The influence of Russia and the Ukrainian War in the Asia-Pacific area-Author: Aurel POPA
Relations between Russia and Asian countries are old and complex, with a history spanning more than two centuries. These relations are characterised by economic, political and cultural interactions, as well as tensions and conflicts at times.
In the 17th-19th centuries, Russia began to extend its influence over neighbouring Asian territories by conquering Siberia and other parts of Central Asia. In the 19th century, the Russian Empire developed strong relations with China and Japan, mainly through trade. However, tensions rose during this period due to territorial competition, which led to the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905.
During the Soviet period, the Soviet Union sought to expand its influence in Asia through its policy of ‘socialist brotherhood’, encouraging the formation of communist governments in Asian countries. The Soviet Union also supported China during the Chinese civil war and had strong relations with other Asian countries such as Vietnam and North Korea.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia reconfigured its relations with Asian countries, especially China. Russia and China have strengthened their economic and political relations, and Russia has become more actively involved in Asian affairs through regional organisations such as APEC and ASEAN. However, relations between Russia and Asian countries have often been influenced by political and military tensions, such as territorial disputes between China and neighbouring Asian countries, or the nuclear crisis in North Korea.
In the context of the war in Ukraine, relations between Russia and Asian countries have become increasingly tense. Some Asian countries, such as Japan and South Korea, have supported Ukraine’s position in the conflict with Russia and imposed economic sanctions against Russia. At the same time, Russia has tried to increase its cooperation with other Asian countries, such as India and Vietnam, to compensate for the loss of trade and political partners in Europe and North America.
In addition to historical and cultural issues, geopolitical factors such as geographical position, economic and military interests and regional rivalries play an important role in determining relations between Russia and Asian countries.
An important aspect of relations between Russia and Asian countries relates to energy. Russia has some of the largest oil and gas reserves in the world and has strong economic interests in the Asia-Pacific region. For example, Russia exports a significant amount of oil and natural gas to China and has signed an agreement with Japan to export natural gas.
In addition to economic relations, Russia has strengthened its military presence in Asia through the Pacific Fleet Base in Vladivostok and other military bases in the region. This military presence has an important impact on regional security and relations between Russia and Asian countries.
. At the same time, Russia has sought to diversify its economic and political relations in the Asia-Pacific region to compensate for the loss of commercial and political partners in Europe and North America.
Relations between Russia and Asian countries are complex and influenced by several factors. Although there are some tensions and rivalries between Russia and Asian countries, Russia maintains a strong presence in the Asia-Pacific region and seeks to strengthen its economic and political relations with these countries.
The war in Ukraine has had a significant impact on relations between Russia and India, which have had a strong working relationship in the past. India and Russia have developed a long-standing strategic relationship that has included economic and military cooperation.
However, in recent years, India has begun to diversify its relations and move closer to the United States and other Western powers, which has led to tension in the India-Russia relationship. India has taken a balanced stance, maintaining its relations with Russia while expressing concern about the violence in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
One of the consequences of the war in Ukraine on Russia-India relations has been a reduction in the volume of trade between the two countries. In 2014, India imposed economic sanctions against Russia, in line with a United Nations decision. These sanctions included an embargo on the import of goods and services from Crimea and other areas of Ukraine occupied by Russia, as well as blocking some financial transactions with some Russian companies.
India has begun to diversify its economic relations in recent years, moving more towards the United States and other Western countries. To this end, India has signed several trade and investment agreements with other countries, including the United States, France, Japan and Australia. This diversification of India’s economic relations has been driven, in part, by tensions in the relationship with Russia.
In terms of military cooperation, Russia remains an important arms supplier to India. Despite political and economic tensions, military cooperation between Russia and India remains strong. Russia is an important supplier of arms to India, particularly in terms of aviation, artillery and warships. In addition, the two countries cooperate on strategic agreements such as the BRICS agreement and the agreement on information security.
