• Owen Swift

Episode 59. Russia's Pacific Strategy: The Forgotten Front

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Rundown:

While the eyes of the world are fixated on Russia's border with Ukraine, Moscow is beginning to make major moves 7500km to the East on the Russian Pacific coast. The major powers have begun their pivot to Asia, and now Russia is scrambling to reassert itself into the struggle unfolding right in its own backyard. Will Russia be able to regain regional leadership, or will they take a back seat to an ascendant China?

 

Guests:

Neil Melvin

  • Director of International and Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute

  • Specialist in the emerging security dynamics in Russia and the Middle East

Natasha Kuhrt

  • Department of War Studies at King's College London

  • Specialist in Russia and its outlying regions including Central Asia and the Far East

Jeffrey Edmonds

  • Expert on Russia and Asia for CNA

  • Former Director for Russia on the US National Security Council

  • Former Acting Senior Director for Russia during the Obama Administration

  • Former Military Analyst for the CIA covering Eurasian Militaries

 

Part 1: The Forgotten Front (3:09)

  • Melvin takes us through Russia's response to the growing importance of the Pacific theatre economically, diplomatically, and militarily. Moscow's Pivot to Asia has taken many forms, but is most critically focused on working to expand its energy and arms export business, and to balance against its rapidly declining relations with Europe and the Atlantic community.

  • Russia hosts its submarine fleet in Vladivostok (and thereby many of its nuclear weapons) - we look at where Russia is focusing its military modernisation program on, and what forms that takes in different regions.

  • Pivoting to Asia provides opportunities to increase investment in its eastern territories, to improve its military and civilian infrastructure which has largely remained stagnant since the Soviet era. We look at the future of this, as well as the potential of the northern sea route through the arctic.

  • Soviet era saw close relationships with Vietnam, India, and Indonesia, but soaring in importance today is its relationship with China. This includes close economic ties and the growing importance of the Chinese market for Russian goods, arms, and energy exports, as well as an alignment against the United States in many international and diplomatic spheres. We examine this relationship include the historical complexities and the trajectory of each country and how that plays into their current relations.

 

Part 2: Blowing off the Cobwebs (24:19)

  • Kuhrt analyses Russia's behaviour in the region, including its patrols throughout its own waters and international waters, its joint exercises with the PLA and PLAN, and its diplomatic outreach.

  • We look at what it would take for Russia to really turn its focus from Europe to Asia, and why it has thus far been so reliant on China in its Eastern regions. Does Russia's relatively very small economy hamper their ability to pivot? And what does this mean for the future of great power competition in the region?

 

Part 3: A Paralysed Partner (32:41)

  • Edmonds looks at the hard military aspect of the region, from Russia's underestimated Defence spending, to their difficulties in modernising all aspects of their forces at once. We also tackle intricate details of Russia's military force projection including its missiles, and the comparative strengths of its 5 fleets.

  • We look at Russia's complex relationships across Asia, complicated further by their closer relationship with China. Despite the proximity, they must take a back seat to China when it comes to Korean issues.

  • Russia can be characterised as a status quo power in Asia, and a revisionist power in Europe. Edmonds takes us through this characterisation and what it means for Russia's trajectory, actions, and relationships in the Pacific region.

  • China's ascendency and close relationship with Russia has been the subject of much speculation, with views ranging from Russia becoming a Chinese Satellite, to being on the verge of collapse. Edmonds gives us his analysis of this relationship, which in his view has real respect on both sides, and looks at how it would evolve in conflict situations.

 

The Red Line's Russia Pacific Reading List:

We’ve put together some further reading for those of you looking for more resources to help you get across the geopolitics of Russia's Pacific Strategy.


Books:

Russian Expansion On the Pacific: 1641-1850

Frank Alfred Golder


Russia in the Indo-Pacific: New Approaches to Russian Foreign Policy

Gaye Christoffersen


Asia's Cauldron

Robert D Kaplan


Articles/Journals:

 

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This episode is dedicated to Patreon members Alex Kirsch, Harry Lamble, Ville S, MC, and Emily Case