecurity and democratic values, everything is already on the surface – the culprits have been identified for a long time. Such an agenda fits into Washington’s strategy, the key tasks of which are the restoration of the leading role of the United States, countering China and ousting Russia from the region. In this context, the statement about the transformation of Quad into an instrument for the implementation of American ITS finds another confirmation.

At the same time, attention is drawn to the fact that naval cooperation is actually eroded in the final documents of the summit. Cooperation at sea is mentioned; however, it is not detailed and is generally lost against the background of other spheres. In addition, old projects that have already been agreed in other formats are brought under the Quad brand. For example, the 1.2 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines promised to the world can hardly be considered the merit of the four-way partnership. There are two explanations for this situation. The Quad is either deliberately hiding successes in the military-political field, or is trying to compensate for the slippage on this fundamentally important track with successes on others. Given the presence of India in the bloc, whose interests are by no means identical to those of the United States, the second option is more likely.

On the whole, the very participation of New Delhi in such an alliance can be considered a success of the strategists who conceived an “anti-Chinese NATO”. India and China are, of course, natural competitors. However, India is not interested in raising the level of tension – as the only country in the Quartet with a land border with the PRC, it is more susceptible to the consequences of the classic security dilemma. In addition, New Delhi as a whole would like to avoid being drawn into the unfolding US-China confrontation and take advantage of its (as far as possible) neutral role promising considerable benefits. It is no coincidence that Indian ITS is the least confrontational and most inclusive (in these parameters it is comparable to the Indo-Pacific ASEAN Vision).

Apparently, the choice of topics for Quad’s cooperation was largely dictated by the aforementioned position of India and was the result of the “art of the possible”. On the one hand, the summit demonstrated the focus of the Quadrilateral at deepening cooperation on topics relevant to the region. On the other hand, it bypassed the sharp corners of its most sensitive topics for Beijing. In this regard, it seems that the symbolic significance of the Quad now exceeds the practical one.

In this context, the launch of the American-British-Australian partnership AUKUS in the military-technical sphere, which took place shortly before the event, is noteworthy. Probably, these two formats should be perceived as links in the same chain. AUKUS is aimed at containing China in the military-political field, Quad (if India’s position does not undergo fundamental changes) in the rest.

Returning to the question posed in the title – no one, except the United States, is ready for a legally formalized anti-Chinese alliance. And Washington now does not have the resources that it possessed in post-war Europe on the eve of NATO’s creation in order to push through the formation of a similar structure in the APR. At the same time, as practice shows, the very models of military blocs of the 20th century are becoming a thing of the past. They are being replaced by ad-hoc ad-hoc associations of interests without long-term commitments and cumbersome bureaucratic machinery.

Cooperation within the Quad will undoubtedly continue and acquire new topics (mostly non-military). Most likely, in various formats, with the rights of, say, dialogue partners, other countries of the region, more or less interested in containing China, will also join it. At the same time, the creation of a defensive alliance like NATO seems unlikely. However, the question of which is more dangerous – a monolithic structure or a network of flexible coalitions – remains open.

What is Russia to do today? 

To immediately create an alliance with the PRC means to become Beijing’s junior led partner; to cooperate with the West means to be deceived: the West will certainly deal with Russia after it has dealt with China.

In the foreign policy sphere, it is necessary to enlist the support of serious allies. The states of the former USSR cannot be regarded as such due to the meagerness of their military potential. However, they cannot be abandoned either: Russia needs to control these territories, which make up the zone of our geopolitical security.

Iran and India, two civilization countries, should be regarded as serious allies. With Tehran, Russia’s interests coincide in many areas; we have common opponents. Today, the Islamic Republic is on the brink of war with Turkey and Azerbaijan, and possibly with Israel and the United States. It is clear that it will not get any easier. Therefore, the union and close economic cooperation are objectively necessary for both Moscow and Tehran.

It is more difficult with India: trade and economic cooperation between the two countries leave much to be desired. However, there are prospects in this direction. In military-technical terms, the Indians are highly dependent on the supply of Russian weapons. In addition, India is extremely cautious about participation in the anti-Chinese bloc, fearing to subordinate its interests to the interests of the West. At the same time, neither Tehran nor New Delhi will objectively strive to make the Russian Federation a junior. Rather, this will be an equal partnership in which friendly neutrality can be observed with respect to the PRC.

However, in order for potential partners to be interested in cooperation, it is necessary to resolve issues of internal development. Iin the public sphere – this is the acquisition of a nationwide ideology. In the economic sphere – “new industrialization” and the fastest solution of tasks to stifle the economy, in the political sphere – ensuring the inviolability of the belt of geopolitical security. In social – the elimination of poverty, a fair redistribution of national income.

Only by solving these internal and external tasks will Russia be able to pursue an effective foreign policy in its own interests.

Radomir Romanov is Senior Officer of Asia-Pacific International Institutions and Multilateral Cooperation Studies Center at the Far Eastern Federal University. He completed his Bachelors in “Interpretation and Translation Studies” at the Department of Japanese Studies and Masters from Cchool of International Relations at the Department of Japanese, Korean, Indonesian and Mongolian Languages.

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