However, in recent years, India has begun to seek new partners and diversify its sources of arms supplies, including from other countries such as the United States and France.
Unlike other Asian countries, Japan has been somewhat more cautious in its relationship with Russia, and the war in Ukraine has had an impact on this relationship. Although the two countries have had a history of territorial conflict, economic and diplomatic relations between them have improved in recent years.
Russia and Japan have a territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands, which were occupied by the Soviet Union during World War II. Tensions between the two countries have increased following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine. Japan has expressed concern about Russia’s position in the region and reiterated its position that it wants to reach an agreement on the Kuril Islands.
Following the economic sanctions imposed by the West against Russia, as well as tensions in its relationship with Ukraine, Japan has reduced its investment in Russia. Japanese companies have focused more on other markets, such as the United States and Southeast Asian countries.
However, economic and energy cooperation between the two countries remains strong. Japan imports a significant amount of energy from Russia and the two countries are cooperating on the East Siberia gas pipeline development project. In addition, the two countries have expressed their desire to develop cooperation in the field of advanced technologies and innovation.
Since 2014, the war in Ukraine has had a significant impact on relations between Russia and China, two countries that have had a strategic partnership relationship in recent years. Despite China taking a neutral stance in the Ukraine conflict, tensions have intensified between the two countries due to Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict and its growing influence in Asia.
Prior to the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, Russia and China developed a strong strategic relationship based on shared economic and political interests. In recent years, the two countries have strengthened their cooperation in areas such as energy, infrastructure and international security. In addition, Russia and China have cooperated closely in international organisations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and BRICS.
However, Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine has strained its relationship with China. While China has taken a neutral stance in the conflict, Chinese authorities have expressed concern about escalating tensions in the Eastern European region and increasing global instability. China has also expressed concerns about the economic sanctions imposed by the US and EU against Russia and their effects on the global economy.
The latest developments show that relations between Russia and China continue to develop and deepen despite international tensions and pressures.
However, territorial disputes and other sensitive issues still exist between the two countries. For example, in March 2021, China protested against flights by Russian aircraft near disputed islands in the South China Sea, and Russia reaffirmed its position of neutrality in the territorial dispute in the region.
In addition, international pressure on Russia, particularly economic and financial sanctions, has led to some changes in economic relations between Russia and China. For example, Russia’s energy imports to China have increased significantly in recent years, while Russia has begun to focus more on developing its domestic market to reduce its dependence on energy exports.
Russia and China have had several territorial disputes in the past, starting in the 19th century. The most important territorial disputes between the two countries are as follows:
Amur Islands – in 1858, Russia and China signed the Treaty of Aigun which established the border between the two countries on the Amur River. However, it was later found that the Amur Islands were not included in the treaty and thus a territorial dispute between the two countries was born.
Ussuri Islands – in 1860, Russia and China signed the Treaty of Beijing which established the border between the two countries in the Ussuri River area. However, it was later found that there was a dispute over the Ussuri Islands, which lie close to the border between the two countries.
Halha Valley – in 1900, Russia and China signed the Convention on the Recognition by Russia of China’s Special Interests in Mongolia. However, it was later found that there was a dispute over the Halha Valley, which is close to the border between the two countries.
Over the years, the two countries have managed to resolve most of the territorial disputes between them through negotiations and the signing of bilateral agreements. However, some smaller territorial disputes still exist.
Currently, there are two major territorial disputes between Russia and China:
Tarabarov Island and Bolshoi Ussuriysky Island: These two islands are located in the Amur River on the border between Russia and China. The dispute over these islands began in 1969 and was largely resolved by the signing of an agreement in 2004. However, there are still some unresolved issues and China still claims that Bolshoi Ussuriysky Island belongs to its territory.
Oil fields on the Russian-Chinese border: There is a rich area of oil resources in the Amur River area on the border between the two countries. This area was divided between the two countries in 2004, but there are still some disputes over the exact boundaries of the area.
