In a political climate heavily centered around the actions of American policy and Isolationism, we forget about the other regional and global powers shaping the course of our world. While it may seem as if other global leaders such as Moscow and Beijing are united in a villainous effort to undermine Washington, the reality of the matter is much more politically complex. It is undoubtingly true that Russia and China concentrate much of their efforts on the United States, but they also take note of one another, the obstacles they pose each other, and their roles in the world. It is a known fact that Moscow’s economic might and far-stretched influence took a devastating blow since the fall of the Soviet Union, one which it will possibly never recover from. But regardless, Vladimir Putin is playing the right cards in attempting to somewhat regain that former Soviet glory, dreaming of a Russia only second to the United States of America. Unfortunately for the Kremlin’s leader, in the way of that dream stands Beijing, which unlike Moscow, has been gaining solid ground in the international stage. China has seen economic and military growth for the past three decades, rivaling American hegemony in Asia and further. It can be fully considered as a global powerhouse by this point, seeing as its influence continues to grow, and its military capabilities increase. Growing Chinese power has finally begun to concern the Russians, who now see a political rival in Asia and the world.
A STATIC MOSCOW AND A DYNAMIC BEIJING
The collapse of the Soviet Union saw the end of Russian dominance in Asia. Although the Kremlin continues to maintain a limited grip on the region, they have noticed their influence dwindle as China’s grows to replace them. Beijing is the new face of Asia, and Moscow has fallen behind. Chinese investors have begun targeting Asian Markets rapidly, investing nearly $110 Billion in South-East Asia alone. The central Asian countries, formerly part of the Soviet Union, have not escaped Beijing’s ambitions either. Kazakstan as an example received a $10 Billion from the Chinese, and the promise of an oil pipeline that will connect the two countries. The New Silk Road project also plans on increasing Chinese activity in former Soviet countries. Projects already include road construction in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The Silk Road economic belt will quadruple Chinese role in the region and further. Russian investments in the region are also present, but they have been static. Russia is no longer seen as the economic father figure, and sanction along with a suffering economy has weakened its ability to invest. President Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan was quoted stating, “In the current situation, when Russia’s economy is not on the rise, let’s just say, and the trend for oil prices is only going downward, we see that these agreements for objective reasons cannot be fulfilled by the Russian side.” Other leaders of Central Asia have shared Atambayev’s opinion. The Russian plan of a Eurasian Union failed precisely because of skepticism in Moscow’s abilities to invest, and a broken promise of equal roles. Seeing its sphere of influence shrink, Russia has begun to grow concerned with the Chinese. After all, Moscow does not have the economic resources to match Chinese investments, and seeing their former strongholds fall to Beijing’s financial might has begun to raise question marks in the minds of Russian officials.
RUSSIA ON THE DEFENSIVE
That being said, Moscow is well aware that they cannot go on an economic counter-offensive at the moment. Their best course of action is that of a defensive military showdown, an attempt to send China a message that the bear is still alive and willing to protect its interest. China’s growing economy has paved the way for growing military expenditure and expansion, which not only puts a knife in Russia’s global ambitions but threatens their national security. Although the Kremlin has not voiced long term concerns about their Chinese neighbor, signs of its uneasiness regarding China’s ever-growing military abilities are very present. Proof of Russia’s agitation has been their recent large scale military exercises in the eastern territories close to China. According to analysts such as Dr. Roger McDermott, these strategic locations close to China, along with the military drills codenamed “Vostok” are the most powerful evidence that Moscow sees Beijing as a potential threat. Yet Moscow is very careful to not instigate any doubt or unrest on the Chinese side, aware of their inferior abilities to withstand a frontal war.
Earlier this year in June, the Russians began deploying their ISKANDER-M missiles in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast and Primorsky Krai bordering to China. The strategic placement of these missiles speaks miles of the Kremlin’s alertness regarding the Chinese. The ISKANDER-M missile system has a range of 400-500 kilometers, meaning it is unable to target American forces in Japan and South Korea, leaving only the Chinese threat to be dealt with. According to analysis, the main purpose of the missile system placed in the east is to keep Chinese ambitions at bay and send a clear message of Russian readiness to Beijing. The ISKANDER-M also possesses the ability to deliver several warheads with rapid precision. Well aware of their eroding military superiority over the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the Russians know that nuclear weapons will play a crucial role in the deterrence of conflict and any threat from the Chinese. Russian precautions do not end here, the director of Russia’s Roster Corporation Sergei Chemezov stated that a modernized version of the missile system will be placed on the field in 2020. The Kremlin is not yet willing to give up their status as an Asian powerhouse, but their plans of rivaling American hegemony have also gotten that much more difficult to accomplish. The political race for Asia’s leader is now more intriguing than ever, especially in a climate where military and economic powers are clashing heads.
This puts into perspective the complexity of global politics in an era where the focus on the United States has forgotten to paint the clearer image of global powers clashing heads in an all out political conflict resembling an “each one for themselves” style. With the United States returning to a semi-isolationist role, the re-emergence of the “Balance of Power” politics Henry Kissinger describes in his “Diplomacy, is being showcased once again through global powers like Beijing and Moscow.
By: Rex Nazarko
Image Credit: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin