How Russia and China’s Plan to Expand Their Influence in the Balkans and Indochina

It all hinges on two infrastructure projects - a pipeline for Russia and a hi-speed rail for China - and the US is looking to sabotage both

  • Also see Part I - 'Why Russia and China Must Expand Their Influence in the Balkans and Indochina'
Tue, Jun 30, 2015
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The Eurasian Sidestep

Russia and China have adapted to the US’ geopolitical subterfuge by ‘sidestepping’ the newly placed obstacles and spearheading their respective peninsular breakthrough campaigns. Here’s what each party plans to do:

Russia And The Balkans:

Russia aims to expand the Turkish Stream pipeline into Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia, hoping to connect it to South Stream’s previously envisioned hub.

 If it can succeed with this ambitious vision (written about in-depth by the author here), it can cut American-controlled Ukraine out of the European gas game, satisfy its energy imperatives and commitments with the EU, and expand its influence into the multipolar-receptive Balkan region. 

Essentially, Russia would be trading the transit role of Eastern Europe and the Ukrainian corridor for Southeastern Europe and the Balkan corridor, in a major move that none in the West had quite anticipated. All told, the ‘Balkan rebalancing’ is much more to Russia’s strategic interests than retaining the old Ukrainian route, hence why the US is resolutely opposed to it in all iterations.

China And Indochina:

China’s doing something similar to mitigate the collateral strategic damage caused by the Myanmar flip, in that it’s now looking towards Laos and Thailand as geopolitical compensation. To explain, China wants to build a high-speed railroad through these two countries, and this ASEAN Silk Road would be more than a suitable replacement for whatever plans it had in Myanmar.

Thailand is many degrees more stable than its northwestern and civil war-plagued neighbor, and it’s less susceptible to the same kinds of externally directed destabilization than Myanmar is. Also, it has a sizeable and dynamic economy that’s already proven itself to be a regional example, so it would function as an ideal complement to China’s vision of integrating with non-Western economies via the Silk Road template. For more details, please reference the author’s previous writings on the topic here.

Let’s take a look at the similarities between their strategies:

Mirror Predicaments:

The US has managed to block the main strategic routes emanating from Russia and China, in this respect, via Ukraine and Myanmar. While neither is officially ‘closed’, they’re no longer as reliable as they once were, thus compelling Moscow and Beijing to brainstorm the alternative approaches that were outlined above. With their backs against the wall, it’s expected that they’ll put all their efforts in ensuring that their ‘sidestep strategies’ succeed, as failure to do so would tighten the containment around them.

Peninsular Plans:

It’s important that both Russia and China are using peninsulas as springboards in their containment-breakthrough strategies. In the case of the former, it’s using the Balkans as a means of reinforcing its existing asymmetrical (energy) influence in the European mainland, while China’s capitalizing off of Indochina to break free to the sea. The peninsulas are launching pads in both cases, although they ultimately are oriented towards the opposite direction (Russia towards the mainland, China towards the sea).

Pivot States:

There are two crucial pivot states underpinning each strategy, and these are Macedonia and Laos. While Greece and Thailand could also be identified as relative pivots, they are less susceptible to the same type of intense destabilization as the previous two are (although they are by no means safe from destabilization as it is).

Accordingly, because Macedonia and Laos are the main pivots of each respective project, they’re also the two states most anticipated to fall victim to some type of covert American campaign. Macedonia’s latest events confirm its role as the Balkan pivot, and it’s expected that the route through Laos will soon be targeted, too.

Route Dependency:

As grand as Russia and China’s plans may be, they’re both dependent on narrow pieces of transport infrastructure that could make or break their designs. Russia is using a pipeline as its vehicle into the Balkans, while China sees a high-speed rail as its key to Indochina. Each corridor is thus dependent on this critical piece of infrastructure that will form the spine of further investment and influence. So long as these projects are actualized, then their subsequent geopolitical plans will be too, but if they’re disrupted in any way, when their affiliated grand strategies will be do. Everything literally hinges on these two projects, but they’re unfortunately very vulnerable to US destabilization operations.

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Deploying Destabilization

The US has an expansive toolkit of destabilizing instruments that it can use in foiling Russia and China’s peninsular pivots. Here are just a few of the many tricks up its sleeve:

The Balkans:

In this theater, the US opts for more direct and violent means of destabilization than it does in Indochina:

Albania

The most obvious mechanism that’s been deployed in destabilizing the Balkans has been Albanian-affiliated terrorism and the threat of Greater Albania. These two complementary weapons have been directed against Macedonia, the vital chokepoint of Balkan Stream. The intent is that they can either facilitate the ongoing Color Revolution attempt or lead to the actual portioning of the country, which in any case would create enough chaos that the Russian pipeline would be least of Skopje’s priorities.