Although there are still some territorial disputes between the two countries, bilateral Russian-Chinese relations are considered generally stable and cooperative. The two countries cooperate in many areas, including in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and BRICS, and have a strategic and partnership relationship.
The war in Ukraine has affected relations between Russia and South Korea. In recent years, the two countries have developed a strong economic relationship, but political and military tensions in the region have affected this relationship.
South Korea was one of the countries that imposed economic sanctions against Russia following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. This has significantly affected trade between the two countries. In addition, South Korea has expressed concern about Russia’s involvement in the war in Syria and other conflicts in the Middle East.
Despite efforts to maintain bilateral relations, political and military tensions in the region remained high.
In 2018, Russia conducted military exercises near the Korean peninsula, which drew the attention of the international community and led to increased tensions in the region. These exercises included the testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
According to Russia’s Ministry of Defence, the military exercises, called Vostok-2018, were the largest military exercise organised by Russia in 37 years, involving more than 300,000 soldiers, sailors and pilots, including troops from China and Mongolia. The exercises were held at a time of tension between Russia and the United States, as well as between North Korea and the US, and some observers interpreted the exercises as Russia’s attempt to strengthen its position in the region.
Economic relations between the two countries were also affected. Russia and South Korea signed a free trade agreement in 2014, but the volume of trade has dropped significantly following the imposition of economic sanctions against Russia. In addition, South Korean investment in Russia has also declined.
Despite these problems, South Korea has tried to maintain a constructive bilateral relationship with Russia. The two countries have also cooperated in science and technology, signing a space cooperation agreement in 2020. In addition, Russia and South Korea have continued to coordinate on efforts to resolve the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula.
In February 2022, Russia unleashed a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, creating new challenges for Asia-Pacific defence establishments.
In the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there are concerns about its implications in the Asia-Pacific region, especially in terms of Taiwan’s security. On the one hand, some observers fear that Russia could encourage China to act aggressively against Taiwan, taking advantage of the fact that international attention is focused on Ukraine. But on the other hand, many analysts believe that Russia has gained little benefit from its invasion of Ukraine and may be more cautious about getting involved in other major conflicts.
On the other hand, the invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the vulnerabilities of Asia-Pacific defence establishments and prompted a reassessment of their capabilities and requirements. For example, some countries in the region, such as Japan and Australia, have strengthened their relations with the United States to counter potential threats. In addition, events in Ukraine have highlighted the importance of a multilateral and coordinated approach in addressing security issues, including relations with Russia and China.
Dependence on Russian weapons
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Asian countries dependent on military equipment supplied by Russia were quickly affected.
Tough US and EU sanctions against Russia’s defence industrial sector have affected India’s defence procurement. According to a recent analysis by Carnegie India, India broke off negotiations for additional Ka-31 naval helicopters and suspended plans to upgrade its Su-30MKI fighter jets with Russian assistance. Even if there have been deliveries of S-400 systems from Russia, these were only possible because of the support given by the US Congress to ensure “India’s immediate defence needs” by waiving CAATSA (Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) sanctions in this specific case.
However, India is still dependent on Russian suppliers in all areas and in the absence of significant sanctions relief, will have to consider alternative sources for some of its equipment purchases as well as spare parts and support for many of its Soviet and Russian-origin systems. In addition, according to a recent study published in the journal International Affairs, India may need to strengthen co-development and co-production of defence systems with foreign partners such as France, the US and Israel to improve its defence capabilities and reduce dependence on Russian suppliers.
India has a long history of dependence on foreign defence procurement, and this dependence has been exacerbated by US and EU sanctions against Russian arms suppliers, particularly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In this context, the Indian government’s goal of developing an independent defence industry is crucial.
However, India has struggled to achieve this goal due to internal problems in its defence sector, including bureaucracy, corruption and under-investment. This has led to limited production capacity and delays in the delivery of weapons systems.
