The emerging character of Russia’s military build-up in the Far East is one that would enable Russia to project power around China’s eastern flank, rather than confront China head-on in the continental interior.
Things that make you go hmmm
It’s a smart strategy, but Russian execution remains ragged across the board. This recent Russian move in relation to an ally of convenience was positively stupid. An Indian naval task force traveled to the Russian navy’s headquarters in the Far East, the Pacific fleet naval base at Vladivostok, for a long-planned joint exercise scheduled for May 2011, only to be told on arrival – without any prior warning – that the exercise had been cancelled. The Russians also cancelled a major exercise with the Indian army, in the same abrupt way.
Observers speculate that Russia is annoyed at having been eliminated (along with US bidders) from the tender for India’s next-generation multirole fighter. Reacting in this bizarre manner to a key potential ally against a China-Pakistan nexus seems to argue something close to a meltdown, however.
It may simply be a struggle to assemble a critical mass of Russian brain cells in eastern Russia these days. Time and trends have turned Siberia into an empty quarter where much of the human activity is conducted not by the shrinking population of unemployed Russians but by Chinese businesses. The Siberian area in question is west of the Far East’s Primorskiy military district (where the military force build-up is centered). A big reason why the Russians won’t be confronting China across the border from Siberia is that there are only 6 million Russians on the border, facing 90 million Chinese.
The land area of Siberia is 5.1 million square miles (the land area of the US is 3.79 million), with some 24 million total inhabitants. Nutball Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky proposed in March, after the Japan earthquake, that the Japanese move part of their population to Siberia to build a new life. Zhirinovsky has been lobbing lunatic comments at the public for more than 20 years, but he’s vice-chairman of the Duma and a persistent force in Russian politics. He’s not wrong, however – neither is Medvedev – about the strategic vulnerability of an empty Siberia. It is as important a destabilizing factor as anything else going on in Asia.
And of a piece with the cheerful news that Russia’s middle class has been fleeing – really, fleeing, in droves – along with global capital. According to Russian analysts, the recent exodus of about 1.25 million of Russia’s most productive citizens is comparable to “the first which took place after the October coup in 1917 when about two million people left” Russia.
The world is not what it was two years ago – or even one.