It’s that bear again. Big exercises in Asia, and now this: Russia’s Pacific Fleet to Receive New Warships in 2014
Russia the double-headed eagle – It’s European, it’s Asian. Makes you think, doesn’t it? French built warship, Russian flag and soon to sail the Pacific. These are the first ships added to their Pacific fleet since the break-up of the Soviet Union.
There have been quite a few articles about Russia’s pivot since it hosted the 2012 APEC meeting in Vladivostok (here, here) and a rush of them again in recent months (here, here, here). Most of these analyses are necessarily speculative. Only time will tell whether Russia will become a major factor in Asian security as it was for periods in the 18th century, a brief doomed period in the early 20th century (until the Russo-Japan war in 1905) and then again during the Cold War.
Of direct interest for the theme of this blog is a more enduring geo-strategic fact: Russia’s position makes it a kind of superconductor connecting Europe and Asia’s security and defence interests.
The 20th Century gave us at least three examples: First, think of the 1905 war between Japan and Tzarist Russia, when “Japan’s alliance with Britain discouraged other powers from intervening to aid Russia, and in 1905 Japan emerged from the war victorious” (link). Then think of the early 1940s, when one of the cues for Japan’s ‘strike south’ to Malaya and SE Asia was Hitler’s invasion of the USSR in summer 1941, which brought the assurance that Japan’s NW flank was safe so long as Stalin would be committed to defending against the German attack. The Imperial Japanese military staff immediately began planning for the move into SE Asia’s resource-rich colonies and the rest is history. The third example is the Korean War, the last time Europeans fought in Asia (decolonization struggles aside), and under a UN mandate that could only be agreed because of the Soviet boycott of the Security Council. This did not stop Russia playing a significant role in that conflict, of course. Indeed, the prospect of drawing substantial American forces away from Europe and the newly formed NATO had been among the factors behind Stalin’s encouragement for Comrade Kim to initiate the war.
Doesn’t this history and Russia’s latest interest in Asia give the Bear’s European neighbors a stake in security affairs on the other end of the Eurasian continent today?