In July 2022, India’s Chief of Army Staff, General Manoj Pande, stressed that India’s dependence on imported weaponry is “a cause for concern”. He warned that India’s dependence on foreign arms suppliers is not sustainable in the long term and that it must focus on developing its own production capabilities.
The Indian government has redoubled its efforts in this area and has launched several major projects to develop advanced weapons systems such as Tejas fighter jets and BrahMos cruise missiles. However, these projects are still in their early stages and it will take some time before India can produce advanced weapon systems in significant numbers and on time.
In conclusion, India’s dependence on arms imports is a major problem and the Indian government has redoubled its efforts to develop its defence industry, but much remains to be done to be able to deliver advanced weapons systems independently and on time.
Along with several other Asian countries, such as Myanmar, Vietnam has been similarly affected and it seemed likely that the new obstacles to Russian arms imports would reinforce Hanoi’s efforts to broaden the range of military equipment and technology it imports from other sources. The Vietnam Defence 2022 exhibition, scheduled to take place in Hanoi in December 2022, seemed designed to attract a wide range of potential suppliers to Vietnam.
Russian military equipment and technology has been important to the modernisation of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA): key examples over the past decade include Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 air defence systems, as well as assistance for China’s development of a ballistic missile early warning system. Over the past two decades, however, China’s defence industry has itself produced increasing volumes of advanced equipment as part of Beijing’s military modernisation ambitions. Indeed, since the 2014 crisis over Ukraine and Western sanctions against Russia following the annexation of Crimea, the bilateral interdependence of the defence industry has grown, with China becoming a vital source of components that Russia cannot now obtain from the West and, more importantly, a major partner in joint projects to develop air defence systems and fighter jet engines.
In February 2022, the leaders of China and Russia declared that the bilateral relationship is “boundless,” suggesting a deep rapprochement between the two countries. However, a formal military alliance between the two countries or direct Chinese military support for Russia’s conflict in Ukraine seems unlikely. However, military cooperation between the two countries has become increasingly close at a time when security in the Asia-Pacific region is already fragile due to China’s threats to Taiwan. Although fears that developments in Ukraine might provide China with an opportunity to invade Taiwan while Western powers were occupied proved unrealistic in the short term, the war highlighted the danger of major inter-state conflict as a result of failed diplomacy and deterrence. Joint military exercises between the two countries, such as Joint Sea-2021, highlight the growing cooperation between China and Russia, which goes beyond the defence industry.
The history of the conflict between China and Taiwan begins in the 1940s, when Japanese troops surrendered after World War II and Taiwan returned to the control of the Republic of China. In 1949, after the Chinese civil war between the Communists and Nationalists, the Nationalist leaders fled to Taiwan and proclaimed a separate republic. At the same time, the Communists founded the People’s Republic of China on the Chinese mainland.
Since then, the two countries have remained separate and there have been mutual tensions and conflicts. In 1971, the People’s Republic of China took the place of the Republic of China in the United Nations, which was seen as a major blow to Taiwan’s international standing.
However, relations between the two countries have improved since the 1980s and especially since Taiwan’s democratic elections in 1996. Nevertheless, the issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty and status remain controversial topics in relations between the two countries.
China considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province of its own and has promised to take back the territory, even by force if necessary. While Taiwan considers itself an independent and democratic country with its own government and political system. These opposing positions continue to lead to tensions and problems in relations between the two countries.
There are also a number of territorial disputes between the two countries, including over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. These territorial disputes have led to tensions and military incidents in the past.
