Home News Putin came to Asia to cause trouble, and he succeeded

Putin came to Asia to cause trouble, and he succeeded

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Four days in Asia. That’s all Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to infuriate Washington, weaken Beijing and unsettle countries in the Indo-Pacific already grappling with a chaotic world order.

This week, Mr. Putin visited the red-clad cities of Pyongyang and Hanoi, leaving behind a redrawn risk map of Asia. At its center is North Korea: a rogue nuclear state that routinely threatens its neighbors, suddenly empowered by Russia’s promises of advanced military aid and mutual defense agreements.

Mr. Putin has also signed at least a dozen agreements with Vietnam — a country of growing importance to China and the United States as they compete for influence — in which he insisted that a “reliable security architecture” could not be built by “closed military-political blocs.”

The visit was both provocative and disruptive. It showed that the power struggle between the United States and China, sometimes dubbed a new Cold War, is not as binary as it appears, and many countries in the region seemed to be feeling a deeper sense of unease this week.

The emergence of Putin, with his sometimes bold and sometimes vague threats, has further complicated their relationship. Already difficult calculations Around security and great power competition.

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Over the past few years, the Indo-Pacific region has been rocked by geopolitical clashes between the United States and China, primarily over China’s sovereignty claims over Taiwan and its growing militarization in the South China Sea.

In May this year, China launched Two days of intensive naval and air force exercises Military exercises are being held around Taiwan in what China calls a form of “severe punishment” after the island’s new president pledged to defend sovereignty over the self-governing island, which Beijing sees as lost territory.

Just this week, another flashpoint – the South China Sea – moved closer to conflict. After months of intense confrontation, a Philippine Navy sailor was Monday Injury The incident came after Chinese and Philippine ships collided near the disputed archipelago, further expanding the Philippines’ potential influence as the United States is a U.S. ally that is bound by treaty to help it in the event of war.

Many countries in the region have strengthened their militaries in response to Chinese pressure and uncertainty about where the U.S.-China competition might lead.

On top of these concerns, the region is also reeling from the U.S. presidential election, not to mention the new Report This month it emerged that China is “substantially” expanding its nuclear capabilities, amid widespread headaches in foreign policy circles in the region.

Now Mr. Putin has stirred up more crises. His embrace of North Korea and his open threats to provide Mr. Kim’s military with better weapons have effectively added another potential crisis to Asia’s list of concerns, reigniting old hostilities on the Korean peninsula.

Officials in South Korea and Japan — avowed enemies of North Korea — were particularly alarmed. Both countries have talked about beefing up their defenses and strengthening ties with the United States and each other, especially since Kim Jong Un’s rhetoric in recent months has become noticeably more hostile toward them.

Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, described Putin’s sudden moves in Asia as “your worst fears coming true.”

“Russia has just told us that they will be the main organizer of rogue states that are developing nuclear weapons, violating the non-proliferation treaty and allowing countries that are under UN sanctions to get away with it,” he said.

Peter Tesch, Australia’s ambassador to Moscow from 2016 to 2019, stressed that Putin likes to keep the world in chaos because he believes that it benefits Russia to bring other countries into chaos. Disinformation and cooperation with other provocateurs have become Putin’s creed.

“He’s happy to see Russia be the smelliest, farting uncle at the barbecue,” Tesch said. “It sends the message, ‘Yes, I’m a disruptor. I can take some actions that add complexity to what you’re trying to manage.’ ”

China, North Korea’s largest trading partner and arguably its greatest influence over the country, must also deal with the consequences. This may include being forced to clarify what its “unlimited” friendship with Russia means for China’s stated goal of stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Some analysts believe Mr. Putin had these intentions in mind long ago. He may have strengthened his ties with Mr. Kim, who greeted him at the airport and embraced him, to scare the United States and to signal to Chinese leader Xi Jinping that he was unhappy that China had not done more to help Russia win in Ukraine.

“If Putin doesn’t get everything he wants from Beijing, he’ll look elsewhere, and there aren’t many supermarkets that can satisfy his wish list — weapons, labor and a willingness to provoke a war with Washington,” said Samuel Green, professor of Russian politics at King’s College London. “Iran is one. North Korea is another.”

“The point is that while Putin recognizes his dependence on China, he cannot let Beijing dictate the course of the war — because how the war goes, so goes Putin.”

In some ways, Putin’s Asia tour was also a potent reminder of Russia’s historic military ties: North Korea, India and Vietnam are just a few of the countries that have relied heavily on Russian hardware for decades, forging ties for training and maintenance that have embedded Moscow deeply in the region.

But even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the relationship was frayed: Russian arms sales to Southeast Asia fell to $89 million in 2021 from $1.2 billion in 2014, according to Russian data. Independent ResearchPutin has been trying to delay a complete severance of ties and has even significantly diversified his investments.

If Putin’s approach to North Korea ends up intensifying an arms race in Asia, Moscow will also benefit: Russian weapons will not only increase the risk of shared chaos with a country like North Korea, but also bring in revenue that the Russian economy, squeezed by sanctions, war, inflation and 16% interest rates, badly needs.

Putin’s visit to Hanoi was largely about dealmaking, much of it done in secret but some of which analysts predict could come to light later, involving defense and financed to circumvent international sanctions — perhaps in the form of oil and gas rights in the South China Sea.

“Vietnam hasn’t done a major upgrade of its army in years, but that’s said to be coming,” said Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation. “You may see Vietnam buying new Russian tanks.”

Vietnam also needs new fighter jets and larger warships to align with Beijing’s markings of territory in the South China Sea, which Hanoi also claims, said Nguyen The Phuong, who studies Vietnam’s military at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

He added that the high-stakes security situation in Asia puts countries such as Vietnam in a difficult position. “Western weapons are expensive and politically sensitive,” he said.

But will Vietnam use Russia’s new ships to confront China over oil reserves explored with Moscow’s help and claimed by both Beijing and Hanoi?

For many countries, Putin’s trip to North Korea has raised another round of such vexing questions. Beijing is clearly siding with Moscow over the war in Ukraine. Although Putin’s visit to Beijing in May may have unsettled Xi, analysts do not expect it to cause a major rift in relations.

Annoying one leader might result in punishment from another, or even both.

“I think there is some concern about the strengthening of Russian-Chinese relations and the possibility that the two countries could unite to target smaller and medium-sized countries,” Grossman said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at a defense conference in Singapore this month that this was already happening. He accused China and Russia of conspiring to sabotage last week’s Ukrainian-led peace summit in Switzerland that was attended by only a handful of Asian countries.

Motoko Richie I contributed to coverage from Tokyo.

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