Axis against the west gathers steam The Statesman 25 Jun 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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Axis against West gathers steam

Axis against the west gathers steam The Statesman 25 Jun 2024

          Putin’s recently concluded visit to Pyongyang was closely watched by the west, mainly because the two, Russia and North Korea, remained the most sanctioned one’s on the planet, alongside Iran. The visit was expected to be fruitful for both, after all sanction feathered birds would flock together. Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader had visited Eastern Russia and met Putin in Sept last year. The current visit gained greater media coverage and analysis that the recently concluded Switzerland peace summit.

Pyongyang is an outlying Chinese colony, its largest trading partner and a major recipient for Beijing’s aid. However, China has been unable to control Kim Jong-un from conducting nuclear and missile tests, resulting in a joint pact between South Korea, Japan and the US. This implies greater US presence in its vicinity. 

Symbolically, visiting North Korea and Vietnam displayed to the west that Putin is not as isolated as they believe. He has support in different parts of the world. The stage-managed welcome put up by North Korea indicated, from the start, that both highly-sanctioned nations are together and can jointly impact western plans. For North Korea, the visit highlighted that it is not alone in contesting the west, it has the backing of both permanent members of the UN, China and Russia.  

Pyongyang is known to be providing munitions to the Kremlin to support it in its war in Ukraine. As per CNN, North Korea has supplied over 10,000 munition containers to Russia, containing about 260,000 metric tons of ammunition thus far, though denied by both. In return Moscow has backed them in the UN. In March this year, Russia vetoed the annual renewal of a panel of experts that monitors enforcement of UN sanctions against Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons and missile programs. Russia’s shift adds credence to munitions being provided by Pyongyang.

Both leaders placed their best foot forward conveying proximity in ties. Putin commenced the visit by publishing an article in North Korea’s newspaper praising Kim and promising to build a trade and payment systems ‘not controlled by the West.’  Putin also promised to back Kim against ‘US pressure, blackmail and military threats.’ While with Beijing, Moscow is a junior partner, with North Korea it is not. The three nations together form a close alliance in Asia.

The ‘comprehensive strategic pact,’ inked between Moscow and Pyongyang is almost similar to NATO’s Article 5 and was the highlight of the visit. The pact mentions ‘provision of mutual assistance in the event of aggression against one of the parties to this agreement.’ Does this imply that in case Russia desires, North Korea could threaten to open a new front against South Korea and Japan, can be anybody’s guess.

The wordings also hint at ‘military-technical cooperation’ between the two states. This could mean that Russia could transfer missile and nuclear technology to North Korea, adding to western concerns.

The visit and the joint statement irked South Korea. It announced that it would reconsider supplying arms to Ukraine. Thus far, Seoul was only providing humanitarian aid to Kiev while backing sanctions against Moscow. Putin retaliated, warning he would commence arming Pyongyang.

Putin had visited Beijing in May, his first visit after his re-election. It was initially planned that Putin would visit Pyongyang direct from Beijing, but that was shelved on a request from Xi Jinping. The joint statement issued at the end of the visit mentioned, ‘(We) intend to increase interaction and tighten coordination in order to counter Washington’s destructive and hostile course towards the so-called dual containment’ of our countries.’

China alongside Russia is a formidable challenge for the west. It is known that Beijing is providing Russia with dual use technology, which despite western pressure and threats of sanction has not ceased. For China, Russia’s success in Ukraine would open doors for its planned operation against Taiwan.  

An addition to the grouping is Iran, another heavily sanctioned nation. Western sources have confirmed that Iran is supplying Russia with ballistic missiles and drones. Reports mention of Iranian assistance in establishing a drone manufacturing unit in Russia. As expected, these accusations are denied by both parties. In return, Russia will provide Iran with Su-35 aircraft, submarines, attack helicopters etc. Iran and China are also close, with China investing in the country as also procuring oil from it.

The US has been pressurizing China to use its influence on Tehran to curb its proxies in the Middle East. Chatham House in an article quoted an Iranian official who stated that China conveyed, ‘If our interests are harmed in any way, it will impact our business with Tehran. So, tell the Houthis to show restraint.’ This led to the Houthis granting Russian and Chinese ships immunity. Many believe that China does not hold much sway over Tehran as it seeks to balance its relations with Tehran alongside those of Riyadh.

While this axis is slowly gaining strength in Asia, Russia displayed its Cuban alliance. Cuba has remained under US sanctions for decades and is a historical Russian ally. A group of Russian ships, including a frigate and a nuclear-powered submarine, recently visited Havana for five days. The Cuban President made a formal visit to the Russian frigate. While the US stated that the Russian naval vessels visit was not a threat, however dispatched one of its nuclear-powered submarines to its Guantanamo Bay base.    

Western sanctions, for multiple reasons, have pushed Russia-China-North Korea and Iran together. Officially it may not appear so. However, all three have been supporting Russia in its war effort in different ways, thereby ensuring that Moscow possesses the ability to continue its operations without hindrance. Evidently it is the west against this axis. No wonder Putin has been mentioning the possibility of a ‘third world war.’

Astana in Kazakhstan will host the forthcoming SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) summit on 3-4 Jul this year. It will be attended by heads of state of all members nations. Bilateral interactions including that with Putin will dominate the event. The BRICS summit in Russia is scheduled later this year.

The message emerging is attempts by the west to isolate Putin are unlikely to succeed and they must re-think their Ukraine policy and conditions for talks to resolve the conflict.         

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