These developments have taken place against a backdrop of growing strategic tensions between China on the one hand and the US and its allies on the other. Chinese pressure on Taiwan has increasingly made the island a focal point of these tensions
Meanwhile, PLA (People’s Liberation Army) aircraft have continued to cross the theoretical “median line” in the Taiwan Strait. While Taipei argued that these flights were supposed to intimidate Taiwan and exhaust the effectiveness of its air defenses by provoking frequent alerts and deactivations, some of them may have had genuine training purposes or supported PLA efforts to pursue US and other states’ submarines. However, these flights appear to have increased in frequency after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan on 2 August. Major PLA naval and air exercises deployed north, southwest and east of Taiwan for three days in early August 2022 were widely seen as a measure of Beijing’s strong disapproval of Pelosi’s visit. However, the exercises, which were some of the largest staged by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Taiwan’s neighbourhood, would have taken months of planning and could have been part of Beijing’s overall campaign to upgrade the Chinese military. Following the exercises, President Tsai Ing-wen identified Chinese-operated unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flights over Kinmen and Matsu islands as one of Beijing’s “grey area tactics”. On 1 September, the Taiwanese armed forces shot down an “unidentified civilian drone” that entered the airspace near Shiyu, a small island in the Kinmen group just ten kilometres off the Chinese coast. Meanwhile, the Biden administration – perhaps taking into account the early lessons learned from the war in Ukraine – has reinforced its encouragement of Taiwan’s development of “asymmetric” defense capabilities suitable to slow any Chinese invasion attempt.
Japan is modernising at a rapid speed
The war in Ukraine as well as developments related to Taiwan have influenced the defence policy thinking of the new Japanese government led by Kishida Fumio, who became prime minister in October 2021, reinforcing the view that a tougher stance is needed to deter “grey zone” coercion as well as larger-scale aggression. In November, the cabinet approved a supplementary budget that boosted annual defence spending to 6.17 trillion yen ($48.1 billion) for 2022.
At the end of 2021, the Kishida administration began revising the country’s National Security Strategy, National Defence Programme Guidelines and Medium-Term Defence Programme. These revisions were completed at the end of 2022 and could lead to substantial increases in defence spending.
Tokyo’s annual White Paper on Japan’s Defence, published in July 2022, stated that Japan’s security environment ‘is becoming increasingly severe at an unprecedented pace’, meaning that Japan must ‘dramatically’ strengthen its defence capabilities. The White Paper highlighted Tokyo’s particular concern about China’s efforts to ‘change the status quo through coercion in the East China Sea and South China Sea’, its deepening ties ‘with Russia, an aggressor nation’ and Beijing’s threats to reunite with Taiwan ‘by force’. In August, the Ministry of Defence requested a budget for fiscal year 2023 1.1% higher than that for 2022 and included funding for a next-generation joint fighter jet project with the UK; additional F-35A and F-5B Lightning II ground attack fighter jets; Joint strike missiles to arm the F-35A; AGM-158B JASSM-ER air-to-ground missiles; further modifications to the two Izumoclass fighter jets to enable F-35B operations; large-scale production of domestically developed Type-12 coastal defence missiles; and further research into hypersonic missiles. In addition, the Japanese Self-Defence Forces continued to strengthen its deterrence posture by establishing additional forces in Kyushu and the Southwest Island chain: during 2022, these were to include surface-to-air and anti-ship missile units, as well as electronic warfare and radar units.
North Korea’s ballistic missile tests are a constant source of concern for the international community, including Japan. Beginning in September 2021, North Korea has unleashed a new series of ballistic missile tests, which have included tests of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, a hypersonic flight vehicle test, and an apparent ground attack cruise missile launch. These tests continued through the end of the year, and North Korea launched about 40 ballistic missiles in 2021, more than ever before.
Of these missiles, most were shorter-range, but included related launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles in March and May, as well as a flyby of Japan by a newly claimed intermediate-range ballistic missile in October. In addition, U.S. and South Korean officials have repeatedly asserted during 2022 that Kim Jong-un’s regime is in the final stages of planning a seventh nuclear test, the first since 2017.
These ballistic missile tests raise questions about North Korea’s intentions and how it may use these weapons. Japan is one of the countries that feels most threatened by North Korea, as the latter has previously launched missiles that have flown over Japanese territory. As a result, the Japanese government has expressed concern about these new tests and reaffirmed its commitment to the alliance with the United States and to ensuring national security.