Bulgaria

Going hand-in-hand with Albania’s intentions for Macedonia is the complementary policy pursued by Bulgaria. Macedonia’s eastern neighbor has never really accepted its right to exist, and insists that Macedonians are really Bulgarians. While this isn’t an ‘official’ state policy, Bulgaria’s activity in hosting Color Revolution figurehead Zoran Zaev and sending its Foreign Minister to meet with Western representatives and Albanian political leaders in Macedonia sends a strong signal that it sees the country as a ‘little brother’ to be interfered with at will. Furthermore, weapons and equipment for 750 soldiers will be stationed in Bulgaria, in an obvious attempt to turn the country into a forward-operating base for destabilizing Balkan Stream.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Last but not least, the US may instigate ISIL-affiliated terrorist attacks in Bosnia in order to upset the delicate ethnic and religious balance there, creating a chaotic situation that might inevitably drag in Serbia. The objective here is to unleash ISIL in the Balkans so that it can stir up enough destabilization that a domino series of military conflicts occur, thus trapping the region in a seemingly never-ending series of religious and territorial struggles that puts the previous Western-dominated meaning of ‘Balkanization’ to shame. While it may seem that the US would be going ‘overboard’ with such a strategy, it does have a track record of deploying it in the Mideast, and just like in the Balkans, it did so with the intent of stopping a pipeline (in that case, the Friendship Pipeline between Iran, Iraq, and Syria).

 

Indochina:

Indirect destabilization around Laos is the name of the game in Southeast Asia, and while violence inside the country is definitely possible, it’s more likely that the US will tinker around the country as opposed to directly within it:

Vietnam

The expanding US-Vietnamese partnership doesn’t just target Chinese maritime interests, but also its mainland ones as well. Vietnam has historically exercised some form of hegemony over Laos for more than half of the last century, be it through managing the Pathet Laos or via more formal cooperation after 1975. While Vietnamese influence has wanted since the end of the Cold War after Laos and China restarted their bilateral relations, it still has the potential of bouncing back given the historical bonds that were formed over numerous decades of war, economic strife, and ideological solidarity.

Should this happen, perhaps through intensified military cooperation or some kind of breakthrough economic partnership, then the viability of the ASEAN Silk Road might become threatened. Vietnam could team up with Japan to build a branch of the planned Vietnam-Cambodia-Thailand-Myanmar railroad through Laos, thus making that country and Cambodia (another zone of Chinese-Vietnamese rivalry) the main transit states for the proposed trans-mainland ASEAN infrastructure project. If this comes to pass, then unipolar-influenced East-West ASEAN integration might preemptively block China’s vision of North-South integration via the ASEAN Silk Road. The Japanese high-speed rail project, as it stands, doesn’t present that enormous of a threat, but if Vietnam can find a way to involve Laos in these plans, then the strategic situation would definitely turn against China’s favor.

Thailand

China’s ASEAN Silk Road strategy is also dependent on having a friendly government in power in Thailand, and herein is the opportunity for American destabilization. The current Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, came to power in a coup against the former pro-American proxy leadership represented by Shinawatra, but as such, it’s uncertain to what degree he’s succeeded in consolidating his allies and precluding attempts at a counter-coup. Last week he dismissed allegations that one such attempt had been foiled, but regardless of what exactly may or may not have transpired, it’s evident that a pro-American counter-coup remains a distinct possibility of external destabilization. Even more so are the prospects that Shinawatra’s militant ‘Red Shirt’ supporters engage in a hybrid Color Revolution-Unconventional Warfare campaign to throw the country off balance and delay the implementation of China’s high-speed rail project (if not outright succeed in overthrowing the government).

Myanmar

The domestic tension inside Myanmar appears ripe for explosion any day now, as the country is attempting to counter three simultaneous destabilization operations against it. The first one is the decades-long civil war and the extremely fragile truce that barely holds the peace together. India’s cross-border operation against Naga terrorists risks upsetting the delicate balance between the rebels (and their allied ethnic terrorist associates) and the central government, which could result in the re-eruption of full-scale civil war and the spread of its destabilizing consequences (refugees, militant groups, cross-border illicit activity) to Laos.

The other threat of civil strife that Myanmar is currently facing comes from Aung San Suu Kyi and her implicit threat that ‘instability’ would invalidate the general election in early November. It’s not clear what she’s specifically referring to, but her militant cadre of ultra-nationalist Buddhist monks could be called upon to create the pretext needed for bringing this about, which brings one to the third destabilization potential. The Rohingya minority in Rakhine State has been provoked by Kyi’s thugs into fleeing the country, and the resultant humanitarian crisis brings forth a prime opportunity for the US to create a South Asian ‘Kosovo’ and begin the formal dissolution of the Union of Myanmar. As with the resumption of civil warfare in the country, the other two destabilization scenarios could easily create complications for China’s ASEAN Silk Road through Laos and Thailand, and this become even more urgent of a threat if all three possibilities climax in near-concurrence with one another (as increasingly seems to be the case).

Concluding Thoughts

The US’ ‘Grand Chessboard’ successes in Ukraine and Myanmar succeed in penetrating Russia and China’s most important external security buffers and creating major complications for their grand strategies. In response, the Eurasian giants have been compelled to pivot to nearby or neighboring peninsulas in order to compensate for the loss of strategic space inflicted by the United States. Russia has redirected its focus to the Balkans, while China is actively promoting its interests in mainland ASEAN, but both grand pivots are endangered by an embedded array of ‘time bombs’ that the US seems poised to detonate. Nonetheless, Russia and China absolutely must press forward with their respective repositioning due to the urgency of the American strategic threat against their security interests, meaning that unipolar-multipolar competition in the Balkans and Indochina is only just beginning to heat up, and that these two geostrategic regions are already becoming the latest battlegrounds of the New Cold War.

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