Potemkin Village Foreign Policy

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore over the weekend, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said that Russia will take part of a joint naval exercise in May 2016 in the South China Sea with its Asian allies focusing on counter-terrorism and naval security. Russia Today relayed the context of the announcement:

Antonov also said he was concerned about stability in the region, naming the US as the main destabilizing factor. He said that Washington’s policies have been aimed against Russia and China: “We are concerned by US policies in the region, especially since every day it becomes increasingly focused on a systemic containment of Russia and China.”

“Despite our concerns about the US global missile defense architecture, they continue a policy of disrupting strategic stability, adding a regional segment of an anti-missile ‘shield’ in the Asia-Pacific,”he added.

He also blamed the US for interfering with the affairs of other countries and said Russia is worried by the trend: “An epidemic of ‘color revolutions’ swept the Middle East and, like a hurricane, wiped out several states in the region. This disease went across several European countries, where events are freely controlled from the outside.”

There’s much less than meets the eye to this announcement—it’s a fairly typical performance for Putin’s Kremlin when it comes to Russia-China cooperation: find something that reads big in the press but that does not really imply anything substantial about their relations. It demonstrates a general political alignment—something like a  resentful mood affiliation between revisionist powers—but doesn’t require the kind of deep and institutionalized cooperation that a true alliance would involve.

This is a basic element of Putinist foreign policy. He is short on real power resources but had developed a skilled team of “politologists” (read: propagandists of the 21st century) who are world class in creating the appearance of power and fact. The Potemkin village remains, all these years after Catherine the Great, a key element of Russian statecraft.


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