Russia’s Asia pivot!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
One is not sure how far US President Obama succeeded in enforcing his Asia pivot goal on the continent, though, true, the results do not seem to be very encouraging, but Russia without making any such announcement has outweighed USA in deepening its military trade relations in Asia.
Russia’s major exports remain arms and energy sources. Notwithstanding western sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, Russian economy has not crashed out thanks to its exports on a global scale. In fact the sanctions have harmed the Europeans as Russia imposed sanctions on them.
Not only Russia has been steady in its trade in Asia, it also sped up the trade levels by supplying weapon systems, especially the submarines.
Armed with submarine capacity, Moscow is making a high-octane entry into the huge export market in Asia, with advanced diesel-electric submarines. As well as being silent, stealthy and armed with the world’s deadliest missiles, Russian submarines are often the vessel of choice for an increasing number of navies, especially in cash-rich Asia.
Russian submarines are so stealthy that not even the American military can detect it. Russian submarines are so stealthy that not even the American military can detect it. As a state of the art Russian submarine leaves the US Navy far behind, the US Navy openly acknowledges it cannot track the Novorossiysk-451 sub when it’s submerged.
Russian submarines’ unique capabilities and powerful armament are the two major attractions for foreign customers. Russian Kilo-class submarines are invariably better than German, French and Dutch submarines. Difficult to detect, they can destroy ships many times their own size.
The much larger Russian Lada class submarines – will even the odds against the US Navy. The USA rivals Russia in naval technology but it no more makes diesel submarines, leaving the waters open for Moscow’s undersea boats. Moscow’s aggressive defence export policy has ensured Russian-built submarines are prowling the world’s oceans and in the Asia-Pacific they are most effective.
Naval power is the key to protecting sea lanes. Vietnam and Indonesia cannot hope to match China’s rapidly expanding navy ship for ship. Japan, for instance, imports around 96 per cent of its energy and South Korea imports 90 per cent of its food. As trading giants they are also highly dependent on export revenues.
Asia’s submarine race kicked off in earnest in 1997 when China struck a deal with Russia to buy the advanced Kilo class submarine. China’s move is significant for economic, political, and military reasons. The Kilo-class submarine was designed for anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare in the protection of naval bases, coastal installations and sea lanes, and also for general reconnaissance and patrol missions. Russia has armed China’s Kilos with the supersonic Klub missile, presenting a major deterrent for rival navies.
China considers the ongoing maritime disputes as sources of conflict that will eventually escalate into WW III. China realizes the importance of an under-sea missile capability. Judging from the contention of the global sea space, the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific and Indian Ocean have seen the fiercest rivalry. It’s likely that there will be a third world war to fight for sea rights. As the rivalry on the sea grows intense, China’s military would shift its focus from land to maintaining its rights on the sea. Further, Moscow is developing a new advanced submarine class and may sell them to China
The rush of new submarines into Asian waters is partly fuelled by the insecurity that results from being stuck in a crowded geopolitical hotspot. As China prepares for a high stakes naval duel, its neighbours are getting the jitters. In the South China Sea, a clutch of nations such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia are seeing aggressive Chinese naval patrols. In the East China Sea, Japan and Taiwan are contesting Beijing’s claim to the uninhabited Senkaku Islands.
Vietnam has quietly got itself an insurance policy. In 2009, Hanoi signed a $3.2 billion deal that includes six Kilo class submarines and construction of a submarine facility at Cam Ranh Bay. The last of the boats is scheduled for delivery by 2016. Another nation in the periphery that may end up buying Russian diesel-electric submarines is Bangladesh. It had initially wanted to buy Chinese subs but India – which operates ten Kilos – convinced Dhaka to buy Russian submarines instead. Bangladesh proposes to purchase two submarines from Russia.
Indonesia has a long history of operating Russian submarines. In 1967 it acquired 12 Whiskey class submarines from Moscow. Malaysia – which operates Russian Sukhoi-30MKM aircraft – could be persuaded to look at the cost-benefit aspects and strike capabilities of the Kilos and Ladas. Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan are other nations set to expand their undersea fleets.
Russia has got an well established connect with China, Vietnam, North Korea and India and trying to build up military ties with India’s arch rival Pakistan. Thailand is the focus of the Kremlin for trade relations.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev recently traveled to Thailand and Vietnam to deepen Russia’s economic ties with Asia amid a breakdown in relations with the West over the Ukraine crisis. Medvedev’s chief achievement was to show that Russia is serious about working not just with China, the fast rising superpower, but with countries across Southeast Asia and beyond.
