Washington Should Pay Attention to Russian Moves in the Asia-Pacific

Washington Should Pay Attention to Russian Moves in the Asia-Pacific

America's preoccupation in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has significantly undermined its influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Much has been written about how China has attempted to fill the "American void" in the Asia-Pacific and to reconfigure the region's geopolitical architecture, but little attention is being accorded to Russia's new power plays in the region, which, if not appropriately understood, will have tremendous consequences for American interests.

Over the past five years, Russia has been slowly repositioning itself in the Asia-Pacific through arms sales, participation in regional venues like the Six-Party Talks concerning North Korea's nuclear program, and energy exports. Even though Russia's military presence in East Asia has declined -- including the demise of the Russian Pacific Fleet (RPF) -- Asia watchers are witnessing an aggressive Russian campaign to dominate regional defense technology sales.

According to a 2006 Congressional Research Service report, between 1998 and 2005 Russia inked more than $29 billion in arms sales to Asian countries. China and India have been key drivers for Russia's arms sales, but Moscow is courting new clients. In 2007, Russia and Indonesia agreed to a $1 billion arms sales package that includes Kilo-class submarines. Longtime Russia commentator Donald Greenlees said of the sale: "The signs that the Russian bear wants to return to its old stamping grounds in East Asia and the Pacific have become increasingly apparent."

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