Australia’s new government and defence policy
Following the May 2022 election, Australia’s new Labor government has continued the defence policy from its previous term. During the election campaign, Labor expressed its support for the previous government’s defence spending and presented its own budget in October of the same year. They agreed to major investments in new nuclear-powered frigates and submarines, which are part of the trilateral AUKUS agreement with the US and UK. However, these programmes are long-term and the first nuclear-powered submarine is not expected to be delivered until the mid-2040s, according to defence minister Richard Marles.
The new Labor government has inherited a major challenge in improving Australia’s defence capability to meet the rapidly emerging threats of the current decade. While Australia has strengthened its security partnerships with the US and UK through AUKUS, it has also drawn a backlash from China, which has described the deal as a “serious blow to regional stability and non-proliferation efforts”. In addition, Australia needs to improve its defence capabilities to deal with threats such as cyber attacks and infiltration by foreign agents. The new Labor government will therefore need to continue efforts to modernise Australia’s defence capabilities and strengthen partnerships with its strategic allies to meet regional and global challenges.
The Australian Government faces major challenges in improving the country’s defence capability and the Strategic Defence Review announced in August 2022 aims to address these challenges by assessing force structure, force positioning and readiness and prioritising defence investment. This is an important effort as the threats to Australia are rapidly changing and becoming increasingly complex.
In terms of the procurement of nuclear-powered submarines, the government has made a decision on the type of SSN it will acquire. In addition, there is a possibility that in the 2030s an interim capacity of non-nuclear submarines will be needed until the SSNs are commissioned.
On the other hand, the new Australian government has inherited plans for major investments in new nuclear-powered frigates and submarines from the AUKUS agreement, which was signed in September 2021 between Australia, the UK and the US. However, these projects are long-term and the first nuclear submarine will not be delivered until the mid-2040s. During this period, it is important to improve the country’s defence capabilities to meet current and future threats.
In this regard, Defence Minister Richard Marles has announced that Australian submariners will train on board the UK’s Astute-class SSNs to ensure Australian military personnel are ready for the new nuclear-powered submarines. This is an important step towards ensuring Australia’s defence capability and preparing military personnel for the new technologies and equipment.
In Asia, the war in Ukraine has further complicated an already deteriorating security environment. Concerns have been raised in some countries about potential problems arising from dependence on Russia for defence sales and support; Soviet and Russian-origin equipment accounts for a significant proportion of the stockpiles of nations such as India and Vietnam. Meanwhile, China has become more assertive about reunification with Taiwan, while relations between China and the US have become more abrasive. Beijing sharply criticised the August 2022 visit to Taipei by Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the US House of Representatives; the visit was accompanied by large-scale Chinese military exercises near Taiwan. Meanwhile, China’s military modernization has continued to raise concerns in Washington, which sees it as a “pacing challenge” to the Defense Department. China has reportedly been expanding its nuclear capabilities, and at the end of the year, the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military capabilities noted other important developments including submarine capability and the integration of domestically produced military-grade equipment on modern Chinese fighter and transport aircraft.
 Admiral (rtr), PhD. President of the Maritime Security Forum
 “Russia’s Vostok-2018 drills show how it is preparing for high-end warfare”. Jane’s Defence Weekly, 13 September 2018.
 “Ukraine Conflict Update: Implications for Asia-Pacific Security,” East-West Center Policy Studies, February 2022.
 “Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine and the Implications for Asia,” The Diplomat, February 2022
 The International Institute for Strategic Studies, THE MILITARY BALANCE 2023
 Recent sources of information can be found in The Diplomat, Foreign Policy and Asia Times.
 Council on Foreign Relations – The China-Taiwan Dispute: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-taiwan-relations
 DEFENSE OF JAPAN (Annual White Paper), https://www.mod.go.jp/en/publ/w_paper/index.html