Foreign Minister Conjures Spectre of Cold War: Russia Returning ‘East’

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Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has invoked the spectre of the Cold War, branding Russia and China’s relationship the “new East.”

In an interview, Lavrov said Russia was turning away from the West in response to sanctions from developed countries.

“We are working with the East,” Lavrov told Russia’s NTV in St. Petersburg. “Like we used to in the past, we are expanding our contacts with it, as before. These contacts are expanding in absolute terms, and Europe is no longer our priority, in relative terms.”

Since the beginning of the year Russia has worked to expand its economic ties with China. On June 20, Reuters reported that Russian crude oil exports to China skyrocketed 55 percent to nearly 8.42 million tonnes, a substantial increase on May 2021 levels, according to data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs.

As a result, Russia has now overtaken Saudi Arabia to become the world’s top crude oil supplier. Additionally, exports of Russian liquified natural gas (LNG) to China have increased 56 percent—equal to 400,000 tonnes—when compared to May 2021 levels.

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Petrol trucks are parked near oil tanks at Volodarskaya LPDS production facility owned by Transneft oil pipeline operator in the village of Konstantinovo in the Moscow region, Russia, on June 8, 2022. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Lavrov also claimed the “West” was pushing its own global agenda.

“The West wants to perpetuate U.S. leadership not only in Europe but also in Asia-Pacific (where they are creating AUKUS and QUAD), contain China and isolate Russia. It is a global approach,” Lavrov said.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regime has also talked up the bilateral relationship, with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on June 16 saying there had been “momentum” to deepen ties on issues “concerning sovereignty and security.”

The New Eastern Alliance

Invoking the spectre of the Cold War is not just semantics, argues Elliot Abrams from the Council on Foreign Relations, who in a March article, said the alliance could be used to compete with the United States and its allies.

“Consider the Putin–Xi Jinping joint statement made on February 4: ‘The new inter-State relations between Russia and China are superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era. Friendship between the two states has no limits, there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation …’” he wrote.

“This is a clear announcement of a new alliance meant to go beyond the Cold War—in part by creating a partnership that will lead to a very different outcome this time.”

Further, both countries have committed to a new version of the Brezhnev Doctrine, which proclaimed that a threat to any country within the Soviet Bloc was a threat to all.

The joint statement included a pledge from Russia and China to stand against “attempts by external forces to undermine security and stability in their common adjacent regions, intend to counter interference by outside forces in the internal affairs of sovereign countries under any pretext.”

Russian Aggression a ‘Gamechanger’

Deepening ties between the countries comes as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) moves to update its force position at the coming NATO summit in Madrid on June 29.

Jens Stoltenberg, general-secretary of NATO, said on June 21 that the organisation was dealing with its biggest threat in decades.

“We must set out NATO’s response for the longer term. At the summit, we will take decisions to make NATO even stronger and more agile, in a world that is more dangerous and more competitive,” he told the defence minister of NATO nations.

“Russia’s aggression is a game-changer,” he added. “So NATO must maintain credible deterrence and strong defence.”

In an interview with Politico on June 22, Stoltenberg said the group would be adapting to the China threat as well.

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gestures as he addresses media representatives at a press conference following a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on April 7, 2022. (François Walschaerts/AFP via Getty Images)

“We will address China and the consequences for our security. I think to understand that for NATO this is a big step because, in the current Strategic Concept, China’s not mentioned with a single word,” he said. The Strategic Concept is a guiding document that outlines NATO’s purpose and fundamental security tasks.

“We don’t regard China as an adversary but we need to realise that the rise of China, the fact that they’re investing heavily in new modern military equipment, including scaling significantly their nuclear capabilities, investing in key technologies, and trying also to control critical infrastructure in Europe coming closer to us, makes it important for us also to address that.”

Victoria Kelly-Clark

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Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.



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