Just when we thought that the present world order is all about the ongoing powerplay between the US and China, Putin made a silent entry. Russia is covertly hurting China’s interests, as opposed to Trump’s big-bang war against the CCP. And the Kremlin is humbling China on multiple fronts as effectively as the Pentagon.
Russia has emerged as an underdog using its ‘hybrid’ security services comprising private armies, mercenaries, regular troops and arms supplies. Propping up military juntas or destabilising dictators in some countries and helping governments fight militancy or Jihadist terrorism in others, Moscow is ramping up its influence in Belarus, Somalia, the self-proclaimed state of Somaliland, Eritrea, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, Mali and Madagascar.
However, Lukashenko’s regime faces an imminent threat of collapse with unprecedented protests in Belarus. Lukashenko himself was getting paranoid even before the Belarusian elections were held. In the run up to the Belarusian Presidential polls, 33 alleged Russian mercenaries were detained in Minsk on July 29, whom the Belarus authorities had accused of being associated with Wagner, a private military company controlled by the Kremlin.
Lukashenko even accused Russia of interfering in the Belarusian poll process. Notably, Lukashenko has been getting closer to China for economic cooperation while trying to develop cold feet towards Moscow. Russian involvement in Belarus could also be the reason why the EU/Western world has refrained from backing the Belarusian protests.
But Russia is not only fighting China in Eastern Europe, rather Moscow is also giving the paper dragon some tough time in the resource-rich African continent. The latest setback for China came in Mali where two Colonels- Malick Diaw and Sadio Camara led a coup against the country’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
It so happens that the two Malian Colonels had returned to their country from a Russian training programme only around a week before staging the dramatic coup. Within Mali, Russia is being accused of direct involvement in the military coup. The biggest victim is China whose BRI expansion plans in Mali and the rest of Sahel region stand jeopardised.
Actually, Russia has some major plans for Africa. Take for example the strategically located Horn of Africa, which allows power projection in the Middle East and access to the Suez Canal through the Gulf of Aden. China has a strategic military base in Djibouti, but now Moscow is also making a move by augmenting its presence in Somaliland and Eritrea.
Russia is planning to open a Naval base in the Somaliland Port of Berbera and is also in talks for a naval logistics centre in Eritrea. Once this materialises, Russia will join the league of China and the US who have military bases in Djibouti along the Suez Canal. Interestingly, Russian proximity to Somaliland has led to the self-proclaimed state giving a cold shoulder to China. Recently, Somaliland established bilateral ties with Taiwan, notwithstanding Beijing’s objections.
1,500 miles down south, Russia is also boosting its presence at the Eastern coast of the African Continent. According to NYT, Russian military transport aircraft landed in Northern Mozambique last year, and American officials are said to believe that 160 Wagner Group troops are currently deployed there. Mozambique needs these troops to battle a local offshoot of the Islamic State.
Moscow’s presence in Africa has gone up dramatically in the recent past. Only three weeks ago, a German daily Bild cited a German Foreign Ministry report as disclosing that Russia was looking to build bases in six African countries.
These six countries where Russia is said to be “contractually assured,” of being “allowed to build military bases” are the Central African Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Sudan. The leaked document also revealed, “Since 2015, Russia has concluded military cooperation agreements with 21 countries in Africa.” The document added that previously Russia boasted of only four such military cooperation treaties in the entire Continent.
The growing Russian presence in Africa is coming at the expense of China which wants to gain influence in the Horn of Africa for geo-strategic reasons and the Vanilla Island countries for their rich resource profile. But the Kremlin is slowly eating into the space that China wants to own. The growing Russian influence shouldn’t affect the US as such because Washington is anyway reducing its presence in the region.
As for Moscow, this is just the time to regain much of the diplomatic heft that it has lost because of the sanctions imposed by the Western world. The US and China are anyway moving towards a Cold War, which gives Russia the breathing space to ramp up its presence without making much news. Moreover, China itself cannot go up in arms against Moscow because Beijing cannot afford another dangerous enemy in Russia when it is already facing an onslaught from Washington.