Russia’s Asia Pacific Engagements Largely Underestimated

Vladimir Putin observed the main stage of Vostok-2018 military manoeuvres
President Putin observes the Vostok-2018 military manoeuvres. Image: kremlin.ru

Although Russia had a significant military and economic engagement in the Asia Pacific region during the days of the Soviet Union, the demise of the union had significantly hampered Russia’s relations with the regional countries. However, Russia again wants to re-establish its lost military relations with the regional countries and has been trying to do so for the last one decade.

In recent times, Russia has been selling weapons and other advanced military technologies to a number of Asia-Pacific countries in order to bring these countries into its geopolitical orbit. 

Despite the existence of a geopolitical rivalry between China and India, Russia had successfully managed to keep close military relations with both these rival nations. Moreover, Russia is increasingly building good relations with many South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand.

Furthermore, Russia is on a spree of building certain infrastructures in several Asia Pacific countries which would make those countries dependent on Russia for the proper functionality of those infrastructures. Take for example the nuclear plant in Bangladesh, a small country located in the intersection of South Asia and Southeast Asia. Russia is setting up a nuclear-power power plant in Bangladesh, and this infrastructure would certainly make Bangladesh dependent on Russia for the technological aspects of the project. Bangladesh has also been purchasing heavy weapons and military vehicles from Russia.

Late last year, many regional countries were surprised by Russia’s large scale war games. The fact that the war games was conducted in the eastern part of Russia – which forms part of the Asia Pacific region, unlike Russia’s western part that forms part of Europe – raised many eyebrows in Western capitals who thought they now have a new competitor in Asia Pacific region.

According to an Australian news website, the war games, namely Vostok-2018 or East-2018, involved more than 300,000 troops, 36,000 tanks, 1000 aircraft, helicopters and drones and 80 warships and support vessels.

More surprising was the inclusion of the Chinese military into the war games alongside the Russians. Around 3500 Chinese troops were said to have taken part in the Russian war games. Troops from Mongolia too joined the drills.

Sergei Shoigu, Russian Defense Minister, boasted about the drills saying, “Imagine 36,000 military vehicles moving at the same time: tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles – and all of this, of course, in conditions as close to a combat situation as possible.” 

It seems that although Russia’s military clout in Europe and Middle East are well understood and acknowledged, Russia’s growing engagement in the Asia Pacific region is largely underestimated and underrated. 

Accordingly, the growing influence of Russia in the region finds less attention on the regional media outlets, the regional discussion platforms and the think tank papers produced across the region. This is a total contrast to Russian involvement in Europe and Middle East, something which receives huge coverage. 

Despite low coverage of Russian activities in the greater Asia-Pacific, Russia’s growing military relations with regional countries and its large-scale drills suggest that Russia’s geopolitical presence is increasing in the region and it will soon become a potent regional power to reckon with.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.