With the Ukraine crisis entering a new and dangerous level of confrontation, there is a renewed risk of alliance lines being drawn among powers that oppose the West. Based on recent reports and confrontations involving the triad of Russia, China and Iran, leaders may need to be seriously worried about the implications of a new alliance that counters NATO.
All three of these countries share fairly rosy relations, and they have been that way for quite some time. However, the moves that are being made on the foreign policy front, particularly by Russia and China, are pointed and abnormal. It may be that the warming of their ties has a direct correlation to their freezing of relations with the West.
Russia’s motivations are quite obvious. As a result of the West’s actions against Russia for its part in the Ukraine crisis, Russia has been hit with sanctions, diplomatic pressures and an expanding NATO force at its doorstep. Russia is also officially considered more of an adversary than an ally with NATO. It has seen Ukraine pulled by the West away from Russian influence.
For this reason, Russia needs a friend. Vladimir Putin knows that sanctions, although limited as of now, will have a serious impact on Russia’s frail economy. Furthermore, with relations turning sour between the East and the West, Russia needs new energy partners to avert the negative financial consequences of an energy war.
Here is where China enters the picture, but the Asian superpower does so much more softly than Russia. With all of the world news focusing on Ukraine for the past few months, little attention has been given to the East China Sea. These waters and the uninhabited islands in them are disputed bitterly between China and Japan, and the United States has indicated that it is taking Japan’s side.
For that reason, it appears that China became upset with the West’s policies. As the old adage goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, thus China and Russia become closer whilst at the same time distancing themselves from the West. Ukraine may have started this chain reaction, but it is nowhere near the end of it.
China has been unusually aggressive in its policy making as of late. Last year, they announced an expansion of their early warning defense zone, including over territories that are disputed by many of its neighbors. Nationalistic rhetoric against the Japanese may be constant, but it is unusual for the normally quite and calculated government to take such stark measures.
Furthermore, while the Ukraine Crisis has been making all other news seem quiet, China has been busy enforcing its version of its borders. Most recently, their navy intentionally rammed Vietnamese vessels in a show of force. Apparently, water cannons were also used against the Vietnamese ships.
On top of this, China has been in spats with the Philippines over the same territory. Although the disputes are fairly regular, the intensity to which China has been articulating itself is strange. It indicates a shift against Western policy towards an independent Eastern outlook for the world.
It is also important to consider Iran in all of this. The Middle-Eastern nation has been fairly quiet as of late due to somewhat successful nuclear talks. However, they are as much a player as Russia and China. As a result of Russia being ostracized from many of its trading partners over the Ukraine Crisis, Iran becomes yet another natural ally.
Most recently, Russia and Iran announced an energy deal worth some $10 billion. Other announcements include a potential deal that would see additional oil exports from Iran to Russia amounting to 500,000 barrels per day, a measure which would exceed the West’s sanctioned limits on Iranian exports. This new Eastern Triad stands in stark contrast with the West.
This Eastern Triad may be being drawn together on the heels of the Ukraine Crisis, but the alliance is looking far beyond the one territory. Foreign policy lines the world over are being rewritten to fit an agenda of closer military, economic and diplomatic ties that fly in the face of the West’s agenda.
Most notably, China and Russia have announced naval exercises to be conducted this year in the disputed East China Sea. These drills are set to be massive in nature, spanning over an undefined length of time with an unknown amount of resources being dedicated. Analysts say that these moves are in direct contrast with the West’s actions in Ukraine and in regards to its posturing in Asia.
On top of that, Russia has been engaging directly with the United States and its Asian allies. First, a Russian jet buzzed an American navy vessel in the black sea over Ukraine tensions. However, more significantly and more recently, Russia has sent jets in the air spaces of Japan and South Korea. The United States has called this a drastic increase in long-range patrols, and these patrols have in fact spanned all the way to California.
It is impossible to say whether or not Russia is emboldened by its strengthening relations with China, or if it is acting in defiance of the West over Ukraine. Regardless, Putin is doing all he can to show his geopolitical might. This includes drumming up Russian nationalism in Ukraine’s Crimea by being present for Victory Day rallies that commemorate the fall of the Nazis, and even going as far as to plan on joining Western leaders for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
There is also another front aside from politics and military cooperation in this triad. Perhaps most importantly is the economic span of this strengthening alliance. China, Russia and Iran are working not only to serve their interests in terms of domestic economics, but instead they are working to create a political economy that undermines the West.
For instance, the Ukraine Crisis has heard much talk about a potential East-West energy war. With this new alliance, Russia could very well be on the winning end of such a conflict by finding new markets in China. Furthermore, by incorporating Iran, this alliance has an ace in the hole in terms of oil wealth and a spoiler in the Middle-East that could potentially disrupt the vital flow of resources from its neighbors.
Furthermore, it is important to note that it is an expansionism that drives many of the alliances economic moves. China has been well documented as perhaps the principal investor in Africa, but now its investments are being tagged onto by Russia. Whether or not this is directly over Ukraine is too hard to say for sure, but what is clear is that both Russia and China are concerned with developing nations and creating new markets apart from the West.
And it cannot be ignored that Russia and China are driving change in Central America as well. It is no coincidence that they picked Nicaragua to bolster economic and military ties with, something that has been worrying neighbors such as Costa Rica. In addition, the two powers plan on a joint investment to build a canal through the impoverished nation to rival the Panama Canal. All of these things together make it clear that the triad of Russia, China and Iran are looking far beyond Ukraine, and far into the future, when considering their roles in global affairs.
It is perhaps unclear as to whether or not this unspoken alliance will continue to be a game changer in the realm of geopolitics. It is impossible to say whether or not Putin will back down from Ukraine Crisis and the world will take a sigh of relief. It is also impossible to speculate as to whether or not China will take a step back from its expansionist ways. It is also unclear whether or not Iran will be cooperative with the West or will be a thorn in its side in the Middle East. One thing is clear though: with alliance lines being drawn between this worrisome triad, the world has cause for concern.
Opinion By Brett Byers-Lane