Country Reports

Russians faced at least five Indo-Pacific regional challenges in the late summer of 2020, most of which were not being discussed forthrightly. No doubt the one looming in the forefront was the deterioration of relations between China and India, as their border in the Himalayas saw a large military build-up after a serious clash. As host of the SCO and RCI trilaterals of defense and foreign ministers, Moscow tried in vain to assuage tensions while staying silent about the cost to its strategy in the region if the downward slide continued. A second challenge stemmed from China’s disrespect of the sphere of influence and terms of quasi-alliance that Russian had taken for granted in this bilateral relationship. While in July this issue had roiled nerves and it revived at times, as in the Chinese sale of an anti-missile system to Serbia, little was made of the threat to the close partnership. Third, there was growing fear of being dragged into a cold war or even a military conflict over Taiwan, where Russia sided completely with China and blamed the US. In publications there was no recognition of any Chinese responsibility for the deterioration in relations or that Russia could have used Trump’s warmth to Putin as a way to reset the triangle. Fourth, Abe’s retirement in Japan brought disappointment that a figure seen as friendly to Russia will be leaving the scene with doubt that his successor would be as positive but no hint of regret that Russia had squandered the opportunity to reach a deal. Finally, alarm that the situation on the Korean Peninsula could turn dangerous aroused no second thoughts that Russia could have taken advantage of Moon and Trump’s interest in a breakthrough to play a role in moving diplomacy forward. Behind all of Russia’s reasoning was the conviction that the US is the enemy, its alliances are a threat, China is a dependable partner in the fight against the US, and multipolarity is now of little interest. The logic of polarization has become incontrovertible.

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