Medvedev’s biggest announcement from Vietnam, a close Cold War ally neglected by Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, was that a long-debated free trade agreement between the two countries would be signed later this year. The agreement, once finalized, would be a coup for Russia as it would provide a stepping stone to reaching an accord with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a liberalized trade regime uniting the region’s biggest countries. Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Russian state energy giant Gazprom, also agreed to buy a 49 percent stake in Vietnam’s only oil processing refinery. A number of smaller memoranda were signed on finance and energy exploration.
Asian economies have stayed aloof from the diplomatic row over Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and support for Ukrainian separatists. As that conflict spilled over into mutual economic sanctions that are strangling Russia’s economy, Moscow has looked east for a lifeline. Medvedev’s trip was a statement that for Russia, Asia is not just China,
Medvedev’s visit to Thailand, the first by a Russian Prime Minister in 25 years, saw a handful of small successes as well. Moscow promised to buy at least 80,000 tons of Thai rubber for use the defense industry. State rail monopoly Russian Railways signed a memorandum with Thai mining and power company Banpu on an infrastructure project in Indonesia.
Russia also launched talks on unspecified arms sales to Thailand, which hopes to find a favorable market after the West pulled back from the country following a recent military coup in May last year. Still, Medvedev was unable to clinch a final deal on the free trade agreement. “It was announced less than half a year ago that everything was in order, that they would sign the free trade agreement in January, and still nothing’s come of it,” said Vladimir Mazirin, director of the Vietnam and ASEAN center at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Without any major deals to announce, the visit by Russia’s No. 2 politician showed that Moscow is serious about its pivot to the East, even beyond Asian continent. .The Soviet Union was active in Asia, especially Vietnam, where the Soviets operated a naval base, but after the fall of communism Russia’s international presence waned. Moscow has in recent years made efforts to renew ties, but only began pursuing better relations actively after the annexation of Crimea last year put Russia and the West on a collision course.
This is a signal that Russia is starting to overhaul its policy, which until this time was limited by Western-centrism. The Ukraine crisis gave the push to Moscow that was needed. But so far, Russia’s eastern overtures have mostly concerned China. Russia last year announced that a deal had finally been cliched after years of negotiations on the Power of Siberia, a 4,000 kilometer gas pipeline to China. Russia’s Gazprom said this month the pipeline would cost 800 billion rubles ($15 billion) to build. The two countries aim to hit $100 billion in trade turnover this year.
Russia says it is not trying to rival Chinese influence. “We in no way want to oppose China in Vietnam’s case — this is a common and incorrect belief among Western political scientists” Opposing China in the area would be difficult. Medvedev said during his trip that he hoped Russia and Vietnam could boost trade turnover to $10 billion over the next 5 years and increase trade to $10 billion next year with Thailand. China’s trade turnover is set to hit $60 billion this year with Vietnam and $100 billion with Thailand, the China Daily newspaper reported last year.
Russians never had such close relations with Thailand as with Vietnam, so in some sense this was an achievement. According to leading regional economists, the visit of Dmitry Medvedev to Vietnam and Thailand is a signal to China that it is not the only country that interests Russia in the region. Medvedev’s trip was a small step forward for Russia in the region to consolidate its position in the region.
Russia’s Rosoboronexport is doing its best to strengthen Russia’s position on the Indonesian market. Indonesia has a wide range of Russian aircraft, naval systems and armored vehicles, as well as air defense systems. The diesel-electric submarines of Project 636 still remain in the sphere of interest of the Indonesian Navy
Russian weapon systems are everywhere in Asia. Russian air defense systems are perhaps one of the most promising areas in military-technical cooperation with Malaysia. There is a whole range of Asia-Pacific countries that Russia is only just starting to cooperate with: the markets of the Philippines and Brunei, to expand our ties with Thailand, to step up contacts with South Korea. All these countries have traditionally focused on Western manufacturers. However, times are changing and windows of opportunity are emerging that we shall make sure to use. In addition, Russia is busy developing relations with Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. There are now some Russia made Mi-17 helicopters in Nepal. in the Asia-Pacific region. A contract to supply the Yak-130 aircraft to Bangladesh has been signed. In addition, together with the manufacturer Russians are continuing active marketing efforts to promote the Yak-130 in Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
Traditionally, the Asia-Pacific region has accounted for nearly half of all Rosoboronexport sales. Given their growing economic potential, the countries of the region are becoming increasingly more interested in beefing up their “muscles” in order to improve their defense capability. The main trend is, of course, to develop one’s own defense industry and to make active use of offset programs.
Unlike Obama’s Asia pivot, Russian version has benefited Moscow in economic terms that also offer enough political backup to the Kremlin.