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Russian Perspectives on Western Military Activities: October 1–10, 2021

Dmitry GorenburgMary ChesnutAnya FinkJulian Waller
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The following is an excerpt from the first section of this report:

Russian reactions to the AUKUS Indo-Pacific alliance

Although it was announced in mid-September, the newly formed AUKUS alliance remained the most frequent topic for commentary on Western military activities in the Russian press in early October. An indepth analysis was published in Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie. The article argues that the alliance is part of an ongoing US strategy to reduce the influence of China and, to a lesser extent, Russia in the Indo-Pacific region. The author argues that the confrontation with China is the absolute priority for the Biden Administration and probably will be for future US governments. Enhancing US effectiveness in this confrontation was considered worth the risk of serious tensions with France.

But given the long timeline for the construction of Australia’s new nuclear submarines, the AUKUS alliance will not change the strategic balance in the region any time soon. The Australian military is currently considered the 19th most powerful in the world, placing it between Spain and Israel. Despite the efforts of Washington and London, it is unlikely to move up in that ranking in the next several decades. Instead, the author suggests that the announcement was part of a relatively unsuccessful effort by the Biden Administration to deflect attention from the US failure in Afghanistan.

Russia has felt a certain degree of anxiety over the new military union. The author quotes Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying that the alliance is part of a continuing effort by the United States to create new military blocs and dividing lines in the world. Lavrov also noted that this was a reaction to discussions in Europe about the continent’s strategic autonomy in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The author argues that the way the alliance was formed and announced reflects the America First policy. If friendly relations and existing obligations in some parts of the world hamper US national interests, then the US feels it can safely ignore them. The damage to US-French relations is provided as an example of this US policy. He quotes Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, “When the US, Great Britain and Australia, without asking anyone, in one day came up with a new triple alliance, which is changing international alignments, collective security and international stability. Here, for some reason, these new rules, which were so interesting yesterday, turned out to be not so tempting.” Zakharova suggests that the conflict among Western allies over the AUKUS union reflects an ongoing battle over the new rules of the game, which even the authors do not fully understand.

One problem caused by the sale of the nuclear submarines is the precedent it creates for the international non-proliferation regime, since countries such as South Korea and Japan might also seek access to critical nuclear technologies. The author notes that China has already responded by suggesting that it might not retain its policy of no first use of nuclear weapons and would follow a more confrontational policy vis-à-vis the United States.

The confrontation with France that resulted from the formation of the AUKUS alliance and the cancellation of the sale of French diesel submarines to Australia was the subject of two additional articles during the reporting period. The first article, in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda, focuses on calls by the French Communist Party for France to leave NATO’s military command structure in order to restore France’s independence in defense and foreign policy. In discussing the French party’s statement, the author also discusses the potential implications the sale of nuclear submarines to Australia might have for the international non-proliferation regime. He highlights the role of NATO and its member states in increasing international tensions and provoking a new worldwide arms race.

The second article, in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, discusses whether France and the United States will be able to restore mutual trust in the aftermath of the AUKUS agreement and its fallout. The article argues that despite the Biden Administration’s efforts to repair the damage by sending political heavyweights such as Anthony Blinken and John Kerry to Paris, the offense taken by France is too great for an immediate return to positive relations. Although the meeting between Emmanuel Macron and Blinken did not fully restore trust, it did help to resolve the initial tension and allow for Macron and Biden to meet directly on the sidelines of the G20 Afghanistan summit at the end of October. The author believes that France will take some time to respond, but is unlikely to take a major action such as leaving NATO. However, the situation is forcing Macron to think about how much to focus on maintaining trans-Atlantic solidarity when it conflicts with French national interests.

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Details

  • Pages: 12
  • Document Number: DOP-2021-U-030967-1Rev
  • Publication Date: 10/10/2021
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